Column: Another lockout looming for NHL

By Eric Saltzman

Remember back in May, Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers? Remember how the Rangers scored the game-tying goal with 6.6 seconds left in regulation, and then won in overtime? That was awesome.

Oh sorry, I forgot what city I was in.

Great hockey moments like this will have to be put on hold for a while, as the NHL owners and NHL players appear to be heading towards another lockout, which would be the second in the last eight years.

If the players and owners can’t reach an agreement by Sept. 15, the season will not start on time.

Just like the NFL and NBA lockouts a year ago, the NHL billionaires (the owners) want to cut the salaries of the NHL millionaires (the players) from 57 percent of league revenue to 46 percent.

That revenue for the 2011-2012 season was a record 3.3 billion dollars. Forbes reported that the average value of an NHL team has increased five percent since the 2010-2011 season, and 20 percent since 2007.

Those figures do not make it sound like the owners are short of money.

Overall attendance of NHL games has increased 1.8 percent from the year before, and 2.8 percent from the 2009-2010 season.

The owners clearly don’t mind spending money. The Minnesota Wild signed free agent forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to identical 13-year deals worth $98 million. That is nearly $200 million invested in just two players.

It seems odd that the owners would ask the players to take less money while signing them to ridiculous contracts.

Of course, the biggest losers of the lockout are those not directly involved with it. Television channels lose viewers, local businesses lose money and fans lose the opportunity to watch teams they care so much about.

Unlike in 2004, another NHL lockout would be devastating for the league and would set it way back.

Last season was the year of the underdog in the NHL, as the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings entered the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

In the Eastern Conference, the Florida Panthers clinched their first playoff berth in 12 years after winning the Southeast Division. The Panthers also averaged about 1,000 more fans per game than they did a season ago.

So why are the owners threatening a lockout? Like all other sports, hockey is a business with the goal of making money, and even though the league as a whole makes money, several teams are struggling to make a profit.

Should the NHL have a lockout some players, most notably reigning league MVP Evgeni Malkin, have agreed in principle to play with other teams outside of the NHL.

The draw of hockey is arguably at its highest point, and the amount of coverage is consistently increasing. More and more people are becoming hockey fans.

A lockout would kill any momentum the league made in terms of attracting new fans and keeping current fans. It would not only jeopardize the sport in the present, but also could end up costing the NHL financially for years to come.

Commissioner Gary Bettman says that he wants to get a deal done before the deadline, but the first game of 2012 may start later than desired.

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