Maybe by then there will actually be hockey again.
It certainly doesn’t appear that the end of the current lockout — six weeks long on Saturday and counting — is anywhere in sight at the moment. Bettman can find time in his schedule for news conferences ballyhooing something that will happen in three years. Negotiating with Donald Fehr, the executive director of the player’s union, to save this season is apparently much more difficult.
Thursday was the drop-dead date set by Bettman and the owners to save a full 82-game season. If an agreement had been reached by then, the season could have started on Nov. 2. With some tinkering, the entire regular season — 1,230 games in all — would have been played.
That hope is apparently gone. The question now isn’t when the season will begin but if the season will begin. The owners were willing to blow up an entire season eight years ago because they insisted they could no longer survive under the league’s economic system. Ultimately, they got what they wanted: a salary cap and a 24 percent rollback in player salaries.
Now, they are insisting that wasn’t good enough, even though hockey-related revenues have gone through the roof since the players returned in the fall of 2005. Prior to the lockout, the NHL’s hockey revenues were $2.1 billion per season. Last season the number was closer to $3.3 billion.
The owners say they need more — or, more specifically, they need to pay the players less. Their first offer to the union was to slash the players’ percentage of hockey-related revenue from 57 to 43 percent. Last week, the owners came up to 50-50 — still a substantial cut, but seemingly at least in a ballpark where a deal could get done.
It didn’t. The players made three separate counteroffers a week ago and each was rejected within 10 minutes. Apparently the NHL’s negotiators are very fast readers. The players are now willing to drop their share of revenues from about 54 percent to about 52 percent over the life of the contract. One would think it would not be that difficult to find a middle ground between 50-50 and (roughly) 53-47.
Only it isn’t that simple. The owners’ offer includes a lot of deferred payments for current contracts — meaning many players who have signed long-term deals would be asked to wait, in some cases for years, after the contracts expired to be completely paid. Given the money involved, that would mean a huge savings for owners and a loss for the players.
The players have made the point that no one held a gun to any owner’s head as late as this summer, when several players signed long-term deals in the $100 million range. On one hand, the owners are pleading poverty. On the other, they were handing out huge contracts like Cracker Jacks, even while the commissioner was talking about how desperately everyone needed to tighten their belts.