The Malik Report
by George Malik on 11/26/12 at 05:36 PM ET
They're rather gloomy, but especially given Todd Bertuzzi's wise words about a season that I regrettably believe will be canceled shortly after the Board of Governors meet on December 5th, here's my take on the news that U.S. federal mediators will be taking part in an attempt to break the deadlock between the NHL and NHLPA.
There's something wrong with a country that might screw over everybody due to promises made to a man named "Grover," but still...
I know that I'm in the minority on this, but we still hear stories about players from the Original Six and Original Twelve eras struggling mightily, despite their pensions, simply because life is difficult and unexpected expenses pop up, so I can't imagine that the PA would so willingly give their pensions away, especially given that so many players have paid significant dollars into their future stipends. I think that this lockout gets settled the conventional way--months from now, with the NHL and NHLPA finally coming together on a CBA in March, April, May or even June.
To me, that's Bottom Line #1 regarding a too-late-in-the-day set of non-binding mediation sessions taking place over the next week or three--the NHL seems to have been intent upon both receiving a retroactive bailout for what it believes was an "unfair" overpaying of players during the recession, the NHL seems to believe that it's entitled to the lion's share of any increases in hockey-related revenues (fueled by hiking up ticket prices for people who attend games as fans, like you and me)...
And for a reason that escapes me, the NHL also seems to believe that it must force the NHLPA to accept a retroactive punishment of the teams that doled out very legal "lifetime contracts," doubly penalizing the league's most well-paid players and disrupting the ability of the league's most free-spending teams to rise above Bettman's dream of blessed parity by screwing and tattooing the teams' ability to compete in the future. It's a baffling back-handed slap to general managers, players and fans, but being vindictive is apparently part of the bargain.
This is something I've wanted to talk about for a long time, but I've held my tongue regarding it thus far.
Just as the most compassionate and empathetic surgeons stop seeing you as a person and begin to view you as a malleable piece of meat once you're an anesthetized "case" in the operating room--and I can speak to the shock with which one wakes up to a wide-eyed surgeon still manhandling you by bruised and sore places on your body used to toss you around like a rag doll, saying, "You won't believe what we found!" as if they're telling a great fish story...
In the realm of legal disagreements, many of us who've spent time in social security disability or workman's compensation hearings, never mind criminal cases, can attest to the fact that the kindest and most selfless lawyers become athletes of a sort in the courtroom, fighting with remarkably testosterone-fueled vigor as they try to win arguments and make points at all costs.
The best lawyers know how to win and win big, regardless of how much human suffering might be caused in the process of "winning." I've witnessed people with crippling disabilities talked about like so much potentially exploitable (as opposed to employable) cattle, even by their own attorneys, and in a particularly disturbing instance, a friend who was severely physically injured and continues to suffer the mental after-effects of a work-related trauma that was his employer's fault only received a measure of dignity because the three lawyers opposing him started to fight with each other, and found a way to lose the least amount of face while delicately screwing each other over. The fact that negligence yielded a severely mentally and physically challenging life didn't matter a shit to them--the fact that each man could go back to their firm and state that they'd won a pissing contest was all that counted.
I fully believe that our little nuclear commissioner becomes so fixated upon driving home a screw-all-of-you "win" in labor negotiations that the lockout, the $3.3 billion that the NHL chose to take 0% of instead of 43% of something while logically playing through CBA negotiations on principle, the incredibly high likelihood of no NHL hockey taking place until training camps start in September, 2013 and the fact that 30 owners are somehow suddenly willing to lay waste to their own employees' financial livelihoods (think this lockout isn't hurting anyone? Ask someone who's usually working 41 nights a year as an usher or hot dog seller at Joe Louis Arena) as well as their communities' interests (between no Wings games and no Winter Classic, Detroit, Metro Detroit and Ann Arbor are facing severe shortfalls in expected tangential business) for the sake of Bettman, Bill Daly and Proskauer Rose's Bob Batterman's edification...
All of that was accounted for as soon as the Board chose to authorize the lockout, if not before. When Bettman deemed the 100,000+ pages of independently-audited NHL books that were incredibly necessary for the NHLPA to begin meaningful negotiations on July 29th, deeming the 11-12 books "irrelevant" to the "process," I was worried.
When Jimmy Devellano offered the, "Very easy to cancel, very easy, believe me!" quip to Howard Berger, and then informed all of us that the players were cattle grazing at the owners' ranch, entitled to whatever the owners deemed fit and no more (there's a subtle insinuation there that the fans are the grass, lush, green and ever-consumable, as opposed to perhaps the sunshine that makes the whole thing work), I knew we were screwed out of hockey, because as, "Crazy drunken uncle" as Devellano's comments may have come off as sounding, the man is both a managerial genius, someone well aware that he was going to be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for opening his mouth, and put simply...
The people in charge of the game and the people that Bettman, Daly, et. al. work for in the Board of Governors are in fact not only billionaires who can afford to write this season off, but are also generally representatives of an older generation, one that still believes that any labor insurrections are to be crushed, and that owners are still allowed to openly resent their most ardent fans, as if we were still living in the 70's because so many owners are north of 60.
It's not that this League of Old Men doesn't know what they're doing--it's that they're incredibly wealthy and incredibly accustomed to getting their own way, so much so that they've empowered a man who believes in nuking the village in order to save it to go down this path twice before because they think the same way. For these highest of high-powered businessmen, the "win" is what it's all about, and if they lay waste to their sport and its credibility among its most ardent supporters, so be it.
