The Malik Report
by George Malik on 11/29/12 at 09:08 PM ET
I see that the lockout doomsday clock now reads 11:50 PM. After the Board of Governors meet to tacitly approve the cancelation of the 2012-2013 season, some progress may be made in a last-ditch effort to save the season...
But I doubt much will get done until the last bit of leverage Gary Bettman, Bill Daly and the Board can take off the negotiating table is gone, and we're talking about no NHL hockey taking place until October 2013 at the earliest.
The owners want nothing less than a retroactive bailout for the last recession (let's be honest: it seems *almost* as likely that morons of equal magnitude in Washington D.C. will hurl all of us over the "Fiscal Cliff" because neither party can behave like their members are over the age of 10), at least a billion dollars of concessions going forward, a back-hacking of the CBA to severely limit player mobility and essentially "idiot-proof it" to save owners and GM's from themselves, and someone in the room wants to cripple the teams that have handed out "lifetime contracts" despite the fact that those teams constitute a majority of the Board's votes.
The players want to protect their livelihoods, and after so many have "given at the office" to supposedly "fix" the game once and for all in 04-05, the vast majority of their ranks doesn't want to surrender somewhere between 15-25% of the paychecks promised to them, their free agent mobility or another billion bucks going forward...
Especially given that, as several wise sports economists told the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa, without addressing the fundamental issues plaguing the NHL's current 30-team business model, there will almost certainly be a fourth lockout six-to-eight years from now, and you can be sure as hell that it will kill the game. Players won't take the NHL seriously anymore, and even the die-hards like me will leave hockey behind if another "work stoppage" is held and the players, businesses, average working folks and especially the "Greatest Hockey Fans in the World" like you and me are held hostage yet again by the nuclear commissioner, the militant billionaires who run the show and their appointees on a Board of Governors that is still stuck in a, "Break labor at all costs!" mentality that was last relevant in the Alan Eagleson era.
Federal mediators can't do diddly squat when both sides are as dug in as they are.
Ted Lindsay had it right and had it wrong, to some extent: we fans might want to start criticizing by name, because if a Red Wings player were to channel some of his anger at Gary Bettman toward Mike Ilitch and Jimmy Devellano, who've run their team like a family but have tried to stick their hands into their players' wallets three times now and twice over the past eight years, they could be traded away, just as Jack Adams banished Lindsay to Chicago for trying to start a players' association.
Fans like you and me can start to question the commitment of our favorite teams' owners to the game given that Wings fans will have seen two less seasons of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk's magic, at least one-and-a-half seasons minus Steve Yzerman, and, most likely, not just one-and-a-half seasons which Nicklas Lidstrom should have been playing in, but also Lidstrom's astute decision to call it a career because he knew he was going to have to hit the re-set button for the third time, and would have to spend a full year training for a season that never was at 42 years of age.
That's Mike Ilitch's fault and that's his Board of Governors representative Jimmy Devellano's fault just as much as it is Gary Bettman's, Bill Daly's or the fault of each and every one of the 29 other NHL owners and their BoG members, but if someone as plain-spoken as Ian White were to say that, he'd find his ass in Columbus as soon as the next CBA is eventually signed in what will probably be March, April, May or June of 2013.
As such, putting players and owners in a room wouldn't do much of anything other than give Bettman a PR edge he desperately wants as he prepares his second speech explaining why he and the Board have canceled yet another season. If the players say, "What the hell?" to their own owners.
Those kinds of statements are so dangerous to players' livelihoods and the homes they've made for themselves and their families in their current NHL homes that even Roman Hamrlik (hey, he's entitled to his opinion, too--unlike the owners, the players don't have gag orders slapped upon them, and their union is at least semi-democratic) probably couldn't bring himself to make them.
The players *can't* state facts and condemn their own owners for holding them, the fans who pay to watch the players play at the owners' rinks and so many businesses and employees of both big-name sponsors and small sports bars and memorabilia shops all hostage for the sake of nuking the village in order to save it.
We can, however, and as far as Bettman's concerned?
Bettman has done a remarkable amount of work to help grow the game and grow its revenues outside the scope of his owners' need to scratch the itch that is raising ticket prices on fans, regardless of whether their teams are winning, losing or spending to the cap. Bettman's accomplishments are many and he, Daly and the NHL have "grown the game" economically and otherwise by leaps and bounds since the last lockout...
