NHL Lockout update and outlook

NHL Lockout

NHL LockoutThe NHL announced yesterday that the entirety of the 2012 Preseason is canceled, fueling more speculation that the start of the season October 11th is in real jeopardy. The NHL and NHLPA are set to meet this week to try to save the start of the season, but the outlook is bleak. Currently, the biggest point of contention is the revenue split, where the owners are asking players to cut their share of revenue from 57% to 46%. Many players have expressed deep concern with this split and have threatened to sit out the entire season is necessary This has subsequently prompted a mass signing campaign overseas as Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, John Taveres, Erik Karlsson, and the like look for a home to play for possibly the duration of the 2012-2013 NHL season.

When you look deeper at the lockout, it is clear that revenue sharing is far from the only major issue. Another big issue at hand is contracts and free agency. The post 2004 Lockout NHL has featured some of the more insane contracts in NHL, if not sports, history, be it the length (Ovechkin, Suter, Kovalchuk, et al) or the distribution of money (ie Pronger’s front loaded deal and many like it). This has led the owners to ask for restrictions on salaries, including eliminating signing bonuses, uniform distribution of money, and maximum five-year duration for a contract. In addition, owners are seeking to control their drafted players for more time at less cost, as they have asked for entry-level deals to be extended from 3 to 5 years and for a player to become an unrestricted free agent after 10 seasons instead of the current 7 years.

Is the NHL’s proposal fair? In terms of revenue, I have always felt a 50-50 split is the way to go. There is no function NHL governing body with the owners, but there are no games without the players. It is a perfect 50-50 partnership and the revenue split should be obvious and logical. I realize there is a lot more that goes into that, but from the layman’s perspective, both groups are dependent on each other and should simple split the money. The contracts are another story. Owners and general managers should not be allowed to handout insanely front loaded contracts totaling tens of millions of dollars and then call foul and poor. If the argument is for competitive balance, then the league’s proposal is a bit stronger since many contracts signed in recent years have attempted to circumvent the salary cap designed to create balance. But the increase in entry-level deals and unrestricted free agency is garbage. The NHL is essentially trying to force young talent to have no negotiation rights at all for the first 10 years of their career, since the teams hold all the power until unrestricted free agency. Then, with a max 5 year deal, a player is in his 15th season and close to retirement and has only had one chance to cash in on his talent. There is no denying that the previous contract arrangement was flawed, but to handcuff the players like they want to is criminal.

So, what is going to happen? The NHL should really feel a need to act fast. The league’s popularity was on the upswing before this current lockout, finishing a long road to recovery from the previous lockout. Another lockout would be catastrophic for the league. The NFL and other sports are more popular than ever and the new fans of the NHL that came after the last lockout are not guaranteed to return to the ticket office. Also, more so than any other sport, the NHL has real competition from overseas leagues, particularly the KHL. NHL players do not need the NHL as badly as, for example, NFL players need the NFL.   What this all means is the NHL is in dangerous waters now in terms of fans and player participation, and in reality, the future of the league is at stake.

NHL offseason: CBA, coaching, free agency, Crosby and predictions

While the Kings continue to celebrate their organizations 1st Stanley Cup, the rest of the NHL is set to begin what is sure to be an interesting off season. As hockey enters the dog days of summer, here are some storylines to keep an eye on and stay tuned for updated storylines throughout the summer months:

1) The CBA

September 15, 2012. That is the deadline for the NHL to get a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in place before the old agreement expires. For the lay fan, the CBA is a fancy way of saying the contract between the owners (NHL) and players (NHLPA). Historically, the NHL has not handled reaching these agreements very well. The 1995 renewal resulted in a shortened campaign and everyone is well aware of the cancelled 2004-2005 season. This time around, the NHL faces more uncertainty than in the past. The NHL has had issues with viewership as a result of the last lockout, but has been recovering over the last few seasons (despite the low ratings for the 2012 Finals). One has to question whether the league could bounce back from another lockout this year. And the issues are not easy this time around. In addition to needing to establish a new cap agreement, there are issues such as contract length, suspensions, and escrow agreements to consider. Look for the Olympics in Sochi to be a topic as well. The good news this time around though is that they do not need to discuss the need for a salary cap, which was the major stumbling block last time. The latest news is the NHLPA is trying to move the void date of the current agreement up to June 30 to help facilitate a quicker deal and avoid a lockout.

