Two weeks before the end of the past NHL regular season, more than twenty teams remained in the playoff hunt. With divisional titles and the seven and eight seeds in both conferences still up for grabs, fans league wide were treated to a compelling, intense brand of hockey. This parity has become the NHL’s hallmark since the last Collective Bargaining Agreement following the labor dispute that wiped out the 2004-2005 season. Rule changes and salary restrictions have made smaller markets more competitive (i.e: Nashville, Florida), while providing bottom-feeding organizations the opportunity to improve their position within a few years (the Kings being a great example). That, coupled with the advent of the Winter Classic, has made the NHL a far more marketable and appealing brand. Indeed, in 2012, the NHL reported nearly $3 billion in revenues, which continues a five-year trend of upward growth in that category.
However, recent reports confirm what most in the hockey world feared would happen this summer: a stalemate in labor negotiations. The NHLPA finally submitted a counter-proposal to that of the owners, but with less than a month until the September 15 expiration date on the current CBA, Commissioner Bettman sounded anything but optimistic in this story about the ongoing process: “What the issues are and how they get solved and how deep the issues go are something that we’re not yet on the same page.” So, that leaves the NHL and its fans in a nebulous position. For the second time in eight years, the negotiating parties are walking a fine line. They risk losing fan interest and a lot money, both of which are critical in a sport that never quite gets attention like the other major American sports.
A lockout would adversely impact the Kings as much as any team in the league. For the first time in the franchise’s tumultuous history, there appears to be stability from top to bottom. The Kings’ dominant Cup victory in 2012 galvanized a passionate fan base and solidified the organization and city as a legitimate hockey destination. Now, with the threat of a work stoppage, the dynasty Kings fans could easily envision after a record-breaking 16-4 postseason is now in jeopardy.
During this period of uncertainty, one thing can be said for sure: a second lockout in less than a decade would greatly damage the progress of both the NHL, and the league’s most recent champion, the Los Angeles Kings.