My Two Cents: NHL Cancels Games thru Dec 30th After Players, Owners Fail To Strike A Deal

My Two Cents For December 10th:

It’s “No Deal”- After three days of talks between a number of NHL players and owners this past week, the league turned down the latest offer from the players this past Thursday. For a couple of days, it actually appeared as if there was some progress being made in attempt to end the 12 week old NHL lockout. However because of the failure of both sides to agree to a new CBA, 104 more games have been cancelled from December 15th through the 30th. The earliest a season can start now would be New Years Eve, and that ofcourse is without a Winter Classic or All-Star weekend. NHLPA Special Council Steven Fehr and the league’s Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly met over the weekend to discuss a few lockout items, which was tantamount to two people meeting at Starbucks for a cup of coffee. On Friday, NHLPA Head Donald Fehr spoke to a gathering of the Canadian Auto Workers Union. Fehr told the captive audience in audience that the ending the lockout is up to the league itself. “It’s up to them. They’re the ones who called a halt to the process.”*

At this point there are really only two possibilities left. The NHL will either (A) strike a deal such as they did in the 1994-95 season and have a season reduced to approximately 48 games and have a mad dash to the playoffs, or (B) will cancel a season for the second time in eight years, basically further alienating an already fragile fanbase who was just starting to get over the loss of the 2004-05 season. “B” is certainly worse than “A”, and if the league goes the route of a cancelled season it’s not only fiscal suicide, but basically suicide for the league as a whole. The damage because of a second lost season will take much longer to recover from than the lost season of eight years gone by. For all franchises, this will mean a huge loss of revenue as season tickets get cancelled, maybe this time for good. Merchandising will also take a huge hit as few people want to by items from a league which has gone from being the National Hockey League to the “No Hockey League.”

Those Who Don’t Learn From History…- What is truly sad here is that it’s very clear the NHL and Commissioner Gary Bettman did not learn anything from what happened eight years ago. If they did not learn from that experience, they will never learn period. This is not only a matter of taking the fanbase for granted, but in essence is throwing the fanbase under the bus. The cancelled 2004-05 season spelled the end of a major TV contract with ESPN, who will never be back. Will NBC and The NBC Sports Network continue to carry games in the future if the season gets cancelled? Do they have an “out clause” they can act on of the season is scrubbed? The cancelled season costs teams season ticket holders who no longer trusted the league or believed in it. What fans have comeback from this disaster now are thinking twice about it. As far as the Owners go, every game cancelled, every ticket that is rendered worthless because of a cancelled event is a tax write off for these owners. The eight owners who called for the lockout are rich enough to withstand the business losses especially if they are vested in other business, in which most are. If you think for even a moment that these eight owners care anything about the fans, guess again.

This will also effect corporate sponsorships for the league, everything from automobile manufacturers to beer sales through advertising. If I am thinking about buying time to air commercials before, during or after an NHL contest, my question would be to Commissioner Bettman “Why should I invest in your product when your league (because of another lockout) is projected to have low ratings, and have had two league shutdowns in eight years, and realistically four lockouts in 20 years. The NHL is backing itself into a corner where it will be a tough sell not only for what they could salvage if anything for this season, but also for future seasons. This will also effect teams as far as their local media markets are concerned. This will hold true at least as long as Bettman, and Deputy Commissioner Daly remain in power. With Bettman installed at least thru 2016, and Daly being nothing more than “Bettman II, The Sequel”, the NHL is in big trouble perhaps for years to come. The league could become insolvent enough to where a few franchises who stop drawing may have to move, or even contract and disband. The last franchise to disband in the NHL was the California Seals/Cleveland Barons franchise who became defunct after the 1975-76 season (after moving to Cleveland).

Nobody wants to see a franchise get contracted. The reality is however that a few franchises have lost money last season, some more than others. If this lockout causes the cancellation of the season, this will contribute to putting some teams in financial turmoil. The Phoenix Coyotes are the most glaring example of this. The Sharks themselves as well documented by their ownership group lost $15 million last season. The revenues lost by each team this season will far exceed that number. The NHL could not make a more concerted effort to commit suicide that it is right now. The players who came in to the meetings last week are sick and tired of being locked out and want this matter to be resolved…as of yesterday. The failure of the league to accept the players offer after two solid days of negotiations really just hurts the game of hockey even more.

