The NHL is back. Now what?

The NHL and the Players Association finally got it figured out and the lockout is over and hockey is returning. Best guess is that we’ll see NHL games in about two weeks, and it’ll be a 48 or 50 game season.

Do we care?

More importantly, now what?

The good news: it’s a ten year deal, which can be re-opened after eight years by either side. So we have a while before we have to worry about another round of this labor stupidity.

The better news: The hardline owners who pushed the labor agenda that led to this long lockout and will not likely still be driving the owner bus the next time we have to deal with a CBA. And at his age, it’s unlikely Gary Bettman will be commissioner as well. That makes me hope that whenever the league rolls down this path again, different voices and attitudes will be in charge.

It has to be noted that whatever good Gary Bettman has done for the game of hockey — and he’s done a lot of good — his legacy will be the lockouts. And that under his watch, around 10% of the scheduled games weren’t played due to labor strife. And that twice he forced stoppages on the game and wrangled significant concessions out of the players — only to have to come back the next time the CBA went up for negotiation and do it again. So his legacy isn’t about how the game grew under his watch, it’s how he repeatedly forced the players into deals that were primarily dictated to them by the owners — and those deals didn’t solve the financial issues where were intended to solve, especially with the smaller market teams. 

So when I see the end of the lockout, I have no confidence that this agreement will actually solve those problems, either. And no confidence that in a decade, we won’t be headed right down this path again. And that’s why I think the biggest win of this labor agreement is the length of it, because it means when this agreement expires, different leaders (not just Bettman, but Jeremy Jacobs also needs to — transition — out of the game) will be in place, and hopefully, they’ll have different attitudes that will make the process less painful and confrontational. My hope is that by the time this all becomes a problem again, the rest of the league will have seen the change we saw when the Blackhawks shifted from Bill to Rocky Wirtz. God knows, the league needs it. 

With that off my chest, I think the deal they’ve come to makes sense. Neither side really wins here, but the players definitely had to give up some significant benefits. The revenue split is in line with NFL and NBA splits. I think the variance limits and length of contract limits are necessary and good for the game, but not for elite players. The reduced revenue going to players will likely further hurt the journeyman player, but they take it in the shorts no matter what. The elite players will still get really rich, but the middle guard is going to find it harder to stretch their career.

Overall, I’m mostly happy this is over so that we can have a meaningless limited season like we did in 94-95, because it’ll give the fans time to get their anger out and get over it, and let everyone start off NEXT season thinking about hockey. This season will be about limiting financial losses for the team and players, getting some income out to the stadium people and the local businesses sideswiped by this, and rebuilding the bridges burnt and healing the emotions and getting past the anger this has all caused. It’ll be nice to have hockey back, but it’ll be hard to care about it.

I’ve just seen too much of this to get too upset; business is business (and NHL hockey isn’t a game, it’s a big business based on a game). At this point? Until the NHL convinces me they’ve actually fixed some of the core problems with this agreement, I’m just going to expect more of the same down the road. And my take: the poor teams will be less hurting, but this deal doesn’t have the revenue sharing from the best off teams needed to make them fully whole. But it’s a step in the right direction. 

And now the NHL players who’ve scattered will scamper back to their teams, opening up roster spots they took from other players in other leagues for the duration, and generally wreaking havoc on leagues worldwide as they scramble to fix their rosters. The league tries to build a schedule, the teams try to fire up all of the pieces that we don’t think about that are needed to get teams on the ice and playing.

Sports writers will write all sorts of things about fans staying away and sponsors and money and all of that. Fact is, by this time next year, the sponsor problems will be solved, the fans will be past it, and except for a few hard cores wearing protest T-shirts in the cheap seats or who are writing their protest blogs, things will be basically back to normal and moving forward again.

So it goes.

Here in the household, Laurie is planning her spring training trip. I’m planning my spring photography. We’re watching NFL playoffs and Top Gear. I’ve kinda missed hockey, but less the NHL ought to feel comfortable about. I can honestly say I won’t go to a game this shortened season, the NHL can live without me for the year, but more because I’ve already planned around them, not because I’m protesting. We’ll see what I think next year when next year happens.

Hockey is back. Yay, I guess.