Are We There Yet?
The sensible conclusion to this NHL lockout was always obvious.
The league, given the situation in other sports and its own chronic financial problems, needed to get to a 50-50 split with all due speed.
The players, with their union's ugly history of the past seven years, needed to be able to give the owners that revenue split while being able to save face and feel as though they hadn't been defeated and had their association routed.
The biggest problem all along, then, has been the unwillingness of each side to fully grasp and accept the primary goals/needs of the other. The owners have communicated their objectives poorly to the players, who with a lot of bile already built up in their system, responded with unsurprising anger bordering on hatred. The players always knew they had to give, they just didn't want it to feel or look like they weren't putting up a fight.
Maybe the each side finally has accepted the goals/needs of the other, or will soon, with the help of federal mediators starting today. Or, maybe this process was always going to lead to a mid-January conclusion, with some owners pushing for more than is necessary and some players and union officials living more for what happened before than what has to happen next.
No one can guarantee that either will happen, and the penchant for self-destructive behavior by both of these organizations is remarkable. But at this point, it seems to make sense that there will be NHL hockey by January.
Then, it will be time to switch over immediately, and aggressively, to three priorities.
1) Growing the pie. Going forward, each side will benefit equally if the game's revenues increase. Certainly, revenues were surging upwards until this lockout, which means that after taking a big hit this season, there is at least the possibility revenues can trend upwards again starting next fall.
We left the game with $3.3 billion in revenues and the players getting 57 per cent of that, or about $1.9 million. If the game is grown to $5 billion, its $2.5 billion each. Surely the mutual gain, the basic math, is all that matters now.
2)Building a new relationship. Both the league and the PA really need to get off this treadmill of distrust and discord. It's one thing to disagree, quite another to constantly disparage the other side and try to undercut its leadership. Both the owners and union are guilty of these crimes, which is counter-productive to both.
The owners need to not only be willing to make players look good, but their union, as well. Ditto for the players. Constantly hating on Gary Bettman may make them feel better but reduces the overall respect level of the NHL.
If Don Fehr is to have a legacy in this game, it will be that he came, rebuilt the players union and left behind a union that was able to forge not only a period of extended peace with the league, but one capable of moving beyond the battles of the past.
3) Fixing the game. Lost in all this squabbling is a product that, when we last saw it in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, wasn't much to brag about. Too low-scoring. Too many blocked shots. Too dominated by the suffocating strategies of coaches. Plagued by controversies over head shots and head injuries.
This season, if it starts, will continue along those paths. There won't be time for new initiatives aimed at improving the game. That means next summer the league and players will need to aggressively attack the problems.
Part of the solution will lie in breathing new life into the competition committee. Conceived as a group of owners, GMs and players that would gather to each speak their minds on the good of the game, it has devolved into a outgrowth of the collective bargaining process in which the players and league representatives vote as blocs.
Not sure how that gets fixed, particularly with players seemingly under the belief that anyone who steps out of line with approved doctrine - hello, Roman Hamrlik - should be attacked and vilified. But its the only way to finding the necessary imagination and creativity to make the league hum again.