The NFL got “it”. On Monday, the NFL lockout came to an end after a 4 and 1/2 month work stoppage. Did anyone really notice, or miss it? Other than the constant news on the actual CBA negotiations, not really. Players were not being signed or cut, but the draft occurred as scheduled and there were no actual games lost (except the always exciting Hall of Fame Exhibition game) due to the lockout.
Even the NBA got “it”. They are also currently in a work stoppage, that began on July 1st, a couple of weeks after the season ended. The NBA lockout is expected to drag on for some time, but it is not known whether or not actual games will be lost due to management and labour failure to reach an agreement.
The “it” at issue here is that both leagues’ Collective Bargaining Agreements expired shortly after the end of their respective seasons. I don’t know if this is by coincidence or if it was intentional, but it only makes too much sense. As we have seen in the past, most of the headway in negotiations is made when the heat is on and the work stoppage has already begun. Having the entire off-season to have a strike or lockout where the on-field or on-court product is not affected is the ideal situation. It at least provides some hope that the kickoff of the season will occur on the date it is supposed to. The NFL took almost 5 months to reach a deal, and it was only reached once the grandstanding was done. The deadline loomed as to the “drop dead” date where games and money would be lost, and only then did it become serious enough for both sides to start to show some flexibility on some issues.
All of which brings me to the NHL, and the error made in the timing of the CBA. The NHL/NHLPA agreement runs until September 15th, 2012. The league traditionally begins play around October 5th or 6th in any given year. This means three weeks after the expiration of the CBA, the league is supposed to begin regular season play. That doesn’t leave much time under the gun for a settlement to be reached. And based on past dealings between the NHL and the NHLPA it is probably too much to expect for the two sides to talk seriously before the agreement expires. The smartest thing the two sides could have done in 2005 would have been to make the end date for July 1st, 2011 (the NHLPA elected to extend it for 1 year) rather than September 15th. By that time, training camps are well under way and teams are getting ready to play games, if they haven’t started already.
If the NHL goes through the same 4 or 5 month lockout that the NFL just experienced, it will cost them at least half a season. This would take them through to the end of January, in a best case scenario. Based on the concessions that the owners will be expecting from the players, it appears that an NHL work stoppage could go on at least that long, jeopardizing the entire 2012-13 season.
The wild card is new NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr, who is the newcomer to the NHL negotiating table. Can his experience in Major League Baseball negotiations lend some sanity to the relationship between the two groups that, come CBA time, is fragile at best? Can he get the two sides to start serious discussions before it is too late? Remember, Fehr was instrumental in the player’s strike that surface in the middle of a season and cost MLB the 1994 World Series.
The NHL didn’t get “it”, so enjoy every aspect of the 2011-12 hockey season everyone! You can’t be sure when the 2012-13 season will begin, and one of the reasons for that is the timing of the expiration of the CBA.
Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.
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