The Malik Report
by George Malik on 09/22/12 at 06:52 PM ET
Updated with a perfect Jimmy Devellano post-script from Nicholas J. Cotsonika at 7:03 PM: On an evening when the most notable news regarding any Red Wings players involves Sovsport and Championat posting pictures of Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Bryzgalov taking in CSKA Moscow's 4-2 victory over Yugra while they wait to make their KHL debuts on Tuesday, and Jakub Kindl not playing in HC Pardubice's 2-1 loss over Plzen...
A week ago tonight, I suggested that the lockout is not like Pawn Stars, where the owners of the shop stating, "I take all the risk, I have the overhead to pay" wasn't applicable to negotiations between owners and the players who bring paying fans to "the ranch," if you will...But with a week's worth of no negotiating taking place, I'm ready to quote Rick Harrison again in suggesting that, "It's not that I don't trust you: I don't trust anybody."
In that vein, and especially given what has been an (in the absence of negotiations) all-out propaganda campaign by the NHL, deputy commissioner Bill Daly, and eventually Jimmy Devellano, mounted against a less intense propaganda campaign by the NHLPA, Donald Fehr and Mathieu Schneider, I've got to take what I'm about to post to task as more propaganda, albeit well-intentioned propaganda.
I don't trust anything uttered by the NHL, Gary Bettman or Bill Daly any further than I can throw them (something tells me Bettman is heavier than he looks), and while I support the players in this third owners' lockout, I'm reading and listening to everything they say with a very critical and somewhat skeptical eye.
And while I don't question Berger's Bytes' Howard Berger's integrity or professionalism for a second, nor do I question his earnest attempt to get at the truth behind the reasons why the NHL and NHLPA chose not to formally meet this week, I do question what his sources told him about what appears to be a high likelihood of a 2012-2013 season that won't begin until January at the earliest, if it starts at all:
“The two sides are so entrenched in their positions that nobody can even fathom when they’ll begin substantive negotiation once again,” said a veteran league source early today. “They’re going to try and sort out last year’s Hockey Related Revenue on Monday, but I’m not sure it will lead to a breakthrough. I was involved in the last lockout that canceled the [2004-05] season. There were uncompromising issues with the owners wanting to get rid of [NHLPA leader Bob] Goodenow and insisting on a salary cap. This dispute is about allocating revenue and many people seem to think it won’t be as difficult to resolve. But, that isn’t the prevailing opinion on the inside.”
I don't dispute the fact that, when examined in retrospect, neither the NHL nor NHLPA have moved an inch from their diametrically opposed positions.
The NHL is demanding an immediate reduction in salaries and a pay-to-play scenario where players give back significant amounts of their promised salaries, whether that be via rollbacks or escrow withholdings. They don't want to tweak the CBA to do anything other than idiot-proof it by restricitng player mobility and utilizing player salary give-backs to at least temporarily "float" struggling teams.
The NHLPA does not want its players to give back a single cent of the contracts promised to be paid to them--over the course of the agreement, never mind just this upcoming season--and it does not want escrow withholdings to be utilized as a method by which to reimburse the owners. The players want the owners to take greater responsibility for their 30-team business plan's flaws by instituting real and meaningful revenue-sharing, which big-market owners despise.
And as Yahoo Sports' Nicholas J. Cotsonika suggested, the amount of lingering distrust between the owners and players left over from the last lockout is more than enough to ensure that it's going to take a while until the two sides come off their intiial positions--both the NHL and NHLPA's proposals have been variations upon their original themes--and end this Mexican gunfighters' standoff.
Just as disturbingly, Berger reports that the, "Kill the Winter Classic early, kill the season right away" line has widespread support among the owners...Or at least that's what he's being told by his league source, who's doubtlessly preaching from a hard-line playbook to utilize the media to put pressure on the PA to make concessions...
