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I’m sure you’ve been buried under enough of this stuff, but here is my first CBA-related post, one that I make out of curiosity and frustrated reflection. It’s a weird time to be an NHL fan.

Image from CBSSports / Getty Images

Everyone and their Canadian grandmother is abuzz about the (impending?) doom that could (will?) accompany the wide gap in CBA negotiations between NHL owners and the players. I don’t claim any kind of expertise in either collective bargaining negotiations or labor strife, but I couldn’t help but be struck by the shockingly ineffective PR work done by the owners, how this has resulted in guiding my viewpoint… and how very little that matters whatsoever.

I’m not interested in making this a political blog, but I do want to give some context to my thoughts: I typically don’t tend to side with unions. And despite the problem of there actually being a lockout, the 2004-2005 NHL lockout was seemingly done for the right reasons.

Judge however you will, but the idea of a level playing field through the salary cap is desirable. While I don’t typically support artificial propping-up of failed organizations, the world of sports is one that (I feel) works better when teams are on relatively even financial ground in terms of pure operational ability. From there, it becomes a difference of managerial competence that creates a gulf between the current day Penguins/Sharks/Bruins and the Jackets/Islanders/Oilers of the NHL.

But that’s just the thing: there’s not all that much about the current NHL system for a fan to be up in arms about. Yes, loopholes in salary cap circumvention aren’t exactly enjoyable, but these tools (long contracts with tails) are available to every team, and turnaround is very doable (change happens both from the brink for Chicago or Pittsburgh, or from the very top for Buffalo). While the NHL lockout was a worst-case scenario, the outcome has been highly successful. Tweaks to revenue sharing or outright franchise relocation (for teams losing money) would seemingly solve the few noteworthy monetary woes in the system.

It is within the realm of that success that the NHL owners ask for more. I’m not opposed to that philosophically (any business should be looking for more when reasonable), but I am opposed within my scope as a hockey fan and casual observer of the expiring CBA. And that opposition stems from the rather shocking starting point offered by the NHL owners.

I don’t dislike the owners’ desires, and I mean that very honestly. This might not be a popular view, but I can see what’s driving them. Unfortunately, it’s their departure from current practice that’s so astounding and lamentable. Unless I’ve missed something, media observers (traditional and otherwise) have found little within the NHL owners’ opening salvo that suggests an inherently better league will result from this proposal. The NHLPA response seemed more grounded, reasonable, and when placed beside the owners’ ideas, it seems (at least to these untrained eyes) to be a better starting point for compromise. Accordingly, it looks like a way to keep this coming season alive. Very simply, I like that.

To that end, the NHLPA has (to date) clearly won the PR battle over a new CBA. Their proposal is (at least within my understanding) less radically removed from the system agreed to in July 2005. Perhaps even more remarkable is that the union has won over somebody like me, a skeptic to the goals of a union in dictating the expenditures of a company. I like that their language pushes for the season to start, and I like that revenue breakup doesn’t vary much from the currently successful setup.

Unfortunately for us as fans, the differences (the “wide gap” as described by Gary Bettman) still seem quite large, perhaps lending to the belief that the owners won’t want to come halfway. A lengthy commentary and comparison on the NHLPA proposal from Stu Hackel of Sports Illustrated finds the NHLPA in a “mindset of cooperation.” Indeed, their views on revenue sharing and more modest player salary concessions are made out of self-interest, but are less jaw-dropping than the massive player percentage slash suggested by the owners. Further comparisons between the two sides were made yesterday on Puck Daddy. But unfortunately, Greg Wyshynski comments “[Revenue sharing] may not even be a “make or break” issue when it comes to a work stoppage, although it’s inherently tied to one that is — the players’ percentage of revenues.”

And at least to this quasi-uninformed observer, that’s where the real depression sets in. The very basis of the reasonable conversation started by the NHLPA may not even matter. This is all in the hands of the owners, those who are looking to radically reshape the revenue landscape of the NHL to benefit their bottom-line.

Again, their goal is not a problem to me, but their (seemingly) rigid proposal and distance from the NHLPA view is concerning. Yes, there’s still time left and I certainly wouldn’t pretend to know the real-time status of negotiations (ideally, things are moving along and both sides are warming to the idea of a middle ground). But this time around, the fan in me can’t help but be frustrated about the slowly-forming hostage situation.

There’s nothing my fondness for the NHLPA ideas can accomplish. There’s nothing I can do but wait and hope for quick resolution. As silly as it is to admit, this very post is a meaningless ode to the hope that there is a season. I want to talk about the Blue Jackets as they win or lose. But right now I can only wait out the storm and hope that half my content-inspiration doesn’t vaporize for a year. I can only hope that my favorite sport (blogging or otherwise) doesn’t disappear for a year.

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