On November 2, the NHLPA issued the following press release.
It could have been a lot worse. Here's a press release the players could have issued, and that I think would have been fully justified both on a factual basis and as a negotiating position.
TORONTO (November 2, 2012) – Don Fehr, National Hockey League Players’ Association Executive Director, today released the following statement:
The NHL’s decision to cancel the 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic is unnecessary and unfortunate, as was the owners’ implementation of the lockout itself. These acts have seriously harmed the league, and cause grave concern about the business management of the NHL and of the future economic health of the league. The players and the NHLPA are reluctant to agree to any CBA with a salary cap in which player salaries are contingent on the league's financial success until these concerns are addressed.
In 2005, when the NHL players and the NHLPA agreed to a salary cap, there was hope that the relationship between the NHL and NHLPA would become a true partnership based on the common goals of expanding and improving the league. In keeping with that desired partnership, the NHLPA's opening offer during the current CBA negotiations focused on ways to guarantee the health of struggling teams for the good of the entire league. Unfortunately, the NHL has not engaged with the NHLPA in any meaningful way in discussions about increasing revenues or making the NHL more successful. Instead, the NHL has approached these negotiations with a single goal: to cut costs to team owners by reducing the salaries that those owners committed to pay when they signed player contracts as well as future salaries.
The salary cap makes the players' salaries dependent on the league's revenues, and the players' salaries are therefore dependent on the good judgment of the leaders who manage the business operations of the league. Although the league has in the past enjoyed economic success, the NHLPA is losing confidence in the business leaders of the NHL, who made the poor decisions that led to the unnecessary cancellation of highly profitable games including the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. Those leaders have inflicted great harm on the financial interests of team owners and players alike, and even if the NHL and NHLPA agree to terms on a CBA very soon, some of the financial losses to the players and owners caused by the cancellation of games will never be recovered.
Without a relationship of trust, founded on the belief that the NHL is well managed, the players and the NHLPA cannot agree to a salary cap that makes player salaries contingent on a percentage of revenues. The NHLPA has made several fair offers founded on the principles that (1) all contracts that are currently in place should be honored, and (2) the players and owners should move to a 50/50 split of revenues over time after accounting for those contracts that are already in place. The NHLPA continues to believe that a CBA based on these principles would be good for the entire league, so long as the league is operated in a manner intended to benefit the fans, the owners, and the players. Everyone benefits from a successful league. But before the players and NHLPA agree to any CBA that includes a salary cap, the players and NHLPA will need to be convinced that when the games begin again, the league will be operated in a responsible and judicious manner intended to maximize its success.
As far as I'm concerned, the NHL is lucky the players are still negotiating at all. The NHL has demanded massive concessions, the NHLPA has indicated that it's willing to accept very large (but not massive) concessions, and the league is not satisfied. Maybe, for the good of the negotiations, it's time for the NHLPA to take a harder stance. One way or another, some kind of reality check for the owners needs to be delivered. The idea of shutting down a profitable business so that the owners can reduce payments they've already agreed to make and thereby increase their profits is just crazy. More importantly, it's bad for that business, and reflects very poorly on the people running that business. If the team owners want more profit, then maybe they (and the managers they hire to run the league) should refocus their attention on making the NHL a more attractive product and increasing its revenues to cover the salaries they already agreed to pay.