Mention the word ‘lockout’ to any hockey fan, and they’re likely to stop dead in their tracks. Although it’s been seven years since the 2004-2005 lockout, the thought of that entire lost season is still all too fresh in their minds. But now for the first time since that lockout, the collective bargaining agreement is once again on the table; and it’s already caused disturbances on both sides, which is always going to put fans, league execs, and players’ associations ill at ease.
Even though the current CBA doesn’t officially expire until September 15, 2012, fans were first put on the edge of their seats earlier this month, when the issue of realignment came up. The new plan proposed by the NHL would split the two-conference league up into five separate conferences, forcing teams to travel further distances in shorter amounts of time. When the players’ association fought back, saying that it would place too much strain on players and would not allow for enough rest or practice time. The arguing does not bode well for a contract that’s likely lengthy, and likely has many controversial issues.
You’d hope that both sides have “learned [their] lesson the first and realize there’s a lot more at stake,” as Mark Stuart, player rep for the Boston Bruins said in a recent statement regarding the labor negotiations. But even if some are prepared to give a little more and demand a little less, that may not be the case with everyone — especially league Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Bettman believes that the agreement reached seven years ago, the only that largely favored his side of trade talks, was good for the league. In his own statement Bettman said, “I’m not sure it’s about learning lessons, because the lesson that everybody knows — and it’s not one you have to learn — is that you want to not have work stoppages. But if you’re in a situation as we were where there were fundamental problems that had to be addressed, you have to address the problem. So it’s not that we learned anything. It was that we did what we had to do at the time. If you look back over the last six and a half years, the league is in a stronger position that it was when we started collective bargaining for that agreement.”
That’s not encouraging to fans, as it sounds as though Bettman’s prepared to go ahead with it again, should it be what needs to be done. Official negotiations won’t actually begin until after the All-Star game on Sunday, January 29; but the early disagreements certainly have many fans nervous.