Normally the arrival of September brings also the anticipation for the NHL season ahead which starts in October. September is the start of training camp and pre-season hockey, however, this year all of the focus is one date: Sept. 15, which is when the current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has already unveiled his plans for hockey if no new deal is reached by the Sept. 15 date, threatening to lockout the players for the second time in as many negotiations.
“I’m hopeful”, said veteran forward Andy McDonald. “I don’t know how realistic it is to think a deal will get done by Sept. 15. The sides seem to be far apart right now. But that being said, there is still some time here to get it done and hopefully everyone realizes that for the good of the game we need to get a deal done. We can’t go through what we did last time and have a lockout where fans don’t get to see hockey for a year.”
The 'last time' is still fresh on the minds of the players, as it was only seven seasons ago. The issues between the players and the owners caused the NHL to miss the entire 1004-05 season, and hurt hockey to a point in which it has taken nearly seven years to recover. Now there is a very good chance that the NHL will go through another lockout, hopefully avoiding missing an entire season, unless the two sides find some common ground in negotiations.
The players have a new leader in Donald Fehr, and are refusing to cave into the owners' first two proposals, but the owners are not finding much to their liking about the two counter-offers the players have proposed. It is a stalemate that has most believing at least the first part of the season will be missed.
Many of today's players were not in the league the last time the NHL went through this situation, but the ones who were feel better about negotiations this time around claiming that they understand the negotiation process much more clearly.
“I was there last time when we went through (a lockout)", said McDonald. "I think this time we are a lot more united. I think there is a better understanding of the situation that we are in and we have different leadership this time but I think, as a whole, the players understand the issues and we are willing to negotiate and want to play hockey, but we also want a fair deal.”
But no matter how well the players understand where they are coming from, it will take the owners seeing the same way, something that hasn't happened to this point, to get a deal done.
The biggest issue appears to be agreeing on hockey-related revenue, and what share each side should get. The players see it one way and the owners have their own view. The owners' first proposal asked the players to give up more of their hockey-related revenue (as much as 11%), and also focused on re-defining what 'is' hockey-related revenue.
Until this issue is resolved, a lockout will be in effect starting Sept. 15.
There still remains a chance that as the NHL-imposed lockout date creeps closer that one or both sides will realize the serious repercussions another lockout will have, but there seems to be no sense of urgency as no more negotiations are currently scheduled. It is speculated that both sides are willing to miss the first month or two of the season to reach a labor peace that is fair for both sides, and that the NHL will kick off its season on Nov. 23 when the Boston Bruins face off against the New York Rangers for a "Black Friday" game. This could be a very real possibility, but it remains to be seen if the two sides can work something out to start the season earlier.
The players will continue to train and prepare as if there will be a season and as if it will start on time, while knowing that at this point there is a good chance another lockout is coming.
“You take it one day at a time", said Blues' forward Patrik Berglund. "You listen to what others, especially David Backes, has to say about it. You just wait it out and see what happens and the only thing we can do is stay in shape and if we do have a season we will be ready to go.”