Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

The whole problem is that Gary has a point—we are the world’s greatest fans

I feel like the guy in the hot dog commercial, because “I’m 99.9% certain that there’s going to be a lockout.” 

Given Thursday’s developments, given the honest-to-Gord fact that the NHL is unabashedly going for a cash grab that will do nothing to fundamentally address the problems plaguing its 30-team business model given the fact that this lockout will hurt the people who work at rinks on game nights, are part of NHL teams’ staff, and the restaurants, bars, hotels and local businesses which surround NHL teams (keep in mind, folks, that if you totally boycott NHL merchandise, you’re hurting the person who works at Fanatic U, too), this will truly be a senseless lockout.

The CBA was written by the NHL for the NHL to keep player costs fixed to a certain percentage of league-wide reveneues, agreed upon almost line-by-line by one of the great Benedict Arnolds of sports union history in Ted Saskin, and despite the wrinkles thrown into the mix in terms of “lifetime contracts” and deals whose averaged values “cheat” the cap, has never been “broken.” It has worked exactly as intended, except for the revenue-sharing part, which clearly hasn’t stabilized small-market teams whose businesses may or may not temporarily stabilize if the NHL’s desire to drastically cut player salaries works for the first few years of a far-too-similar-to-the-current-model deal.

Eventually, the fact that bigger-market teams will be making more money, driving up league-wide revenues and the average thereof will bring us to the same point we are now if the NHL gets its way, with the cap spiraling upward (completely independent from ticket prices, which are determined via supply and demand, not a salaries-versus-revenues basis) and those blank checks written by the most profitable franchises doing very little to address the fundamental inequities between the Phoenixes and Torontos of the world, and five to seven years from now, the NHL will come back to the players once again and say, “We want another bailout.”

That’s all their CBA asks for. An out-and-out “bailout” from its “talent” to allow the people who produce the stage upon which its product performs to make more money, or at least lose less for a short period of time, and a “bailout” that does nothing to address anything more than the owners’ greed.

But I think this lockout will happen for three reasons:

1. Especially given that the NHLPA is now armed with independently-audited team books which must certainly underline the fact that the way the league presently defines hockey-related revenues, never mind the way it wants to define “HRR,” has indeed been leaving out enough supposed-to-be-split dollars from the pie that Donald Fehr’s right about the players being paid more along the lines of 51% of revenues, the PA is sane enough and well-led enough to demand more meaningful revenue sharing from the owners, and is now solidly-united enough to stand against the kind of lockout that will almost ensure they will be forced to “give at the office” on a repeated basis as league-wide revenues continue to grow.

The NHL’s version of revenue-sharing in its proposal involves simply reaching into its most profit-making employees’ pockets to address the health of the league—if you are a politically conservative person, perhaps calling it “Bettmancare” might make the concept more concrete for you;

2. Perhaps the unstated fact of every article ever written about the lockout thus far should involve the following: as soon as the NFL and NBA got away with locking out its players as a matter of course, as a matter of pure greed, there was no way that the smaller, less popular and less profitable NHL was going to do anything less than emulate its bigger brothers.

Gary Bettman and his 30 Board of Governors’ collective belief that the league will “save the owners from themselves” for a third time in eighteen years and a second time in eight suggests that Bettman continues to successfully sell the owners he represents upon his long-held belief that the NHL will eventually land some sort of combination of TV and/or multimedia contracts in the U.S., Canada and abroad that will add up to enough of a payroll subsidization that the league will never really have to address the fundamental inequities between franchises, and will of course allow the league to either expand or both expand and relocate franchises while pocketing the “fees” involved in transforming from a 30-team model (in the words of Monty Python, contraction is “right out,” folks) to a 32-team one.

In the interim, they’ve seen the NFL and NBA successfully reach into their players’ pockets and reap the rewards, and as such, it simply makes little sense for Bettman and the Board to pursue any other avenue when they’ve seen that lockouts work for both them and have been accepted by the fans of other leagues as something of a mater of collective bargaining course, real and immediate pain for the common man and woman and common businessman and businesswoman included;

3. And as Bettman told the media today, and as noted by TSN’s Mark Masters:

I say this with full awareness of this week’s political discussion of the definition of words involving the imposition of one’s will upon another:

Bettman, the Board of Governors and the owners know that they can engage in a borderline abusive relationship with their fans, because the vast majority of “us fans” (me included) love the game, the teams we follow and the players whose images adorn our t-shirts and names are stitched onto the backs of our jerseys that we’re not going to leave the game.

As I’ve said before, I find it vulgar and insulting that we fans are called everything from “suckers”—which Bettman clearly believes we are, in classic Precious Roy fashion—to “addicts,” “junkies,” and whatever other words a media corps that seems to resent the people who are the reason they have jobs more than they tell fans to resent the players for being paid a disproportionate wage to the rest of society chooses to call us.

But in this case, and yes, in an instance where there is so much blame to go around that the Score’s Justin Bourne is right to suggest that there are no “good guys, we are “suckers.”

We are “suckers” because a sports league knows that it can take advantage of the money we spend following something we love. For so many of us, hockey is our way of life, not just a hobby but a passion, if not something resembling a religion, either something we grew up watching and playing or something we fell madly in love with and found ourselves becoming part of not just something that made us feel good through vicarious living, but also feeling like we were a part of something bigger than ourselves, a team, a city (even if we live on the other side of the world from the city we love) and a hockey community.

