How NHL Players Can Win Their Labor Dispute With Ownership

With the National Hockey League’s lockout officially canceling the first two weeks of the season, and with more cancellations likely to come soon, NHL players are banking on a long fight and looking for new places to play. And one of the league’s top player agents has an idea for how they can do it.

Pat Brisson has already negotiated contracts to send players to Europe and other leagues during the lockout, and now he wants to organize an All-Star tour across Europe to showcase the league’s top talents while NHL owners keep them off the ice for the second time since 2004, Sporting News reports:

“We did it last time,” said Brisson, co-head of CAA Sports’ hockey division, which represents 62 NHL players, including a number of star players like Sidney Crosby. Brisson said he would seriously “explore” organizing a world tour that would include CAA clients, as well as possibly clients of other agencies, if there is no deal by early November. […]

Brisson has already negotiated deals for 15 of his clients to play in Europe during the lockout, and he said more will go if the work stoppage continues. “I would say, in the next month or two, we will have another 20,” he said.

This, I think, is the smartest move for the players if they want to force the owners’ hand in the lockout. Unlike the NFL and NBA players who had to make big concessions to end their lockouts last year, hockey players have other alternatives and are willing to use them, and taking advantage of them is the easiest way to force the owners to start making serious offers on the revenue differences that separate the two sides. NFL players, for instance, didn’t have foreign leagues or established independent leagues to turn to when owners locked them out; NBA players did, but few were willing to take advantage of them. Some of the NHL’s top players are already taking advantage, though, giving them the chance to make a living absent an end to the lockout.

The All-Star tour could also add leverage. The players tried this approach in 2004 to no real avail. But they did it at a time when the league was in a basement popularity-wise and had no real intriguing stars to market. If Brisson could get Crosby and other stars to agree to a tour, not just across Europe but across Canada and the U.S. as well, and find an innovative television network that reaches plenty of homes but has no real hopes of negotiating with the NHL in the future (like, say, Versus before it became the partial home of the NHL after the 2004 lockout), it could pay for itself and strike fear into the owners that at least a small subset of players — the most recognizable — don’t need an immediate end to the lockout to make money.

There are already rumors that some NHL owners don’t want this lockout, and there are already public worries from ownership about how much money they stand to lose if the lockout continues. The players, though, can keep making money through these tours and by signing in other leagues, and even if it isn’t as much as they’d make playing in the NHL, it should be enough to get them back on the NHL ice under the most favorable terms possible.