As a hockey guy I have to say that this NHL lockout has been soul destroying. It has been arduous, ridiculous, and without charm or reason – all rolled up in a battle of millionaires versus billionaires.
If I was the ‘commissioner’ of a business that failed horribly every 7-8 years under my watch, would my salary increase at a meteoric rate? No, it wouldn’t, because I wouldn’t have a job! But I digress.
Let’s not quip about a certain ‘commissioner’, or about a union head. Let’s not give these Armani-suit wearing academics too much credit. They can’t even skate. They don’t like hockey. They don’t understand the game or it’s culture, and certainly they do not understand or appreciate the people who make the game special. Again I digress.
I wanted to write about the long suffering NHL fans here. The people who love this game and this league. The people that spend their hard earned dollars to support their favourite NHL club. They are the people this hurts most, and of course, those who’ve lost jobs and hope, as a result of this insane work stoppage. My heart and well wishes go out to anyone struggling to feed their family, or make ends meet because of this greedy situation. You deserve better. Sadly, the billionaires bozo club doesn’t care about you. For you, more than even the fans, I hope that your work world returns to normal soon.
And now the bums in seats and eyes on screens…
First off – any casual fans will not be back. If you’re a sports fan in Columbus, then you’re a college football fan first, and a Blue Jackets fan somewhere down a long line. But, maybe in the past you went to 4-5 games a year with your kid, or work buddies to see ‘the hockey’. Maybe you even saw a few Jackets’ wins, thus came back year after year for those 4-5 games. You may have even bought a jersey for your kid, or a niece or nephew. That would make you a casual fan – but an important fan nonetheless. You’re gone now – for a long time – if not forever.
Why would you go to those 4-5 games a year if this league ever plays again? Why would you pay $200 for a jersey for a niece or nephew? Why would you even care about this team, this ridiculous league. You don’t know what the situation is with the lockout anymore, but then again, you stopped caring in November.
Second scenario – you are a big NHL fan in Coventry, UK. You can’t go to Maple Leafs games often of course, but you buy the NHL GameCenter package for £100 and watch as many Leafs games on your laptop as possible! You’ve also purchased a jersey and other merchandise over the years on-line. You’ve even taken your wife to Toronto a few seasons back, for a Leafs game and a trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame. This makes you an overseas fan – a fan from afar – but an important fan nonetheless. You’re gone too. It’s a waste of money to you now, this NHL nonsense.
You’ll take your wife to Spain next hockey season. And, instead of NHL merchandise, you’ll save your money to go to a rugby game (they’ll be playing), or maybe a big road-trip to see Manchester United play Manchester City (they’ll be playing), and that’s you’re contribution to the NHL bottom line gone for good. You’ll find other sporting passions to invest in both financially and emotionally.
These are just two scenarios that I know of personally. People I’ve talked to – fans who now think the NHL is a joke. There are a plethora of scenarios like these two examples. Thousands. But, the NHL are not a forward thinking bunch. They’re not thinking about these eventualities. They are trying to make the players, fans, and support workers pay for their greed. The owners need to be protected from their own General Managers (see Rick DiPietro’s contract for example). They need to be policed for their own salary-cap diversions. They want to take back the deals THEY approved in good faith. They are ridiculous.
After the last lockout in 2004/05 – the missed campaign that brought in the ‘salary cap‘ era, the owners and ‘commissioner’ bragged of a future where the league and players would work together as partners. That’s worked out hasn’t it?! What’s really gone on since then?
Owners and GM’s have found ways to beat their own coveted cap. They have signed guys to 13-year deals. They have developed front-loaded contracts to sign guys to crazy money. They have made the ‘commissioner’ look like a puppet.
The players are going to take what they are offered (like any worker in any role), and if they are offered 13-year deals for $98 million, then they are going to jump at that chance. The chance to take care of their families for generations to come. Why did the Flyers make a mind boggling offer sheet to Shea Weber this past summer? Because they could under the old CBA, that’s why. A CBA that cost the league an entire season – a CBA that the ‘commissioner’ thought was air-tight. What did that offer sheet do to the Predators as a result? It forced them to keep their marquis player at a huge price. A price they cannot afford in that market – a price that another team, another GM, another owner forced them to offer to save face as an organization (they had already lost Ryan Suter to the Wild for $98 million).
The owners and management have done this to themselves. They set the market, and the value of players at all levels of star-power and ability. And now, it’s eveyone’s fault but their own. There is a cowardice and an irrationality at work here. And, sadly that’s destroying the very heart of the game, and the brand itself both domestically and more-so globally.
No matter where the NHL goes from here, the damage is irreparable. Well done all around.
You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce