NHL Lockout Update: Just In Case You Still Care…

15/10/2012 § Leave a comment

Our first Hockey Night in Canada has come and gone and I’m starting to wonder what might fill the void this winter. I’d love to say that the CHL, AHL, KHL, CIS, or NCAA will interest me enough to follow it consistently but that’s a lie most guys will save for the next time they are dragged out on Saturday night, which will now turn into date night. Maybe EA Sports NHL ’13 is realistic enough that our significant others won’t notice?

I’d imagine with the NFL and baseball playoffs in full swing, the non-traditional hockey markets probably won’t lose much in October-November in terms of attendance figures. Maybe that’s why the owners have taken a tough line. They know the fans in traditional markets will never leave, and well maybe the non-traditional ones won’t notice.

People are already suffering. While I may complain that I can’t watch hockey, there’s many individuals out there who are losing money, or have lost jobs. It’s a good thing Canada and the US aren’t going through some kind of recession or anything… oh wait.

I’m here to throw out some random observations as a way to vent my growing frustration. That’s if anyone even cares anymore about the NHL.

1)      Public Opinion Swaying

Before the lockout began, the majority of the public seemed to be on the side of the players. That appears to be changing as fans get impatient. The NHLPA has clearly tried to win the “public opinion debate.” From day 1 they released a video, the players seem to have been coached (or brainwashed) as far as what to say to the media – “all we want is a fair deal,” and all fingers have been pointed at 1 man, Gary Bettman.

I wonder why players don’t call out their own owners. If you’re going to take a stand, don’t take it against the guy working for the owners – he’s only taking direction. Now I’m not naive enough to believe that Bettman just follows orders. He has a plan and a strategy and the owners trust him. However, I’d love to see a player accuse their own boss instead of using the Bettman scapegoat whenever there’s a microphone in front of them.  

Plain and simple the fans are fed up with numbers. We all know 50/50 is fair. Until the players move in that direction, I believe they will lose support and I am hopeful that maybe, just maybe, they will come to their senses. Fehr needs to stop spewing nonsense stating that “This is an owner’s lockout; we could’ve negotiated while playing this year.” Yes Donald, because I’m sure the players would’ve had incentive to negotiate while playing. Hockey fans aren’t stupid stop treating us like we are.

2)      The Public v. Gary Bettman

This isn’t a referendum of your like or dislike for the commissioner. He’s not likeable – that’s not a secret. As a kid I grew up not liking Gary – I’m not sure why.  So I ask all of you out there – why the hatred towards the commissioner? He works for the owners and if there’s a lockout it’s not entirely his call. Do you even remember who represented the players in 2004-2005? (Bob Goodenow) Did we blame him for the lockout? Would we boo him like we boo Gary if he presented the Stanley Cup? I’m not sure. Can you name 10 NHL Owners? 5? At the end of the day Gary takes the heat so 29 owners (since the NHL owns Phoenix) can go out and enjoy their lives without being scrutinized by the media.

Being a commissioner of a sports league comes at the price of your public reputation. But what’s Gary done for the game? Well let’s see. The salary cap created parity in a league where any team, any year, can win the Stanley Cup. Go ask the Toronto Blue Jays how much a level playing field would help them. He introduced the shootout, the Winter Classic, he’s gotten big TV deals, he’s made the game faster and more enjoyable for fans, and he’s done it while most of the Canadian public despises him for no logical reason. So thank you Gary for making the game I love even better.

Oh, but wait this is the third lockout on his watch – more than any sports league. That’s true. Gary got everything he wanted in 2004-2005 and the players supposedly lost out (although somehow they got a 70% increase in salary from ’05 to ’12). I get it. Had Gary done a better job in 2004-2005 we might not be in this position. But is it really all his fault?

The Canadian dollar sky rocketed, helping many teams and eventually helping the Jets come back. Revenues increased but so did expenses – just look at fuel costs. At the end of the day 18 NHL teams lost money last year, according to Forbes Magazine. That’s more than half. If more than half of your collective franchises are losing money, changes need to be made. So blame Bettman for not setting up the perfect agreement in ’04-’05 but cut the guy a little slack, he’s done at least just as much good as bad for the game of hockey.  

3)      Loopholes in the System

Teams have also gotten smarter. In a salary cap world you have to make it more attractive to play in that city. Queue the Vancouver Canucks spending frenzy on niche items. A personal chef for the players, state of the art dressing room, sleep doctor, etc. – sure expenses go up because of these aspects but that’s how Vancouver Management can convince Kesler and the Twins to play for less. Even in a salary cap world there’s ways for the rich to manipulate the system. Nashville and Florida could never afford to bury a guy in the minors like the Rangers did with Wade Redden and his $6 million salary.

The players want to cap certain expenses (coaching salaries for example). While I completely agree that perhaps a cap in other areas would be more “fair” – it’ll never happen. The owners are not going to be told how to run their business, nor should they be. They take all the risk and they only get 50% of the profit after paying for all the expenses. Wonder if I can pitch that concept to my boss?

18 owners losing money, every other league has a 50-50 revenue sharing model or worse for the players, and the players really think that salaries don’t have to roll back for the 2012-2013 season? I’m losing patience with players – even my beloved Maple Leafs. (Lupul: Please go read the CBA)  

4)      The Players’ Argument

-“We want what’s fair”

Fairness has nothing to do with this process. Owners are billionaires. Players are millionaires. It’s their league, you play in it. If life was fair doctors who save lives would get rock star treatment and athletes wouldn’t be held up on a pedestal. Also if Fehr tries to relate the players to the “common business or man” again I might lose it. You get paid to play a game, a game you love and even if you only play 5 years (the average NHL life span) you will still make more than 99.9% of the public. If you can’t budget accordingly than perhaps you should’ve paid more attention in class or invested some of those millions of dollars into a financial advisor instead of a personal trainer.

Funny thing is I don’t even blame the players. Most of them aren’t that in touch with the CBA or understand the economics of it. They understand the twisted version Fehr has probably given them. He’s decided what he thinks is fair and has brainwashed the others. He’s done it well. The players certainly appear to be united, they claim they are “informed”. I was once a player, albeit in Junior, but I understand the value put into a handshake deal and why the players do not want to accept a rollback of any sort. Ethically the players might be right, but they won’t win this battle. The sooner they realize it, the better.

5)      What to Watch For

Right now an 82 game schedule can still happen. If they wait much longer it can’t happen. If the NHLPA doesn’t move in the next round of negotiations (arguably round I) that means the NHLPA has made a decision that they will wait to see if the NHL will make a better offer when the Winter Classic and major HBO and other TV deals become a factor. If the season does not start early November it won’t start until the Winter Classic and if the Classic is cancelled you can forget about the season. So in short, the next two weeks and Jan. 1 will be quite telling as to whether or not we get hockey this year.

FINAL RANT

At the end of the day I’m heartbroken. I turned on the Philly/Pittsburg highlights from Round 1 last year and two hours were suddenly gone. I will remain an eternal optimist and hope that this new proposal coming on Tuesday from the NHLPA will have some substance. To date the PA seems more concerned with what you and I think instead of getting a deal done. Insanity is defined by doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result. Hopefully both the NHL and the NHLPA can try something new. (Actually new, Donald, not some proposal that says the same thing using different words)

While even for the hockey purist like myself watching other leagues has been difficult I’d ask hockey fans out there to go watch a minor hockey game or support your local Junior Teams. Those players show up to the rink each and every day and the last thing on their mind is a paycheck.

 -Virani

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