All Things Avalanche — Blogs — The Denver Post OCTOBER 14, 2012, 11:00 PM The enveloping sadness of the NHL By
Something really bad is happening between the people who love hockey and the game’s highest league. I can only try to put it in my own perspective here, of course. What it is increasingly coming down to is: it seems like a lot of us are in the developing stages of an irreconcilable divorce from the NHL.
I may be wrong, but I sense it. A slow but sure drift away from the league. I’m not talking about our love of the game itself but the league and its principals in power, who have once again decided it is better to play no games at all than play the games if it means getting two or three fewer percentage points in “hockey-related revenue.”
I may be wrong, but I do not feel like the bread-and-butter fan will be back to NHL games whenever the masters of the universe deign to drop the puck again on a real game. Not this season anyway. I’ve just talked to too many people that I trust to be hardcore hockey fans who say they really are tired of all this and don’t feel like giving their time, money and attention to this league as much anymore, even if they come back.
Strangely, I’m feeling that way myself. I just can’t seem to muster any passion for either side in this tired standoff anymore. At first, I thought I was 100-percent pro-player, but it’s wearing off some. Donald Fehr, I fear, doesn’t have any real passion for hockey players. He’s a lifelong baseball guy. He can say he feels 100-percent committed to the players’ cause, but I don’t sense it all that much. I see a guy who has basically been sitting on his hands the last month, as games get increasingly X-ed off the schedule, not trying to come up with any innovative solution out of this.
I see myself nodding my head less and less whenever Fehr talks about how this kind of thing only happens in the “cap sports” and always trots out how wonderful the example of labor harmony there is in baseball. Well, except Donald, baseball once was the poster child of labor disharmony, partially under your watch, with only one other example in pro sports history (the NHL of 2004-05) of a postseason tournament being cancelled because of labor strife (1994 playoffs and World Series).
The Major League Baseball you helped produce is “harmonious” only by the fact that half the teams in both leagues are lobotomized from the socialized medicine of revenue sharing, which keeps teams like the Rockies and Royals and Twins and Mariners and Padres and Brewers and A’s (fluke run this year notwithstanding) and Pirates and Marlins and Astros and Blue Jays from ever truly trying to compete with the big boys for titles. The peace and harmony you espouse is a league bereft of true competition, save for a four-leaf clover now and then for a welfare team. Then, their players sell out for the big-market teams. If that is your vision for the NHL – well, we already had that, from about 1994-2004. The same few teams won the Stanley Cup, largely based on payroll (a couple exceptions, yes, but generally…).
As for Gary Bettman, well: I’ve lost faith in you.
You had a pretty good thing going and we all gave you high marks for reintroducing a fresher on-ice product following the last lockout, and for fighting for a better national U.S. TV deal and for sticking up for franchises in trouble. But you blew it all with your incredibly ill-thought out first proposal to the players on a new CBA this year – the 43-percent, no arbitration, big-time reduced free-agency monstrosity you forged on everyone.
You had it so good; you had a player group that swallowed huge reductions last time, but still worked hard and in good faith to grow the game after that. They never whined about being routed at the bargaining table. They accepted it, and after a big-time increase in revenues that they helped provide, your thank you to them was to want an incomprehensibly bigger bite out of their livelihoods.
You’re so smart, Gary. Really. Rarely have I been as intimidated verbally as I’ve been around you. I grew up around Ivy League people my whole life and have a good vocabulary, and yet you made me feel like a bumbling idiot around you often times.
But you need a crash course in PR, sir. You don’t get that part of the world. You don’t seem to surmise that, no, it wasn’t in your best interests and in the interests of those you represent to try to sneak a foolhardy second draconian offer like that past the players. Yeah, you’ve come up a little since then, but you still won’t get into world of reality and make a real offer – something like a 53-52-51-50-50-50 split. The players would take that. Do you know this? They would. I’ve talked to them. Maybe you haven’t. They would take that deal TODAY if offered.
And what would you really lose by giving that kind of deal to them? They’re already at 54.3 percent in their last offer. You’re at 49 (on the first year of a deal). Ok, you know what? You give them 53 or 54 on the the first year – so what? You still gained three or four percent from last time. Can anyone on the owners’ side really get too mad about that? Of course not, and you know they don’t even care.
But for some reason, maybe it’s you telling the owners or maybe it’s them telling you – either way it doesn’t matter – but for some reason you have it that you can’t give them 53 or 54 percent on that first year. Because it’ll look like you “lost”, you “caved” on the players. But here’s the thing: WE DON’T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT IT. We don’t think you would be a loser if that was your cut of the revenues on the first year. You’re STILL ALL REAL BIG WINNERS IN LIFE. We aren’t going to judge anybody as a “winner” and a “loser” when this thing is over. Well that’s not quite honest; we all think you are losers for letting things get this far – owners and players.
But whether you get 52 or 53 or 54 on the first year of a deal that we all know is going to slide down to 50-50 – WE DON’T CARE. Only you seem to care. And what for? So Phil Anschutz can go back to his mansion in Colorado and say “Well everyone, I got 1 percent extra out of that deal with the NHL, aren’t you all so proud of me now?”
Or, Zach Parise, do you think we will be impressed when you go back to your family and friends and say “Hey guys, great news! We can all stop the food stamp applications, because we’re getting 54 percent this year instead of 53!”
We don’t care. We don’t care about any of this right now. We see grown men who have lost all touch with reality, who don’t know how good they really had it, who couldn’t do what normal people do, which is work on a solution that works well for both sides – in an industry that is guaranteed to be good to both sides.
It’s why people like me and my hockey friends are basically saying, “It was sad, but I had to let (the NHL) go. There was just no hope in saving the relationship anymore.”