NHL players elect not to re-open collective bargaining agreement

The National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) announced during the All-Star Game weekend celebration in Montreal that the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the players and owners would be extended for another two years. This will ensure content with the current labor system in the sport through the start of the 2011-12 season.

NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly stated that the players’ unanimously wanted to stay focused on continuing to help grow the game’s popularity in North America. Throw in the current economic climate, and no one in the NHLPA felt it was the appropriate time for the players to enter a complex labor negotiation with management.

Under the current labor agreement, the players have reaped the benefit of being able to become an unrestricted free agent at an earlier age. The average salary per player has risen from $1.8 million in the first post-lockout season to a projected average of over $2 million for this season, and the salary cap has also risen in the same span going from $39 million to almost $57 million this season. The NHL is projecting a marginal revenue growth for the upcoming 2009-10 season.

All the teams in the league breathe a sigh of relief with this announcement, as it will allow them to move forward in their development process by knowing the current labor agreement will be in place for at least two more seasons.

And finally, the biggest winners of all were the fans. They don’t need to worry about the possibility of the league closing its doors again for yet another work stoppage at the end of this season.

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The re-emergence of fighting could save the NHL

Hockey is a great spectator sport when it is played at a frenetic pace and teams play aggressively on the ice. The players of today have a lot of respect for one another and will police themselves when play gets out of control. Fighting has re-established itself as an important aspect of hockey, and the sport is better for it.

No other professional sports league allows competitors to fight within the rules of a game in exchange for a small stint in the penalty box. Simply stated – players can settle their differences with their fists.

Fighting in the NHL has always been popular because it looks great on television and provides an adrenaline rush for everyone in the arena. Fans will stand and cheer in unison, while the players on the bench will bang their sticks on the sideboards to show their appreciation for the fight. A good hockey brawl will have fans talking about the fight weeks later. A series of good fights also develops a bitter rivalry between two teams (i.e. Colorado Avalanche-Detroit Red Wings in the nineties) that generates interest for their next scheduled encounter.

Detractors of hockey say that fighting keeps the sport away from a broader fan base and continues to leave the sport in relative obscurity. In the past, efforts to curtail fighting have set hockey back on several occasions. I’m not talking about taking the sport back to the reckless style of the 1970’s, but critics have to recognize the unbreakable link between fighting and the popularity of hockey with its fans.

Those who defend fighting in hockey will say it helps to deter star players from being targeted with physical play. The game is governed by a complex system of unwritten rules that players and coaches refer to as “the code.”

Teams will open a roster spot for an enforcer, whose main responsibility is to protect the star player’s health on the ice. If the play becomes too chippy, a coach will send their enforcer on the ice to deliver a message via verbal or physical nature. There is a high degree of respect among the league’s top enforcers – in a game; both enforcers must agree to fight before the gloves come off.

Fighting does not guarantee success for a team, nor does it preclude a team from being successful. However, it does help the league, and for that reason it needs to stay.

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