That's why the NHLPA's public proposal, issued last week, was little more than, "This is our view of the world, and what we deem to be 'fair,'" or, put more impolitely, "If you've pissed all over the place to mark your rhetorical territory, here's our two gallons' worth of tea." It wasn't a collective bargaining agreement as much as it was a position paper, armed with references to side agreements and NHL assessments of the nuts and bolts of the CBA designed to give reporters, "What does the so-and-so assessment mean?" questions.
I don't truly believe that they're negotiating, either, but given that the $180-something million gap Donald Fehr claims between the NHL and NHLPA over the course of a year adds up to more like a billion dollars over the course of a six-to-eight-year CBA, and given that the NHL wants all of that and more, I can't blame them. In a, "Pay us or don't play" scenario, especially given that this lockout is all about the concept of retroactive reimbursement and reimbursement going forward, I can't help but side with the millionaires.
I don't resent the owners' fortunes, lifestyles or desire to earn a profit any more than I resent the players' remarkably disproportionate wages because they're entertainers--that is to say that I don't resent them at all--but given that we fans pay ticket prices that have little to nothing to do with the salaries owners pay their "performers" to entice us to watch concerts of hockey on the owners' stages, and given that it's the owners turning all of us away, this situation with no "good guys" still leads me to believe that there's no reason to have any sympathy for the win-at-all-costs brigade.
I finished my Twitter rant as follows...
And Todd Bertuzzi said it best to the Free Press's Helene St. James:
"I think the owners, at this time, are strong-holding it and putting their foot in the sand and not budging," Bertuzzi said. "They want what they want, and that's plain and simple.
"Unfortunately, it's going to take years to build back the revenue. It's going to take a long time. These people are (ticked) right now. They're not just -- 'I don't care, I'll come back,' or whatever. Fans are (ticked) now. They're getting to a point where they're not even really paying attention anymore to what's going on. They're sick and tired of hearing the same (stuff) coming out of both sides' mouths, and who can blame them? It's frustrating."
This stupid-ass depressive episode that's preventing me from doing what I love most in manning this blog and talking with you, my dear readers (no pun intended, seriously), is mostly just a neurochemical funk, but I cannot deny that a good quarter-to-third of it involves what I truly believe will be a season lost, regardless of how it goes down.
I don't mean to sound like Debbie Downer, but I don't believe that the owners ever planned on holding a 2012-2013 season, perhaps endorsing a third owners' lockout as soon as the NFL and NBA got away with their lockouts, if not agreeing to nix this campaign as soon as the PA hired Donald Fehr...
And I've said this on Twitter, and I think it's a proper thought to bring this entry to a conclusion:
During the lockout, I've come to remember how much I enjoy watching soccer. I grew up playing soccer, not hockey, and while the NHL's gotten to the point where players have realized that advances in sports medicine, nutrition and fitness allow them to play into, make money during and be paid to play a kid's game into their mid-to-late-30's more and more regularly out-strip any desires to smoke two packs of cigarettes a day, spend all their off-ice time pursuing heavy drinking, gambling or philandering habits or otherwise show up totally mentally unprepared to play hockey, English soccer's still in the wild and woolly days of the early 90's, where guys openly admitted to popping ten Sudafeds before games, Evgeny Davydov scored 20 goals for the Jets in a season probably sponsored by Marlboro cigarettes, and the Bob Proberts of the world could manage to get along despite serious off-ice issues.
As such, the tabloid on and off-pitch appeal of English soccer, combined with my disenchantment with having to soldier on through what is my third lockout, led me to consider whether I could simply pack up and leave the NHL, and I reached a simple answer:
There's no doubt that I could and would walk away from this game and the NHL's abusive relationship with its fans, no doubt at all, save one big problem:
I've met many of the Red Wings' coaches and management, I've talked to a good chunk of their players both formally and sometimes informally and know many of the team's prospects, and have watched those prospects for half a decade now.
Very regrettably, from the lockout-endorsing ownership on down, it turns out that the Red Wings' organization is made up of a remarkable number of really good, kind and decent human beings. From Ken Holland to the intimidating Mike Babcock to Paul Boyer and grumpy Al Sobotka, from Todd Bertuzzi to Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and even Cory Emmerton, all the way down to Tom McCollum, Petr Mrazek, Tomas Tatar and Willie Coetzee, the Red Wings aren't perfect, but they are genuinely good people who I care for far too much to walk away from.
The same is true of the community I'm currently neglecting in those of you who read the Malik Report and interact with me on Twitter and Facebook. I know too many Wings fans who are "good eggs" to quit following my team, too.
But if there is a fourth lockout, if, after this lost season in which the fans' interests and the "good of the game" have absolutely nothing to do with a "work stoppage" fueled by ownership greed and whatever makes maniacal Gary tick--if I was that Flyers fan who interrupted his pressure, I sure as hell would have asked how the f*** the NHL could have the gall to suggest that any disruption in play involves negotiating a CBA that will better serve "the world's greatest fans," because it's the die-hards and the fans so passionate about the game that they'll spend all their discretionary income following their favorite teams that the NHL's flipping off--there are still issues which the NHL feels are worth scuttling a fourth season to wrest from the players, there should be no doubt:
A fourth lockout will truly kill the league and will devastate the sport, and if a fourth lockout occurs, especially given that this season is gone, my friends, and was going to be a second, "Season not played" stamped on the Stanley Cup over the course of only eight years...
Then we all walk, even from genuinely good people and a business enterprise that really is run like a family. No matter how much I love the Wings and no matter how much I care for my fellow fans, the next time Gary does this, assuming that the owners ever let Bettman, Daly and Proskauer Rose near the negotiating table again, the party will be over for good.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.