For so many of us, following the NHL, our respective teams and our favorite players is worth paying for, an investment in ourselves as much as it is the backbone of a $3.3 billion industry that pays owners, players and team employees alike. It is a joy, it is pain, it is elation, it is suffering, but being a fan has become a fundamental part of who we are, and even if there is a third lockout, and even if it half a season or a full season long, it is enough a part of our lifestyle and our identity that we will not be able to tear ourselves away from a league whose owners are about to engage in a *#$%@&-over of its players, employees, fans, and by lack-of-game-night business effect, its cities and real communities for the third time.

For the sake of greed. For the sake of greed as a matter of course, a cash grab as a matter of course, a screwing of the people who bring paying customers into the rink because Bettman, the BoG and the owners don’t want to address its business plan or the inequities between franchises in a meaningful manner.

They will lock players, employees and fans out because, according to Bettman, as he told the Canadian Press’s Chris Johnston, the hard-cap CBA system works too well:

“We believe we’re paying out more than we should be,” said commissioner Gary Bettman. “It’s as simple as that.”

Of course, the NHL Players’ Association doesn’t quite see it that way.Executive director Donald Fehr has acknowledged there’s room for some flexibility in that area—last week’s proposal included three years with a slightly lower share in revenues for the players—but he hasn’t come to the table in a conciliatory mood after taking over a union that capitulated during the last round of negotiations.

“Everybody understands that employers would always like to pay less,” said Fehr. “That’s not a surprise to anybody—it’s disappointing sometimes—but it’s not a surprise.”

It’s not a surprise, but a lockout is going to happen because the owners know that they can burn down the village in order to save it, and can burn it down repeatedly.

The sides really haven’t budged from their proposals. The owners want to gouge into their employees’ paychecks. The players want to build a bridge to economic stability without engaging in the kind of givebacks they’re being told are the only way.

Is anything else being discussed? Sort of, says Johnston:

The essential difference between the offers put forward so far is perhaps best articulated in terms of their impact on the salary cap. Under the NHL’s initial proposal, it would fall to $50.8 million for next season. The NHLPA’s would see it set near $69 million.

The league is also believed to have verbally raised the possibility of seeing the players’ share in revenue drop incrementally rather than all at once. Theoretically, it could be done at a rate that is matched by an expected increase in revenues—essentially keeping salaries constant over the duration of the agreement while owners take in more profit.
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With the possibility of a lockout becoming more real, the posturing is starting to begin. Bettman lamented Thursday that the union wasn’t ready to open talks a year ago—the commissioner did say throughout the season there was more than enough time to make a deal—while Fehr continues to point out that Sept. 15 is only a deadline because the NHL has made it one. The bottom line is that they need to make an agreement and there isn’t one in sight.

Seven years ago, the sides battled one another over the philosophical view of whether the sport needed a salary cap. With that out of the way, this fight is all about money, although Bettman declined to go into detail when asked why the owners were seeking such significant givebacks.

“I’m not going to get into a public debate on that,” he said. “Obviously, if we didn’t think that there were issues that needed to be addressed we wouldn’t be in this type of negotiation.”

Uh, Gary? They’re issues that, in any conventional relationship between a service provider and a customer, should be addressed. Even if you were to tell the fans who pay your salary that you’re just being greedy, that would be one thing.

But instead, it’s another, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen:

“Whether or not we’re talking about these contract or system issues, or if we’re talking about revenue sharing, it’s clear that we’re at a point that it’s going to be very difficult to move this process along until we deal with the fundamental economic issues,” Commissioner Bettman said. “Certainly as it relates to the fundamental economic issue we are far apart both in terms of magnitude and structure. That is something we’re trying to get a handle on.”

Commissioner Bettman, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr and NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr will reconvene in a small-group meeting Tuesday in New York City to work further on resolving the fundamental economic issues of the negotiations. The current CBA expires Sept. 15.
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Commissioner Bettman said Thursday that he does not believe that revenue sharing is a major stumbling block between the two sides, arguing that the League’s proposal reflected changes to the current revenue-sharing system.

“I know there is a lot of finger pointing to revenue sharing, which I don’t understand,” Commissioner Bettman said. “By any measure, in comparison to other leagues, on any basis, we’ve had significant revenue sharing. Our initial proposal offered to increase revenue sharing in terms of the magnitude of the pool and the parties, the clubs that are included. We’re not that far apart. I think they proposed a $240 million pool; we’re (proposing) a $190 million pool. That’s not a real issue from our standpoint. We are prepared to revenue share. I’m not sure why there is a fixation on it. There is no internal dispute on it from the League’s standpoint.”

In the original proposal submitted by the owners six weeks ago, a reduction in the players’ share of HRR from 57 percent to 46 percent was introduced.
The Union proposed last week a system that would de-link hockey-related revenue from the salary cap and cap the annual increases of the players’ share to fixed rates across the next three seasons. Under that proposal, the players’ total-dollars share would grow by 2 percent in 2012-13, 4 percent in 2013-14 and 6 percent in 2014-15. The Union’s proposal included an option for the players’ share of HRR to return to 57 percent for the 2015-16 season.

Commissioner Bettman said the owners’ belief is that they are paying too much in player salaries. He said the average player salary has grown by $1 million during the past seven years, from $1.45 million in 2005-06 to $2.45 million in 2011-12.

“The players have done very well under this deal,” Commissioner Bettman said. “They’ve said publicly they’d be happy to keep playing under this deal even while we negotiate. While we were prepared to begin negotiating a year ago, the Union said it wasn’t ready until the end of June. So, you can’t negotiate with yourself, and my sense is that they prefer to keep things the way they are, and so that slows up the process.”

As an openly-biased NHLPA supporter, here’s what I’ve got to say about that:

Horse shit, you short, bald and ugly little *#$%@&.

