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Are CBA negotiations ‘boring,’ and will a lockout ‘bore’ you?

I can use a thesaurus' worth of words to describe the CBA negotiations that will determine whether NHL fans get to watch hockey on time this fall--from tedious and innervating to infuriating, humanity-sapping, intentionally emotionally manipulative, inevitably wrapped in propaganda, and in the case of the NHL's CBA proposal, mind-numbingly arrogant and downright brutish--but I would never use the word boring to describe a process by which fans will learn the parameters by which the businesses they support will operate, what restrictions will be imposed upon how much or how little they can spend to attract players to play for their franchise, retain the ones they currently employ (especially given that there may or may not be another round of dispersal draft-style buyouts imposed upon the highest spenders) and what rules they'll have to abide by in terms of drafting and developing new talent, etc.

I'm interested in finding out what "market values" will be imposed upon player contracts, how player mobility will change, and I'm very, very interested in finding out whether the NHL and NHLPA plan on addressing or not addressing the fundamentally flawed revenue-sharing system that's currently in place.

The Tornoto Sun's Lance Hornby, however, suggests that the average fan will find himself or herself incredibly "bored" as they wait out an almost inevitable lockout and a third attempt by Gary Bettman to "save the owners from themselves":

[E]ight years forward, on the precipice of another extended work stoppage, there’s a better chance that some fans die of boredom from rich-man rhetoric than any boardroom violence. The NHL is a $3.3-billion industry, the players are hardly starving and the pro game is generally an entertaining product that’s going global.

So when they finally settle, all that matters to them is which side did a better job covering its assets. The players have to maximize their earning power in short careers and set themselves up for life after hockey. The owners want a bigger share of league revenue or a way to bail out some of their weak U.S. markets. That’s hardly news or grounds for a street brawl, in fact the fan on the street is already yawning about a possible lockout with a “wake-me-when-it’s-over” attitude.

“This time, we know going in that a lockout won’t kill the game,” said Gord Stellick, former general manager of the Maple Leafs, now with Hockey Night In Canada. “We know the players aren’t as militant, we know the fight won’t get as personal as it was between Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow and we know a lot of NHL people think games in October and November are for the dogs and can be compressed later. It won’t be the end of the world if a lockout starts. In 1994 (when a lockout claimed half a season), people said they’d ruined the game, but they came back. And as bitter as 2004 was, with the whole season getting flushed, fans returned almost the next day.”

[sarcasm] Yeah, "for the dogs." Gosh, I sure hate watching hockey in October and November [/sarcasm]

Thus, both sides have spent this past summer sparring in the media, watching the clock tick down to Sept. 15. The players had faint hope the league would play beyond that date under the current agreement or that commissioner Bettman and the 30 owners might get a bit excited about its peace overtures on revenue sharing.

If there is any glimmer from two days of near wasted negotiating time in Toronto, the two actually considered tenets of the other’s main proposals ahead of this week’s key meetings in New York. The players are going to concede some of their 57% edge in revenues, if the owners show they have a viable long-range plan to grow the game.

If a lockout ensues, many think the season’s drop-dead date will be Jan. 1 — the Winter Classic and the halfway point of the schedule. There will be 100,000-plus ready to jam the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., for the Leafs and Red Wings, with a continent-wide TV audience. Before that happens, someone has to blink.

“What’s missing so far is someone who has the ear of both sides,” Stellick said. “Either someone from the owners’ side who emerged in past lockouts such as Pittsburgh’s Paul Martha, the late Harley Hotchkiss from Calgary or a player with the status or Mario Lemieux. That would be a positive.”

Hornby continues and suggests that there's no side to root for--perhaps echoing Justin Bourne's belief that if there are only various degrees of culpability as opposed to men in white hats and men in black hats, fans "shouldn't" take a side in a battle between people whose business plan involves continually cutting employee wages to address its business model's flaws, and people who want to both keep every penny of salaries disproportionate to the rest of society while actually addressing the money-sharing issue--and Hornby offers analyses of the four "major" team sports' CBA's, including the NHL's present standard operating procedure:

ROOKIE SALARY CAP: Entry level players, aged 18 to 21, get a base contract of $925,000, a number that began at $850,000 at the dawn of this CBA in 2005, in addition to signing and games-played bonuses.

STANDARD PLAYER CONTRACT: Guaranteed, however, some players have two-way contracts that pay less if they’re sent to the minors and more if they’re with the NHL club. A player’s annual salary must not top 20% of that year’s salary cap.

BUYOUTS, BONUSES: Players can be bought out for either one or two-thirds of their salary, though age is a factor. The buyout money is then paid to the player over twice the length of the original contract, while he’s free to sign elsewhere. Some of the departed player’s salary goes against the cap. Performance bonuses apply only to entry-level contracts, those signing one-year contracts after returning from long-term injuries and veteran players on one-year deals after age 35.

MINIMUM SALARY: $525,000

AVERAGE SALARY: $2.4 million

CAREER EARNINGS: On current projections for average career length, a player could get between $12 million and $13 million.

SALARY CAP: Keeps going up as revenues climb, almost $31 million since 2005, to a projected $70.2 million if this season were played under the old CBA. The trouble is that small market teams have difficulty reaching the cap floor, projected at $54.3 million.

PLAYERS SHARE OF REVENUES: Now at 57% in the players’ favour, but they’ll have to accept below 50% to satisfy owners in next round.

Again, as a rather subjective NHLPA supporter, I might point out that the salary cap is determined by averaging league-wide revenues, which automatically places it into an "inflationary spiral" thanks to large-market teams commanding significant figures for sponsorships, business partnerships, advertising opportunities and of course tickets whose prices are determined by supply and demand as opposed to any sort of relationship with teams' salaries, and I might also point out that the narrow $15 million span between payroll "floor" and "ceiling" was Bettman's idea, not that of smaller-market teams which could benefit from a lower "floor," nor players who might appreciate giving less of their paychecks back to the league in escrow withholdings to ensure that teams don't pay out more than a penny more of hockey-related revenue dollars out to players than the CBA requires, but hey, what do I know. I'm just a fan who's not "bored" by any of this.

 

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Comments

Hippy Dave's avatar

Come a lockout, I’m less bored than I am jilted, and the league’s not getting any make-up sex this time.

Posted by Hippy Dave from Portland by way of Detroit on 08/27/12 at 01:34 AM ET

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this entire offseason has been boring!

Posted by FlyersFan on 08/27/12 at 07:12 AM ET

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The reason this stuff is ‘boring’ is that people already have their opinions and it is wildly unlikely anything will happen to change them.  The people that hate the players will continue to do so.  The people that hate the owners will continue to do so.  The people that hate Bettman will continue to do so.

Nothing will happen to change that. 

On top of that, if we miss anything more than 3 months we’re guaranteed to miss a full season, so there’s going to be a whole lot of time with not a lot of stuff to fill up the Hockey parts of our minds.

Hence, boredom and disinterest.  As soon as the pucks drop, whenever that is, people will be sucked right back into all the stuff that makes the NHL so much fun.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 08/27/12 at 07:40 AM ET

Ajax19's avatar

Yes.  I am insanely bored by the CBA process.  I am excited to see the end result, but have no interest in the process itself, because we’ve seen it all play out before.  Between the 2004-2005 lockout and the NFL lockout last year, I am pretty much done with any interest in professional sports labor negotiations, even those that I am a huge fan of. 

Everything you read in the press about it is just one type of spin or another.

In sum:  Call me when it’s over.

Posted by Ajax19 on 08/27/12 at 08:40 AM ET

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Well, the last lockout was boring. And if there’s another lockout, that, too, will be boring. The lack of hockey on TV will be boring. It’s that simple.

I don’t find actual negotiations boring, but I do find public posturing boring.

And, as for Bettman’s pronouncement that the fans will come back, that’s not boring; it’s downright insulting.

Posted by aqf on 08/27/12 at 09:37 AM ET

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And, as for Bettman’s pronouncement that the fans will come back, that’s not boring; it’s downright insulting.

True, though.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 08/27/12 at 12:04 PM ET

Hank1974's avatar

Usually the offseason is boring so this CBA stuff at least keeps things interesting.
However, if October rolls around and there’s no hockey, then I’m done with the NHL.
I know I won’t stay away forever, but I won’t be rushing back to the rink to buy tickets or ordering up the Centre Ice Package anytime soon.

The game on and off the ice needs a lot of repair and there are a lot of quality sports and activities outside of the NHL that I can spend my time and money on.

Posted by Hank1974 on 08/27/12 at 01:44 PM ET

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However, if October rolls around and there’s no hockey, then I’m done with the NHL.
I know I won’t stay away forever, but I won’t be rushing back to the rink to buy tickets or ordering up the Centre Ice Package anytime soon.

Eventually you’ll come to some kind of conscious or subconscious realization that boycotting the Wings doesn’t hurt anybody but you.

Unless, of course, you never particularly cared about either the Wings or the NHL all that much in the first place.  Then, sure, something like this can shift the needle from ‘tepid interest’ to ‘uninterested’.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 08/27/12 at 03:09 PM ET

Hank1974's avatar

Eventually you’ll come to some kind of conscious or subconscious realization that boycotting the Wings doesn’t hurt anybody but you.

Unless, of course, you never particularly cared about either the Wings or the NHL all that much in the first place.  Then, sure, something like this can shift the needle from ‘tepid interest’ to ‘uninterested’.

I used to be a HUGE Wings fan back in the day. At one time, I could tell you every score and how many points Yzerman recorded 50+ games into the season.
While in school, my friends would kill time in class challenging me “October 17th vs the Caps” and I’d be able to answer it.
I taped games, cut out newspaper articles, owned a subscription to the Wings publication, bought DVD’s, etc.

But as big of a Wings fans as I was, I was an even bigger NHL fan.
I’d watch every game I could get; even watching the Nordiques on the French CBC, channel 54.
I couldn’t get enough hockey.

But to be completely honest, 2 things have really depressed my love for the team and the NHL in general:
1. Lack of a North American superstar on the Wings roster.
2. low amount of quality even-strength goals.