But every time that the Board allows Bettman to work on a collective bargaining agreement, he inevitably goes down the path of mutually assured destruction, gleefully wiping out all the progress the game has made, setting it back a decade or more for the sake of winning a legal argument.
And that's where I want to warn some of you of the legal persuasion to stop reading, because I'm going to say some unflattering things about lawyers now.
I've sat through more than a few Social Security Disability hearings and a Workman's Comp hearing where nothing less than the quality of friends and family members' lives were at stake, where their respective financial solvencies and abilities to take care of themselves and their families were on the line, all because of illnesses or injuries that they were not at fault for incurring. Each and every time, I've witnessed the lawyers involved for both sides reduce living, breathing people to arguments that the lawyers had to win, or at least "lose least."
It's both amazing and chilling to witness such arguments play out in court: just as surgeons who deeply care for their patients begun to gleefully cut into so much malleable meat when their "cases" roll into the operating room, and tell their groggy patients fish stories about the highlights and lowlights of procedures as soon as they're done, even the most kind and selfless lawyers seem to transform themselves into prize-fighters, slinging personal flaws and potentially exploitable skills around in an all-out war, with the sole goal of winning the day reducing the cilents whose interests they represent into afterthoughts.
You can practically smell the testosterone in the room when this happens, and while such rhetortical conduct makes as much sense as watching a player slam an opponent with his back turned toward the boards into the second row of seats behind the glass simply because the puck is there, with blood and gore and injury resulting over the battle for a vulcanized disc of rubber, that's more or less what happens. Or, if you're a Red Wings fan, you might remember this, and I've seen its equivalent happen in court because three lawyers chose to one-up each other instead of screw over a man whose quality of life had been irrevocably changed, and changed toward the negative, despite their stated goal of f***ing him over instead:
That's where we are right now, metaphorically speaking. The entire lockout is about punching someone in jaw with the intent of breaking it simply because one sees a vulnerability to exploit, and in this case, Gary Bettman's playing Tom Kostopoulos. For the third time over the course of his tenure as commissioner.
In my opinion, Commissioner Jawbreaker has earned each and every insult fans hurl toward him, including the insults that fans like you and me might be afraid to hurl toward our own teams' owners--those owners seem to resent the people who help them make so much money because we give them our disposable incomes, just as Bettman seems to openly resent and perhaps plain old hold contempt for the people whose ticket receipts at least constitute a majority of the $3.3 billion to which we are given neither voice nor the "partnership" which the players have realized they'll never be a part of--because we, like the players, are afraid that the teams to which we've pledged our allegiance, the teams we've professed our faith and the teams whose fellow fans have yielded friendships, communities of like-minded individuals and sometimes even de-facto families will disown us, telling those who speak up against the Ilitches and Devellanos of the world that someone less blasphemous would gladly have our seat and gladly buy our jerseys and t-shirts.
We don't want to be told to get bent, even though the conduct of our respective teams' owners sure seems to indicate that we are valued as less than the grass Devellano suggested that he and the players much upon at the owners' "ranches."
So, from me to you, Gary, from me to you, Bill, from me to you, Board of Governors, and from me to you, Mr. Ilitch: suck it up, and if you can't take the insults, bite me.
I am a Detroit Red Wings fan who is very proud of the bias for and allegiance toward the team whose logo I was wearing on my chest and my head more days than not from the age of 13 up to this lockout. I'm damn proud of my team, the players who play for the Wings, the coaches and management who run the ship, the city the players, coaches and management represent (I was born in Detroit, so it's "my" city, too), the community of friends and adopted family being a Red Wings fan have given me and, when I'm healthy, anyway (and I'm not thanks to a depressive episode I'm battling right now), a job, and a community of fellow fans to which I am responsible.
But I am pissed off as all f***ing bloody hell get out on a personal level, and I'm pissed off most selfishly not because so many Metro Detroit and Michigan businesses are suffering, not because so many average people who depend on 41 nights' worth of work at the rink or business outside of it pay their bills, not because a soon-to-be-bankrupt City of Detroit and the city of Ann Arbor were promised a Winter Classic and lead-up events that won't be bolstering their economies this year, and not because I've found that me and my fellow die-hards, the fans who spend the most time, energy, effort and especially money following "our Wings" are the ones who feel most betrayed by, taken advantage of, resented by and maybe even held in contempt and hatred given your conduct.
