Blame it on the Nashville Predators.
The rest of the National Hockey League might have no choice but to do exactly that if — for the second time in less than a decade — owners feel compelled to impose a lockout that halts all business operations and threatens all or part of the coming season.
It is now less than a month from the Sept. 15 deadline for owners and players to agree on a new collective bargaining agreement. Thus far, neither side has offered up any sort of public optimism in regard to negotiations, the next serious round of which is scheduled for Wednesday.
Owners made the first serious offer. The players responded, not so much with a counteroffer but with what is best described as their own take on a possible solution. Commissioner Gary Bettman classified the difference between the two as “a wide margin.”
Given all that has taken place with the Predators, it is understandable how such confusion exists.
After all, the last time things got this point, Nashville was one of the poster children for the owners who cried poor and claimed they needed a measure of “cost certainty,”aka a salary cap. In fact, on the day that owners locked out the players, the man who at the time wrote the checks for the Predators, Craig Leipold, said, “A new CBA will do nothing but help Nashville. That’s the beauty of it. No matter what
happens ... it’s good for Nashville.”
It took the cancellation of an entire season, but the owners finally changed the economics of the league. They got the salary cap they wanted. They instituted revenue sharing. They figured that every team had the same opportunity to spend for talent and to compete for titles.
Now, here we are and the owners contend that system does not work. So they insist they are willing to do it all again to figure out one that really works this time.
According to reports, they want to reduce the players’ share of overall revenue from 57 percent to 46 or 43 percent, depending on which side you believe. They also want to extend restricted free agency and entry-level contracts, eliminate arbitration and place a five-year limit on all contracts. In an attempt to keep the whole thing from being simply laughable, they also have proposed limits on the size and length of contracts for coaches, scouts and the like.
Of course the Predators, the poor downtrodden franchise of old, recently agreed to pony up $110 million over 14 years to hang on to captain Shea Weber. That was a few months after they signed goalie Pekka Rinne to a seven-year, $49 million deal.
Nashville is no bigger a market than it was eight years ago. Bridgestone Arena does not hold any more people. The league’s television revenue has not increased dramatically.
Sure, ownership has changed, but this is still the same small-market franchise that it always was. Only now it is one that has two of the highest-paid players at their respective positions. It has been in the playoffs every season but one under the current arrangement.
To say the current CBA, now in its final days, did not work as designed is tough to argue in terms of the Predators. They’ve spent money. They’ve been consistently competitive. And they’ve sold more tickets than ever.
So many things are different, yet the one thing that has not changed is the Nashville Predators will be central to the debate, regardless of what happens.
In 2004, they were a big part of the reason that dramatic change was needed — so much so that owners were willing to implement a lockout. Now they provide compelling evidence to say the current system works — so much so that the players are willing to risk another lockout rather than believe the owners’ contention.