I don’t know about you, but I’ve already had enough of the rhetoric and nonsense being bounced about now that the NHL has locked out its work force. I have no interest in the league’s message to the ‘fans’ – a message that to me is condescending and backwards.
That is because Gary Bettman and the billionaires club that he is a puppet for, do not care about the ‘fans’. They care about your money – and the ever growing hockey related revenue (or HRR if you are part of the suit and tie brigade), but they do not care about what is happening to the fans at this point.
They also don’t care about the parking attendants, the concession workers, or the arena staff who will all be without work or ‘HRR’ as this lockout goes on. That’s funny to me, because those in most need of ‘HRR’ are those people who will go without.
The process has already started. I have talked to a few sources in North America who have confirmed that some of the small market teams in their cities have already started the layoff dance. A few teams, in a move to quell fear and rumour mongering, have announced that they will not layoff staff – the Bruins for example – but that will change depending on the length of the work stoppage. So even those who are safe for now, will have some sleepless nights ahead.
I have also been in touch with colleagues in the media industry on that side of the pond, and some are worried about their jobs as well. The big media stars will be fine, but local beat writers and free-lance staff will certainly feel the pinch as the NHL fights for a bigger piece of the pie.
So why am I at my witts’ end really? Is it the injustices above? Is it the fact that as a hockey guy I never want a work stoppage? Or, is it that I’m sick of this song and dance that has become a normal occurrence under ‘commissioner’ Gary?
It’s all of the above. In 2004/2005 we missed an entire season as Gary and company broke the union and got their hugely coveted salary cap. That should have been enough to help the owners have a level playing field. But what did the owners do? They found ways as individuals to cheat, and get around their own prized cap on player salaries. Ridiculous long-term deals (see Rick DiPietro) for players to string out the annual average salary towards the salary cap. The Minnesota Wild are a team that has not achieved much over the past seven years under this cap – but this summer was different. They went out and signed two guys to 13-year, $98 million contracts…and a few months later the Wild are crying poor, and are a big part of the process to scale back the money that they have been throwing around! Unreal!
Imagine – like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter – you get a big salary raise. You are happy – you worked hard, and an owner/boss saw fit to give you a huge contract – bigger than your wildest dreams. You would take it. You would sign on the dotted line! Then imagine a month later, that same owner/boss is saying that ‘hey, things aren’t as good as I told you,’ and wanted a huge percentage back. What would you do?
The players were defeated soundly in the last work stoppage – they had vowed to never accept a cap – they eventually had to. They were defeated then by a man who is hard to like, and certainly isn’t on the Christmas card list of any players. Gary Bettman and the NHL owners are once again trying to break the union. The players have spoken openly about solidarity – and new union boss Donald Fehr is no walk-over. This is about optics this time around. The players don’t want to be defeated again by a man who is so despised and disrespected amongst their ranks.
Gary won’t back down either. This is his third lockout in 20 years as boss. He is a businessman first, and a hockey guy somewhere distantly down the line. This could go on for a while, or the owners could see sense once they start losing home game revenue. Either way – enough is enough.
It’s time for change. Time for new vision and leadership at the top. It’s time for a new big-dog to steer the NHL ship into the future. Unfortunately, depending on what happens in the coming weeks and months, that future for the NHL could be a lot less rosy. Fans came back last time, but will they forgive and forget this time around? Gary and company are betting on yes…I’m not so sure.
You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce