COMMENTARY: The NHL lockout is no closer to a resolution, and the two sides appear to be farther apart now than they were before this week’s efforts by owners and players to jump start negotiations. How can the two sides still be so far apart? Don’t they know they’re riling their fans? The answer to that question is a resounding “yes,” but who cares? Certainly not them.
LOS ANGELES — What a horrific day Thursday, December 6, was for everyone who loves hockey, as the National Hockey League owners and the National Hockey League Players Association, together, drove another nail into the coffin for the 2012-13 season, which is now plummeting towards oblivion.
As has been reported by numerous outlets, contract negotiations have, once again, broken off after several days of meetings between players and owners, without top staff from each side being present, in the hopes of giving the talks a badly-needed jump start with some new, fresh voices.
For quite awhile, it appeared that significant progress was being made. However, those hopes were not just dashed late Thursday. Rather, they were stomped on, ripped to shreds, and were then subjected to high explosives.
In other words, whatever hopes that were generated from this week’s negotiations have been completely obliterated, even though it still appears, on paper, anyway, that both sides are not all that far apart.
Indeed, it appeared that the two sides were closer than ever before in terms of how to split up annual revenues that exceed $3 billion. Nevertheless, with talks broken off, and with the owners having taken everything they offered this week, and more, off the table, the two sides are now farther apart than they were entering this week.
The league is now expected to cancel games through the end of December, maybe even past that, and that announcement could come by the time you read this (Friday, December 7). Even worse, there is no indication that contract negotiations will resume anytime soon.
To many who follow hockey, the fact that the NHL can continue down the all too familiar road towards losing an entire season—this is the third lockout under current NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman—is baffling and mind-numbing.
The last lockout resulted in the loss of the entire 2004-05 season. Ten years prior, another lockout resulted in a rather condensed 48-game regular season.
Nice work, Mr. Commissioner. Three lockouts, resulting in one lost season, one partially lost season, and as of now, another lost season is likely to be added to his less than-dismal record.
Bettman certainly has a horrible record in this regard. However, no one should expect him to care one bit.
If you take a step back and look at the situation, it is easy to understand why Bettman and the owners have taken the “lockout first, negotiate later,” stance since he took over the reins of the NHL. After all, since its inception, the NHL has lived off its hardcore fans, the ones who keep filling seats and buying merchandise year after year after year, no matter what happens, lockout or no lockout.
Indeed, ask any hardcore hockey fan, and it is virtually a foregone conclusion that they will tell you that as soon as the NHL is back on the ice, they will be back in their local NHL arena to cheer on their teams.
This is what the NHL banks on every time they put us all through the wringer with a lockout. To be sure, those of us who love the game are being completely ignored by the owners and players, no matter how much, or how loudly, we complain.
And yes, I wrote, “us” and “we.” Those complaints are not just coming from hockey fans. They are also coming from those of us who cover the game in the media. In fact, a very learned hockey writer, one whom I have the utmost respect for, once wrote, “…to cover this game, you have to love it.”
That writer was dead-on. There is absolutely no question that those of us who cover the NHL regularly love the sport we’re covering. Deep down, we’re right there with everyone else who is protesting the loss of their beloved sport.
Just don’t expect the protests to be heard by the owners or players. After all, outside of revenue from television contracts, where do you think the majority of the NHL’s money comes from?
If you didn’t come up with, “hardcore fans” as your answer, you get two minutes in the penalty box, and please bring a dunce cap with you to wear while you’re in there so we can all point at you and laugh.
To be sure, the NHL knows it has to attract casual fans to eventually grow their base of hardcore fans. But the fact is that in the United States, where the vast majority of NHL teams are, hockey is still little more than a niche sport. That situation won’t change anytime soon, and the owners and players know this all too well.
As such, casual fans do not figure into the equation at all. But with the league and its players knowing their hardcore fans will all return once the NHL is back on the ice, there is almost no pressure to get a deal done. Instead, they can continue their embarrassing posturing and bickering, rather than make genuine, concerted efforts to resolve their differences.
Based on what we saw this week, especially with NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr’s Thursday press conference and Bettman’s own press conference that immediately followed, the two sides still appear to be hunkered down in their respective fox holes, unwilling to compromise on all the key points that would lead to an agreement.
Even though anything is possible, and they could, somehow, figure it out and reach an agreement in the next few days, whatever you do, don’t hold your breath, hoping that will happen anytime soon. After all, even though the players have missed some paychecks, they are not likely to suffer severe hardship, unlike most people who are out of work these days. As for the owners, they are clearly willing to risk losing another full season to get the deal they want.
As stated earlier, when it comes right down to it, the owners and players have their hardcore fans wrapped around their little fingers—there is no real pressure on either side to reach an agreement.
After all that, none of this is intended to stifle protest. To be sure, fans should make their voices heard, on an increasing basis, loud and clear, regardless of the potential impact of their complaints and protests.
Can’t hurt, can it?
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