Who’s winning the NHL lockout?

There’s no doubt in my mind that the latest move by the NHL to withdraw their latest proposal and cancel games until the end of November is not a good sign. In fact it’s being reported that next week the league will also announce it’s cancelling the Winter Classic and All Star Game. A little shocking considering how far out those games are, but at the same time it’s of no surprise. Clearly though, the NHLPA and NHL are looking in different directions.

The Winter Classic has a huge penalty to it if not played and to be honest, has always been a marketing gimmick and shouldn’t really count as a regular season game. I’m glad they cancel it, and hope they keep it that way – but it’s about dollars and cents (not to be confused with sense), so it’ll return. As for cancelling the All Star Game, again it’s another game of just entertainment. Gone are the days when players actually, ummm, played the game. I feel bad for Columbus as there’s no doubt they could use the injection of cash into their facilities, economy and organization. Maybe the NHL will make it up to them somehow, but then again, likely not.

What are we arguing about?

Let’s be honest here for a bit, “both sides are fighting for more dollars than us fans can imagine,” wrote LeVern in an email to me. “I have season tickets and it is tough to come up with that money never mind fighting for millions.”

We’re arguing about millions of dollars – technically billions I suppose. It truly is the kind of money that most of the population can’t even begin to comprehend. Yet it’s not just about the money. More importantly I would suggest that it’s about the business.

Stephen put forth a great point in email. “An owner shelling out two contracts at $100 million each to what I consider 2 unworthy players and then they say oops maybe we shouldn’t have done that. Hey can I have some of that money back? Of course the players are going to say FU. But then the players also need to realize the owners are running a business and I know at my job I am just a number. For two sides who say they care about the game, get your asses in a room lock the door and get this done.”

I couldn’t agree more with Stephen. Get in the room and get it done. Everyone, on both sides, come to the table together with your laundry list of garbage and work through them one-by-one. The players need to understand they’re in a relationship with the owners and the owners need to understand they’re in a relationship with the players. And in fact what they both need to realize is that they’re both in a relationship with the fans – and as a fan right now I’m heavily considering a divorce.

In fact as a divorce would be like the cancellation of a contract, it would only make sense. I mean, the players have signed contracts with the organizations and to me it would seem only fair to honor those contracts. If the owners hated the old CBA so much, why would they ink over $200,000,000 – yes, that’s two-hundred million dollars – worth of deals in the final 48-hours of the agreement expiring. Are you kidding me? Find your integrity.

Creating Win-Win

Now I know that this concept will be lost on both the league and the association. And that both sides would look at me like I’m an idiot – which quite honestly I don’t particularly care. Their opinion of me means nothing to me…but it’d be cool if they liked me. In the very popular book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Stephen R. Covey, habit four is “think win-win.” Take a minute to go to that page and read it and then come back.

Now take for a moment that both sides of the table exhibit the three vital character traits of integrity, maturity and the abundance mentality. As best as I can tell as an outside observer neither the league, the players association, the owners, the players themselves nor management exhibit even one of those characteristics.

Essentially what I’m saying is kiss the season goodbye – and yes, you can quote me on that!

I think that Dr. Covey’s book should be mandatory reading for the league and players. In fact if they exhibited some of the traits even, we wouldn’t be here. Take for example the first habit: be proactive. Last time I checked we’ve known for years that the previous CBA expired in September 2012. Is there no reason we couldn’t have started working on this at the beginning of the 2011-12 season? That would’ve been a shocker.

People, yes I said people, not organizations or leagues or companies or whatever. I said people. We’re all people here and need to treat each other this way. So seriously, let’s get it done.

Contraction or Relocation

An interesting point of discussion that came up in trying to determine a point of action was around the revenue sharing amongst teams. The suggestion from Howard was relocation, or even contraction.

“Move or contract four franchises that will be a financial burden for ever. I heard talk of expansion…which is laughable. There will not be profit sharing until the teams are all financially viable. If it costs less to not play than to play and suffer huge loses…that isn’t a viable business model. There are way too many fragile franchises…that has to be improved.”

I think that Phoenix Coyotes, Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils and the aforementioned All Star Game hosts, Columbus Blue Jackets are the four that should go. Either fold up and move on, or send them to places like Quebec City, Seattle, Toronto and maybe even somewhere in Saskatchewan. With the New York Islanders moving to Brooklyn and an even smaller arena than the Winnipeg Jets, there’s no reason a team couldn’t survive in Saskatchewan somewhere.

Anyways, it’s an option and has nothing to do directly with the CBA but as an owner that wants their money in their pockets, you’d think it would be something they’d bring up. And of course the players wouldn’t like it as there’d be fewer jobs…but lets be honest, these athletes are in the entertainment business and as of late, it hasn’t been all that entertaining.

Who’s side: Players or Owners

That brings me to my morning email to our growing Winnipeg Jets community asking who’s side they were on.

“Do you side with the owners or players, or have you passed the point of caring?”

