Thursday, September 13, 2012

Reasons For Pessimism!

1) With the lockout a mere two days away, the more we read of whats going on behind the scenes the more pessimistic we feel that this will be resolved quickly.  Certainly we don't think it will be resolved before the Saturday owners/Bettman imposed deadline. Why?  Several factors are occurring simultaneously to thwart an easy resolution.  Firstly is the astounding resoluteness that the players appear to be showing this time around. We attribute this to Donald Fehr who as one player told us, "exudes self confidence, but also is a good listener". From a players perspective that's huge. Last time Bob Goodenow, although the first real advocate for the players, was anything but communicative.  " Trust me, I'll take care of it" was usually what he'd say to players wanting information.  Fehr has been in this situation with MLB many times before and is anything but intimidated by the likes of a Gary Bettman. If anything one source tells us, Bettman is intimidated by Fehr.  The players and Fehr have a completely different view point and are pretty united behind it.

2) Secondly, the players will have a much higher chance of finding work if/when locked out. We decided to take a realistic look at how any players might find alternative work.  This factor may be vital in determining the ability of the players union to withstand a prolonged lockout.  Last time around a hand full of players went to Europe to play, and a couple played in lower North American minor leagues.  As a result when the league cancelled the season in February 2005, 95% of the players had gone almost a year without any meaningful income and were very antsy and easy for the league to divide and conquer (and they did) Fast forward to today.  For starters there is a new expanded, Russian league, the KHL, which is eager to compete with the NHL for talent and would welcome with open arms any Russian stars, and probably a number of North Americans. Now there is a league limit of imports, but only for the Russian based teams and its quite possible that they may alter their rules to accommodate additional job hunting (former) NHL-ers.  We estimate that as many as 75-100 players (50 minimum) might find work there.  Additionally the various 'elite' leagues in Sweden, Finland, and Switzerland have all indicated they'd be amenable to allow a number of NHL players participate, especially if they are natives of their country.  We figure that could allow an additional 50 or so NHL locked out players to earn a regular(albeit, significantly reduced) pay cheque.

3) Additionally, players on their entry level contracts, and over 19 are eligible to play in the AHL and receive a smaller, but decent salary, but more importantly, keep playing. That might account for another 50 or so players.  A few players, 19 or under might also be able to return to their junior teams for the season and evade the labour strife all together.  Another HUGE difference this time around is the fact that the players are due to receive some 8-10% of their 2011-2012 salary back from the "escrow".  Come mid October, just as they would have expected to get their first pay cheque for this season the players will ALL get a nice bit of income to help hold them over for a while.  Some might get as much as 500-750K!  Additionally a new possible wrinkle is the NHLPA's attempt to have the 'lockout' made illegal.  Especially in Canada labour law is very stringent. Employers can't simply refuse to not employ workers with legally binding contracts. Therefore we could see a situation where 7 teams or nearly 25% worth of players would get a regular salary regardless of the lockout situation.

4) In past lockouts the owners and Bettman relied heavily on the financial motive to bring the players to their knees.  The old saying of billionaires outlasting millionaires is very true, but how long the millionaires can last might be a bit more this time around. Those same players also have more chances to find a pay cheque elsewhere to tide them over/increase the mount of time they will be able to 'fight on'.The more time that goes by, the more sides may harden and make a settlement all the more difficult to achieve.  The owners start to lose $$ earlier with lost exhibition games, and they won't be quick to move their demands once they feel a pinch and may want to extract a similar pain on to the players   Do the owners have a realistic understanding of what might happen if this becomes a protracted stoppage?  The players aren't likely to fracture like 2004-05. They are well informed and are involved. It will all come down to will. As a result we aren't optimistic for hockey to even be played this calendar year, if not until next fall at the earliest.

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