The NHLPA could not meaningfully negotiate a CBA with the owners until it had the books open to them, and had those books independently looked at so that every penny that had been hidden under pillows and mattresses had been accounted for. That wasn’t going to happen until the end of the regular season at the earliest, and, more likely, not until the playoffs were long over.

That is why it took until the middle of July for the NHLPA to be delivered over 100,000 pages of what Bettman has deemed “irrelevant” and what are in fact centrally important audits of teams’ revenues, and that is why any other suggestion is as narrow-minded as Chairman Mao.

We already know, as USA Today’s Kevin Allen notes, that the PA isn’t blinking regarding this supposed hard deadline toward a lockout that’s all but guaranteed to happen anyway…

The players’ offer is to give up some revenue from anticipated growth over the next three seasons that they believe will total $465 million in exchange for increased revenue sharing.

“I have always believed there is enough time, and I still think there’s enough time,” Fehr said.

Bettman said emphasis on the revenue sharing aspect of the negotiations is misplaced, because he believes there isn’t a wide gap between the league’s proposal for revenue sharing and the NHLPA plan. He pegged revenue sharing in the league’s plan at $190 million and the revenue sharing in the NHLPA plan at $240 million.

Fehr said it is not unusual in bargaining to take a few days between bargaining sessions to allow work to be done behind the scenes.

“Whether it will be productive remains to be seen,” Fehr said.

The NHLPA submitted its proposals on contract issues but Bettman said that the sides are far apart on that, too.

“The union is looking for a system that has more flexibility and we’re looking for a system that has less flexibility and is more akin to what was envisioned eight years ago,” Bettman said.

But if the NHLPA wants the league to go to revenue-sharing rehab, and Bettman’s saying more than, “No, no, no.”

It’s more like, “Hey, we want you to give us back all the opportunity to make all the money you’ve been making as our industry went from $2.1 billion to $3.3 billion over the past seven seasons, and we want to take away all the entry-level and free agent mobility we gave you as part of the hard cap process, too. Deal or else you don’t play for us. Neener neener.”

What scares the *#$%@& out of me going forward is that, starting on Tuesday in New York, they’re going back to those “small-group discussions,” where Donald Fehr, Steve Fehr, Bettman and Bill Daly will be in the room together and the PA’s negotiating committee will be absent.

It worries me for two reasons:

1. That kind of stuff is where the trouble started last time;

2. This format produced a, “Do we have anything to talk about? No? No.” and an early end to CBA negotiations on Wednesday.

Is it going to work? Cue the “meh,” via the Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby:

“Hopefully it will be productive when we get to (Tuesday),” Donald Fehr said. “I still believe there’s enough time, if there’s a mutual will (to avoid a shutdown).”

But a wide gap in philosophy remains. The players have agreed to reduce their 57% share of revenues closer to the 50% range that was accepted by the other three major sports. The owners want that as low as 43%, but there are conflicting beliefs on how hockey related revenues are calculated in the first place. Bettman zinged the union by saying “we believe we are paying the players more than we should,” and cited huge increases in the average salary in the life of the current CBA. Yet owners are still offering mega-dollar contracts, some longer than the five-year maximum they’ve demanded the union now accept.

“The union is looking for a system with more flexibility and we’re looking for one with less, more akin to what we envisioned eight years ago (heading into the last CBA),” Bettman said. “It would be difficult to move anything else along (the many outstanding CBA issues). So we’ll each do some homework in the next few days, hopefully to find a way to get on the same page. It’s a good idea to get together with just the four of us.”

The one good thing from the two days of Toronto meetings, both which lasted just half a day, were that the sides are still cordial, compared to the personal acrimony that marked 2004’s showdown between Bettman and union head Bob Goodenow.

“Big group, small group, the tone has been businesslike and courteous,” Bettman said. “Even though we’re in negotiation and far apart, there is recognition of our issues from a union standpoint and that is a positive. It was clear we understood (the players’ offer). We went back and suggested a framework using some elements of the proposal to try and form a basis to go forward.”

And a later-evening article from Hornby provides “Meh and Meh, Part II”:

“We’re going to do some homework to hopefully figure a way to get on the same page,” Bettman added. “Both sides agree this might be a productive way to try and get some traction. If I had to generalize the characteristics (of recent talks), the union is looking for a system with more flexibility and we’re looking for one with less, that’s more akin to what we envisioned eight years ago (heading into the last CBA). We believe we’re paying the players more than we should.”

Bettman said he has not entertained the idea of planning for a compressed NHL schedule that might result from his owners’ lockout.

“I still believe there’s enough time if there’s a mutual will (to avoid a shutdown),” Fehr said of planning Tuesday’s agenda.

The union has proposed taking a smaller piece of the revenue pie, down from the current 57% which the owners have long balked at, but clearly players don’t intend to give back all their gains from previous years. They were stung by the owners’ first proposal this month which included reductions in revenue sharing to 43%, longer service until free agency and a reduction in the length of big-dollar contracts.

The worry in talks moving to a smaller group is that it’s getting late in the game to still be framing the agenda without yet getting to the crux of the matter. So much time has been wasted on posturing already.

“Sometimes it becomes more or less cumbersome depending on the nature of the group and what you’re talking about,” Fehr said of dropping to a four-person group. “You try one way and it doesn’t work, so you try another and then a third way. Sometimes the (process is better served by taking time (before Tuesday) to consider, ponder and talk to your constituents and then come back. Whether (the next four days) are productive remains to be seen.”

Did anything else happen on Thursday?

Yes, when most of the reporters went to lunch, per RDS’s Renaud Lavoie…

And they also spoke to Hornby...