That’s all the question said. And the responses I got back were definitely interesting. All told there was no clear winner, though I was shocked at the high response rate of “past the point of caring” which is where I get closer to every day.

In fact I was as so bold to tell Cheryl that “if the entire season is gone, they’re going to have a tough time getting me back.”

Cheryl tried to call my bluff. Sadly Cheryl, it’s not a bluff but you do raise some great points. “Who you kidding, you love hockey, hockey is your passion. It is important for us to have something to cheer for, some energy that bonds us world wide, nation wide, culture wide, religion wide and sports can do that, and for us winter countries, it has made us stronger more healthier as well. I miss the cheering, the smiles, the feverous energy and you can quote me on that. I miss a place the bonds us all in cheer!”

As you mentioned, I quoted you on that. But I’m not bluffing. Growing up I loved the Jets. I went to a few games, but never played hockey. It just wasn’t something that was available to me, which I’m totally OK with. In fact living in Calgary I’m happy to have a WHL team that is still playing. I take my daughter to see the Hitmen play and she loves it – she’s only four. It’s been hard telling her there’s no Flames or Jets this year and she doesn’t understand why. I don’t think any of us fans truly understand why.

Manitoba Moose AHL logoBut those guys, they play. They play with their heart. They play to impress. They play with the dream of hoisting the Stanley Cup one day after getting drafted. The sad reality is that many of them will never play in the NHL and I’m glad they won’t. They’ll maintain their integrity and maturity – two of the attitudes needed in life.

In fact Holly went so far as to say she missed the Manitoba Moose “where they loved to play and played for 40 grand a year. The rest of the leagues should be run like the AHL” in her opinion. “But what do I know…I’m just a silly girl.”

You might be silly, but who cares if you’re a girl. You’re a hockey fan and you’ve identified the heart of the true players…and you just might be on to something.

Management accountability

Something like accountability. Not just in the players or the owners, but in the management of the team as well. There’s no doubt that the owners are complaining about how much they have to pay a player. Well, back to Howard’s email where he pointed out some interesting facts:

  • Average players salaries have doubled from 1.2 to 2.4 million per year in the past 7-years.
  • Owners have allowed their GM’s to circumvent the cap system they initiated.
  • The first 14 year contract a GM came up with should have been vetoed by the owner…problem solved.
  • There is plenty of blame to go around in this.

No doubt there’s plenty of blame. Let’s have a look at the fact of the matter that the owners, who are saying they’re paying too much, have the power to not make a deal. In fact, as a GM you can totally screw your owner, team and players…and still get paid. Sign me up for that job – even for a few weeks and I’ll gladly take that pay.

What I’m saying here is that let’s also put some accountability on to the management team. I’m not sure how, or why, but get them involved too and make them pay a price. Maybe it’s time the managers and owners sit down and see if there are some skills from Moneyball that can be transferred over? Moneypuck could work ya know.

What to do as fans

That brings us back to us – the fans. What can we do? Honestly, nothing. It sucks to read that and hurts even more to say it, but there’s nothing as an individual fan we can do. However coming together and uniting there are definitely actions we can take. We started #LockoutSponsors here on Winnipeg Whiteout. There are lots of other sites out there like You Have Two Weeks, Angry NHL Fans and many more.

Join them all and leave links to others in the comments below. If we all join enough of them, we just might be able to make a difference.

Jeannie stated that she has “stopped buying any and all NHL merchandise until this is resolved. I am not going to support the NHL at least until I see some hockey!”

Ya…what she said!

Someone has to win

In the end of this, the league and the players association will say that someone has to win, going against my previously mentioned win-win thought, which actually should be win-win-win with an extra one for the fans.

Thankfully, there are some winners thanks to the current lock out. Organizations like the AHL, which have a huge influx of NHL players in them this season, where the players are making reduced salaries yet still playing, improving and developing. These guys are the ones to keep around and appreciate.

Other leagues like the WHL, ECHL, OHL and the other minor leagues out there are all winning. Some could argue the KHL and European leagues are too – but I’d disagree with that and will save it for another day.

And true hockey fans are also winning. Fans of hockey, not of the NHL, are out watching more hockey, keeping more money in their pockets and getting a higher value for their entertainment dollar.

So now what?

Now the question to you is “are you winning” and not in the Charlie Sheen kind of way.

What are you doing during the lockout?

Have you picked a side in this ‘battle’ for billions?

Let me know below in the comments, or send me an email to [email protected] – you know I’ll answer it, and just might use it in another story. Heck, if you’re feeling really brave call toll-free 855.321.JETS (855.321.5387) any time of day and leave your rant – sober or not.

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Marshall Stevenson regularly contributes to one of the best Winnipeg Jets blogs as an editor and co-founder while also working on JET FUEL – a documentary about Winnipeg Jets fans. Of course he's also behind the only official, unofficial Jets fan gear site. And as if he wasn't busy enough, a co-host on the popular Winnipeg Jets focused Jets Hockey Podcast.