In 2004-05, the Stanley Cup was inscribed with the phrase “Season Not Played,” because of a labor strife that kept the Cup from being awarded for the first time since 1919.
If the wounds from that heated battle are not fresh enough in the minds of the NHL Players Association and the NHL’s Board of Governors, surely the NBA’s current 77-day lockout is all too poignant a reminder. The NBA is almost guaranteed to not start their season on-time next month.
Exactly one year from today, on Sept. 15, 2012, the NHL’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement will expire after a seven year run.
Surely, a new deal will requirement compromise and concessions from both sides. The NHL’s new salary cap floor, or minimum to be spent by each team, for the 2011-12 season ($48 million) is a full $9 million more than the original salary cap ceiling ($39 million) in 2005-06.
This summer, the NHLPA was able to exercise a one-time five percent salary cap escalator, one of the reasons that sent July 1st’s free agent period into a spending frenzy. Some owners have already publicly groveled about increasing player salaries in a still-down.
As a whole, though, the NHL is just now finally rounding - and surpassing - it’s pre-lockout popularity, while continuing to develop its own niche. A lengthy NBA lockout could increase it’s popularity even more amongst sports fans in non-NHL cities this winter.
That’s why the NHL and it’s players would be foolish to not get a new doing moving sooner rather than later.
“Obviously, we don’t want to end up in a situation where we are coming down to the wire,” Flyers player representative Braydon Coburn said. “I think everyone would agree that’s a worst-case scenario. It will play out how it plays out. But we’ve got a really strong union and we have really strong leadership now, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out.”
Strong leadership is an understatement. Few sports labor leaders are as fierce negotiators as NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, who was hired in 2009 after serving in the same role with the MLB Players Association from 1986-2009.
It was Fehr, 63, who was at the helm of the 1994-95 baseball strike that led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series.
Coburn took over for Scott Hartnell as the Flyers’ rep before last season. Coburn and Matt Carle, the Flyers’ assistant rep, met with the entire NHLPA executive board this summer in Mont Tremblant, Quebec, and Chicago.
Fehr also held regional meetings with small groups of players this summer across North America and Europe. He is about to embark on a fall tour where he will meet with all 30 teams to educate and prepare for the pending bargaining.
Sources said the two sides are expected to begin formal negotiations after the New Year, likely after the Jan. 29 All-Star break. Next summer could be awful sweaty if a new deal is not already in place when the Stanley Cup is awarded in June.
At the very least, it will be one of the “must follow” stories of the new season.
For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers
Get exclusive videos and analysis in our new app for iPhone and Android. Download it here.