Thursday, 23 August 2012

Thoughts on the NHL lockout, and the perfidy of Gary Bettman

Some thoughts as I read up on the various conversations online (

1)  A poster makes a good point when he brings up the fact that different taxation levels between teams puts them on an unequal footing when a salary cap is brought into play.  If the Canadiens have to overpay a player to match the offer he got from another team in a lower-taxed area, do we get to bump up our salary cap to even things up?  Also, does the revenue sharing occur after comparing revenues, EBIDTA, or after-tax profits?  Because Geoff Molson has a good argument to use with his fellow owners.  He bought high, and expects the revenues generated by the team to pay down the debt his group incurred.  Now if the rules are changed on him, his investment in the Canadiens doesn't look so good.

These very complicated negotiations between owners could take years, which is probably a reason they've come up with a plan to not bother and hammer the players again and shake them down.  They were successful last go-round, they figure they'll take another poke at this tomato can.

2)  I appreciate another's point about hockey in the US being a regionalized sport, that fans will watch their own teams but not the NBC Game of the Week between the Rangers and the Red Wings (sigh... not those teams again), which means that national TV contracts won't be very lucrative for the NHL.  Which highlights the absolute idiocy of the powers that be, and the special brand of craziness of having Colin Campbell having anything to do with the quality of the show being presented by the league.

If Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin and Claude Giroux were allowed to fly and attain the heights of artistry and production we say in the 70's and 80's, if the game was fast-moving and featured an offensive brand of hockey where skill and scoring touch were paramount, the game would be eminently more watchable to the casual fans and would take off, and people in neutral markets would tune in, as we do for Monday Night Football and other big NFL games, even if our favourite team isn't playing.

If we could teleport Wayne Gretzky's Oilers to today and watch them take on Mario Lemieux Penguins with Jaromir Jagr and Alex Kovalev, don't you think that the sports talk shows and SportsCentres would hype the game to death and everyone would watch?  No, instead we watch Nick Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg be hammered and slashed down to size and be prevented from reaching the mythical status of our heroes of yesteryear.

One thing I regret about seeing Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux play, and Guy Lafleur and Larry Robinson and all the other greats of my formative youth, is that while I knew I was watching all-time greats at play, I always thought that someone else would eventually come along and be just as good, in their own way at least.  So Walter Payton would give way to Eric Dickerson to Barry Sanders, and Joe Montana would be replaced by John Elway and he would be replaced by Brett Favre, so would someone come along and replace Wayne and Mario and the world would keep turning.

Except that no.  Colin Campbell and Gary Bettman and Don Cherry and Mike Milbury shape the zeitgeist of our sport, and it's all about finishing your checks and picking up your man after the faceoff and honour and sacrifice, instead of Guy Lafleur flying down the wing with his hair trailing behind him, or Wayne Gretzky behind the net driving opposing goaltenders and defencemen crazy.  And I understand why the average fan won't tune in to a Columbus vs. Carolina game, and why fans cheer when a fight comes on, since nothing much interesting happens during a game.

3)  Good point by the same poster about revenue sharing being more popular with us when the Canadian teams were benefiting.  A fundamental difference back then though was that Canadian fans were still buying tickets at high prices to fill the coffers of their teams, except it was in a lower-exchange Canadian dollar.  That was the problem, the exchange rate, not the health of the individual teams and the fanbase's interest and willingness to pay.  The Canadian franchises were worth saving at the time, and history shows the wisdom of doing so.  It also shows the lunacy of allowing teams to leave the Winnipegs and Québecs for sunnier climes.  These new franchises with their half-full arenas of patrons who got $15 'all you can eat hot dogs' tickets are probably not worth saving.

4)  I see a lot of people saying the players are doing well enough, they're not poor, they should be satisfied with what they have.  Unfortunately, that attitude is irrelevant to this situation.  The players are not asking for more, they've even offered concessions in their initial offer.  The idea that because they're financially comfortable compared to most and therefore shouldn't complain about being asked to take a pay cut when they themselves are creating increased revenues is far-fetched.

This attitude is also what the auto companies are now using in their negotiations with their unions.  Their workers took massive cuts to their wages and benefits, but now that the companies are profitable, they don't want to share in that success. Instead they point to the unemployed and say to their workforce they should be thankful they have a stable well-paid job.  That's how the BC Government worked up the nerve to break the contracts it signed with its own nurses and teachers, by playing up public sentiment against these essential workers.  The average Joe who worked part-time at low wages bought in to the hype that the people who take care of our children and our sick are greedy and shouldn't get what they had bargained for.

5)  Someone says Gary Bettman is a sociopath.  Bang on.  Gary Bettman and the owners are not fans of hockey, they don't love the game.  IF they did, they'd nurture it and feed it.  They'd follow what the NFL has done to make its game more exciting and fan-friendly.  They'd look at the changes the International Rugby Board has made in the last twenty years to prevent the stifling of the game by proponents of the kicking game (England, gag), changes like increasing the value of a try from four points to five, and ensuring that the team which is on the attack during a scrum, ruck or maul gets the ball when the defending team fouls up the play.  Instead, hockey owners hire Jack Edwards and Mike Milbury to set the agenda for the game, and then lock it out periodically.

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