Even though you're arrogantly and stupidly damaging the foundations of your business interests by pissing off and shaking the faith of your most ardent, passionate supporters, to me, that is not your worst sin, though it's pretty God-damned close.
I started watching the NHL in 1991, and I fell in love with it immediately. I'd never found a sports comfort zone in my life, and suddenly, at 13, and after my dad had tried to find his incredibly dorky, nerdish, geeky and socially awkward son "fits" with the Tigers, Lions, Pistons, Michigan basketball and football, his beloved Penn State and even golf, the son who George Malik with no middle name knew was his best friend, and spoke "sports" most readily with, could share a passion for hockey. My dad was a basketball and football man, but suddenly he was watching every Wings game he could with me, he was arguing with me whether Steve Yzerman or Sergei Fedorov was a better player, and he was setting me on the path that's led me to being the wannabe-hockey-blogger that I am.
I didn't know it at the time, but my most faithful player companion would be the player whose brilliance I didn't really recognize until long after my dad passed away eight months after he took me to my first Wings game. In 1991 and 1992, Nicklas Lidstrom was a skinny, gangly kid from Sweden who showed flashes of remarkable talent and seeing-eye playmaking ability, but as he skated with Brad Marsh and Brad McCrimmon on the Wings' second pair, Yves Racine and Steve Chiasson were supposed to be the Wings' puck-moving future (yes, Bryan Murray, not Scotty Bowman, laid the foundation for the puck-moving and puck-moving-from-the-defense-on-out style of play that the Red Wings would be playing today).
But sometimes the person you first fall in love with isn't the person that captures your heart in real life, and in hockey, while Sergei Fedorov was roaring up and down the ice, Nicklas Lidstrom kept making safe and simple plays over and over again, setting up goals and scoring a few himself with that heavy cannon of a shot and utterly remarkable passes that made up for the fact that Lidstrom was never particularly fast skating forward, but instead, could move laterally and backward like a frickin' ballerina.
Lidstrom's sometime partner, fellow rookie Vladimir Konstantinov, was the one rattling the boards with massive checks and getting kicked out of the Wings-Blues game the night before Detroit traded for Blues goalie Vincent Riendeau because Konstantinov took a penalty and ended up skating toward the locker room instead of the penalty box because he skated away from a fracas flipping off the crowd. Lidstrom was simply steering players into the boards or swiping pucks off their sticks like a neuroseurgon wielding a five-and-half foot-long Montreal Graphite 99 model scalpel.
As I came to appreciate the subtleties of the game of hockey and the ebb and flow of play, more and more regularly, I came back to watching Lidstrom make all those plays fans supposedly weren't astute enough to notice, and he became my favorite player. Just as importantly, and perhaps more importantly, while Fedorov started blowing off fans and earned something of a reputation as a diva in the locker room and a bit of a self-important celebrity in the community, Lidstrom was himself, a young man who understood that putting in time and effort improving one's skills after practice and in the weight room, combined with a little patience regarding one's role on the team and some sense of one's place as a representative of the team in the community off the ice would probably yield longer-term rewards.
Wings fans know what happened as Fedorov's hot flame burned and began to flicker during the latter half of his tenure with the Wings, and what player and person Lidstrom became. Wings fans also know that what the media's said about the man who was supposedly incapable of giving a "quote" could actually be if you talked to him: in fact, Lidstrom was one of the more intelligent and articulate people on the planet if you pulled him out of his shell, and he was indubitably a "good egg" from shell to yolk. Having met Lidstrom when I was a blogging nobody sneaking into a press conference and as a fan as well, I can confirm as much...
But Lidstrom the player's subtle brilliance gave me an appreciation for the intricacies of hockey that I don't think I ever would have developed if I cheered for another team or rooted for another player as much as I rooted for Nick.
