No one can say for sure how long the National Hockey League’s latest labor dispute might last.
No one ought to say, though, that it has anything to do with the Nashville Predators.
Commissioner Gary Bettman and league owners imposed a lockout upon expiration of the collective bargaining agreement with the NHL Players Association on Saturday night. The primary issue is salaries — specifically the percentage of league-wide hockey-related revenue that should be available for that purpose.
It is the NHL’s fourth work stoppage since 1992 and, according to reports, no negotiations are scheduled. The most recent was a lockout that canceled the entire 2004-05 season.
The league office issued a statement Sunday that read, in part: “Thanks to the conditions fostered by seven seasons under the previous CBA, competitive balance has created arguably the most meaningful regular season in pro sports; a different team has won the Stanley Cup every year; fans and sponsors have agreed the game is at its best, and the League has generated remarkable growth and momentum. While our last CBA negotiation resulted in a seismic change in the League's economic system, and produced corresponding on-ice benefits, our current negotiation is focused on a fairer and more sustainable division of revenues with the Players — as well as other necessary adjustments consistent with the objectives of the economic system we developed jointly with the NHL Players' Association seven years ago. Those adjustments are attainable through sensible, focused negotiation — not through rhetoric.”
Nashville, though, was comfortable enough with the old system that it finalized a handful of future contracts with players in the final hours of the CBA.
On Saturday afternoon, defenseman Kevin Klein signed a five-year, $14.5 million deal that begins with the 2103-14 season. Hours later forward Craig Smith signed a two-year, $4 million deal that starts in 2013-14.
A day earlier, forward Gabriel Bourque signed a two-year, $1.55 million pact beginning in 2013-14.
Bourque also was one of 22 players assigned to the Milwaukee Admirals on Friday so that he might play during the lockout. Defenseman Ryan Ellis also was in that group of young and/or inexperienced players who do not need waivers to move between the NHL and AHL.
Franchise officials plan to distribute season ticket packages this week but will freeze all payments on season ticket plans because of the lockout.
Eight years ago the Predators, by virtue of the fact that they played in a small, non-traditional market, were considered central to the debate over the need for a salary cap and revenue sharing, both of which were instituted at that time. The belief was that such instruments were necessary to allow them and other teams like them to compete with teams in the larger markets to sign and retain players.
Nashville made the playoffs in six of the seven seasons under that system. Last November it signed goalie Pekka Rinne to a seven-year, $49 million deal that is set to begin with the new season. Last month it matched the 14-year, $110 million offer sheet defenseman Shea Weber signed with Philadelphia.
“It’s kind of a sad thing that you look at the history of our game, the history of our league and how — so often — it keeps coming back to the same thing,” Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said in an NHLPA video posted on the union’s website. “I think the goal here, especially from the players’ standpoint, is to find something that is fair and reasonable and is something that we can instill for years to come where we’re not going to have these problems down the road.
“The system that is supposedly broken was designed by the NHL owners and the league itself.”