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What if Rifts Within the NHL or NHLPA get Wide?

A thought experiment

Atlas Golfed
Atlas Golfed
Mark Kolbe

Forgive me for not doing an in-depth rundown of what happened in negotiating yesterday. I'll say two things on it, both related to the post where I wrote that I thought the 2012-13 season would not happen:

  1. Everything that happened yesterday fits very well with the theory that the NHL has declared war on Donald Fehr and are trying to eliminate him from this process at all costs.
  2. Despite that, I'm more convinced now than I was when I wrote that article that there will be a season. I'm not fully convinced, nor am I even horribly confident, but if the true "drop-dead" date is the beginning of January and we need about 10 days worth of spin-up time to get a season underway, AND the NHL has gotten a deal that they could live with from an NHLPA which so far has not appeared like they're going to pull offers off the table, then this makes it just about the perfect time for a last shot at eliminating the Union chief to get a better deal than one which they can accept and are confident is ready to be signed almost immediately.

There, now let's get to the fun part.

One of the themes in this lockout has been that both sides each have underlying factions which may have some goals which are diametrically opposed to the other side's desires. Small market owners want more revenue share and big market owners want to share more revenue as much as they want a million kicks in the dick. At the same time, the game's best players want ways to get paid like that and can actually afford to stand on principles which will cost them money in the long run while the lineup-fillers want to get back to playing hockey, knowing that their max career earnings potential on a likely short career as it is is dwindling by the day while the union fights for rules which will never apply to them.

As a thought experiment, let's take these supposed rifts within the organizations and take them past the point of logic just to see what we end up with. These scenarios are not likely and fairly ridiculous. That's kind of the point.

Scenario 1: The Habs & Hab-Nots

In this scenario, the NHL breaks. The six or seven money-earningest franchises talk seven or eight of the survivable good markets into saying "screw you, chumps" and break off to form their own niche league. Let's also say that a decent number (10 or so) of franchises not only have too much invested in playing hockey, but are also now free from the constraints of trying to keep up with the big boys. They quickly talk a few cities (say Quebec and Seattle) into starting up franchises without buy-in costs for a league that's under the NHL for financial reasons, but not so far under as to just be a developmental league.

Then you get the two leagues working in continent-wide partnership for the betterment of the game in a system which rewards them (both financially and otherwise) for continuously playing hockey and trying to do so at the highest level. The NHL is run by people who can see the value in semi-competitive mutualism. Even better is that the makeup of these two leagues isn't set in stone. If a team from the lower tier is consistently better than the most-horrible teams from the higher tier, they simply switch places.

Yes, relegation. Yes, exactly how it works in Europe.

It's certainly not a perfect system. For one, it's endlessly more complex than what's in place now and has a few more things which can go wrong. If the balance between the upper and lower tier is drastically upset, it can destroy the lower league (although the higher league can always adjust by welcoming the solvent teams into their ranks). European soccer leagues are also not immune from labor problems, and certainly not immune from financial problems. Even this above-outlined "perfect world" system also doesn't do anything to account for the level of parity desired by some fans.

Scenario 2: Atlass H. Rugged

This time, the NHLPA breaks. The little guys are tired of being told that if they keep not signing off on the concessions they're expected to make, things will get better for everybody and they tell Ryan Miller to stick a sock in it, tie up the Fehr brothers, and unceremoniously dump them into traffic. The season is saved, but the league's best players are angry that they didn't get their way.

The best of the best are so angry in fact that they break from the NHLPA and form the Elite NHLPA, an invite-only player organization comprised of the200 or so top jersey-selling names in the sport. By the time we're back to the next round of CBA negotiations, the E-NHLPA (or as we'll call them by then, the Clan Ellis) wants to force the NHL to collectively bargain with them separate from their collective bargaining with the rest of those filthy peons making up the other 70% of the league (and we're assuming that there somehow aren't massive legal questions about all of this).

In their rage against having their good deals trampled by those who won't ever earn them, the E-PA plays the same leveraging dogmatic tact as the league has this time around: Listen, we're awesome and we deserve a shitload of the money because we drive a shitload of the fans. Tell you what, you can get to paying us that shitload of money by forcing the guys who "just want to play" into taking a CBA that saps their rights and cuts their minimum salary to...ohhh, I don't know... $150K? Does that sound good? I mean, they're the inherently replaceable ones, right. They're the ones who should be grateful above all else that you've deemed to pay them three times the nationwide median income.

If they don't like it? Then we start grabbing people out of the AHL who WILL take that deal and they play the filler minutes that fans are really just waiting for us to get our next shifts.

In the end, they all settle up for it and this monstrosity of a league gets underway where 7/10 players are actively resentful of the other 3 for being ballsy enough to claim that they're simply more important to hockey.

...and a majority of hockey fans watch in glee as skill guys get the shit kicked out of them by ham-fisted goons who don't appreciate things like practical satire and elitism.


Or, we could cut the PR bullshit parade and just get back on the fucking ice.