In the wake of the cancelled Winter Classic, the NHL season might have a chance
NHL talks finally began again this weekend in the wake of the Winter Classic cancellation. It’s huge, but it still doesn’t appear as though anyone has blinked yet.
According to a source and reported by ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, the NHL would be willing to fund a portion of any pre-existing contracts affected by a new CBA revenue split ratio. This part of the agreement would be called a “make whole” provision. However, since they are only partially funding it, the rest of the funds would have to also come from the NHLPA, which likely raises more than a few questions from the players themselves and their counsel, Don and Steve Fehr.
Since the NHL recently conceded to take the majority of the burden from the players’ association, that would seem like another very key piece of the negotiating puzzle sliding into place, but it remains to be seen whether or not this is a sign of potential concession on the part of the owners or just another attempt to get the NHLPA to agree to something else in the proposal.
The effect of the Winter Classic’s cancellation on the negotiations is nebulous. The NHL did not necessarily have to cancel the event anytime soon, as was pointed out by ThePensblog.com in an October 26th post, citing the New York Times’ description of the stadium rental agreement with the University of Michigan’s Michigan Stadium, where the January 1st regular season game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings was to be held. The game could have been cancelled as late as game day due to work stoppage without significant financial repercussions, yet the NHL cited a lack of adequate preparation time as the reason for the cancellation, which may have been true.
However, the cancellation date itself, on November 2nd, seems arbitrary in retrospect, if not to persuade negotiations to continue. The “signature event” was a marketing dream for a league that has struggled to gain lucrative exposure in American markets. It was fun for the players, enormous for league revenue, and became the subject of HBO’s documentary series 24/7, which brought an intimate look at hockey to a wider audience. In short: the Winter Classic was kind of a big deal. The statement of its cancellation could be interpreted as honest–a simple “hey guys we really can’t get this off the ground right now.” Or a warning: “Look how serious we are now. Do you want this to keep happening?”
If an agreement is reached quickly, games could begin in early December, allowing for perhaps as many as 70 regular season contests per team, not far off from the usual 82-game season. If the NHL is willing to go forward with the “make whole” provision, however, they will still have to negotiate with the NHLPA as to how that money will be doled out and when, with any payment deferrals likely to be a point of contention.
Still, the mood coming out of this weekend’s discussions, held between Bill Daly and Steve Fehr in an undisclosed location, has been positive. The two spoke Saturday night and into Sunday morning, and some believe that the promise of further negotiations means we are well on our way to a whole season.
Who knows what kind of season it could be? So many teams lost money last season–18 of 30 to be precise. The appetite for hockey among fans will likely be tainted with a bitter flavor. Will the seats in arenas be full with relief, or will people be more likely to watch at home? The competitive spirit will also take some time to kick in, and the nascent season will likely feel unnatural and strange, born on the coldest winter nights rather than in early autumn.
But without the media frenzy of the Winter Classic waiting in the wings and a lot to prove to the world’s hockey fans, a truncated NHL season might just have a chance. All it needs is for someone to let it happen.