“We want to play, but we also want a fair deal,” said forward Maxime Talbot of the Philadelphia Flyers. “Obviously guys are thinking about what they’re going to do if there is no hockey. We did a little bit of (saving) with our escrow money from last year. Players were willing to come back and play under this deal. I think the game is really healthy last year and the last few years. At least (the sides) are still talking.”

Rangers’ goaltender Martin Biron has been through this dance before in ‘04-05 when he sat the whole year.

“It’s a process and no one has a crystal ball,” Biron said. “We continue to put the work in to get a fair deal for the players, the league, the fans, for everybody. But no one really knows where this is going to go.”

Who was smart enough to ask Bettman whether the league had a plan regarding canceling the preseason and regular season games that are all but assured to be chopped off the schedule—which brings us right back to where we began:

“We haven’t even focused on what the timing should be, because my hope is we make a deal on a timely basis,” Bettman said Thursday, as a three-week countdown to a shutdown began. “We don’t want a work stoppage, but if we don’t have a (collective bargaining) deal, we feel we have no choice. We recovered well last time (when 2004-05 was scrubbed) because we have the world’s greatest fans.”

Fans who love the game so much that they’ll withstand borderline abuse (again, I say that word knowing what the “legitimate” usage thereof entails) from its owners to remain a part of.

The National Post’s Bruce Arthur wrote what is perhaps an appropriately brutal assessment of where we stand…

Is it just? No, probably not. It is probably not fair that the NHL’s billionaire owners all but wrote the last collective bargaining agreement at the point of a gun, and are coming back now for more because they didn’t write it terribly well, and that a league that has over-expanded and crammed franchises into all kinds of unprofitable sinkholes is now trying to fix itself by taking money back from the players and laying off employees as business booms.

But it worked in the NFL, which wasn’t even pretending to lose money. It worked in the NBA, which was. So there is going to be a lockout, because not only are the two sides far apart, there is nothing to push them together except for one thing: The knowledge of what is almost certainly coming. Antipathy, rancour, missed games, missed paycheques, lost revenues, a shortened season, a storm of condemnation, and, in the worst-case scenario, lasting damage to the game.

That would seem to be the lone basis for Fehr’s contention that there is still time to save an entire season. “If there’s going to be a lockout,” he said, “and that’s something the owners will choose or not choose, you would have missed games, you would have lost revenues, you would have missed paycheques. But that doesn’t mean the parties don’t understand going into it that that would be the case.”

Except that is exactly why there will be a lockout. The owners, like every set of owners in every CBA negotiation of the modern era, are counting on the players missing paycheques. The owners that lose money playing hockey are counting on losing less money while not playing hockey. The rich teams are most likely gritting their teeth and counting on making back any money they lose over the course of a more favourable agreement. That’s all leverage. If the sides were close, perhaps clear heads would prevail. They aren’t. So in football parlance, that’s what will move the pile.

Until then, there is no pressure except for the big one: Losing a significant amount of revenue to fan anger, and damaging hockey. In a league with so many struggling markets, that could be a worry. But the most important leverage may be the leverage hockey has over its fans, especially in Canada. When asked Thursday if the way the game recovered from the 2004-05 lockout gave him confidence it would recover again, Bettman said, “One, we’re focused on trying to make a deal. We don’t want a work stoppage. But obviously, if we don’t have a deal we feel we have no choice. And two, we recovered well last time because we have the world’s greatest fans.”

There it is. People will come, Ray. That is where the NHL is negotiating from, and that is why these Kabuki negotiations aren’t even foreplay; they’re text messages, setting the basic parameters for interaction. For the owners the pressure points are not now, and they are not later. Any deal they sign will presumably be worth more to the league’s struggling markets than they will lose, or near enough.

And that is why the battle for public opinion in this lockout won’t matter unless fan anger is actually carried over when they actually start playing games again, and last time that didn’t happen. One of the chief problems the NHL had with the last CBA is that it linked player salaries and revenues, and revenues skyrocketed from US$1.8-billion to US$3.3-billion in seven years. Part of that was the Canadian dollar, but not all of it. The owners believe the dollars will come back again, even if another Stanley Cup is wasted, because it has happened before.

The CBC’s Tim Wharnsby offered what has brought to the equation from the beginning—borderline “ennui,” a.k.a. boredom, from someone who was and is resigned to the inevitability of a lockout, and is more interested in finding out which players will play what he believes will be a full season in Europe:

There are 23 days until the current CBA expires on Sept. 15, and 39 days until the scheduled start to the season. Even though, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr remarked there still is time to get a deal done, a third NHL lockout in 18 years appears inevitable.

Hockey fans I have run into this summer don’t seem bothered about another lockout looming. They want a prediction on how long the lockout will last, but other than that, the attitude appears to be more like, “call me when its over.” Of course, you can tell us differently in the comment section underneath, but I don’t get a sense there is anger out there about part of another NHL season being lost again due to a squabble between the owners and players.

Maybe, we have become jaded about sports labour negotiations. Fans always seem to return to the NHL, NBA or NFL after seasons have been interrupted because of a lockout or strike. The last time there was outrage was when major league baseball players went on strike in 1994 and the rest of the season eventually was cancelled. Any fan of the Montreal Expos can tell you how much that summer hurt.

This time around there haven’t been any heated words between the NHL owners and players, or Fehr and Bettman. Just the odd jab, no knockout blows.

What has been even more bizarre has been that some players continue to participate in online chats and make appearances on behalf of teams. Some owners continue to spend huge amounts of dough on long-term contracts. The Minnesota Wild locked up two prized free agents in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to close to $100-million US contracts. The Nashville Predators matched the Philadelphia Flyers $110-million, 14-year offer sheet to Shea Weber. The Flyers also recently signed Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds to six-year extensions, and the Edmonton Oilers followed this week with a seven-year, $42-million extension to Taylor Hall.

