It has been suggested by some that yours truly, A Sports Fan with a weekly opportunity to ramble at the public consciousness, has been ignoring the NHL labour dispute/lockout. Well world, you are at least partially correct… I, like most of North America who have tired of such tripe like “Countdown to Shutdown” on the TSN overnight loop, have turned my attentions and focus to sports whose labour disputes are, at least for now, in the recent rear view. Don’t get me wrong – I try and keep abreast of the situation – should either side actually deign to pick up the phone and call the other but as we all know millionaires and billionaires don’t share bargaining tables. Instead, they have representatives, Bettman in the appropriate red corner for the owners and in the other corner, NHLPA assassin Donald Fehr and Loathing at the microphone, ringed by the downtrodden players. I say ‘downtrodden’ because each and every player who took to the podium carefully selected their most outdated and wrinkled T-Shirt and jeans combo from the bowels of the closet for the momentous occasion… Zdeno Chara even went Ed Hardy… good grief Z, no-one has worn EH out in public since, well, the last strike.
So, its official… the pretenses at mediation are at least for now, over. This haggard, manufactured, ‘up-all-night debating’ look cultivated by the NHLPA for an offer from the owners that they had rejected before the Commissioner had even turned on the Bett-Signal can be shelved for the time being. Instead, everyone can return to their respective man-caves for the launch of NHL13 – the first edition of the game to feature temporary KHL and AHL team options in the event of work stoppage.
I am not going to bore you with the financials of these negotiations. Suffice it say, at present, the two sides are a small ocean apart. The owners have drawn their line in the sand and have said categorically that, for the health of the 30 franchises that make up the National Hockey League – they need said terms to ensure long-term success. This of course, as we know based on the simple fact that ownership has been consistently inconsistent since the dawn of time, is complete and utter nonsense. Screaming for five-year caps on long term deals while simultaneously signing every player to 6-year extensions during the talks themselves is as hypocritical as Fehr and Loathing himself using the podium to advocate the health of Major League Baseball which he almost single-handedly brought to its knees in 1994/95. “No Don, I really don’t see any disparity in the spending of the MLB teams…seems like we’re all on an even playing field…OK, let’s move on. Oh, and Curt Flood called from the Beyond, said something about you making a mockery of what he stood for.”
Truth is, like most Fans, I don’t have a dog in this fight. Like most Fans, I am tired of NHL continuing to try and support its product in markets that only Gary Bettman and Shane Doan think are worth the time of day. Only 12 teams made money last year and as much as we lauded the return of the Jets to Winnipeg, their success was based on the fact that they just ate a smaller piece of pie than the Thrashers would’ve – which seems an extremely strange thing to say if anyone has caught some recent pictures of Dustin Byfuglien out on the town. Wow, he is apparently planning to hibernate for a long bleak winter without a paycheque…well played sir…well played.
The players, to their credit are united and trying in vain to say all the right things. While dismissing ownership’s final proposal and laying out their planned ‘partnership’ with the NHL to (one more time…yawn…) “ensure the long-term health of the League” the players have uttered the one phrase which will, in three hockey-free months, return to haunt them in the arena of public perception – “What’s in it for us?” As of right now, the locked out NHLer can stop in at his local public house for a pint and a pound of wings and get the secret Solidarity handshake from the hourly working-man who props up the wood but when the Boxing Day sales have passed and nary a puck has dropped, it is safe to say that the reception will be a lot different. You see, John Q. really doesn’t mind you taking a stand if it means he doesn’t have to sit through pre-season but when you reduce his winter viewing to the NBA and the Brier, there is every chance that he will just move down to the next stool and let you dine alone.
Unfortunately, as we have seen all too often recently, proper posturing takes time. Every amoeba enrolled in first year accounting knows that the revenue sharing percentage will eventually come very close to the 50/50 mark, as it should, but this Collective Bargaining Agreement has to ensure that Fans need not be subjected to a 4th work stoppage on the Bettman watch in another five or six years time. The financial structure of this next CBA is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg as the owners struggle to regain absolute autonomy over decisions such as re-alignment and playoff structure which leads me to believe that we have a better chance of the Commissioner breaking out his inner LL Cool J on The Voice, than we do of seeing hockey before Christmas. The problem remains that someone is going to want to say that they won…the fact remains that while everyone has their zippers down and rulers out, it’s the Fans who, as always are on the losing end.
Until next time Kelowna, I urge you to get out and support your Rockets…