“In 2005, Gary Bettman did not want to cancel the season… he went to the last possible moment [in mid-February] before doing so. Gary had taken the same approach ten years earlier and it almost cost him his job. But, he was able to salvage part of that season [48 games, beginning in January 1995]. When he was forced to cancel the entire [2004-05] schedule, he and the owners learned something valuable: the players had no appetite to lose a full year off their careers. This time around, he has unanimous support from the owners to kill the season much earlier. Believe me, there are no pressure-points, including the Jan. 1 game [outdoor Winter Classic]. I think Jimmy Devellano knows what he’s talking about.”
Further complicating matters, according to my source, is the dissimilarity between Goodenow and Donald Fehr. “With Bob, it became personal. He couldn’t stand Gary and I don’t think he was acting in the best interest of the players when they began to soften. He wasn’t going to accept a salary cap, even if it wiped out two seasons. Fehr is more composed and he has the resume [from baseball] to support his position. I think the players are fighting a lost cause but I’m not sure they’ll fracture as quickly. That’s why this dispute could come to a head much sooner than the last one.”
“This isn’t a matter of going for the jugular, as it was in 2005; I think Gary and Don have great respect for one another,” said the source. “But, both sides are philosophically entrenched. The players obviously don’t want to relinquish any more than they did in the last work stoppage. The owners, on the other hand, are saying, ‘Hey, that agreement expired. You aren’t entitled to a carry-over.’ This thing could just as easily end before it gets started.”
And that's why this NHLPA supporter from a Chrysler family finds this lockout to be so very offensive. The NHL sacrificed the 2004-2005 season to essentially have NHLPA turncoat Ted Sakin rubber-stamp a CBA penned by Bill Daly and Bob Batterman while Bettman and Goodenow weren't in the room, and yet we have the owners suggesting that the "good of the game" and fans who they lied to about ticket prices being directly linked to salaries eight years ago (sorry, folks, it's supply and demand, and ticket prices will continue to increase regardless of how much money the may have to give up this season and going forward).
Put simply, in my opinion, suggesting that a CBA which was supposed to give the owners everything they needed to stabilize the NHL's 30-team model, the game and of course ticket prices (ha) for good is now "too generous," and that the economic recession the NHL and PA faced and weathered so very, very well obliges the players to allow the owners to not just "retrench," but also turn player mobility rights back to what they were before the last CBA...
That's patently insane, as is suggesting that it's untenable to negotiate while still taking fans' $3.3 billion under the current agreement, as is, most tellingly for me, Bettman's suggestion that what were eventually 100,000+ pages of independently-audited team finances on July 31st as "irrelevant" when the NHL was redefining Hockey-Related Revenues (as the CBC's Elliotte Friedman revealed, attempting to define HRR as currently determined is so complicated that both Bettman's argument that the owners pay much more into operating costs than 57 cents on the dollar and Fehr's argument that the players are really paid only 51 cents on the dollar have merit)...
To this "uninformed rambler" (thanks, Bill Daly), I don't understand how one can possibly negotiate a collective bargaining agreement in which salaries have an ironclad, entrenched and enforced link to a very specific percentage of Hockey-Related Revenues until you have the open books for the most recent season. It's impossible, and as those books weren't going to be available until the middle of the summer thanks to the fact that the NHL's fiscal year ends when the Stanley Cup Finals do, I don't have any problems whatsoever with the NHLPA's last-minute negotiating strategy. In my admittedly biased opinion, it was the only sane way they could go about knowing what they were fighting over.
As Devellano's comments understated, however, the NHL very clearly believes that the players are acting like spoiled brats who are entitled to "all the grass" they can eat (and friends, you and I aren't "cattle," to the billionaires, we're walking dollar signs who enter their rinks with open wallets), and the NHLPA very clearly believes that it's entrenched in a cycle of lockouts at the end of every collective bargaining agreement, and after giving up so much last time, that the players want to neither cede a cent nor force the owners to do anything less than meaningfully address the fundamental, systemic flaws in their 30-team model.
That latter part seems particularly worthy to me given that it's the upper payroll limit that's trapped in an "inflationary spiral" for as long as league-wide revenues increase, regardless of how much or how little the owners pay their players, because the moneymaking teams' profits will ensure that the salary cap continues to rise. In my opinion, that all but ensures that we're talking about lockout #4 eight years from now.
