What can be done to avoid a lockout?

     The problem is that everyone knows what can be done to avoid a prolonged lockout, but the sin of pride will prevent an expedient accord from being reached. The NHL owners will steadfastly hold to their belief that a strict cap is the only way to go. The NHLPA will vehemently refuse this. Is there some sort of common ground that would allow both parties involved, and the fans for that matter, to save face and money?
     
      The recently averted labor crisis in Major League Baseball implanted a new program of luxury taxes in place of a hard cap. Teams are encouraged to spend only a certain amount ($117 million total), but they are in no way committed to it. Should they surpass the number, however, they are responsible for paying 50% of the surplus as a luxury tax. The NHL is exploring the option of such a tax, in which players would still be able to keep their current and desired salaries, franchises would share revenues and taxes amongst themselves, and some sort of careful spending would actually be encouraged.

      The problem with this idea is that the richest clubs, most notably the Rangers and Red Wings, would continue to spend freely because they have enough excess income to pay whatever taxes necessary. Should these powerful clubs be punished for arranging quality facilities, television contracts, and fan bases? Yes, it is unfair that a select group of clubs can purchase all the spare parts they need while struggling clubs with small pockets can barely entice fringe players. Yet, if these latter clubs had the means of the richest, would they not purchase at will also? Financial parity is a double-edged sword.

      The age for free agency will most likely stay at where it is, as will the process of salary arbitration. These issues are important, but the crown jewel of the argument for both sides is the salary structure. The current system has its flaws, but no system is entirely perfect. The NHL is still lagging behind the other professional leagues, but its popularity has skyrocketed compared to the previous two decades. It has been proven that small market clubs are not always relegated to the NHL basement (prime examples are Carolina in 2002 and Buffalo in 1999, two financially bereft clubs who made it to the Stanley Cup Finals). The haves will always dominate the have-nots in the financial arena, but the games have proven otherwise in many cases. All the NHL and the NHLPA need to do is get on the ball and hammer out a deal. Any kind of stoppage could be damaging not just to the fans, but to the integrity of the game as well.

 “For me, I prefer to stay in the moment. I’m not looking for a fight. I’m looking for a solution to the economic issues confronting our game. We have a year remaining on the current collective bargaining agreement and, used properly, that is more than ample time in which to negotiate a new agreement. The National Hockey League has been prepared and remains prepared to begin formal collective bargaining negotiations on a moment’s notice.” - NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman