Thursday, July 14, 2005

Back in action

So the NHL is back in business.

What does the new CBA mean? It looks like the owners won handily. But then it looked like they won back in 1995. In fact the CBA that resulted then benefited the players tremendously. So, essentially, time will tell who won this deal.

But because the owners were perceived as winning, because they seem to have gotten what they wanted, the pressure is on them to do well by the deal. What I mean is this: Gary Bettman's negotiated two CBAs for the NHL owners. The last one ... well, it kept them in business, but it didn't do much for their bottom line. This one's going to have to do better. Bettman's always had a vision of the NHL as a truly national league in the US; expansion to places like Nashville, Dallas, and Florida was meant to pave the way for a national TV deal, to eliminate the notion that hockey was a 'regional' sport. Instead, the popularity of the league's dropped, and TV ratings never hit the heights Bettman envisioned. Will this CBA allow things to be changed? Or will it at least allow all the franchises to keep going while the popularity of the sport increases?

Essentially, Bettman has to start realising his dreams. He's got the CBA he dreamed of. There's no excuse, nobody else to blame. It's time to put up or shut up. We'll see what happens, but something to consider: the cost certainties of the new CBA reopen the possibility of putting NHL teams in markets formerly considered too small to host a franchise. Say, for example, Winnipeg or (gah) Qu├ębec City. Pittsburgh's been talking about moving for a while. What happens to Bettman's great dream of American national popularity if teams move from the States up to Canada?

(And, of course, what about other dreams for the sport which won't come true while Bettman pursues his own? Expansion to Europe, for example. Risky — but is it any more risky than scattering franchises south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and cancelling a whole season of play?)

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