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The Malik Report

No, NHL, we’re not going to ‘be cool’ with a third lockout

In a slate of hockey predictions for 2012, SI’s Adrian Dater suggests that the NHLPA is girding itself for a third owners’ lockout over the course of seventeen years and the second lockout in eight years because, well, the NHL believes that if the NFL and NBA can get away with a “work stoppage” without alienating its fans, so can a sports league for whom, “Okay, fans, we’re not going to let you or the players who want to play in the building into rinks for a while because we like brinksmanship—but you’re gonna be totally cool with that and come back again, right?” has become something of a familiar refrain:

There will be a work stoppage. I know, I know. How can this happen again? Is everybody in the NHL insane? After what happened in 2004-05, how can there even be the most remote possibility that another lockout/strike will occur at the start of next season?

It could, and according to more than a few wired-in hockey people I’ve talked to in recent days, it likely will happen again in 2012. “Better than a 51-percent chance,” is how one high-profile agent described it to me. NHL Players Association boss Donald Fehr met with agents last week, and the mood coming out of the meeting, at least to some who were there, was pessimism that a shutdown can be avoided after the current collective bargaining agreement with the NHL expires on September 15.

Why? It would take a lot more time and space to get into here, but it probably has something to do with NBA owners getting their players to agree to a 50-50 split of revenue. Currently, NHL players are getting 57 percent, so it’s not hard to imagine why there could be trouble at hockey’s bargaining table. The top two issues for NHL owners in 2004 were getting a salary cap and getting rid of NHLPA boss Bob Goodenow. They succeeded at both. Next time it will be purely a fight over slices of the revenue pie. (Guilty admission: a tiny part of me is highly intrigued by what a showdown between Fehr and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman would look like.) The good news: nobody I’ve talked to believes the full 2012-13 season will be lost. “Think December or so for a settlement,” is how another top agent put it.

Note to split big-market owners who aren’t happy subsidizing their weaker sisters via revenue-sharing and smaller-market teams’ owners who aren’t happy with Bettman’s high cap “floor” and narrow payroll range of $15 million between the “floor” and “ceiling” of a salary cap based upon the average of league-wide revenues—which means that in Bettman’s dream CBA, half of the league’s teams essentially have to spend a percentage of their revenues on salaries despite the fact that they’re making under the league’s average amount of take-in money:

THIS IS COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE. YOU’VE DICKED AROUND WITH THE PLAYERS AND LIED TO FANS ABOUT ‘INFLATIONARY SPIRALS” YIELDING HIGHER TICKET PRCIES (it’s supply and demand, stupids) AND ENSURED EVERYONE WHO LISTENED THAT, THIS TIME, YOUR CBA WAS IDIOT PROOF AND WOULD SAVE GM’S, TEAMS AND FANS FROM THEMSELVES WHILE IMPROVING COMPETITIVE PLAY AND ENSURING THAT ALL FRANCHISES WOULD BE STABLE “IN THEIR CURRENT MARKETS,” AND EVERY TIME YOU’VE BEEN PROVED LIARS, PLAIN AND SIMPLE. WE FANS WILL NOT SIMPLY SIT ON OUR HANDS AND PATIENTLY WAIT WHILE YOU SCREW WITH US FOR A THIRD TIME FOR THE SAKE OF WHAT YOU BELIEVE IS SPORTS LABOR BUSINESS AS USUAL.

IF YOU LOCK OUT THE PLAYERS AGAIN, THOSE OF US WHO ARE NOT PLAGUED WITH A COMPLETE AND TOTAL ABSENCE OF LONG-TERM MEMORY WILL LEAVE AND WILL LEAVE FOREVER, TAKING OUR MONEY WITH US, IN A SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT LANDSCAPE WHICH GIVES US INNUMERABLE OPTIONS WITH WHICH TO SPEND OUR DISCRETIONARY INCOME WHEN WE GET FED UP WITH A SPORTS LEAGUE THAT DOES NOTHING MORE AND NOTHING LESS THAN LIE TO THE PLAYERS WHO FILL ITS ARENAS AND THE FANS WHO BOTH PAY THE PLAYERS,’ OWNER’ AND COMMISSIONER’S SALARIES.

So don’t screw this up again, Mr. Bettman, Mr Daily, Mr. Chairman of the Board of Governors Jeremy Jacobs, you 30 owners, Mr. Donald Fehr and the NHLPA…Don’t dare, for an instant, to think that you can take fans for granted when you’ve locked US out twice already.

In this case, an “all caps rage” from a usually reasonably-minded blogger is the least of your concerns, and you’d better f***ing believe that if you screw with us and tell the media to insist that your bulls*** and lies are earnest pleas for sports sanity, we’re going to shove your insincerity up your asses.

And if you’re going to ask us to side with the billionaires who are the “lords o the boards” as opposed to the millionaires who, yes, earn a disproportionate salary to the rest of society, but at least work for a living…It’s an easy choice as to which “side” merits sympathy from the paying fan.

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Comments

EDJ's avatar

If you live near a team, there is always junior hockey, college hockey and minor league hockey… it’s really those who can only see hockey on TV or the internet that will truly be deprived.

Posted by EDJ on 12/22/11 at 07:55 PM ET

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To be fair George, if both sides believe they will get a better deal by delaying the start of the next season (or even cancelling it altogether), what’s their incentive not to?

I mean, we’re just six years out from an entire lost season, and business is better than ever. 99% of the fans who were angered about the lost season have returned - or if not, other fans have taken their place.

Posted by dzuunmod on 12/22/11 at 07:56 PM ET

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Some things in life call for caps lock, and I agree that a lockout (created by the owners because of the flaws in the model they were able to impose last time) is one of them!

Posted by Ken on 12/22/11 at 07:58 PM ET

EDJ's avatar

I don’t think both sides think they can get a better deal, just the league/owners.

Posted by EDJ on 12/22/11 at 07:59 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

Wow, George, way to go!

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 12/22/11 at 07:59 PM ET

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That’s a fair point, EDJ. I guess all I’m saying is that NHL fans didn’t do much to dis-incentivize this kind of thing when they returned en masse after the last lockout.

Posted by dzuunmod on 12/22/11 at 08:00 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Speaking as one of the fans who returned after the last one, I’m not sure I will for the next one.  I love hockey, but I can live without it.

Dater’s farting up controversy again because it’s what he does. 

Look at the math.  If the Maple Leafs agree to a lockout for and entire year and lose the roughly $87M they pull in so they can increase that by cutting the players’ share from 57% to 50% and if the fans come back in numbers just as strong as they have been, it will take Toronto 14 years to make up the lost revenue from one season.

Technically, it would take EVERY team 14 years, but Toronto is the most fun example, since they’re the ones throwing upwards of $90M out the window on a gamble that the fans will accept this.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 12/22/11 at 08:02 PM ET

EDJ's avatar

I think the idea is that this is the last straw or something like that, which I suppose is sort of a weak argument.

Posted by EDJ on 12/22/11 at 08:02 PM ET

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One of the tip-offs will be a blood-letting at the NHL offices. In advance of the last lockout, most of the employees got the news that they were being let go in advance of the World Cup. Some were kept to work the World Cup.

Another big layoff will be a sign that Bettman is ready to go to the mat once again

—Phil Coffey

Posted by pcoffey on 12/22/11 at 08:22 PM ET

rrasco's avatar

The NBA didn’t get away with shit.  I don’t watch basketball, but I know a lot of people that really enjoy, or enjoyed, basketball.  I have had more people than I can count tell me “*#$%@& that, I’m done watching NBA.”  Sure, some of them will go back, but it doesn’t mean it’s not bullshit.  However, most people have stuck to NCAA.