He won four Cups with the Wings and surely cemented his place in the Hockey Hall of Fame--and Joe Louis Arena's rafters, too. He wore a patient alternate captain's "A" for ages, and didn't buckle under the weight of what was once Steve Yzerman and only Steve Yzerman's captain's "C." He gave rise to the sometimes ridiculously consistent on and off-ice work ethic that the Datsyuks, Zetterbergs, Filppulas, Kronwalls and Howards now possess, and helped instill the sense of community responsibility that Ken Holland and Mike Babcock now hold their players to (and the kind of responsibility they're hammering into the heads of Riley Sheahan and Brendan Smith right now).
He could have won more. The community of Red Wings fans could have won more with him. I wonder what the 94-95 Red Wings would have looked like in the Stanley Cup Finals if they'd had a full year to mature with Igor Larionov and Slava Fetisov in the fold, what the 03-04 Wings could have done had Ray Whitney found a home, Derian Hatcher tried to push that wonky ankle and had Chris Osgood come home a season earlier, and perhaps had the Wings been able to squeeze one more post-Bowman season out of Brendan Shanahan and Steve Yzerman.
Now I wonder what the 12-13 Wings would have looked like and how they would have performed if Lidstrom didn't have to approach last summer's disappointingly long off-season understanding that Bettman, Daly, the Board, and even Jimmy Devellano and Mike Ilitch were going to stop at nothing to win their little rhetorical war with Donald Fehr and the players, and that the owners believed that 43% of nothing was worth much more than 43% of $3.3 billion, especially given that the NHL truly is a lockout away from destroying itself given the path it's currently on.
Nick knew how to anticipate plays, personnel moves and trends ahead of time. It's what allowed him to last for 21 years and 20 seasons with the Wings (19 full seasons and one half season).
Those numbers could have been 22 and 21, and if a season-long lockout wasn't evidently inevitable to Lidstrom last May, maybe he would have chosen to skate for one final season in a Detroit uniform.
It would have been amazing to see him lead the team out in front of over 110,000 people at Michigan Stadium on January 1st. Or to have seen how one of the best players to ever play the game led the team in the locker room on the HBO 24/7 series.
Wings fans weren't given that opportunity, and neither was I. I am a blogger, a monogamous hockey fan, someone who's believed that the NHL was the best league in the world and that the Detroit Red Wings were and are the best hockey team in the world for over 20 years now. I've made hockey my life's passion and my professional pursuit.
My career as a hockey fan and now a hockey blogger is one in which I can say that Nicklas Lidstrom's career almost surely ended prematurely, and if only for that, never mind the devastating blows to my fellow Wings fans, my birthplace city, region and state's economy, the everyday people and big businesses alike who depend on hockey to get by, the Red Wings organization, hockey fans and "hockey people" all over the NHL and the league as a whole...
I will never, ever forgive Gary Bettman, Bill Daly, the Board of Governors, and yes, Mike Ilitch, Jimmy Devellano and the Detroit Red Wings.
When the Board meets on December 5th, they'll agree to nix the season. We've got somewhere between two or three weeks' worth of public posturing and private negotiations before the league that's locked out fans twice before chooses to nuke the village in order to back-hack a CBA they sacrificed an entire season to essentially write for themselves as NHLPA turncoat Ted Saskin nodded in agreement to just about everything Bill Daly and Proskauer Rose's Bob Batterman suggested back in 2005. Instead of addressing the fundamental issues with the league's current 30-team business model, it's most likely that the NHL will kick the franchise inequity and occasional, "We can't make it in this market no matter how hard we try" problem down the line, probably toward lockout #4.
That ain't right.
And not being able to see this any more just pisses me off:
Thanks, Gary. Thanks, Bill and the Board. Thanks, Mr. I and Jimmy D.
Update: One more thing. It's incredibly ironic and incredibly sad that this had to come to pass, and incredibly stupid that we should have known this season was nothing more than a, "SEASON NOT PLAYED" stamp on the Stanley Cup when Devellano said this back on August 17th:
I guess so. I guess so.
That's why this will be the first Christmas since 1991 when I haven't asked for any Red Wings stuff, and am adjusting my wardrobe to ensure that I don't have to grab a red shirt until after all of this stupid, stupid and completely unnecessary labor war ends.
I wanted a #5 jersey. I really did.
If the Red Wings' players, coaches, management and prospects weren't such good people, maybe I'd have better sense and simply leave my shirts, hats and jerseys in the closet 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.