Hockey fans prepare for another NHL lockout

When the National Hockey League returned after a lockout cancelled the entire 2004-05 season, it seemed like its representatives learned a valuable lesson.

This year, it seems as if everyone associated with the league has developed amnesia.

The NHL began its fourth lockout in the past 20 years when the collective bargaining agreement, which was signed in 2005, expired Sunday.

Similar to the National Basketball and Football League lockouts of last year, the battle is between money-hungry players and even greedier owners. The people with the most to lose, though, are those who pay their salaries: the fans.

Brad Defreitas, a senior from Springfield studying criminal justice, said he thinks the situation looks unfavorable now, but he does not see the league canceling the entire season as it did in 2004-05.

“I don’t think it will be that bad because I think they’ve learned,” he said.

He said he does think the league will have to resort to canceling a few games since the regular season is slated to begin Oct. 11.

The 29 NHL owners of the 30 teams — excluding the Phoenix Coyotes, which are owned by the league — are unanimously in favor of reducing the players’ share of hockey-related revenue from 57 percent, which was established during the last agreement, to 46 percent.

Other owners’ proposals include putting maximum term limits on player contracts, eliminating signing bonuses when players sign contracts and creating a uniform salary for each year of a contract.

These ideas contradict many NHL owners’ actions over the past few years, particularly those in charge of large markets such as New York and Chicago.

In 2009, the Chicago Blackhawks signed 30-year-old Marian Hossa to a 12-year contract. The contract is “front-loaded,” as Hossa is due to receive $59.3 million of the overall $62.8 million during the deal’s first eight years.

Such agreements give owners the flexibility to cut players or make it easier to trade them during the deal’s later years when, typically, their value and production decreases.

Contracts such as Hossa’s and Ilya Kovalchuk’s of the New Jersey Devils would not exist under the owners’ proposition.

Courtney Tries, a senior from Buffalo, N.Y., studying animal science, said she sides with the players in the labor dispute. She said she thinks the situation could cost the league the entire 2012-13 season because of how far apart the two sides are at the moment.

“I am getting less and less optimistic,” she said. “The players appear to be extremely united and are not going to back down.”

Tries said she interprets the players’ side of the argument as them merely asking for a pay raise. She said she thinks the blame lies with the owners, particularly the more wealthy individuals in larger markets.

She said the NHL needs to help the smaller market teams such as the Buffalo Sabres, her favorite, which is failing to turn a profit year after year. More than half of the league’s teams find themselves in the same predicament.

The fiasco’s biggest surprise to many is how soon it is happening after hockey triumphantly returned in fall 2005.

Fan attendance was at a record high after the signed 2005 collective bargaining agreement. The agreement made hockey more appealing to the casual fan because rules were changed, which made scoring easier.

Shootouts were also added to regular season games, which prevented any contest from ending in a tie.

Joe Honn, a senior from Downers Grove studying journalism, said he thinks the lockout is the owners’ fault because of how they reacted after hockey’s popularity rose during the past few seasons.

“The past few seasons have been some of the most successful, both financially and in play, in the history of hockey,” he said. “The players put themselves on the line every time they skate, and the owners just rake in the money.”

Honn said he does not expect a deal in time to save all 82 scheduled games for each team. He said he thinks hockey can be saved if both the owners and players association can resolve their issues.

“If they can settle the disagreement in a timely manner, then I think hockey will be OK,” he said. “The best way for hockey to promote itself is by playing games.”

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