The NHL lockout has come to a merciful ending. But don't throw roses at anyone's feet just yet.
There have been a plethora of moments during this process in which it seemed like this morning wasn't going to happen. With Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr, the NHL and the NHLPA going at each other's throats for the past few months, it felt like the two sides were never going to come to an agreement.
Well, they have. Finally. You can see the details of the agreement here, thanks to Bryan's tremendous work including two sleepless nights.
So who do you thank? Scot L. Beckenbaugh, the mediator who put in countless hours this week shuffling back and forth from the NHLPA to the NHL to keep the two sides from meeting face to face and blowing this entire thing up. Make no mistake, we would not have an agreement right now if it wasn't for Beckenbaugh, so he deserves a ton of credit for the work he did.
I was critical of Fehr back in early December when he spurned the NHL's original offer and continued to push back. I was worried that the NHL would respond by truly shutting the door on the negotiations and taking back everything they offered to put a true "hardball" offer on the table. Remember, a player has no leverage in a lockout, their careers are too short and their dollars too low compared to the other team in the negotiations. Lockouts for players is always about getting the best deal possible and running away with it.
But the NHLPA made the right call with Fehr. He's a frustrating person to negotiate against (including frustrating the fans with his laid back and patient demeanor) and it worked to a degree. Make no mistake, the NHLPA did not "win" this CBA. They lost in all the areas both sides knew they would (contract length, revenue share and variance), but they also limited the damage in many other areas. That's what Fehr can hang his hat on when all the dust has settled.
The other thing Fehr can hang his hat on? Making it so that the NHLPA can't be pushed around anymore. That was the biggest reason why the NHLPA hired Fehr in the first place, and from that standpoint you can consider this a mission accomplished. Yes, the NHL got the CBA they wanted. Or at least some of what they wanted. But Fehr did a great job limited the damage done by the NHL, and his negotiating style not only frustrated Bettman but it also threw him off his game. The NHLPA came crawling back to the NHL in 2004. This time around the two sides came to an agreement together. Trust me, this means a lot more than you think it does.
For the NHL, this is the second year in a row they've gotten "their" CBA. The system is much more restrictive, it saves the owners from themselves and it should help throw more money into the league's pot. Will that be enough to fix the game? Only time will tell. But if the owners feel the need to go through this again in another 10 years, well, that's going to be a major problem.
But the fact that we have 10 years (or at least eight years if one side opts out of the CBA) is the best thing to come from this. It guarantees a significant amount of time without another mess like this, and while I don't think fans or sponsors will ever forget this madness, the product speaks volumes. And if the NHL goes back to a $3.3-billion+ industry next year, well, the two sides will be lucky they didn't do more damage to the league and the sport.
For now, the important thing is that the two sides have come to a tentative agreement and we're going to see the players back on the ice soon enough. Regardless of whether it's a 50-game or a 48-game season it's great to have the NHL back. I can't tell you how excited I am.
But we never should have gotten to this pont. Like I've said through this entire process, I don't blame anyone on the Rangers for what happened. Dolan never wanted this lockout from the beginning, and the Rangers players kept themselves out of the cameras.
Other fans? Not so much. But who cares. The Rangers are back! It's a great day to be a hockey fan.