The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same
Being that I’m not an economics major, there’s only so much I can really say about the current negotiations (or whatever they want to call these meetings) between the NHL and the NHLPA regarding a new collective bargaining agreement. What I do know is that the expiration date of the current CBA is now less than a month away and both sides are far apart on a new deal.
NHLPA leader Donald Fehr announced the NHLPA’s offer on Tuesday. As per the offer, the players were willing to take a smaller percentage in revenues. Of course, other details have since emerged from said offer. According to TSN hockey analyst Aaron Ward, the offer put forth a limit on ‘non-player’ transactions. These include salaries of head coaches, general managers and other front office personnel.
In addition, the offer would allow extra draft picks offered to those franchises in financial peril plus, for those clubs in distress, they would have the luxury of trading or selling up to $4 million in cap space.
Although I can’t see how extra draft picks could benefit teams in the red, I do believe that the trading or selling of $4 million in cap space would benefit the league more than the players. Overall, while the offer still could look better, it seems to be on the surface a very good offer and one the NHL would gladly accept. Of course, as we found out on Wednesday, that wasn’t the case. Talks broke off between the sides during Wednesday’s meeting, which left me utterly frustrated and annoyed. It’s an easy question to ask and a harder one to answer but when are these people going to grow up?
While Donald Fehr and the players deserve some blame, I cannot help but want to vomit every time I look at or hear the voice of (NHL Commissioner) Gary Bettman. Even his idiosyncrasies like the way he tilts his head back, gestures with his hand and enunciates every word while stretching every muscle in his mouth so that he resembles Mr. Ed makes me want to kick the TV screen right in with a steel-toed boot. When the NHL season was officially canceled in February 2005, Bettman announced that the way he felt could be summed up in one word: terrible. To that, I have a one-word reaction: bullsh*t.
Yesterday, Gary Bettman had the temerity to say that they (the league) and the players have “different views of the world and the issues.” You better not be referring to the economy, Bettman, because, let’s face it, that scant percentage of the population who earns more than today’s professional athletes are none other than you and the owners of those franchises who employ said professional athletes.
What does Bettman classify as an “issue”, anyway? His little princess gets to attend an Ivy-league school with a silver spoon surgically installed in her mouth while much of the nation struggles to feed their families on a regular basis – yet, hockey’s head honcho knows everything about the state of the world.
Last year, the NHL made $3.3 billion. No, that’s not a typo - $3.3 billion for a sport which was, for all intents and purposes, at death’s door seven years ago after the humiliating, not to mention unprecedented, cancelation of their entire season. During that time, Bettman and the owners sat idly by for a year waiting for the PA to fall to its knees and be persuaded into accepting a salary cap. The league got what they wanted – they have had their cap ever since to go along with astronomical profits last year. In 2005, there were fans who vowed never to watch hockey again. Fortunately, many of those fans couldn’t keep their word and came back. Could anyone have honestly predicted, though, that the NHL would make as much as they did last season back when the last lockout ended? Keep in mind that hockey is a sport that in the United States will always take a backseat to football, baseball and basketball. Not only that but hockey has been dubiously notorious for having lower ratings than the likes of poker, bowling, mud wrestling, geriatric kickboxing or whatever other sport that’s been invented in the last quarter-century. Yet, despite that along with the current economic status, the NHL still somehow made $3.3 billion. If I were Gary Bettman, I’d spend more time counting my blessings than pushing my luck.
According to the NHLPA’s calculations, should the NHL maintain its average incoming revenue for the next three years, the players will be set to lose $465 million. Yet the owners still aren’t satisfied. I just cannot fathom the ignorance, nay the stupidity, of the powers-that-be that run the league and their franchises.
According to TSN.ca, Bettman was asked yesterday what he would say to the countless fans concerned about the possibly of another lockout:
"I don't have an appetite either to not have hockey, so we're all in agreement on that," said Bettman. "I know what the game means and I know how important it is for our franchises and our game to be healthy from an economic standpoint and we're working very, very hard.”
I had to read that over a few times because I just couldn’t believe that the commissioner would fail to mention the fans and how important they are, especially the ones who pay their hard-earned money (earned, mind you, during these tough economic times) to buy a ticket to a game or merchandise to show off the team they so avidly (or casually) support.
It’s like the old adage, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” This couldn’t be any more fitting in terms of the relationship between the NHL and the NHLPA. While Bettman's nemesis Bob Goodenow is long gone as leader of the players’ union, it’s no better with Donald Fehr. Before the NHL’s infamous lockout, the worst such work stoppage to date was the dreaded Major League Baseball strike of 1994, whose players’ association was run by none other than Donald Fehr. It was, in large part, his efforts that canceled the remainder of the season and the playoffs, marking the first time since 1904 that there would be no World Series winner. Also, of the four major North American sports, baseball is the only one not to have a salary cap. Who’s mostly to blame for that? None other than Donald Fehr.
You have a basketball man running the league and a baseball man running the union and very little hope for not only the upcoming season but even the future of the league and, in some ways, the sport of hockey in general. That is one terrible formula.
To me, this is nothing more than a battle of egos, a battle between millionaires and billionaires. To compare this to an old-time boxing match would be unfair because in boxing, there’s always a protagonist, a hero. There are no such figures in this battle. While some fans are sympathetic, most aren’t. Most fans want to come home after a long day of work and bring pleasure to their day by tuning in to see what their team has in store for their next opponent, whether it’s alone, with friends, at home or at a bar, these fans need that something to give themselves an extra bit of joy to the day – and this is where hockey comes in. I’m sure I’m speaking for fans of other sports as well but particularly hockey. If only Gary Bettman didn’t have deaf ears or blind eyes, then we’d be talking about this in a much more positive tone. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
Sadly, we may be looking forward to yet another lockout. From now until a new CBA is reached, I will be trying to think of what’s worse: an unprecedented third lockout under one commissioner or that said commissioner, despite everything, could care less.
Photo: Courtesy of Chris Young/The Canadian Press