Not the End of The World
Be intrigued. Be puzzled. Be dismayed. Be annoyed.
Just don't be surprised today when the NHL Players Association announces, as expected, that its membership has voted to give the union's executive board the power to disclaim interest as the negotiating body of NHL players.
They'll want to make a splash with this one. They'll want to paint it as "overwhelming" or "resounding" or "unanimous," and of course it should be. (Ed Note: Today the NHLPA decided not to publish the results of the vote, choosing secrecy over revealing how players voted). After all, the players aren't actually voting to dissolve the union. Just voting to give authority to those who, in theory anyway, could.
It's a negotiating ploy. It's not real, at least not yet. It's the opening gambit in an exercise in legal theory, because despite the fact that some want to suggest this would somehow injure NHL owners and force them to their knees, nobody really knows how this process might actually work in the real world.
But we're all free to dream, right?
Let's imagine that next month the union actually goes out of business.
No more tired and predictable Don Fehr blather. Nobody to spin what Roman Hamrlik or Kyle Turris "really" meant.
See, it's a better world already.
Let's imagine that the NHL would no longer be able to enforce its lockout, and that all player contracts would be null and void.
Even the Scott Gomez deal. The absurd "make whole" debate would be rendered moot. Hockey players would all be left to stand on their own two feet. No guaranteed contracts or benefits. Just whatever deal they could cut for themselves.
Maybe two or more teams would go immediately out of business. Lord knows Craig Leipold has never given anyone the impression he has the slightest idea of how to run a profitable or successful hockey enterprise. How did he ever get to Gary Bettman's inner circle?
But we'd probably stay at 30 teams and more than 700 jobs. In fact, Phoenix and Florida and Columbus could probably wait until Toronto, Philly, Detroit et al spent their brains out and then cobble together a roster for $20 million or so, much more within their price range.
Some NHLers, in this imaginary world, would get more. How much would Steve Stamkos get in an offer from the Maple Leafs? $20 million a year? $25 million a year?
At the other end, your garden variety NHLers would absorb severe haircuts. Why would anyone, for example, pay Bruno Gervais or David Steckel or Tanner Glass more than $100,000 a year? Remember, no maximums OR minimums in this world.
There are, it's clear, some reasons to think an NHL without a players union might actually be a good thing, might actually rationalize the workings of a business model that ceased to make sense some time ago. The entry draft, for example, could be done away with. Let Nathan MacKinnon go where he wants and can get paid. Let true capitalism take over. Make NHL owners compete with each other on a wide-open playing field. Force the league to actually make the product more appealing in order to feed the bottom line.
But, alas, it won't happen. NHL players might follow Fehr to the edge of the cliff, but not over. If they were actually voting right now to "disclaim," one suspects the result would be very different.