I’ve already heard every insult under the book regarding point #1, but the truth is, as a Canadian, I relate more to a Canadian star than a European one.
I loved Lidstrom and I really love watching Datsyuk do his thing.
I have nothing against European players. I’m not a xenophobe either.
I don’t see anything wrong with feeling this way.
The Wings have a huge Russian and Swedish following. Why? Because they had tonnnes of Russian stars at one piont, and now they have a lot of Swedish stars.
Do the fans in Sweden deserve to be called xenophobes because they follow the Wings, and not the Oilers, because they connect strongly with players from the same country as them? No.

Regarding point 2, I’ve been more than vocal on this site and others voicing my displeasure with the current NHL product.
Too many blocked shots, 160lb goalies that look like The Hulk, Turtle-defenses, the 1-3-1, (heck, the 1-4!!!), lack of open space, concussions, etc, etc.
I’d be okay with 5.3 GPG, but not when 2 goals are on the PP and the other 3.3 are all scored within 4-feet of the crease and need replays from 16 different angles to figure out who scored it.
The game is so generic now and ‘safe’. All the teams play virtually the same; drive it in deep, get it back to the point, blast it, go for rebound.
Or on defense, ‘let them gain the zone, collapse on the goalie, and flick it out of the zone’.
The NHL has never had more talent in the league than they do now, but it seems that all the stars have a very tight leash and aren’t allowed to really create and fly unless they have the man-advantage.
Heck, the Wings are one of the less conservative teams in the league and yet even Henrik Zetterberg, the next Captain of this team has been vocal about how the team plays way too conservative and he’d like to play in a more open and creative system.

So to make a long, boring post shorter, I don’t see any reason to really care if the NHL comes back anytime soon.
What am I missing? Endless cycling, low scoring games, a copious amount of blocked shots, and a nightly highlight package that features way too many dangerous hits and concussions.

The league is a complete mess both on and off the ice it’s not worth my time or money.
I’m old (38) and I know I’ve been spoiled by the run-and-gun era of 80’s and early 90’s hockey..
Yes, the hockey was slower and sloppier but I don’t care - it was damn FUN!
Isn’t that the point?

 

Posted by Hank1974 on 08/27/12 at 03:27 PM ET

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Also, as we all get older it becomes a lot harder to commit the same amount of time/effort/energy/money to sports than we used to.

That aside, I don’t think the on ice product now is noticeably worse than it was back around 2003.  I mean, go back and pop in a random regular season game tape from the year or two before the lockout and watch it

We tend to romanticize the past a bit.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 08/27/12 at 05:11 PM ET

Hank1974's avatar

Also, as we all get older it becomes a lot harder to commit the same amount of time/effort/energy/money to sports than we used to.

That aside, I don’t think the on ice product now is noticeably worse than it was back around 2003.  I mean, go back and pop in a random regular season game tape from the year or two before the lockout and watch it

We tend to romanticize the past a bit.

Absolutely and I’ll be the first to say that I definitely remember past seasons with rose-colored glasses.
And for the record, I think the hockey that we see today is still way better than the crap we endured in the late 90’s to early 2000’s, or “The dead-puck era”.

I just think there’s a happy compromise between now and ‘93 (which I consider to be the best season in my lifetime as far as competent goalies, defences and offensive flare).

Cheers!

Posted by Hank1974 on 08/27/12 at 06:06 PM ET

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I just think there’s a happy compromise between now and ‘93 (which I consider to be the best season in my lifetime as far as competent goalies, defences and offensive flare).

IMO the main reason, and I mean 85-90% of the total reason, hockey is as different today from 10-20 years ago is that the goalie pool is wildly deeper and wildly better, which changes absolutely everything.

Back in, for instance, 1993… of the top 15 goalies that year in Wins, exactly 4 of them had a save percentage above .900.

Four.  And nobody in the top 15 in wins had a save percentage above .911

And among those top 15 in Wins guys, eight of them were under .890.

This past year of the top 15 in wins ALL of them were better than .908 and EIGHT of them were at .920 or better.

Part of that is bigger equipment, sure, but the goalies now are WAY WAY WAY better and WAY WAY WAY deeper than they used to be.  20 years ago a guy with a good shot could wind up from the circle and take an open slapshot and have a reasonable chance to score.  Nowadays a goalie is expected to make 99+ out of 100 saves outside of 20+ feet when he sees the skater, the shot, and the puck.

If there was half a chance in hell an unscreened shot from 20 feet could score guys would take them, but there isn’t… so they don’t.  The only way to score on these really good, really big goalies is to either get them moving (which means you have to have guys set up all over the place) or to get so many butts in front of them they can’t react to the puck.

And it’s almost impossible to get that set up at ES… so you’re left with traffic jams in front of the net.

IMO the only way to ‘fix’ this is to either make the nets bigger so there is more space to shoot at, make the ice bigger so there is more space to set up and create passing lanes, or reduce goalie pad size to diminish the amount of space goalies take up in the net.

The hockey, in and of itself, is fine.  It’s just that the skill pool at the most important position is such that it dictates a different strategy than there used to be.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 08/27/12 at 07:08 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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