With games canceled through December, and the slap-in-the-face hard line stance that the NHL owners have taken out of the “productive” meetings, the 2012-2013 NHL season appears to be all but obliterated. The owners are now banking on the NHLPA splintering and having to take only 43% of league revenues, down from 57%. The players only tactical option to win comes from throwing the owners off guard.
“Coming in 2013, the Players Hockey League.” Could you imagine the reaction of Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs when reading that headline with Gary Bettman over breakfast? It would be the shockwave that got the owners moving. The NHL would suddenly have the best players in the world competing in their backyard.
Why is this the best option for the players? The owners are orchestrating their proven strategy for breaking the union that got them everything they wanted in 2004-2005. Last week, they ostracized the union for trying to bring their head negotiator, Donald Fehr, back into negotiations. This effectively killed the deal the owners and players were working on. The players are starting to lose fan support as the arenas remain empty and some among their ranks make stupid comments. The tipping point is coming for the players, and they have no leverage once the playoffs are canceled.
The minute that Bettman announces the inevitable cancellation of the season, the union needs to move. Their press conference should be to announce the creation of a new league instead of a statement against cancellation of the NHL season. They could host games at big college and minor league arenas across the country next fall. They could even put teams in Kansas City and Seattle, another team in Toronto or maybe Hamilton up in Canada. The new PHL (Players Hockey League) could gobble up every market the owners have been spurning. It would bring good PR to the players, plus they would be playing hockey. Even greater, they could ignore the southern belt almost entirely and not be tied to Phoenix.
Finally, they should really rub it in the owners’ faces. The PHL sould make the owners nemeses’ the new commissioners. Jim Basillie, of the blackberry empire, is up there with Don Fehr for the owners most hated people. He has unsuccessfully tried to buy and move three franchises, including the Phoenix Coyotes, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators. The owners have essentially banned the almost-billionaire from ever running a team. Allowing Basillie to control the new league would make the NHL owner’s blood boil. Joining Basillie should be Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. The $2.3 billion man is so passionate about his team that other owners look down on him with disdain. With the capital funds and egos of these two men, the league would have no problem booking venues and advertising their new product.
The move for the new PHL would likely bring about the end of the NHL lockout, and as a result implode the player’s plan for the new league. However, it would teach the owners of all sports a valuable lesson in the league. Without the best players in the world, all leagues are as pedestrian as any other league in the world. The players really do control the league more than the logos and the brand. Maybe there is enough bad blood between the two sides that even this move would not lead to an immediate solution.
Either way, it would at least ruin Gary Bettman’s breakfast.