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NHL must get CBA right at any cost

Gary Bettman and the owners are looking for immediate clawbacks in player salaries. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Gary Bettman and the owners are looking for immediate clawbacks in player salaries. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

If the NHL is to be believed, a new collective bargaining agreement must be struck by Thursday in order for it to preserve the integrity of an 82-game season. It is clearly crunch time, with this week being portrayed as a make (deal gets done and we have hockey chock-a-block until the end of June) or break (it all falls apart and the season goes down the sinkhole) epoch.

And historically, this has been the time when the people who run the NHL make their most notorious blunders. We can only hope it doesn’t happen again, but things are not looking particularly good. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly was quoted on Sunday as saying, “there’s a framework of a deal on the table.” So, just so I have this straight, the two sides are a minimum of $320 million apart and a maximum of $550 million apart and that constitutes the framework of a deal? This, of course, is the same league that insisted until this year that all the existing CBA needed was to be “tweaked.”

There seems to be this sense of urgency to get an 82-game season jammed into the remaining time – both so the players can collect their entire salaries and the owners can recoup their loss of pre-season revenues – and it’s exactly this kind of climate during which the owners have been willing to abandon their principles.

In 1994-95, the owners rushed a deal with the players that did not include the salary cap they coveted. In return, they got a 48-game season and a decade of skyrocketing salaries that left them crying poor and prompted them to close their doors and deprive fans of the game for an entire season.

The only problem was, even then they didn’t get it right. In their haste to get the players back on the ice without the stoppage going into the 2005-06 season, they agreed to a deal that gave them a salary cap, but left far too many loopholes and gave up major concessions in free agency that have led to the latest labor imbroglio.

In fact, in what should go down as one of the most damning indictments of Gary Bettman’s tenure as commissioner, the players at one point offered a hard salary cap of $45 million across the board for the duration of the agreement, but the owners wanted a deal based on revenues with a salary cap floor to keep the bottom feeders from sucking the teat of revenue sharing and simply banking their competitors’ money.

Can you imagine how different things would be this time around had that deal been struck? Teams would have saved hundreds of millions of dollars in salaries over the course of the past seven seasons and the entire tone of the negotiation this time around would be different.

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What the league has to do is grow some and hold out for the deal it needs. It should not be concerned with saving the season. Its primary objective should be saving the business because this cycle of lockouts is getting rather old. If that means a shortened season or no season at all, so be it. Do not cave to the segment of fans whose only answer to this lockout is to lock the owners and players into a room until a deal is done, or just get a deal done already because we don’t care about these issues.

Just bloody well get it right this time.

DREAM TEAM, FOR ONE NIGHT

The salary cap was largely responsible for breaking up the Chicago Blackhawks championship team from 2010, but the lockout is bringing some of them together, for one night anyway.

Chicago-based agent Bill Zito and former Blackhawk Adam Burish are the driving forces behind Champs for Charity, a benefit game that will be played in suburban Chicago Friday night. The game will be played at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., the home of the Chicago Wolves of the American League and all proceeds are earmarked for Ronald McDonald House.

The format of the game will feature a roster of Blackhawks and former Blackhawks against a team of stars from around the world.

The Chicago team has former Blackhawks Kris Versteeg, Troy Brouwer, Andrew Ladd, Burish, Jake Dowell, Brian Campbell, James Wisniewski, Jim Vandermeer and Craig Anderson joining Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Jamal Mayers. The World Team has a roster that includes Ville Leino, Bobby Ryan, Antti Miettinen, Jared Boll, Mike Brown, Shawn Thornton, Ryan Suter, Kimmo Timonen, Jack Johnson, Joe Corvo, Tom Gilbert, Alex Goligoski and Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom.

Tickets can be purchased at www.ticketmaster.com.

 

Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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