Posted by rrasco from TEXAS on 12/22/11 at 10:05 PM ET

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@rrasco: It’s way too early to assess whether the NBA “got away with” anything. Need to wait at least until the end of the season and hopefully even longer before anyone has any idea whether their lockout did real damage.

Posted by dzuunmod on 12/22/11 at 10:06 PM ET

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The biggest lie in this blog post?  That George will never return to following the NHL.  Blather on all you want, but never is a really long time.  The game is better than it’s ever been, but I’m still hoping for a compromise at 47%.  That’ll make the league even better.

Posted by jkm2011 on 12/22/11 at 10:29 PM ET

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I have to admit, I always get a little bit of a chuckle out of posts on any subject where the general tone is ‘If you cross this line, I will never come back’.

That post is often followed by said line being crossed, a furtive sound of scraping, and then a subsequent post along the lines of ‘If you cross this new line, I will never come back.’

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Yes, George.  You will be back.  If the NHL misses a week, you’ll be back.  If they miss a month, you’ll be back.  If they, God help us, blow off another entire year… even then you will be back.

Why?  Because you love hockey.  I know you love hockey because you spend more words in any given day typing posts about the freaking Red Wings than I’ve said to my whole family in any given month.  You don’t invest that much effort into something which a short term absence will render meaningless to you.

Anybody who really loves/likes/enjoys hockey will be back.  Why?  Because all the things they hate about what might prevent them from seeing hockey don’t have anything to do with the actual hockey.  Once the season resumes the games will be back and even if that means a fan might watch every game thinking what a bleep-hole Bettman is (although they should be thinking that already) or what a lying bunch of stupid, greedy pigs the owners are by and large (ditto), that will have nothing at all to do with how awesome an odd-man rush can look, or how exciting it is to go into an arena and smell the ice, or the sound of a puck hitting a post, anything like that.

Maybe not day 1.  In fits of pique there may be all sorts of people who wall off their desire to watch hockey and who try and find the same level of enjoyment out of watching some other sport.

News flash: those other sports are just as full of garbage as the NHL is.  The NBA, hello, just got done with a lockout.  The NFL very nearly had one.  MLB has been quiet, but most owners in MLB are legacy guys who bought in cheap so they are about as filthy rich from their sports as it gets.

If a fan is looking for a sport to follow that doesn’t have labor strife which mostly involves owners screwing over players and neither giving a rip about the fans… good luck with that.

All that said, I’ll be annoyed too, but I largely stopped giving money to pro sports leagues a long time ago so beyond the personal investment of interest and the time investment of sitting on my couch watching a game or ‘finding’ one on the internet I don’t have anything on the line.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 12/22/11 at 11:39 PM ET

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Technically, it would take EVERY team 14 years, but Toronto is the most fun example, since they’re the ones throwing upwards of $90M out the window on a gamble that the fans will accept this.

Well, what if every team in the NHL isn’t making as much money as the Leafs are?

What if, and we know this to be true, there are teams out there who operate at a net loss?

Sure, there are teams like Toronto or Detroit or probably Chicago and certainly a few others who make money with their hockey ops, and in some cases loads of money.  If there are a bunch of teams who either lose money or who barely break even or who make very little money from hockey ops, well, suddenly it’s a numbers game.  Even teams who make 5-10 mil in yearly profits can realistically look at the numbers and see that they could make back that lost profit in two or three years under a new CBA where the ownership portion of revenue is 2 or 3% bigger than it was before.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 12/22/11 at 11:45 PM ET

Nate A's avatar

I’m still hoping for a compromise at 47%.  That’ll make the league even better.

Err…what? How is 47% compromise? And how does it make the league better to have the owners pocketing the cash instead of the players who are doing the entertaining?

Posted by Nate A from Detroit-ish on 12/23/11 at 02:07 AM ET

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A third lockout?  Seriously?  That would be absolutely ridiculous.

Posted by floormats on 01/18/12 at 02:32 AM ET

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About The Malik Report

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.