KERBER: As Finals Near, Can the NHL Move Forward?
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KMOX — The NHL awaits for a potential dream match-up market wise as the Devils and Rangers now have a best of three series to join the LA Kings in the finals. A Kings/Rangers finals would showcase the NHL nationwide in the two largest markets at the perfect time. No disrespect meant towards the Devils, but for the sake of this argument, the rangers in the finals would mean more.
The NHL has had a great season on the ice and in the ratings. It seems every week the league is putting out a press release with some new ratings mark. While the cynics will claim they had nowhere to go but up, the reality is the partnership with NBC has been a very good one for the NHL from nearly every aspect. The NHL is promoted on Football Night in America. It has carried audiences right into the Kentucky Derby. Every playoff game could be seen. There have been some tremendous positives and now there is the chance it can culminate in a New York / Los Angeles Final.
The question remains is will they find a way to once again shoot themselves in the proverbial foot. What looms this summer is huge and it’s paramount the NHL finds a way to build on this season instead of taking another few steps back. Last week the NHL informed the NHLPA that they intend to terminate the current CBA this September. This means a new one must be negotiated and needs to get done in order to avoid another work stoppage. That’s right, a work stoppage.
It is hard to imagine that a mere seven seasons after the NHL shut down its season to get their finances in order, that the CBS negotiated at that time has gone far enough wrong for the owners that they need to terminate it and fix it. It’s unfathomable that a league could allow an entire season to be lost and absorb the damage they did, and not get it right. But reality is what it is, and the NHL may be back to square one.
Since the ’04-’05 lockout, the salary floor is now higher than where the cap was when the lockout ended. Nearly half the NHL has either changed owners (some teams twice) or dealt with major ownership issues. The NHL has owned the Phoenix Coyotes for the last three seasons. Atlanta has moved to Winnipeg. Teams have needed financial advances from the NHL. GM’s and owners have found ways to circumvent CBA rules and have signed players to 10, 12, and even 15 year deals, potentially handcuffing themselves long-term. While the NHL nixed one Kovalchuk deal with New Jersey, enough damage may have been done with other long-term deals.
The NHL lost a season and did not get their finances fixed the right way. Since then though, the on ice product has been fast, entertaining, and there has been a tremendous amount of parody increasing the all around competition. Fans have responded to it. ON TV, ratings have been as good as they have ever been and a good partnership with NBC has begun. The NHLPA is under new leadership in Donald Fehr and the NHL knows it still has issues to fix. The bottom line is both sides have to keep the rear view mirror in focus. Both sides need to realize the wounds of losing a season, while 7 years ago, and still very fresh in the minds of most, don’t need to be reopened. Both sides need to get to the table and under a gag order, keep negotiations in the room and get a deal done. Not one fan in the NHL should have to deal with the idea of another work stoppage because on thing is certain. It took a while to bring fans back. Lose them again and they be gone for good. The NHL will have a spectacular showcase in the finals this season. We’re about to find out if they can build on it or if it’s just more of the same.