Boclair: Predators get paid before lockout drops market

Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 1:05am

This time the National Hockey League’s players swear they are more resolute. Thanks to their current leadership, they certainly are more informed and more involved.

Yet they also seem resigned to their fate.

The NHL’s second lockout in less than a decade is now in its second week. At this point, the effect of the action taken by the owners and commissioner Gary Bettman is a little more apparent because games, albeit preseason ones, are being wiped off the board.

The Nashville Predators, for example, were scheduled to play two contests Monday at Florida and then throw open to the doors to Bridgestone Arena for the first time Tuesday, when the St. Louis Blues were supposed to come to town.

Instead, we all wait.

It is worth noting, however, that in the days that preceded the Sept. 15 expiration of the last collective bargaining agreement players in Nashville and around the league did not hesitate to sign contract extensions with their current teams.

Defenseman Kevin Klein agreed to a five-year pact that begins with the 2013-14 season, and forwards Craig Smith and Gabriel Bourque added two years to their time, also to start the season after this one, assuming there ultimately is a ”this one.” Tyler Seguin signed for six more years with Boston. Cam Fowler agreed to another five years with Anaheim, and Evander Kane locked in for six more years with Winnipeg.

These are all good players — some with superstar potential. With the exception of Klein, all of the above are youngsters who had not signed a deal beyond their entry-level contracts, which means they had not yet had the opportunity to cash in on their skills in a big way. There are a number of others who took similar action as well.

That collective rush to get new deals done before the lockout suggests they don’t think the same type of money is going to be available to them once business activities resume. It was one last cash grab before money is taken off the table.

Of course, in all the rhetoric connected to this labor dispute, the players, led by NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, contend it is not necessary for the league to reduce the players’ 57 percent cut of hockey related revenues, particularly not down to 43 percent, which the owners first offered.

Listening to what both sides have to say, it is nearly impossible to believe the owners are in such bad shape that they needed to halt all business activities again. After all, they got virtually everything they wanted from the last lockout, which canceled the entire 2004-05 season. Revenue, television ratings and other key indicators all increased exponentially in the seven seasons that followed.

Then again, that’s the point.

A lockout was such an effective tool for the owners last time it only makes sense for them to think it will work well a second time.

One notable difference is that Fehr, a groundbreaker as the longtime leader of the Major League Baseball players union, is now guiding the players. His move to make the NHLPA more accessible to all of its members has been effective enough that 283 players got together for two days of meetings just prior to the lockout.

He told them what they needed to know. He prepared them for what was to come. He gave them hope
that things would be much different this time.

Apparently, though, he did not convince the players that things would be even better for them once everything is settled. If he had, then Klein, Smith, Bourque and the others likely would have waited and cashed in at the appropriate time.

Talk is cheap. Talent is not, but it seems even the players know its going to be much more affordable in the very near future.