We have now entered the final ten days of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. Earlier this calendar year, there wasn’t much cause for concern about the coming season (or lack thereof). After all, unlike the work stoppage that washed away the 2004-05, there is a salary cap place and the NHLPA has everything in order in terms of leadership with Donald Fehr at the helm. Nevertheless, whatever optimism garnered for a new CBA quickly turned to pessimism as both sides, like it was eight years earlier, seem far apart on reaching a new deal.
Frustration is certainly mounting within the player’s union but, more significantly, the same can be said for the fans. Last week, a video edited by one Janne Makkonen was found on YouTube and has since spread like wildfire. More or less, the video was a message to (NHL Commissioner) Gary Bettman and the owners that it’s the fans who deserve better and how the sport of hockey isn’t about the money but the moments that last a lifetime. That’s when the goosebumps began surface as some of the greatest moments in hockey were then played. Moments such as Steve Yzerman’s dramatic (not to mention beautiful) goal that propelled Detroit to a Game 7 double-overtime win against St. Louis in the 1996 playoffs, Howie Rose’s memorable call of “Matteau! Matteau!” to signify Stephane Matteau’s Game 7 OT-winner in the 1994 Eastern Final that sent the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final. Then, Al Michaels’ legendary, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” followed by Rick Jeannaret’s memorable “May Day! May Day!” call when Buffalo’s Brad May potted the OT-winner to complete the sweep of the heavily-favoured Boston Bruins in 1993. This video has since reached tens of thousands of fans before reaching members of the Player’s Association – now, if only the owners could see this video and really make them think about how selfish they’re being.
Nonetheless, this video got to me. Not only did it inspire to scramble through all my old movies to find ‘Network’ but I downloaded both songs by Maybeshewill featured in the video and now I can’t even stop listening to either one. More importantly, though, it shows some of the most alarming facts about this. In the United States and Canada, employment is at 8%, the average monthly wage in both countries is just under $4000, yet Bettman and the owners feel that making $8 million a year not to mention coming off a season were the league generated $3.3 billion isn’t quite enough. The owners want more because they feel that the players should be paid less. Above all else, Gary Bettman (and I’ve said this numerous times before) has the sheer temerity to suggest that it’s the players who are unaware of the world’s economic situation.
While it appeared just for a second, the video showed the decline of Russian players taken in the first round. Do you remember a time when Russians were dominating the North American circuit? I certainly do. Heck, a 10-year-old because it wasn’t that long ago. In 2000, eight Russians were selected in the first round; this past June, just one. Say what you will about Russians but as the old adage goes, “Variety is the spice of life,” and with their KHL up and running, fewer Russians are willing to make the jump to North America – except for players like Nail Yakupov who played his junior hockey on this side of the ocean.
The most fascinating detail I picked up on this past season is that through all my time at NHL arenas during the 2011-12 season, I saw a plethora of jerseys, shirts and even hats with the names of Crosby, Malkin, Briere, Ovechkin, Kopitar on the back. Heck, once at Staples Center, I saw someone sporting a Ken Baumgartner jersey. Despite being a King for a cup of coffee, someone actually thought of the tough guy highly enough to get his name stitched across the back. But that’s not what was most interesting. What was most interesting is that among all the names on the backs of jerseys and shirts, none of those names were Illitch or Snider or Peddie or Leiweke (no offense Kings fans). I was on a roll until I saw a Mario Lemieux jersey but let’s remember that he was a player first. Nonetheless, the message is clear: of all the revenue the NHL generated this past season, not one dime was spent to see or buy the merchandise of an owner. Frankly, you’d have a much better chance seeing someone wearing a Dodgers jersey with “Lasorda” on the back.
To make a long story short, what was said in the video needs to be etched in the minds of not only Gary Bettman but of all the owners, as well. Easier said than done? I’m afraid that’s what it looks like but we’re now down to crunch time and, at this time, only hope can convince the owners to do whatever means necessary to avoid any type of work stoppage.
While a silver lining to a delayed start to the 2012-13 season for Kings fans could be to see their team get a little more time to recover from their summer with Stanley, no Kings fans are looking at any upside. They, like the fans of the other 29 teams, want hockey and they want it now. Although Peter Finch said it best, I cannot help but voice the same statement in the same inflection to Bettman and the owners on behalf of every single fan: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!”
If you haven’t seen this video or just want to watch it again, click on the link below.