So are the owners and Bettman on the same page? Maybe we should ask Bettman about his thoughts on these contracts when the talks resume in New York. The players, on the other hand, seem to be united. Fehr will hunker down with more players at a regional meeting in Toronto - at the Ritz Carlton, no less - on Friday.

There it is, so jaded that he offers a “tut-tut” to anyone who would dare feel sympathy for people who don’t stay at the Super 8. Because the jaded sportswriters all believe that we should love the sport but hate the players, be so excited about the “story” as opposed to our teams’ fares that we must “wake up” if we’re stupid enough to suggest that a penalty call going against our team that may have decided a game or playoff series was “unfair,” and that we, the poor, meek paeans, the addicts, the junkies, just don’t matter save the part where we click on the CBC and click on an ad.

Even the much less jaded and much more optimistic Sporting News’s Jesse Spector suggests that any optimism about the season starting on time “vaporized” (his term) over the span of once uttered sentence:

Then, this tweet popped up from Sportsnet’s Michael Grange: “Asked Bettman why, if #NHL is doing well owners are determined to change core economics ‘we think we’re paying too much in salaries’ #NHLPA.”

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said similar things before, but not exactly, and that is why Thursday was a watershed day for those who stocked their lockout bunkers with hockey DVDs. On Aug. 9, after a negotiating session in New York, the commissioner said, “The fundamental proposal—our initial proposal—relates to the fact that we need to be paying out less in player costs.”

There is a key difference in the words uttered two weeks apart. “We need to be paying out less in player costs” suggests something that can be addressed in the long term. “We think we’re paying too much in salaries” is a present-tense statement of a problem. The NHL’s main problem.

Another difference between Bettman of early August and Bettman of late August is that the younger Bettman expressed a “need” to lower costs, which was understandable. For teams that are struggling financially now, or that would be in several years under the current system as leaguewide revenues outpace local revenues, spending to the NHL’s salary floor is becoming an annual challenge. Seven teams finished 2011-12 under the projected $54.2 million floor for 2012-13 under the current CBA.

Contrast that with Thursday, and “we think we’re paying too much in salaries.” That’s a shift from a statement of plain-to-see fact to difficult-to-grasp opinion, and one that comes off as entirely hypocritical in the face of the $196 million the Minnesota Wild spent this summer on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, or the Nashville Predators’ matching the Philadelphia Flyers’ $110 million offer to Shea Weber.
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“We think we’re paying too much in salaries” means that the owners want a repeat of the salary rollbacks of eight years ago. That’s why the difference between Bettman two weeks ago and Bettman on Thursday is so important—it’s the difference between need and want, and between optimism that a common-sense deal can get done, and pessimism that both sides have dug in for a long fight that nobody will win.

If you’re interested in multimedia, seeing and hearing these words be said, as noted earlier…

• Here’s Donald Fehr speaking after the meeting, via the NHLPA…

• TSN posted videos of Bettman talking for ten minutes and Fehr speaking for nine.

And in the “new stuff” vein:

• TSN posted a 2-minute summary of the commentary, 2 minutes of Max Talbot and Martin Biron speaking to the press and a 2:56 clip of Gary Lawless talking about those small-group meetings onWednesday;

• the Toronto Star posted a CP video of Bettman and Fehr’s comments:

• And the CBC posted four videos, including Gord Stellick’s take on the state of affairs…

A clip of Bettman…

 

And one of Fehr:

 

All I’ll say is this: one person talks down his nose, often literally, and treats questions like dares. The other attempts to look his questioners in the eye and tries to speak as frankly as he can. One is the NHL’s commissioner, and one is not.

That, and Kevin Westgarth had the Cup on Tuesday. He went to Toronto to be part of the proceedings on Wednesday and Thursday. That’s quite the change of circumstances.


And going forward, having read SI’s Stu Hackel’s take on fan discontent, and Yahoo Sports’ Greg “Puck Daddy” Wyshynski’s link to The Raw Charge’s Cassie McClellan’s pondering as to how fans can support the PA (which I do)...

I asked this on Twitter, and I’ll ask it here:

We fans are very, very limited in our power aside from walking away from the game, withholding our season-ticket money, merchandise sales, and, mostly, making a nuisance of ourselves.

Does it make sense to hold rallies in Toronto and/or New York if there is a lockout, during negotiating sessions, so that the owners and players alike see our faces and our chants and our songs (“We’re Not Gonna Take it?” a swapping of the Predators’ “goalie, goalie, it’s all your fault” chant for “Gary, Gary?”) and maybe an evening of eating and drinking and partying with our fellow no-hockey grief support group peers?

Rallies in front of our own teams’ rinks, protesting the fact that so many of their employees and the larger community get screwed over as the billionaires and millionaires wage war on each other?

Twitter campaigns, Facebook campaigns, ads, t-shirts, bumper stickers, slapping school locker-lockers on every door at NHL HQ? What do you think we should do—as fans who will admit that, by and large, we’re not leaving the game—to express our frustration at being “occupied” by a lockout?

Or do we just talk it out as we unite in anger, frustration, dissatisfaction and what will be very real grief, accomplishing something the NHL is clearly not willing to do in speaking to each other, regardless of which team we support? Wings fans and Crosby fans, talking together, mass hysteria?

You tell me. Tell me here, tell me on Twitter, tell me on the Malik Report’s Facebook page, tell me via email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), because I’m 99.9% sure that we’re going to be locked out.

