Okay, so I’ve been silent on the NHL lockout to this point. Although I
would rather remain silent on the topic, I feel it wouldn’t do any justice for
my readers not to know why I haven’t weighed in on it.
See, I could go into the issues. Analyze the numbers. Discuss about
which side is more correct than the other, if one side really is more correct.
However, doing that would lend credence to this fight, of which I can find no
rational justification for.
You see, back in 2004, a lot of fans thought the game was in trouble.
The divide between the “rich” and the “poor” teams had started to engulf
hockey, and while much of that divide was fuelled by the owners’ own
incompetence regarding the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement at the
time, the lack of a salary cap did seem to really affect competitive balance.
Back then, when the NHL said they needed to institute a salary cap and would do
whatever it took to do it, we believed them, and we, as fans, thought that even
though the prospect of a lost season was upsetting, we understood that the game
was in a serious malaise and if we had to sacrifice a season for the long term
gain of hockey, we’d be prepared to do it.
For the first few seasons, it seemed to work. Canadian teams not named “Toronto
Maple Leafs” were profitable again. The “small market” Carolina Hurricanes won
the 2006 Stanley Cup and other “small market” teams like the Phoenix Coyotes
and Florida Panthers experienced successful seasons. Revenues nearly doubled
since 2003-04, the last full season played before the new CBA took effect.
Hockey now even had the Winter Classic as an added revenue generator, and stars
like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin appeared to make hockey more visible
in the United States, where the league had been fighting for visibility for
decades. When the Los Angeles Kings romped their way to the Stanley Cup this
past spring, hockey seemed to have a heartwarming story of a Cinderella beating
the odds to win the Cup, with the added bonus of playing in a city guaranteed
to generate hockey its visibility. Everything was looking up.
Now…this. It defies explanation.
Does hockey have its issues? Yes. The divide between the rich and the
poor, though not as pronounced as in years past, was still present. We have
teams sign absolutely insane contracts for its players as a way to circumvent
the salary cap. Player movement, and subsequently, team improvement was
stagnant if not existent. Problems, yes, but they weren’t issues that, with a
little bit of discussion couldn’t be resolved- all hockey needed was greater
revenue sharing, a better split of the revenues between the players and the
owners and a cap on contract lengths. Nothing Earth-shattering or as radical as
introducing the salary cap in 2004, which would have meant changing the entire
economic framework of the game, unlike now where the framework just needs a few
Yet, what are we stuck with? A long, entrenched war between the players
and the owners that has featured more than its fair share of bickering,
backstabbing and emotional outbursts, and very little in the way of actual discussion.
These are people who are supposed to work together?
Perhaps Gary Bettman is afraid of Donald Fehr, who steered the Major
League Baseball Players’ Association to what was a major victory for the
players when they successfully went on strike to avoid a salary cap. The strike
back then was so destructive for the game that MLB, despite the fact its
economic framework is in serious need of repair to restore competitive balance,
has steadfastly refused to take any sort of labour action to correct the issue,
which has led to the steady erosion of baseball’s disillusioned fanbase. This past
World Series between the Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants, was the
worst rated Series of all time, and Series ratings since 1996 have yet to come
close to pre-strike levels. Baseball’s fanbase has also gotten older (the
average age of a baseball fan is 43), as younger fans turn to basketball and
football for their entertainment. So driving a stake into Fehr and the NHL
Players’ Association’s proverbial hearts might just be in Bettman’s long term
For their part, it’s possible that Fehr and the players see this as an
opportunity to rid themselves of the cap. There have been a few noises in that
regard, and the players have been very vocal about the owners’ stupidity
regarding contracts. So taking a philosophical stand against the cap just may
make sense, especially if the players can call attention to their employers’
own incompetence without much fear of retribution.
Is this really all worth it though? The players and the league may have
their reasons for engaging in their fight, but it’s not productive for hockey
as a whole. CBA negotiations shouldn’t be about “who is right” and “who is
wrong”- it should be about getting the best deal possible for the industry. If
we are going to have a long term fight, it should be about correcting what ills
hockey as a whole, not to assuage the petty egos of both sides of the conflict.
We all know there’s a deal to be done and that it should have been done
a long time ago. The fact that it hasn’t means that neither side cares about
the industry- and by extension, the fans- and cares only about themselves. Now,
even if a deal is done next week, the damage might already be done: we’ve had
games needlessly canceled and the fanbase again disillusioned, convinced that
the league and the players are nothing but childish, coddled, millionaires. At
least in 2004 this all made sense. Now, in 2012, none of it does- and who knows
if the fans will ever come back.
P.S. For those of you wondering what I'm up to, I have another blog I'm updating more frequently. It's the East Cup Blog
, which is about a fictitious hockey world I've created. It's meant as a commentary about what I believe the hockey world should look like. It's still a work in progress and won't give you any real hockey, but I hope it will provide some enjoyment.