Gary Bettman announced to the media Thursday, that he fully intends to lock the players out if there is no deal reached by September 15th. Looks like a long offseason may become much longer.
"Time is running short and the owners are not prepared to operate under this collective bargaining agreement for another season, so we need to get to making a deal and doing it soon," ~ Gary Bettman
Bettman's comments come after his counterpart NHLPA leader Donald Fehr had said the players were willing to go into training camps without a deal by September 15th. Clearly Bettman has a different idea.
Bettman's comments will do one of two things. One way to look at the comments is as Bettman trying to light a fire under the NHLPA. The league and owners submitted their idea for the CBA to the NHLPA weeks ago, but the NHLPA has yet to submit their counterproposal to the league. The September 15th deadline leaves just 5 weeks for the two sides to hammer out a deal and with the NHLPA expected to submit their offer on Tuesday hopefully the two sides will be eager to make a deal. Bettman was obviously not happy with how long Fehr was taking visiting players in Russia and around the world, so he decided enough is enough. Either submit your counter offer or be ready for a lockout.
The other thing that could happen is obvious, five weeks isn't enough time for the two sides to fix out all the "kinks" in a new deal. Therefore if one side is unwilling to back down we WILL see a lockout. With the September 15th deadline talks must happen quickly and swiftly in order for a deal to get done, the slightest hiccup or resistance from one side will result in missing the deadline.
Hopefully for hockey fans it's the first option that happens. Fehr and the players feel the fire lit under them and are eager to get a deal done.
It is odd however that Bettman would come out and firmly state they meet the deadline or no hockey as another lockout would only further tarnish his reputation. If the 2012-2013 season does begin with a lockout, it will be the third lockout under the leadership of Bettman. 3 lockouts in 17 years, not exactly a great legacy.
But what worries me most (and should worry you too) is not who's right, because frankly their both rich and greedy men who don't want to back down. But the worst part of the impending lockout is the NHL's reputation. Sure there are some die hard hockey fans that will be sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for the league to come back, but what about all the fringe fans or the fans we lost in the last lockout? The majority of people are just going to move on and find other things to watch and do while the NHL is on strike, but who says they'll come back?
The NHL still has not recovered from the last lockout. Lot's of fans stopped watching and caring about hockey. What turns a lot of people off is the fact that the league owners and the players are already millionaires yet they still want more money. Heck that even turns me off! Why do millionaires need to fight over more money, just play the game you're payed millions to play!
If Bettman sticks to his "deadline" and there is a lockout, the NHL will lose millions of fans who may never come back.
Let's use the Toronto Maple Leafs as a prime example. It's been 8 years since the Leafs were last in the playoffs. There is now a whole generation of Leafs fans that haven't seen or don't remember them being in the playoffs. Pretty soon young kids will not want to support the Leafs. With another lockout it will become 9 years (7 seasons) which means kids that are 12-15 won't remember the Leafs in the playoffs. Who want's to cheer for a team that to their memory hasn't made the playoffs?
Hockey in America is already struggling. The majority of Americans would rather watch football or basketball before hockey on any given day. Take away the third option they're still left with football and basketball which they prefer anyways. If you take away hockey all together people are going to lose interest in the sport. What kind of professional league has 3 lockouts in 17 years?!?
The sad thing, there is really no need for a lockout. It shouldn't be this difficult for two sides to come together and workout a new agreement. The players got tired of being pushed around by Bettman, as a result they hired one of the toughest negotiators in sports. Now we have two power hungry men who don't want to backdown and as a result innocent fans are going to get hurt.
While I'd like to remain optimistic about a deal getting down, it's not looking good. Week by week the chances of the 2012-2013 season starting on time are slipping away, hopefully if they don't start on time they will at least start.
Fans take advantage of the lack of professional hockey and head down to watch your local AHL, OHL, CHL or junior team so you can see players who actually play for the love of the game!