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Chet's avatar

if there’s a lockout, i do plan to dramatically curb my NHL-related spending upon the game’s return. not because i’ll love the sport or my team any less, but strictly to send the message that this isn’t acceptable. bettman’s comments about “significant” revenue sharing compared to other sports was enough for me to question why i enrich these hypocrite owners already, and it’s only going to get worse. this is a *#$%@& joke.

Posted by Chet from twitter: thegansen on 08/24/12 at 05:29 AM ET

Lucce's avatar

There is a special place in hell for that guy….

Posted by Lucce from Kingdom of Zweden on 08/24/12 at 06:01 AM ET

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i used to be a fan of the nhl. i watched every game i could. i followed the stanley cup playoffs to their conclusion.

since bettman’s first lockout, i am a red wings fan. period. when the preds knocked us out of the playoffs, i quit watching.

if we lose significant time again this season, the only ‘money’ the league will ever see from me comes in the form of whatever broadcasters are willing to pay to put the wings on tv.

i don’t think i’ll need any more official nhl merchandise either.

Posted by georgel from se mi on 08/24/12 at 08:42 AM ET

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Look, guys… this is all fine and good.  It’s a lot of posturing, a lot of Internet Blowhardery.  Mostly, it probably feels really good to sit back and type in all sorts of invective, outrage and anger and disperse it out onto the Internet like a kneeling Arabian princess sets free a snow white dove to flutter into a peaceful sunrise.

Here’s the problem.  It is all horseshit.  All of it.  You know it, I know it, and God help you… Bettman knows it.

You can be as pissed off right now as you want and say whatever you want to whomever you want.  Bettman knows you will be back shortly after games resume… assuming you aren’t standing at the gates day one with a scalped ticket for opening night.

Oh, sure, there’s going to be the .0001% of people who really will take this to the mattresses and stop going to games, or go to games less, whatever.  They’re totally insignificant.  A handful of ants that don’t come back to the anthill that night.

Bettman’s got 200 million dollars to play with and a 6-7% reduction in players share equates to almost 100,000 regular priced tickets, so he doesn’t give a damn about the fans.  Nor, really, should he.  Because he knows hockey fans are all frauds when it comes to this stuff.  100% stone cold lead pipe frauds.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 08/24/12 at 08:55 AM ET

Nathan's avatar

Bettman is right. Almost every fan will come crawling back. The only people that won’t are the folks that just recently got hooked, like say, someone in LA that never really gave hockey a chance, but got excited by the playoffs. And the thing is, most of those folks will always be fringe and will come and go regardless of the labor situation.

After the last lockout, I realized that the lockout didn’t hurt my Red Wings fandom, but it did hurt my NHL fandom, and general love of the game. I’m at a point where, much as I hate to say it, if they lose more than a half-season again, I’m probably going to flake off and just be a fairweather Wings fan. It’s too stupid to waste so much time and energy being a fan of a game, league, and team, when they have made it clear that when push comes to shove, they’re going to shit all over us.

I can only speak for myself. And I realize that I may be actually calling myself out right here, because I could very well come crawling back. It’s just… who needs this?

It really irritates me because I side with the players big time on this issue, but it isn’t like when the game comes back I’m going to root for Chris Campoli’s to do well because he was so vocal and frank about the labor situation. I’m going to crawl right back to one of the franchises and give my money to the logo on the front of the sweater.

I used to delude myself that Ilitch wasn’t really a part of the problem amongst the owners. But now that the long game has played out, it is clear that each and every owner is a part of the problem, and none of them are working towards a proper long-term compromise and solution that will be good for the health of the entire game over DECADES.

Mike Ilitch still deserves a lot of credit for being the best owner in hockey from a commitment and success perspective. He still deserves a lot of credit for being one of the few beacons of light in the Detroit community. But as for these labor issues between the NHL and PA, it is to the point where every owner deserves to be considered guilty by association.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 08/24/12 at 09:23 AM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

Bettman on damage lockout could do: ‘We recovered last time bc we have the world’s greatest fans’

He really believes we’re suckers, doesn’t he?  Makes me despise him even more.

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 08/24/12 at 09:57 AM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

You can be as pissed off right now as you want and say whatever you want to whomever you want.  Bettman knows you will be back shortly after games resume…

Posted by HockeyinHD on 08/24/12 at 07:55 AM ET

Thank you for presuming you know what we all think and what we all will, or will not, do.  I can tell you that if there is a lockout and/or Bettman wins this battle, I will spend not one red cent on anything NHL as long as Bettman is commissioner.  Ken and Paul on the radio are fine with me.

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 08/24/12 at 10:02 AM ET

Vladimir16's avatar

We got rid of cable as soon as the Wings got knocked out of the playoffs this year. Our plan was to go as long as possible before I “need” to watch the Wings. This is going to save me a lot of money.
And if there is a lockout I hate to take this out on Ilitch, as I’m sure he’s not a fan of what’s going on, but I won’t be visiting the Joe for a while.
No idle threats here.

Posted by Vladimir16 from Grand River Valley on 08/24/12 at 10:16 AM ET

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the .0001% of people who really will take this to the mattresses .... They’re totally insignificant

So call me insignificant, but I am not a dishrag to be used at the owner’s whim like so many fans may be. The “we can’t do anything about it so roll over and die is exactly what the NHL wants you to do”. Fine, take it like you are a prison cell inmate. I haven’t been to a base3ball game since 1994 and that league is still thriving as well, so they don’t need me. Boxing and horse racing were the number one sports at one time too.

