Zize Matters: Next up, the NHL

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hopes to avoid a lockout like the one which delayed the start of the...

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hopes to avoid a lockout like the one which delayed the start of the NBA season. But it might not be so easy. (GETTY IMAGES)

Mike Zeisberger, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:31 PM ET

Over to you, Gary and Don.

Now that NBA players and owners have come to a tentative agreement on a new deal, the collective bargaining ball is in your court.

Or, in hockey terms, the puck is in your end.

When the two sides in the ugly NBA labour dispute finally ironed out their respective differences early Saturday morning, it meant that, pending a vote by the players themselves, three of the so-called Big Four — the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA — have all come to terms on new CBA’s in the past four months.

All that remains now is for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA head Donald Fehr to follow suit by next Sept. 15, when the current CBA runs out.

Let’s hope hockey’s two top power brokers learn from the trials and tribulations of those other three leagues, both the good and the bad.

The NBA was the ugliest dispute of that trio, losing a chunk of its season before the sides came to their senses, With the prospect of the entire 2011-12 campaign potentially being wiped off the sporting map, the league and its players managed to salvage a 66-game schedule which kicks off on Christmas Day.

NBA owners did not get the NHL-type hard salary cap they were seeking, but they are banking on the harsher luxury tax system to even up the competitive basketball landscape.

After a summer of angst, NFL players and owners came to a 10-year agreement in July before any regular season contests were wiped out. In a circuit where teams play just a 16-game sked, losing even one would have hurt.

In the end, both sides gave up some of their top demands. The players did not get the guaranteed contracts they were seeking, while the league’s hope for an 18-game regular season never materialized.

When all was said and done, the only loss caused by the dispute was the elimination of a couple of weeks of training camp.

Baseball, meanwhile, has come a long way in it’s collective bargaining. Once the author of the messiest disputes of all four major leagues, the sport quietly produced a new five-year CBA last Tuesday that ensured a 21-year streak of labour peace.

Tweaks to the amateur draft, a new drug testing system, a hike in minimum salaries and Houston’s move to the American League were among the features of the new agreement.

Yes, Fehr was the head of the baseball players’ association during the miserable strike of 1994-95, one that featured the cancellation of the ‘94 World Series. At the same time, baseball enjoyed a 14-year run of no labour hiccups until he stepped down in 2009.

With Fehr having moved over to become head man of the hockey union, he recently said he did not expect to begin serious negotiations with the league until after the all-star break.

“We don’t even talk about it right now,” Bettman said last week in Dallas. “We have a new executive director of the union (Fehr), who is going through his learning curve, and he has told us that he won’t even be ready to talk to us until after the All-Star Game.

“We have labour peace. This is our seventh season of labour peace. We’re having a great season, so we’re not talking about it. We’re not focused on it. We’ll deal with it down the road.”

Bettman added that work stoppages “in any sport are no fun. They’re not good for anybody.”

Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman does not expect a repeat of the bitterness that erased the entire 2004-05 NHL season.

“Bettman and his group are preparing very well for it and they are a very smart group of guys,” Bowman told the Chicago Tribune. “I don’t think there will be an overhaul of the (NHL) system — there will just be some changes here and there.”

League sources claim the owners are not as unified as in 2004-05, with small market teams feeling the salary cap floor is too high right now.

Either way, cross your fingers that Bowman is right about labour peace being far more obtainable than it was in ‘04-’05.

And that Bettman and Fehr have heeded the lessons from the new CBA’s chiseled by the NBA, NFL and MLB.

HITCHCOCK RETURNS

Ken Hitchcock will be back behind the bench in Columbus on Sunday, a place locals predicted he would end up.

Of course, just three weeks ago, most of them figured Hitchcock would be there embarking on his second stint as coach of the Blue Jackets after the team’s dismal start.

Instead it was the St. Louis Blues who surprised many in the hockey world by hiring Hitchcock, who had been spending many nights watching games at Columbus’s Nationwide Arena.

Hitchcock brings his Blues to Columbus to face the Jackets on Sunday. Just don’t expect him to be sentimental upon his return to Ohio.

“I’ve been part of the (Columbus) organization (and) I’ve moved on,” Hitchcock said.

“My ship sailed there ...”

A sinking ship, some would say in reference to the Blue Jackets.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger

 

 

 


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