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Is the NHL really headed toward another lockout?

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So much for that CBA.

2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Seven Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Two back to back posts on Game Time in November illustrate the see-saw negotiations to the start of the 2021 NHL season. With a tentative start date of January 1st, the league needs to focus on getting training camps started some time in December, especially for the teams that were not eligible to participate in the post-season. Back on November 18th, I wrote that the start of the new season was starting to take shape.

Three days later, what was the headline?

“NHL catches NHLPA off guard with CBA salary talks”

It hasn’t gotten any better since then. Yesterday, Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star speculated on the state of the talks, and none of that speculation was of the positive variety.

Why is it not positive? The two sides haven’t spoken since the CBA salary talks. He chalks at least some of that up to the Thanksgiving holiday, but while that holiday’s usually a long weekend in America, it’s not a week-long weekend.

U.S. Thanksgiving might have had something to do with it, but this is right in the playbook from the 2012-13 season. The league’s last offer on the table prior to the first cancelling of a slate of games was Sept. 19, 2012. The league asked players to slash their salaries down to 44 per cent of hockey related revenue. They had been getting 57 per cent of HRR till then.

Then long stretches of silence. Things perked up mid-October, then again early-November, then again early December. That’s when the threats of legal action went both ways: the association saying it would decertify, the league saying it would nullify all contracts.

The biggest question isn’t if there are negotiating problems between the two sides. That’s as clear as day, and it’s understandable why. The biggest question is why haven’t the two sides come back to the table?

The league has a start date in mind and a goal to work toward, but by going back on the CBA that they signed to begin post-season play, they’ve created a problem. The ownership of the NHL’s teams is normally on the side of Gary Bettman, which is why they ok’d the turnabout on the CBA. Why was the turnabout on the CBA “necessary?” The owners didn’t know what the the terms for re-starting the season were. In a “we had to read it to know what was in it” moment, the NHL’s owners just trusted the league without actually looking at what was in their counteroffer. Now they’re on the hook for money and in a situation where revenues will be decreasesd and are pressuring the league to do something about it.

Bettman kept the owners out of the talks with Fehr over the summer that led to the completion of the season and this memorandum of understanding that – on the face of it – guarantees a season in which the players will be paid 72 per cent of what they’re owed.

Bettman sprung the MOU on the board of governors, who unanimously endorsed it. It’s believed some voted merely on Bettman’s recommendation. Now, having subsequently read the MOU after it passed, some are unhappy with it.

If the owners would’ve read the original memo of understanding, the playoffs may not’ve happened, but there would’ve been more time to hash out a deal for a return to play beginning on January 1st. As it stands, the owners got their playoffs and TV revenue while taking a hit on ticket sales, because they assumed that Bettman and the league would ensure that next season would be financially feasible.

The teams could lose $150 million each if they’re forced to play without fans in the building, which is more than likely what could happen. They could save that money with a lockout or cancellation.

Right now, the league and the players are both in difficult positions. Don’t hold your breath for a January 1st start date, but it may not be because of a traditional lockout. It may be as a cost-saving measure for team ownership groups.