December 2, 2012 by ussportsfanuk
It’s the beginning of December and still there has been no play in the NHL this season. More worryingly, there is little evidence to suggest that this is going to change anytime soon! The NHL and the NHLPA still seem far apart on their demands and there doesn’t seem to be any real effort for either organisation to budge from their current position.
So who is to blame? It probably depends on your own opinion really. The obvious answer for many would be the NHL and in particular Gary Bettman. This is the third time that there has been a lockout since he has been Commissioner. The last one of course resulted in a whole season being lost and this one does appear to be heading the same way. In support of the league though, they are trying to make the best deal for the long-term interests of the teams and the league in difficult financial times. In too many sports now, players are paid too much and the power has shifted from the leagues to the players. This ultimately leads to higher prices being charged to the fans and it is they who lose out (the English Premier League is an example of this). It would be a shame for the NHL to go the same way.
Having said this, the NHL’s argument would be a lot stronger if they were to accept that part of the reason they need to be more financially secure is that they have teams who are losing money in their current locations. It is does not seem fair that well supported teams like the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs have to basically make for the shortfall of the incomes of the likes of the Florida Panthers, Dallas Stars (though they would be helped by realignment, a topic for later discussion) and Phoenix Coyotes. It is this situation that is stopping the league from having more financial security.
The NHL were quick to move the likes of the old Winnipeg Jets, Quebec Nordiques and Hartford Whalers as they looked to move more teams into the southern half the United States to build up interest. This exercise has obviously not been a massive success though, as shown by the protracted saga involving the sale of the bankrupt Coyotes. You have to wonder if it just the NHL being stubborn and not accepting that they may have been wrong as to why they will not move teams back.
Looking at the Phoenix Coyotes (or Arizona Coyotes as they seem set to become) in more detail, perhaps highlights this situation. The team is currently owned by the NHL after going bankrupt. They have been trying to sell the team to various buyers for a number of years, each of which has failed for a number of reasons. In the meantime, the league and the city of Glendale lose money. The fans don’t seem particularly interested in the team with low attendances at Jobing.com Arena despite the Coyotes actually being a good team and making the playoffs the last few seasons. Even when there crowds have been bigger it has been due to low price tickets. Even now, although the city has agreed that Greg Jamison can take over the Arena and ultimately buy the Coyotes, the voting has been drawn out and very split with as many people against the Coyotes staying as there is for. Some aren’t sure exactly where the new owner will be getting the money for the purchase from! Despite this, it will be a real surprise if the NHL do not agree the sale, even though it is expected the team will continue to lose money every year!
The other option for the NHL, of course, would have been to move the Coyotes to another city. A number of cities are interested and have, or are about to have, NHL ready Arenas. Quebec, for example, have been desperate for a team since the Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche. They have an Arena that could be used for NHL games now and would have a brand new 18,000 capacity home in a few years. They have passionate fans, would crete a big fan base for a new team (no doubt the Nordiques again) and be financially viable. The NHL, however, for some reason seem set to keep the Coyotes in Arizona!
So, can the NHL end the lockout? Not on their own as the NHLPA also have to be prepared to soften their demands, however, by admitting defeat on some teams and moving them to more financially viable locations, it would certainly help the NHL create the financial security they seek. This could be one step towards finally agreeing on a new CBA and then, maybe we could actually get some Ice Hockey again!