I still maintain that even though the die hards will come back, this quadrennial slash and burn tactic prevents the league from being a legitimate top 4 league. Sponsors and fans do not invest in a product that is so irrelevant that it can go away for long stretches and no one outside of a few core cities seem to care.  I have no problem with hockey being a niche sport, I don’t need anyone else’s approval to telll me what I like. In the long run the strategy hurts the NHL/NHLPAs revenue growth more than it hurts my ability to enjoy hockey.

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 08/24/12 at 10:25 AM ET

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Thank you for presuming you know what we all think and what we all will, or will not, do.  I can tell you that if there is a lockout and/or Bettman wins this battle, I will spend not one red cent on anything NHL as long as Bettman is commissioner.  Ken and Paul on the radio are fine with me.

There are two possibilities here.  Either you’re someone who just started watching hockey in 2006 after the last lockout, or you are someone who has already lost a year to a lockout and has already come back.

In the first case you are a casual fan and are a dime a dozen.  Population growth will replace you, or some other random John or Jane Doe who staggers up to a ticket window 5 times a year.

In the second case you are a hypocrite because what you’re so fervently declaring you would never do is something you’ve already gleefully done.  You can be as mortally offended as you want, of course, but if you’re willing to come back after one lost season… sorry… you’re just as willing to come back after a second.

And that’s really all that matters.  Even if ‘all’ fans do in response is maybe sit at home 1% more in aggregate than they would have before and watch on TV… the NHL still makes their money via TV ads.  Or radio ads.  The money they will make back in greater TV contracts plus stealing from the players will quintuple (at the absolute least) whatever they might lose in gate revenue from the tiny minority of people who cut back their in-arena hockey spending.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 08/24/12 at 11:42 AM ET

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In the second case you are a hypocrite because what you’re so fervently declaring you would never do is something you’ve already gleefully done.  You can be as mortally offended as you want, of course, but if you’re willing to come back after one lost season… sorry… you’re just as willing to come back after a second.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 08/24/12 at 10:42 AM ET

So let me get this straight.  If I decide on a course of action and feel I’ve been screwed over, then decide differently given another opportunity to make the same decision….I’m now a hypocrite?  Thanks for the “insight”.

Your closing point regarding the NHL still making money is very salient.  I’m just not sure why you had to go off on a ridiculous human behavior tangent to get there.  Stick to the issues, you seem to make valid points.

Posted by Valek from Chicago on 08/24/12 at 01:40 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

In the first case you are a casual fan and are a dime a dozen.  Population growth will replace you, or some other random John or Jane Doe who staggers up to a ticket window 5 times a year.

In the second case you are a hypocrite because what you’re so fervently declaring you would never do is something you’ve already gleefully done.  You can be as mortally offended as you want, of course, but if you’re willing to come back after one lost season… sorry… you’re just as willing to come back after a second.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 08/24/12 at 10:42 AM ET

Wrong on both counts.  I’ve been a Red Wings fan for many, many years.

And I didn’t come back “gleefully” after the last lockout.  The thing that has me seriously ticked off this time is that it’s happening AGAIN, and seems to have been Bettman’s plan all along.

So… as Valek suggested, you make more of a credible impression if you stick to the issues rather than trying to get inside other peoples’ heads.

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 08/24/12 at 02:46 PM ET

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My guess is that it will effect attendance even further in places like Phoenix, Nashville, Florida, Carolina - Places where hockey is not hardwired into your identity (played it growing up, coached it, still play @ local rinks, dream of your kid to be in the NHL).  I think Bettman is putting the nail in the coffin for these teams.

Posted by virtual_kel from Winnipeg on 08/24/12 at 02:58 PM ET

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PS - MOVE THE EFFING TEAMS TO MARKETS WHO ARE HOCKEY CRAZY AND THEY WILL BE PROFITABLE.  SAID AS A WINNIPEGGER AND PROUD WINNIPEG JETS FAN!

Posted by virtual_kel from Winnipeg on 08/24/12 at 03:12 PM ET

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So let me get this straight.  If I decide on a course of action and feel I’ve been screwed over, then decide differently given another opportunity to make the same decision….I’m now a hypocrite?  Thanks for the “insight”.

No problem.  Again, if losing a season was your last straw, you’d already be gone.  One has already been lost.  If Bettman being a piece of bleep was what would chase you out of the league, you’d already be gone.  He’s been a piece of bleep for years now.  If the owners being greedy was going to be your last straw, you’d already be gone.  They’ve jacked up ticket prices pretty much every year now and their greed caused the last lockout.  If all three things needed to exist for you to be gone… guess what.  It’s already been happening.

And you’re all still here.

Your closing point regarding the NHL still making money is very salient.  I’m just not sure why you had to go off on a ridiculous human behavior tangent to get there.

Because people tend not to understand how incredibly irrelevant they are to the whole process, on top of being pretty disingenuous with their protestations of disgust and eternal enmity.

Trust me, the longer the lockout goes the more people are going to rattle and roar about how all is lost for them, how they’re no longer fans, ‘a pox on both their houses’, blahblahblah.  George will do it at least 10 more times by Thanksgiving.

They’ll all be back by the end of the next season, at the latest.  All of them.  That makes reading the screeds about the vast moral injuries they are suffering now alternately humorous and a little sad.

And I didn’t come back “gleefully” after the last lockout.  The thing that has me seriously ticked off this time is that it’s happening AGAIN, and seems to have been Bettman’s plan all along.

Bah.  This is the exact same situation in every way to the last one.  There is quite literally nothing different but the personnel.

The people that truly love the sport of hockey aren’t ever going to be deterred by things like a lockout.  Why?  Because regardless of how much you hate one side of this issue or the other, you support their opposition.  So, at some level, your brain understands that cutting yourself off from the league only hurts yourself and the half of the league you like.

