The NHL is Going to Play this Year

I know, I’m crazy.

With all the balls up in the air and the reluctance from both sides to negotiate, you might be wondering how I can be so confident that the National Hockey League is going to complete the 2020-21 season. Well, dear reader, let me elaborate.

While the NFL started their season on time because they’re the NFL and nothing was going to stop them, the NHL is operating from a position of desperation. The damage that could be done to the sport if they don’t play (read: financial losses), will be ten times worse than any damage done if they do play.

To put it simply, they can’t afford not to play.

So here it is, my list of reasons why I am confident the NHL will commence and complete some semblance of a season.

1. Gary wants to play

I know this sounds contrary to my previous article in defense of Gary Bettman, but recent history has shown that what Gary (really majority of NHL owners) wants, Gary gets. He has a knack for getting a vocal minority of owners on board with whatever the Board of Governors is pursuing. So when Gary says that all 31 teams are going to play, it means we are more than likely getting a season.

2. Legally, they have to play

The owners and players have already signed a legally binding agreement that prevents a labour stoppage until at least 2026. Check out this beauty of an excerpt from the Collective Bargaining Agreement:

Neither the League nor any Club shall engage in a lockout during the term of this
Agreement
.” – CBA between NHL and NHLPA, Article 7.1 (b)

Obviously the NHL was able to shut down back in March to protect the health of it’s players. But the current negotiations aren’t about health, they’re about money. This means that if the owners decided to call it a day and go home, they would be locking out the players – a clear violation of the agreement they extended, regardless of whether or not they read the details.

If the owners choose not to play, the Players’ Association has clear grounds for legal action against the league.

3. The TV Contracts

The NHL (based on incredibly rough estimation) makes about 10% of its revenue from its two national TV contracts with Sportsnet and NBC. This number gets magnified when the NHL has lost about half of its total revenue in the form of ticket sales. If the 2021 season doesn’t happen, the TV money will be in danger as well.

The NBC deal expires at the end of the 2021 season. A contract with the NHL looks like a good investment right now, but that’s only because hockey was played this summer. If the NHL isn’t present on televisions at all this winter, no TV executive in their right mind is going to want to hand the league a bag of cash.

I wouldn’t count on the Canadian deal being safe, either. The rumour is that Sportsnet was regretting their $5.2 billion deal before hockey disappeared from our screens. Imagine how they feel after the 61% decline in ratings for the Stanley Cup Final.

I’m not a legal professional, so I can’t speak to whether or not Sportsnet has a way to get out of that contract. What I do know is that if the upcoming season doesn’t happen, the NHL should expect a call from Sportsnet’s lawyers.

4. Future Ramifications

This leads into my final argument, easily the most significant. Let’s say we get the nightmare solution: No season, no new TV deal. All that growth they’ve seen in the U.S? hasta la vista. The NFL’s in full swing, the NBA has their plan in place, MLB got their season in, and soccer hasn’t missed a beat. Aside from Canada and a handful of northeastern American markets, the fans might not come back this time. They will spend that year watching sports that are on TV.

Not playing this season could mean the death of hockey as a major sport.

When the NBA was struggling in the late 70’s, the players and owners came to the negotiating table with one goal: forgoing short-term minor revenue increases for significant, long-term growth that ensured there would be a league in the future.

The NHL needs to change the way they think about money. Instead of screwing over your partner and taking a larger share of the current revenue, let’s focus on creating revenue and ensuring there is a league to profit from in 20 years.

Let’s Talk About the Alberta Sports Ban

This is a sports blog, so I will do my best to not bring politics into this.

We need to talk about three things: The Alberta Government’s decision to shut down* sports* for two weeks*, the general mindset towards coronavirus in this province, and this picture:

From @_Ruptown_ on Twitter

I’m not going to get into how we as a province should address the COVID-19 Pandemic. I’m not a policy analyst or infectious disease specialist. What I do know is that the decision from the Alberta government was at best inconsistent and at worst horribly misinformed.

Any sane member of the hockey community will agree that COVID-19 is an issue that needs to be taken seriously, and it has been. Teams and leagues are doing what they can to prevent the spread. Masks, social distancing, and contact tracing are examples of measures that have been put in place to save the hockey season. Other sports are doing the same. Hockey is a contact sport, but that doesn’t mean that figure skaters are immune from transmission. I counted at least one participant not wearing a mask. I’d imagine these skaters share a dressing room. What would happen if, God forbid, a skater took a spill – which is not an uncommon occurence – and collided with another skater? Is this not the same incident the Ontario government argued was the biggest risk of spread in hockey?

This double standard is the root of most people’s frustration. While hockey is shut down for two weeks, kids have to watch images like this one. Other athletes are allowed to train and compete. People can visit bars, casinos, and places of worship. If shutting down group activities is an effective defense against COVID-19 (which I believe it is), shouldn’t we be shutting down all group activities? How does drawing an arbitrary distinction between activities make any sense?

The decision handed down doesn’t even completely agree with itself. One of the asterisks above is that professional, junior and collegiate sports were exempt from the ban. Somehow this meant that the men’s Alberta Junior Hockey League could continue play, but the women’s Alberta Junior Female Hockey League was shut down. Bothe leagues represent the highest level of Junior hockey for their respective genders administered by Hockey Alberta.

None of this is to say that shutting down sports was the wrong decision. In fact, it is a good course of action to take. But just focusing on some sports while allowing others to continue, along with bars, restaurants, casinos, churches, temples, mosques, and house parties not only will not be effective (there has yet to be a major outbreak associated with minor sports), but it sends the wrong message. Kids that are playing the game they love are being punished while the people responsible for spreading the virus are allowed to continue living their lives.

I am more than happy to play my part in controlling this disease. If two weeks without sports (my primary method of employment) is what it takes to save lives, to stop people from dying, then I am willing to do so. But if we want to get this pandemic under control, it can’t just be us.