Last week, Dig gave you guys a quick overview of some of the NHL's premier players mulling over options to play in different leagues if there is a lockout.
With the two sides not even speaking, and a lockout seemingly evident, it makes sense that the players would like to go to different leagues in order to cash in a paycheck. The owners probably aren't thrilled by this ideology, but there's nothing they can do to stop it if there is a lockout.
Here's the thing: Not many situations throw Gary Bettman off his game, especially not in the board room. Don't believe me? Give this article a read and tell me otherwise. He has no issues doing whatever it takes to get the job done for his side. He's looked the NHLPA, the media and the fans in the face and told them that there will be a lockout if a deal isn't struck by September 15th. He's told the media that he would rather get a favorable deal than start the season on time.
A quick note here. I actually agree with Bettman on the premise of this ideology. I would rather a 50-game season with a fair and balanced CBA that gives a long tenure of labor peace then going through this every couple of years - which is exactly what a quick-fix would cause. Then again, the league can't miss a full season. Not again. It would be catastrophic. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Join me after the jump for more.
But here is the other thing: Bettman still wants to grow the league. Bettman still wants the NHL to become as popular as the league can. Anyone who thinks otherwise is covering their eyes to the reality of the sport. Do you know what would cause a major problem for this? One of the league's premier players playing overseas and getting seriously injured.
Let's toss out a hypothetical. Let's say Sidney Crosby follows Evgeni Malkin and goes to the KHL. Doesn't matter what team he plays for, let's just assume he's there. Here is the best and worst case scenario for the NHL:
Best Case - Crosby kills it in the KHL. Scores like 100 points in 50 games and everyone who sees that goes, "Man, imagine what he would have done in the NHL. What a shame we missed an entire season."
Worst Case - Crosby suffers a career-ending injury. Now you not only have the media scrutiny, but you have an owner who is furious that his best player (and the league's most marketable player - love or hate him, you can't deny what Crosby does for the game of hockey) will never play for the Penguins again. Imagine that conversation between Bettman and Mario Lemieux. Or, imagine if the same thing happens to Alex Ovechkin, Rick Nash, Malkin, Steven Stamkos, Patrick Kane, etc (assuming any of them do play overseas). It's not a risk the NHL owners probably wants to take.
It should be noted that this didn't factor much into the lockout in 2004. But in today's day and age when marketing players has become bigger than ever; where big-time players are seeing not only dollars from their contracts but from endorsement deals and sponsorships as well, will the owners be willing to take that risk?
In today's world, social media rules. It's king. Twitter, facebook and various other social media platforms are able to update every move each side makes by the second. It's remarkable. And if something like the above were to happen, it would be documented every way possible, by thousands of people for longer than anyone cares to think about.
Crosby helps put the NHL on the map. So does Lundqvist, Ovechkin, Stamkos and even Nash. American stars (Kane, Ryan Miller, Zach Parise, Ryan Callahan, Bobby Ryan, Phil Kessel, Paul Stastny and Jonathan Quick among others) help grow the game locally. Social media helps. A lot. It can also hurt. A lot.
Do you think the New York Rangers want Henrik Lundqvist playing in the SEL? Do you think they want Nash or Marian Gaborik playing in a different league for a different team? Where injuries inevitably come back and cause issues in New York? Of course not. It's simply not worth the risk.
Do you think any owners want to see their best players go play in a different league? I don't.
But will it be enough to sway the negotiations?
That's the real question.