2004-12-17 / Sports

Only Certainty To Save The 2004-2005 NHL Season Is Compromise

By Joe McDonald


NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (L) with executive vice president Bill Daly beside him, speaks at a press conference following his meeting with NHL Players Association President Bob Goodenow at the NHL offices in Toronto on December 14. REUTERS/Mike Cassese.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (L) with executive vice president Bill Daly beside him, speaks at a press conference following his meeting with NHL Players Association President Bob Goodenow at the NHL offices in Toronto on December 14. REUTERS/Mike Cassese. Like all great wars, the NHL labor dispute needs to be settled by compromise. Both sides have to sit down and come up with a plan that they can live with, even if both sides may not be entirely comfortable with it. Hopefully then we can get a new collective bargaining agreement nailed down and what is left of the NHL season can commence.

Unfortunately, compromise is not on the horizon. After a promising proposal by the NHL Players Association last week, Commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners came back with one of their own – one that contains a salary cap, which is something the players won’t accept.

“My hope is that the union leadership recognizes that the owners’ resolve is great,” Bettman said during his press conference on Tuesday in Toronto. “We only know of really one approach to meaningfully address and fix our problems. And unless somebody can miraculously come up with another approach, which I am highly skeptical of but always (eager) to listen, we’re committed to fixing this the right way.”

The Players Association did come up with what they thought was a viable proposal, but for some reason it didn’t fit the needs of the owners.

In the NHLPA’s plan, salaries were going to roll back 24% with a new arbitration system, which was fairer to the owners, put in place and a hefty luxury tax for teams over a certain team payroll. The players believed that they came to the table in good faith and with the concessions they were offering, they would end the lockout.

That wasn’t good enough for the owners who wanted “cost certainty”; so they rejected the NHLPA’s plan outright. The owners then came up with a proposal that included a salary cap that would be based on last year’s economics, and which would range between $38.6 million and $34.6 million. They also tweaked some of the other parts of the player’s plan to fit their needs.

“In short, the league took what they liked from our proposal, made major changes and slapped a salary cap on top of it,” NHLPA chief Bob Goodenow said during his press conference. “Put simply, our proposal provides the basis for a negotiated agreement. The NHL’s does not.”

And that’s the problem; the owners don’t want to compromise.

Without a proposal with the salary cap taken off the table, the NHL will become the first North American sports league to cancel its season because of a labor dispute. And if they don’t come back to the table soon, the season will be not played simply because there is not enough time left to even have an abbreviated season.

If the season is canceled, don’t expect labor negotiations to take place in spring. Why should they? Goodenow knows that there is no reason to have a sit-down until it’s absolutely necessary and next season is in jeopardy. In fact, after January, there probably won’t be a peep from both sides until August because there will simply be no leverage for the players to have one sooner.

In the meantime, it’s the fans that suffer. Locally, to keep the fans interest, the Rangers have had a number of season ticket holder meeting where the Garden faithful were treated to stale cheese and stale answers by Ranger management; and GM Mike Milbury has been calling Islander fans during dinnertime, while helping them to shop at Best Buy.

These gimmicks only go so far and the fans have had a sense of humor about it, but it’s only been two months and these tricks are already getting old.

When all is said and done, the owners may have created more damage with this lockout than good. If the season is canceled, half-empty arenas will become the norm when they play again and many of the long time fans will be turned off the sport forever.

So Mr. Bettman and Mr. Goodenow, get back to the table and compromise. Based on the lockout in 1994, there is probably only a month left before this season is canceled and the NHL becomes just a distant memory in the public’s mind.

(Joe McDonald is a writer and owner of www.mofo sports.net, a website dedicated to the coverage of all sports team in New York City. You may contact him at JoeMcDonald@mofosports.net).

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