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Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Can Gary Bettman Survive Another Lockout?

While there is no guarantee there will be a lockout next season, as of right now there is no collective bargaining agreement in place. If the NHL and NHLPA are unable to reach an agreement on the new CBA the NHL will likely enter into a lockout. A lockout should be the last thing NHL commissioner Gary Bettman wants.

Since taking over as the head of the NHL in 1993 Bettman has had his critics. He's made some great decisions and helped grow the game but he has also made some rather poor choices. A third lockout may put the final nail in his coffin.

The first lockout under Bettman came in his first full season as commissioner and resulted in the 1994-1995 season to be cut down to 48 games. The main issues during the lockout were the league wanting to add a salary cap and adjust the free agency rules. The lockout got so bad Bettman was even threatened by former player Chris Chelios. who claimed "a fan or even a player might take matters into their own hands to get Bettman out of the way."
The lockout eventually ended in January of 1995. The two sides had not agreed on the salary cap issue, but had decided to put a cap on rookie contracts, start salary arbitration and change the free agency rules, so no players would become UFA until they turned 31. Bettman won over the owners as many believed the owners won the lockout.

The next lockout came in 2004-2005. I remember this lockout, and was extremely disappointed when the season got cancelled. I even did a speech about the lockout and why it should end in 5th grade. It was also right around the time I became a Buffalo Sabres fan. The big issue surrounding the second lockout under Bettman was the players salaries and how much revenue they were making. The players were making 75% of all revenue earned by the league (only making around 57% now). The owners were upset with the contracts and that they players were earning more money. It was announced in September that the players had been "locked out" and then announced three months later the whole season had been cancelled. Making the NHL the first North American league to cancel a season over a labor stoppage. After cancelling the entire season Bettman quickly gained the reputation for being one of the worst business managers.
Eventually the two sides came to an agreement and a hard salary cap was brought in. Also included in the new CBA: Players revenue shares reduced by 24% and the right to be a free agent after 7 years.

Another reason Bettman is so unpopular (especially north of the border) is his insistence on expanding the NHL south of the border and putting NHL teams in markets that can't support. Take Phoenix for example. The city of Glendale can't afford the team, heck Gary Bettman even owns the team. They're in some series trouble. Bettman could pull the plug on the coyotes and move them North of the border to Quebec or another hockey hungry market. The majority of people living in Phoenix don't care about hockey!

Another prime example: There are three hockey teams in Bettman's "backyard" while there is only one team in the largest hockey market in the world (Toronto).  It's sad to think of the 30 NHL franchises only 7 of them call Canada home, considering the game originated from here. Americans love football and basketball, the NHL has done their best to pump hockey into Americans, but they're not going to win them all. Bettman needs to wake up and realize their are markets north of the boarder just dieing for a hockey team. Quebec City and Markham (outside of Toronto) are both building new arenas that are big enough to shelter an NHL team.

The biggest question of all is Can the NHL survive another lockout? Forget about Bettman for a minute, let's focus on the game we all love. While us die hard hockey fans will cry ourselves to sleep if there is a lockout the majority of Americans or fringe hockey watchers will just find another sport to watch. No hockey, no big deal there's basketball and football. If the NHL starts losing fans to other sports. who says they'll come back to support the NHL?

So back to the original question, can Gary Betman survive another lockout. One would have to think the answer would be no. It will be the third lockout under his control, you have to think the owners and players are getting sick of it. The only way the way we would get rid of the dictator would be having more than 15 NHL owners vote against him. But what kind of league goes through three lockouts or work stoppages in less than 20 years? Could it be three strikes you're out for Gary Bettman?

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