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NHL Labor Dispute: Third Lockout In League History Looming

The NHL is heading toward the third lockout in league history

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The New Jersey Devils are looking to show that last year's Stanley Cup appearance was no fluke. The New York Rangers hope to make the next step from the Eastern Conference's regular-season best and Conference finalist to Cup contender. And the New York Islanders seek to regain legitimacy with a promising young core.

Problem is, these teams' aspirations may be put on hold this season as the NHL nears another lockout, which would be the third such occurrence in league history -- all occurring within the past two decades. The 1994-95 work stoppage shortened the season to 48 games, while the 2004-05 lockout wiped out the entire season, and the league has just started to regain its footing in the past few seasons.

The NHL's collective bargaining agreement expires Sept. 15 and there appears to be no resolution in sight. Days have gone by with very little positive news, and with the NFL and NBA enduring stoppages of their own, this one seems more than likely.

Make no mistake about it, the NHL is not going to have a work stoppage because it's struggling. The league continues to grow, and it's reached record revenues of over $3 billion, according to USA Today, but not all of its franchises are experiencing the same growth. Teams are struggling to reach the salary cap floor.

The biggest sticking point in these negotiations, not surprisingly, is money. The owners want to rollback salaries in a way that the players would receive just 46 percent of the league's revenue, as opposed to the 57 under the current CBA, and they want to decrease the salary cap from $64.3 million to $50.8, which is lower than the current $54.3 million floor. The NHL also wants to get rid of salary arbitration, limit contracts to just five years and make players eligible for unrestricted free agency after 10 years instead of seven, according to Sports Illustrated.

The owners think these implementations would "stabilize the industry," but it would cost the players about $450 million per season. The NHLPA's plan, which hasn't been officially or fully presented, involves more revenue sharing, similar to what happens in the MLB. The wealthier teams -- which would undoubtedly include the Rangers -- would dole out more than $240 million a season to the ones struggling financially. Currently, the league doles out $150 million for revenue-sharing purposes.

From Kevin Allen of USA Today: Under the players' plan, they would freeze their yearly gross take at where it is now, and then add a 2 percent raise next season, followed by a 4 percent raise in the second year and 6 percnt the third year. In the fourth year, the players want to return to receiving 57% percent of revenue. The union says the plan would save the
league at least $465 million and possibly as much as $800 million.

The problem is the players are operating under the assumption that league revenue will continue to progress increase at 7 percent, while the owners worry about that lasting, which would cut into their profits. The disappointing part is that the players are essentially the product -- they're what make the owners money. Yet, the owners continue to be unreasonable and greedy.

Talks, phrased as "exploration" over negotiation will continue Wednesday, but it's clear that a large divide exists that seems to be tough to close if there's no urgency shown soon. There's only 23 days left until the inevitable occurs. A lockout would be momentum-killing and a year lost would be devastating, especially with the NHL already not among the favorite sports in America.

USA Today: