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2012 NHL CBA: Would A Lockout Cause “Irreparable Harm To The Sport”?

Eric Macramalla runs Offside, a terrific sports law blog. (And who doesn’t like saying Law Blog?) I highly recommend his recent interview with Paul Kelly, the former chief of the NHLPA. He has a very balanced take on what the issues are on both sides, and speaks from personal experience about what kind of businessman Gary Bettman is like.

Offside: Interview With Paul Kelly

I’ll discuss two highlights.

Keep playing for the good of the sport

Kelly makes no bones about the fact that he thinks a lockout should be avoided for the good of the sport. The owners and players are putting the growth of the sport at risk.

As a hockey fan I’m disappointed, because in my view the sport has really reached a peak in terms of its performance on the ice, and off the ice from a business perspective. You’re bringing in much better sponsorship and licensing revenue, much better television [revenue] both in Canada and the United States. I think the product on the ice is better than it’s ever been… […]
Our attendance is up, interest is up, the Stanley Cup playoffs have been terrific, and I’ve always been concerned that the sport really is going to have a hard time handling another lockout.
Certainly it can handle a short term lockout of a month or two without much of a difficulty, but if it’s an extended lockout, or the risk of a loss of a season, I think that would do really irreparable harm to the sport.

Two smart, stubborn people = impasse

Kelly acknowledges that the impasse was foreseeable since there are two “very smart, very stubborn guys” leading the charge on both sides. He also notes that both have valid points, and you can appreciate where each side is coming from. But interestingly enough, in the latter half of the interview he expresses hope for a compromise.

I believe the ownership and the managers of the sport truly do not want a lockout this time, and they want to play.

He even calls Bettman a “reasonable” negotiator who knows how to make a deal. But the final question is: How do we bring these smart, stubborn people back to the table?

He suggests a veteran general manager (“a Lou Lamoriello type”) or a highly respected owner reach across the aisle to keep discussions going.

Where are talks now?

Since that podcast aired, the two sides have had informal meetings over the weekend. However, opinion varies about how well it is all going and how much progress is being made.

Before talks first began, a common refrain among journalists and fans was: “Things are going so well. They wouldn’t be stupid enough to mess that up now, right?”

As the clock runs down on the final week, we are still asking that question. To many, myself included, a lockout seems so inevitable that we’re reduced to hoping it won’t stretch beyond December. That’s so sad it’s strange to call that a hope.

A compromise is clearly possible, though the NHL has to decide how far it is willing to go in its quest to get its ambitious wish list. All we can hope is that some owners exert pressure to begin the season on time, and both sides stay at the table.

Talking Points