But what do I know? I'm only a partisan Red Wings fan who wants both Mike Ilitch, Jimmy Devellano, the team, its employees and its players to make lots and lots of money based upon my and my friends and family's shared passions for and loyalty to a professional sports team that's a business entity, I do not begrudge neither owner nor player for making wages vastly disproportionate to the rest of society...
And I've only been through three of these lockouts, and I'm f***ing tired of them, because they continue to occur because the owners "fix" the game in the board room, and as soon as they leave it, they find ways to "break" it because people like Jimmy Devellano find no hypocrisy in mocking their best pals on the Board of Governors for being fiscally irresponsible while authorizing their general managers to sigh the team's fourth-line center to a 3-year, $7.2 million contract which includes a lockout-proof $250,000 signing bonus (per Capgeek), or to sign a free agent defenseman who can't shake the injury bug a 2-year, $5 million contract, or that it might be slightly hypocritical for a team whose voting member of the Board of Governors seems to want to crush his players' will like a pop can to make these $12.2 million commitments all of 36 hours before the expiry of the supposedly "untenable" CBA.
That's my take on what the last week's worth of propaganda, punctuated by Berger's report (again, I'm not questioning Berger here, I'm questioning what his sources told him), and unlike Devellano, I happen to think that my fellow fans and readers are in fact smart and informed people who can read these statements, read my analysis and come to their own conclusions as to what's really going on.
That's my biggest message about everything you've read so far and everything you're going to read that comes from owners, players, journalists or bloggers' mouths, mine included, over the course of this stupid, stupid third lockout.
Read things skeptically, read things subjectively, allow your emotions to flow and then check them, and form your own opinions. Very few of us are forensic accountants or labor lawyers, but I'd like to believe that we're smart enough to get the gist of what's going on, what's at stake and why it's so unbelievably dumb that two sides which split $3.3 billion of our money can't agree how to split it "fairly."
After all, we're the ones who are being called "suckers" for passionately supporting and following a pastime which is a hobby, a bit of vicarious living, and an endeavor which helps us define ourselves, our way of life, and the community of fellow fans we've chosen to become a part of by cheering on our favorite teams and players. I don't believe we're "suckers" at all. A little strange for remaining part of an abusive relationship with the NHL, but not "suckers," not "addicts" and most certainly not uninformed morons who supposedly can't figure the gist of this s*** out on our own.
Update: As we've all had a bit of Jimmy D overload, I'd like to post Yahoo Sports' Nicholas J. Cotsonika's take on the league's $250,000 fining of the "cattle" remark (via RedWingsFeed) in this entry:
If everyone could and would speak his mind, every comment would carry less weight. Instead, we have to parse the words of the one guy who slips up. Instead, the NHL fines a Hall of Famer -- a 69-year-old man who helped build the New York Islanders from an expansion team into a dynasty, who helped rebuild the Red Wings from a fallen giant into a model franchise -- and the league looks more draconian than it did already.
The owners have locked out the players for the third time in 18 years. They have done it even though they cancelled the 2004-05 season, even though they got their salary cap, even though they got the players to take a 24-percent rollback -- even though they have recorded record revenues every year since.
Don't you want to hear from Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, the president of the board of governors? Don't you want to hear from owners like the Philadelphia Flyers' Ed Snider or the Washington Capitals' Ted Leonsis, who are involved in the negotiations? Don’t you want to hear from the owner of whatever team you follow? Don't you want an honest explanation from their own mouths? Don't you want to hear why they need or want the players to take an immediate pay cut and so much less of hockey-related revenue? Don't you want to know why they don't like the players' revenue-sharing plan?
The owners are smart enough to know that it is easier to keep up a united front and stay on message if they let only two people do the talking. They are also smart enough to know that it is cleaner to stay above the fray and let Bettman and Daly do the dirty work. That is partly what they pay them for. It might be easier for the owners to make up with the players and fans when this is all over, whenever this is all over.
But if the owners are really united, what are they afraid of? That we'll see them for what they are? All Devellano really did was say some things we already know but aren't used to hearing out loud.
That's only a chunk of Cotsonika's full article, and it's worth your time...and your critical reading thereof.
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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.