The other half of the league, the ones that pissed you off, don’t give a crap.  You ‘boycotting’ them means as much as it would if you started to boycott the color green.

Now maybe someday some situation will arise when Owners and Players band together to extort more money from their fanbase.  In that kind of situation where you can work up a genuine and substantial distaste for everybody, they’ll be a slightly greater chance you’d stay away for good.  Other than that, nope.

My guess is that it will effect attendance even further in places like Phoenix, Nashville, Florida, Carolina - Places where hockey is not hardwired into your identity (played it growing up, coached it, still play @ local rinks, dream of your kid to be in the NHL).  I think Bettman is putting the nail in the coffin for these teams.

NHL attendance, 2004 vs 2006:

Phoenix: 15,467… 15,582
Nashville: 13,157… 14,428
Florida: 15,936… 16,014
Carolina: 12,330… 15,596.

So… no.  Not really.  Attendance was higher for every single one of the teams you mentioned the year back than it was the year before the lockout.

Everybody came back.  And then some.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 08/24/12 at 03:42 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

Posted by HockeyinHD on 08/24/12 at 02:42 PM ET

Well, since you are obviously a mind reader, I needn’t waste my time telling you what I think.

tongue laugh

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 08/24/12 at 03:58 PM ET

Vladimir16's avatar

I think Bettman is putting the nail in the coffin for these teams.
Posted by virtual_kel from Winnipeg on 08/24/12 at 01:58 PM ET

Hmmm…. I never thought of this. This makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Posted by Vladimir16 from Grand River Valley on 08/24/12 at 04:20 PM ET

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Gotcha, Phoenix has no issues whatsoever, haven’t been losing money for years, they have’t been shopping around for someone who wants to gamble on team ownership…. those attendance numbers have nothing to do with free tickets, Canadian fans on vacation in the Glendale area, padding the numbers.  Gotcha!  Thanks for straightening that out for me! lol

Posted by virtual_kel from Winnipeg on 08/24/12 at 04:43 PM ET

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This should work!

Posted by virtual_kel from Winnipeg on 08/24/12 at 04:54 PM ET

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Gotcha, Phoenix has no issues whatsoever, haven’t been losing money for years, they have’t been shopping around for someone who wants to gamble on team ownership…. those attendance numbers have nothing to do with free tickets, Canadian fans on vacation in the Glendale area, padding the numbers.  Gotcha!  Thanks for straightening that out for me! lol

You’re confusing yourself. 

You said “My guess is that it will effect attendance even further in places like Phoenix, Nashville, Florida, Carolina - Places where hockey is not hardwired into your identity (played it growing up, coached it, still play @ local rinks, dream of your kid to be in the NHL).  I think Bettman is putting the nail in the coffin for these teams.”

After providing the numbers to illustrate the point I said “So… no.  Not really.  Attendance was higher for every single one of the teams you mentioned the year back than it was the year before the lockout.”

Specifically, I was referring to your comment that a lockout would hurt teams ordinarily struggling at the gate.  By providing pre and post lockout attendance, I think that has been suitably answered.

You have sprung from that topic to some kind of wider ranging discussion on the viability of teams in non-hockey markets.  There are any number of entirely valid points to be made in skepticism of the future of NHL teams in non-hockey markets. 

It’s just that a lockout isn’t one of them.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 08/24/12 at 06:01 PM ET

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I got rid of the Center Ice in 2009, my last connection to NHL, Inc.

Since then there have been scores of live-streaming sites for me to choose from while reading comments and following live on A2Z. And I don’t know why this should ever change.

I WILL BE BACK to watching Red Wings live-streamed online when and if the season starts, whether this will be under the present or next Commissioner.

Posted by Alex on 08/24/12 at 07:29 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

I will remain a Red WIngs fan also, and like I said, will listen to Ken and Paul.

HockeyinHD kept missing my point.  I wasn’t suggesting that my decision to stop spending money on NHL products would hurt the league in any way.  It just means I will no longer be a sucker.

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 08/25/12 at 10:10 AM ET

calquake's avatar

Ken and Paul on the radio are fine with me.

It just means I will no longer be a sucker.

Preach it Sister!  Besides, HockeyinHD, why do you give a flyin’ f*ck about what us peons think?  Even Don Quixote had a purpose.  If we as individuals want to rant and rave about the league… so what?  If we’re hypocrites and come crawling on our knees back to a game we love what’s it to you?  This blog is a place for fans to vent and bluster.  You are still entitled to your opinions but they are not worth anything more than mine, or MsRedWinger or J.J. or a dozen other contributers here.

Posted by calquake on 08/25/12 at 01:07 PM ET

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HockeyinHD kept missing my point.  I wasn’t suggesting that my decision to stop spending money on NHL products would hurt the league in any way.  It just means I will no longer be a sucker.

No, I got your point.  I just don’t think you’re going to stay away, despite how ‘certain’ you are of that now.

I think this because at some point it occurs to people (either consciously or subconcsiously) that they really aren’t hurting anyone but themselves with these kinds of self-imposed embargos.

HockeyinHD, why do you give a flyin’ f*ck about what us peons think?  Even Don Quixote had a purpose.  If we as individuals want to rant and rave about the league… so what?  If we’re hypocrites and come crawling on our knees back to a game we love what’s it to you?

Nothing, really.  Just pointing it out in advance. wink

This blog is a place for fans to vent and bluster.  You are still entitled to your opinions but they are not worth anything more than mine, or MsRedWinger or J.J. or a dozen other contributers here.

Totally true.  Who suggested otherwise, by the way?

Posted by HockeyinHD on 08/25/12 at 05:18 PM ET

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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.