NHL Lockout: What Can the League Do to Avoid Future Lockouts?

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistNovember 20, 2012

A less confrontational commissioner than Gary Bettman may help the NHL avoid lockouts in the future.
A less confrontational commissioner than Gary Bettman may help the NHL avoid lockouts in the future.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It may be premature to discuss avoiding future lockouts because the current lockout is still raging, but one thing the NHL has shown is that it has not learned from its labor problems in the past.

A sport like Major League Baseball was once known for the divisive relationship between management and its players' association. The situation reached its nadir in 1994 when the season came to a halt in August and there was no World Series Champion crowned.

However, since then, baseball has had labor peace.

The NHL is in its third lockout since 1994 (source: USAToday.com). Avoiding lockouts and other work stoppages is a must for the NHL in the future.

The league must put an end to the adversarial relationship it has with the NHLPA. Under Gary Bettman, the league has attempted to make the players and their high salaries as the reason the NHL has had financial issues.

Nobody is denying that the financial structure of the NHL was ideal when the players were locked out in the 2004-05 season. At that point, there was no salary cap, and player salaries were eating up a remarkably high percentage of NHL revenues.

The lockout in 2004-05 lasted a full season, and the owners were able to institute a salary cap when the two sides finally came to an agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement prior to the 2005-06 season.

That was the structural change that was needed at the time and there was a huge price to pay. The owners, players and fans all suffered with the loss of a full season.

That's a lot of blood in the water.

Instead of remembering that pain this time around, the NHL dove right back into the lockout waters, once again blaming the players.

That's an unhealthy attitude.

Instead of fighting as adversaries, the NHL and the NHLPA would be well-advised to come together as partners so the NHL could work on its problems and build its strengths together.

This is what has has happened in MLB. The two sides came together and helped develop a plan on how to deal with the problem of Performance Enhancing Drugs.

The biggest change must come in the attitude of the leadership.

Bettman is often credited with increasing the NHL's business profile by getting a $2 billion contract with NBC (source: NHL.com). He has been good for the NHL from the perspective of building business.

But when you are the lockout commissioner, how will it be possible for him to build trust with the NHLPA?

Once the lockout is over, how will players ever trust Bettman and work with him on issues that are vital to the league.

Even with great maturity on the part of the players and executive director Donald Fehr, that will difficult and may be impossible.

If it is, the NHL owners who have backed Bettman so strongly may have to think about making a change.

If they want to change the overall attitude and foster a better relationship between ownership and the players, finding a less draconian commissioner is essential.

If they want to continue along the same path, Bettman's position will be secure.