2) Coaching Search

The part of the offseason that interests fans the most are personnel moves, and the first moves to happen will be for the Edmonton Oilers and Washington Capitals to name their new head coaches. While there are only two openings and many available coaches, neither team is likely to compete with each other for their head man. The Oilers are looking for a teaching coach, one that can mold their talented young core into a competitive team, while the Capitals are in search of a coach who can take their talented roster to the next level. Some the names that will likely be flying around over the next few weeks are some old faces such as Brent Sutter and Marc Crawford while new names such as Assistant Coaches Adam Oates (NJ), John Stevens (LA), and Mike Sullivan (NYR) will likely get calls. Look also for Norfolk Admirals Head Coach Jon Cooper and Canadian Junior League Coach Patrick Roy to be popular interviews. If I had to guess, I would say the Oilers take a flyer of Cooper or Sullivan while the Capitals take Oates or Crawford (also, do not sleep on current Assistant Dean Evason in DC).

3) Free Agent Frenzy

Assuming a deal is signed, there is sure to be a fierce battle for the top names in a thin free agent class. The three prizes of the class are Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, and Alex Semin. Each will be seeking a long term deal for big money. Look for Parise to stay in Newark to finish what they started this season. And do not be surprised if Suter and Semin both end up in Detroit of they can make the numbers work. Suter is the logical replacement for Lidstrom and Semin had a good deal of chemistry with Datsyuk at the World Championships. If not Detroit, look for Semin to get offers from LA, the Rangers, and the KHL. The thin FA class also means an increase in trades is likely, so keep an eye on the ever evolving Rick Nash saga.

4) The Decision NHL Style in 2013?

While still a year away, four big name free agents are set to hit the market in 2014, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry from the Ducks and Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal from the Penguins. In the case of Crosby and Perry, look for the Ducks and Penguins respectively to lock up their stars this offseason as soon as the new deal is in place. That means 2 big name centers will likely be available next year in Getzlaf and Staal, which might affect how money is spent by teams this offseason. Rumor has it that Crosby is looking for 9 million and term in his new deal. I would suspect both will get a deal done, but if Crosby is unsigned by the All Star break, look for some teams to start unloading contracts to make room for the Kid. And if he hits the open market, look for a Lebron James like frenzy to woo the superstar from Pittsburgh. Although do not expect a cable special to announce his decision from the reserved Crosby.

5) Predictions, Predictions, Predictions

A favorite past time of experts, fans, and bloggers alike is to use the offseason to make bold predictions for the upcoming season. Here are a few:

1) Claude Giroux will lead the NHL in scoring for the 2012-2013 season. This might not seem too bold, but it would mean he out produces the likes of Ovechkin, Malkin, Crosby, Stamkos, and the Sedins. Look out for the crafty Giroux.

2) Alex Ovechkin returns to form and wins the goal scoring title– One has to assume that any interview for the Capitals job will center on getting the most out of the talents of the falling star. Trust McPhee to make a hire to bring that star back to life.

3) Tuukka Rask wins the Vezina– With Tim Thomas taking the year off; it is time for the much hyped Rask to shine. He has a great team in front of him and will make the Bruins forget about the suddenly troublesome Thomas.

4) The Edmonton Oilers win the Northwest Division– Armed with the likes of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent Hopkins, and the most likely newly drafted Nail Yakapov, the Edmonton Oilers will finally return to the postseason as the 3rd seed in the West.

5) Down falls the hammer- In light of the carnage that was the 2012 NHL Postseason, look for supplemental discipline to be a big factor next season. In all likelihood, some formalization of suspension rules is likely. Formalization could be bad news for stars who have sometime been given light suspension, so look for a big name to be hit hard by Shanahan next season.

Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Blitz Network and can be contacted at MRagghianti@TheSportsBlitz.com