With the NFL having gone through a summer of uncertainty with its recently resolved lockout and the NBA shut down indefinitely with a lockout of its own, the last thing sports fans need to hear about is the potential for any more labor unrest.
That's especially true for hockey fans, who have already gone through the worst work stoppage in major sports history when the NHL owners locked out the players for an entire year, wiping out the 2004-05 season. Those painful memories remain fresh, but it's been more than six years since that lockout was finally lifted, and the league is about to enter the final year of the collective bargaining agreement it produced.
Daniel Paille, who took over as the Bruins' NHL Players' Association representative when Mark Stuart was traded to Atlanta in February, admitted he has been following what's gone on in the NFL and NBA while staying informed of his own league's labor situation.
"I think the NBA is going through what we did," Paille said at Milan Lucic's Rock & Jock Celebrity Softball Game in Lowell this past week. "We had our lockout and it looks like theirs is going to be a long time, too, which is unfortunate. Obviously I don't think any league should do that. But it's nice to see the NFL come to an agreement before the season even started.
"We're one year away, so we're in the same position where we're going to have to make a decision, but I feel confident [of avoiding another lockout]," Paille added.
Paille believes both the players and owners understand that the league can't afford to have another stoppage after working so hard over the last six years to overcome the damage of the last lockout. Still, negotiations are likely to be contentious as player salaries have continued to rise despite the implementation of a hard salary cap.
"I think both sides know what's at stake," Paille said. "I think just having two lockouts in a row, especially one after the other, is not healthful on either side. I think hopefully both sides realize what's at stake and realize that we want to build the fans base and the way to do that is to keep playing."
It could be another lockout that helps the NHL grow — the NBA lockout. Hockey will have the pro landscape to itself for much of this winter if the NBA remains shut down, which could lead to some increased attention to attract new fans. That's not the ideal way to grow the brand, but the NHL will take it if it works out that way.
"I think we always try to attract new fans," Paille said. "But obviously when one league is out you try to take advantage of that. I'm sure other leagues will as well. Having the [NBA] lockout definitely benefits us right now."
Another NHL lockout, however, could be devastating to the league. Player reps like Paille will be tasked with keeping the rank and file informed about any developments on the labor front. He'll also need to select a new assistant player rep, a process that will likely take place in camp, but Paille stressed he wants all the players to be active in the process, not just the official union officers.
"This year I'll try to get more of the guys involved, keep them informed about what's going on and what's the plan throughout the whole year," Paille said. "I think it's to our benefit to get guys involved and understand what's going on. Fortunately, I think we have a guy that has our best interests in Don Fehr."
Fehr was named the executive director of the NHLPA in December, ending a run of turmoil and dissension atop the union. Despite his reputation as a hardliner from his three-plus decades with the Major League Baseball Players Association, Fehr insisted when he took the NHLPA that he would "treat a work stoppage or a strike as a last resort."
A stoppage would likely be a last straw for many fans, and is certainly not something the players want to go through again.
"The lockout was my first year," said Paille, a 2002 first-round pick of the Sabres who was a first-year pro in 2004-05 and spent the season in the AHL with Buffalo's affiliate in Rochester, as the work stoppage pushed his potential NHL debut back a year. "Obviously, I wasn't too involved then. But the more you know about it, the more it helps. I'm glad to be involved with [the NHLPA] now. It's a lot of work for certain guys, including myself, but it's important to do."
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