A Battle of Wills- This lockout is becoming nothing more than a game of chicken between Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr. Which one will flinch first and give in. If you take Fehr’s side in this fiasco, rest assured he has all the time in the world and he knows it. Fehr in many ways is the one who is in complete control of this situation. Until he gets what he wants, there is no NHL hockey period. Meanwhile, Commissioner Bettman is doing his best to break him and is finding out what major league baseball found out about Fehr back in 1994, Fehr is the master of the long protracted hold-out. He’s not interested in hearing about how many games are lost or what revenue is lost, or even the damage to the league. Fehr could care less. All he knows is that he is the one in control as far as he is concerned. It’s his way or no way, end of discussion.

Bettman meanwhile is no saint himself as most of us already know. He loves his job and like Fehr, believes he is control of all things that matter. He knows he is unpopular with the majority of the hockey fanbase. However, Bettman did not become the league’s Commissioner to make friends or win a popularity contest with the fans. He will tell you he is pulling out all of the stops to try and save what he can of this season. He knows the loss of another season would be disastrous, yet at the same time is being just as stubborn and Fehr and is determined to break him at the request of the owners who voted for the lockout. Not even the pleas of a number of players who came to the table in good faith last week were able to break the staring contest between Bettman and Fehr. If there by some “Grace of God” is a settlement in the near future, it cannot come soon enough. Any season that starts now will be marked by an asterisk in the eyes of many. What has been learned over three previous lockouts under Bettman’s stewardship? Again, apparently absolutely nothing. As far as Bettman being tough at the negotiating table goes, Fehr is obviously not impressed. The end result, we now have 526 games wiped off of the schedule which began back on October 11th. If you are keeping score at home, that’s over 43 percent of the season now gone.

The NHL at the Crossroads- The league’s future may well be determined based on what happens over the next couple of weeks, before more games are cancelled. If the lockout carries into January with the stalemate still in full effect, the season will move onto cancellation. If the season is going to be saved (or in this case salvaged), the settlement on a new CBA will have to come within the next two or three weeks. Beyond that, you lose any chance of having a credible season or at least being able to put something together that would make any sense. As far as the players go, they have to decide if they want to be a part of the negotiating process the next time around. Their participation here is critical. The only way to work things out at this point is for both sides to see where they have some middle ground and get ahold of any loose ends which are holding up the process. A CBA can be reached if both sides truly decide to work together and are willing to do so. Last week was at least a sign that progress can be made. However, it is in the best interest of all sides regardless of who they are to check any and all egos at the door. This is the only way this will get done anytime soon. If not, Fehr has no problem driving this matter right off of the cliff and certainly is not afraid to do so.

As for my advise to NHL fans, I would say guard your optimism and at the same time don’t hold your breath. All we can do now is wait, the same thing we’ve been doing for the last 12 weeks. If the NHL cannot figure out something that it should have planned for well ahead of this, then they’ve got bigger problems than just what is at the surface. It is disgraceful that a sitting Commissioner could have allowed for what happened eight years ago let alone right now. Regardless of who you chose to blame, there is no way Gary Bettman is not at least an enabler here. The fact that the CBA was allowed to just expire without any serious talks this past summer or even the summer before is just beyond any reasonable comprehension. Any decent businessman would have handled this issue long before it came home to roost. This ignorance coupled with arrogance if not the death nell for the NHL certainly comes pretty close. Granted Donald Fehr hasn’t really been a big help as his legacy is hardball drags another professional sports league down the tubes. Who knows for how long this lockout once it finally ends will leave a black eye on the sheild of the NHL. The bridges burned here wont take years to rebuild, it may take decades.

Down On The Farm- The Sharks ECHL affiliate, the San Francisco Bulls played three games this past week. Starting with last Wednesday night, the Bulls came away with a 4-1 win the in-state rival Bakersfield Condors at the Cow Palace. Daniil Tarasov and Peter Sivak scored on the first period to stake the Bulls to a 2-0 lead. For Sivak, it was the first of two goals for the evening. Dean Ouellet’s 14th goal of the season came in the late in the second period to put the game out of reach. Thomas Heemskerk in the net made 19 saves on 20 Bakersfield shots on goal. However, the Bulls could not extend their good fortune of Wednesday night onto the weekend. The Colorado Eagles came into town and continued their dominate mastery of the Bulls taking two games by a 5-1 score Friday night, and a 3-1 count on Saturday evening. With the two wins the Eagles are now 4-0-0 against the Bulls this season. Jordan Morrison scored the Bulls only goal Friday as the highlight of the evening was the promotional Teddy Bear Toss. Saturday proved to be another frustrating night for the Bulls as they were shutout and trailed 2-0 through the bulk of the contest. Peter Sivak scored with 52 seconds remaining in the final period as the Bulls took advantage of a 5 on 3 power play opportunity. However that was all the Bulls would get as the Eagles tallied an empty net goal before time expired.

