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Burn the Boats

Labor war could be hell to pay for Devils

By July 19. 2012 11:15AM

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It’s never good for a sports league when labor talks get the front page, and in no league is that more true than the NHL, which is the only one so far to lock its players out for a full season.

If recent talk between the sides this time is any indicator, we could be looking at a repeat. The owners’ demands this time include a number of contract limitations, limits on free agency and, most troubling, reducing players’ hockey-related revenues to 46 percent, down from 57 percent under the last agreement.

It’s bad news for owners across the league to lock out their players, but it could be particularly devastating in Newark, where the New Jersey Devils continue to offer no news of a mystery investor to buy out the Mike Gilfillan share of the team. With the Nets now off to Brooklyn, the Prudential Center has lost a tenant that was good for 40 nights a year, even if the games were about as well attended as a snowplow convention in July. With the Devils out, even for a few months, that’s trouble for the arena, though the team would at least be spared having to pay salaries.

The timing is awful, too, because of the surge of popularity surrounding the team following its Stanley Cup run and eventual final-round loss to the Los Angeles Referees Kings. According to the team, thousands of new season-ticket subscribers have come on board, possibly only to watch the team’s best players head to Europe to stay in game shape.

Hopefully, this is just an opening shot by the owners — or a Christmas list that accidentally got sent to the players. While they have some big contracts to pay out this year, the lost revenue from tickets sales — and the lost interest that comes for any sport that suffers a lockout — would be a serious blow to the Devils and a Titanic-like mess for a potential investor.

Will we be watching hockey in October, or watching billionaires and millionaires duke it out? And if the negotiating goes the distance, will anyone be paying attention at the Prudential Center when it’s over?

I’m even more irreverent on Twitter @joe_arney.

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