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Gary Bettman, Lockouts, and Threats

Gary Bettman today stated that the NHL owners would lock out the players if there wasn't a CBA in place by September 15th. What does that mean for hockey in 2012-13?


I really don't know much about business or economics. I read the news and understand money of course, but the complicated matters of billion dollar corporations aren't my field of expertise. Luckily however, I have a good friend who happens to know a ton about this kind of stuff, and he's the guy I turn to when something happens like today when Gary Bettman stated that the NHL would lockout the players if a collective bargaining agreement wasn't settled by September 15th.

So I asked my friend, "What exactly does that mean for hockey next year? Is it a threat? Does it mean a deal is close and it's just something to push the NHLPA into folding on a particular sticking point?"

His response: "Not really any of that, and you're st00pid."

So what does it actually mean?

Well for starters we need to go back a bit. Earlier in the year there was a rumour going around that if the the NHL and NHLPA couldn't agree to a CBA by the time the season was supposed to start, they would start the season using the old CBA in order to avoid a lockout. Back then, all the rumours I read said this was Bettman's idea, but it turns out it was actually Donald Fehr's.

This is important because that makes a lot more sense considering the framing of what the owners want in the new CBA. The most important sticking point seems to be that the owners want to roll back the players' share of revenues from 57% to something closer to 50%.

If the NHL operates a season under the old CBA, they're essentially making a new CBA that hasn't changed at all. Players still get 57% of the revenue, and the NHLPA has more time to patiently negotiate with the NHL and hopefully wear them down into accepting a better CBA for the players.

Of course this option is probably better for the fans, but the fans aren't something the NHL is concerning itself with at this point. Gary Bettman answers to the owners, so their interests come first. Allowing for an option that gives the NHLPA more time and more leverage makes no sense. Not to mention that once this kind of action is taken, there's no way for the NHL to stop the season if the NHLPA simply refuses to keep negotiating. They would look like a bunch of morons.

Once this option is given the green light, the NHL could potentially go years without an official CBA. This happens more often than you would think with other unions. By taking away this option, Bettman is saying that operating under the previous CBA for an indefinite amount of time is simply not going to happen. He's not saying there will be a lockout.

A lot of people want to frame this negotiation as the NHL being evil rich people while the NHLPA is the embattled proletariat, but this isn't helpful. It's a negotiation, and neither side is lacking in greed or shady dealings. As much as you may hate him for whatever reason, Bettman is an excellent negotiator, and this is just one card that he had to play to ensure the NHLPA didn't get leverage. There are 5 weeks and 2 days until September 15th, plenty of time to hammer this out for the properly motivated.