The Sharks AHL affiliate in Worcester split a pair of games this weekend. On Saturday night the Sharks lost a tough battle to the Providence Bruins 3-2 in a game that ended in a shootout. Tim Kennedy remained hot running his point total to seven consecutive games with an assist. Kennedy has compiled 12 points in that span, with six goals and six assists. Brodie Reid and Travis Oleksuk netted goals for the AHL Sharks while Alex Stalock made 28 saves on 30 Providence shots on goal. After a disappointing shootout loss at home, the Sharks traveled to Manchester, NH to take on the on the Atlantic Division rival Monarchs. Once again, it was Kennedy who delivered with a goal and an assist. Reid meanwhile would score the game’s deciding goal in the third period as the Sharks came away with a 3-2 win. With the victory, Worchester took sole possession of first place of the Atlantic Division. John McCarthy scored in the second period to draw the Sharks even at 1-1 before Kennedy and Reid delivered in the third period. Harri Sateri made 21 saves in net. Remarkably this was the Sharks fifth win this season in a game where they trailed after two periods.

Items of Note- Some NHL players who went to Europe and the KHL shortly after the lockout began are not able to avoid the occupational hazards such as injuries. Rick Nash, who’s was teaming up with the Sharks Joe Thornton for HC Davos in the Swiss League returned home with an  aggravated groin injury. Nash has played 17 games for HC Davos, scoring 12 goals and picking up six assists. Earlier this season Nash suffered a sprained shoulder. The Sharksrecently returned to the Calgary area after sustaining injuries while playing for SC Bietigheim-Bissingen. He will be participating in workouts with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League. Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche sustained a knee injury while playing for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the KHL. Varlamov has remained in Russia.

Meanwhile Team Canada’s Spengler Cup team may find themselves being one of the beneficiaries of the NHL Lockout. Team Canada has reached out to players such as Jason Spezza, John Tavares, Tyler Seguin and Patrice Bergeron to gage their interest in participating. The Spengler Cup tournament runs from December 26th to the 31st.**

With the NHL Lockout looking as if it will not be settled anytime soon if at all for this season, some of the locked out players got together this weekend in Windsor, Ontario in a charity game to raise funds for a local children’s cancer fund named “Sparkles From Above”. The effort was put together in part by Steve Ott, now with the Buffalo Sabers along with Shawn Horcoff of the Edmonton Oilers, and Dan Cleary of the Detroit Red Wings. Amongst other NHL players who took part in this event include Niklas Kronwall of the Detroit Red Wings, and Kevin Westgarth of the Los Angeles Kings. Goalies who made appearances included Michael Leighton of the Philadelphia Flyers, Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson of the Red Wings. As for the game, Team White defeated Team Black 17-11. Fans also got to participate and get a piece of the action during the intermission periods as they got to participate in shootouts. The totals from those shootout goals counted towards the game’s score.

Final Note, and some Good News- Lockout or no lockout, there will be at least one hockey game played at HP Pavilion (aka The Shark Tank) this year. On Monday, December 17th the ECHL’s San Francisco Bulls will take on their Northern California rival, the Stockton Thunder with the Bulls being the host team. This game will replace the one which was scheduled at the Cow Palace on January 16th. The game will be free for Bulls ticket package holders and starts at 7:30pm. The Sharks Foundation will also be hosting their annual Toys For Tots drive. Their will also be a raffle held for those who donate an unwrapped toy or make any monetary donation to the fund. For more information call the San Francisco Bulls at (415) 469-9843. Parking at HP Pavilion will be free and will be on a first come first served basis. If you only take in one hockey game this year, please make this the one you see.

…Just My Two Cents…

The King Shark 

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