NHL Lockout Ends, Hockey Commences

by Billy

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For those of you who know, and those of you who don’t, the NHL (National Hockey League) was in a lockout for a little less than half of the season, which is usually comprised of 82 games. The 2012-2013 season, however, will only have 48. All of those games will be played within the team’s respective conference, meaning the East and West teams won’t meet until the finals.

The lockout resulted due to the expiration of the previous contract between the players and the owners, which expired on September 16, 2012. Both the players and owners desired better benefits from the new deal, and therefore agreed to disagree until the matter could be resolved, meaning the players wouldn’t play, and the owners wouldn’t own.

At one point, the 2012-2013 season was in jeopardy of being cancelled completely. The owners and players realized that total cancellation would exact a huge toll on every party that benefitted from the NHL, whether it is the vendor who sells beer at the game, or the owners and players themselves. Despite countless negotiations and a failed mediation attempt, the players and owners were finally able to reach an agreement.

The dispute existed because the owners were not satisfied with their share of hockey related revenues, contract limits, salary caps, and free agency rules. The previous split of hockey related revenues was in favor of the players, at 57% to 43%. The owners’ new proposal basically flip-flopped the split, and when the players viewed it, they came to the conclusion that the new split would simply not suffice. Both parties were able to agree that 50-50 was fair. In my opinion, the revenue conundrum was the foremost concern of both the players and owners, considering it directly affected their respective salaries.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with sports terminology, a cap is a limit on the amount of money an owner can spend on his players collectively throughout the season. The salary cap disagreement was settled at $64.3 million per team, as opposed to the 70.2 million dollar cap that was utilized in the previous contract. The new cap is in effect next season, however. To most of us, $64.3 million is unfathomable, but to owners of professional hockey teams, it teeters on the brink of becoming insufficient. For example, in previous seasons, NHL teams would be allowed to send some of their players to minor leagues, in order to stay below the cap. This sneaky trick is no longer allowed.

Contract limits and free agency rules were the final two major points of contention between the owners and players. The contract limits were set at seven years for new contracts and eight years for contract extensions. Basically, these new limits were introduced to ensure that the players are not stuck with one team for a large portion of their career. While seven or eight years may seem like a long time, it is important to remember that those figures are simply a limit, and many players sign contracts that bind them for only a couple of years.
The seven year contract limit applies to free agents, as well. A free agent is a player that can sign with whatever team he wants, regardless of the owner’s desires, unless the player is already in a binding contract. A player can only become a free agent if he is 27 years old, or has played in the league for seven seasons. These terms have been in place since 2004, and were left unchanged in the new agreement.

The lockout could have been a more arduous process, if not for the combined determination and cooperation of both the owners and players. During the lockout, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman commented that, “The business is probably losing between $18 and $20 million a day and the players are losing between $8 and $10 million a day.”

If nothing else, money alone could have been an incentive to reach an agreement, but it is obvious that all parties involved really wanted to agree for the love of the game, a notion which was confirmed when many NHL players promptly left the United States to play in foreign leagues for the duration of the lockout.

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