It is a bittersweet chance that some of us get to guest blog for a couple weeks. While it is great for us to be featured on the blog, it is only a result of newspapers cutting costs and giving their employees more vacation time. For my appearance, I don’t have any fresh opinion on the Rangers that hasn’t already been discussed here, so I’m going to take an overall look at the National Hockey League.
The 2004–05 lockout was devastating at the time, but the prevailing opinion was that the league could come back stronger than before. Why they couldn’t do this without canceling a season, we may never know. The biggest issue for Commissioner Bettman and the league was that they needed “cost certainty,” which was their code for a salary cap. Fans of the Rangers and other teams with high attendance probably did not see any problem with the 2004 NHL, but the less heralded teams were struggling, especially in places that gained expansion teams under Bettman’s regime.
In 2009, Bettman would like to have you think that everything is rosy with record-setting attendance numbers every season since the lockout. However, are we really in a much better position now? Revenue sharing was good common sense and should have been in place for a longer time before teams were absolutely hemorrhaging money. Despite what the NHL says, we can still see arenas with a lot of empty seats, especially the new Prudential Center (when the Rangers are not playing there), and the Phoenix Coyotes did not get any better financially, being forced to file for bankruptcy. Many of the seats are filled only due to ticket deals and freebies.
Before the lockout, the NHL did not have great television ratings in the United States and therefore had a contract that generated low revenue. Since starting play again, the contract has only worsened, moving the games on cable to a channel that players can’t find in hotel rooms and only having one game per week for ten weeks in the second half of the season on a broadcast network that focuses on only a few big-market teams. In addition, NASCAR is probably ahead of the NHL in popularity, but the NBA is falling back a bit. With four seasons passed since the new CBA was ratified, teams are now finding innovative ways to play with the salary cap so that the stars still get paid and the role players have to fight for every dollar or leave to play in the KHL.
At this point, the best thing that could happen for the NHL would be to bring in fresh ideas in the form of a new commissioner. Without any ties to Bettman, the new person in charge could make changes where Bettman held strong to defend his position. This could include moving one or two teams back to Canada and finding a better way to market the league and its star players, such as putting the two latest No. 1 draft picks on national television more than twice each (only one of these is in a Versus-exclusive window).
All of these problems that still exist will lead to more heavy negotiating in the next couple of years leading up to the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, especially as the salary cap will likely see its first drop after this upcoming season.