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Opinion: Who are the “hardliners?”

There has been a lot of talk about the NHL team owners and what pages they find themselves on. There have been rumours that they aren’t all on the same page, that a group of “hardliners” has been driving the wheels of the current lockout forward.

According to Elliotte Friedman’s reporting, there are essentially three groups of owners at this point: “the ones who want to play; the ones in the middle, including Tampa and Nashville, who want a better collective bargaining agreement but recognize not playing is worse; and the hardliners.”

As Friedman points out, it would be a mistake to discount the last group. Their power over this lockout, in large part due to how voting goes down in ownership meetings (hint: majority does not rule), cannot be overstated.

This does, of course, parallel the NBA labour situation in 2010. In fact, a quick trip through Friedman’s article reveals just how much of the current NHL lockout smells like the NBA labour negotiations and the subsequent 2011 NBA lockout that ran for 161 days.

The main issues in the 2011 NBA lockout were how to divide up revenue and how to structure the salary cap. Some players signed deals to play in other countries. Oh, and there was a hardline group of owners that wanted to push for a “more restrictive financial system.”

So who’s calling the shots in the NHL lockout?

Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs has come up a lot and the players are said to suspect him as a sort of “ringleader.” Ranked #634 out of the world’s billionaires by Forbes magazine, he is the chairman and CEO of Delaware North Companies – one of the largest privately held companies in North America. Jacobs was instrumental in getting the 2010 Winter Classic to Boston and many believe he’s been instrumental in prolonging the lockout from the owners’ side.

According to Friedman and other sources, other teams among the hardliners are Anaheim, Columbus, Florida, Long Island, Phoenix (obviously), Washington, Dallas, and St. Louis. Those teams hold enough power in the “eight is enough” world of ownership voting that they can hold up the entire process.

Obviously team owners are going to hold out for what’s in their best interest. These individuals haven’t been successful at business by neglecting their respective bottom lines, after all, and if they can get away with shaving back contracts, they will.

So where does that leave us? Not in good shape. The fact is that there are enough hardliners willing and able to endure the loss of another season if it means protecting their hobby farms and getting out of paying some rather lucrative contracts (I’m looking at you, Ted Leonsis). And unless the players are ready to concede again and again, the NHL’s perpetual lockout machine shows no signs of stopping.

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