NHL lockout: history repeating itself

Well I hope everyone is sick and tired of hearing about the NHL lockout and vowing never to watch another NHL game again . . . ever.

Well I hope everyone is sick and tired of hearing about the NHL lockout and vowing never to watch another NHL game again . . . ever.

The unfortunate thing is that you probably will – eventually. As long as the lockout drags on you’ll steal sidelong glances at news articles and listen to hockey pundits berate both sides in the dispute, because like car crashes, train wrecks, and Canuck-playoff-runs you just can’t look away.

The big news this week is that there was another insignificant gesture towards enlightenment when both sides agreed to allow for mediation.

But of course, it’s not the same thing as binding arbitration, and foreshadows the last gasp of the 2004-05 debacle, when mediators were brought in during the final days to try and avoid cancellation of the season. We all know how that worked out.

The NHL Players Association is also threatening decertification, which means disbanding the union and bringing an anti-trust lawsuit against the NHL, which they can’t do while collective bargaining. The result: the courts could issue an injunction ending the lockout, but it’s not a sure thing, and as for awarding damages, the process would take years.

The players received 57 per cent of the pie in the labour negotiations seven years ago, and now the owners want their pie back.

The players already agreed to a pay cut, to 50 per cent, but that isn’t enough.

Eleven weeks into the lockout and over 400 games cancelled, Gary Bettman says the NHL is losing $20 million per day. The figure is staggering, but even more alarming is how much the owners are willing to sacrifice and can afford to lose in the process.

Despite the big salaries of NHL players, owners are less vulnerable and more diversified. Not getting a paycheck will hurt most players more, while owners will simply find consolation in those enterprises that made them millions and got them into the hockey hobby/business in the first place.

There have been many suggestions as to what players can and should do if and when the season is cancelled; giving back to their communities by hosting fundraising events and charity games not the least of the good suggestions offered.

But what of the owners, should we not expect the same sort of philanthropic gesture from them as we do the players.

It is unlikely.

But not because the owners are particularly sinister people, but because they are going to win the CBA battle, and they know it.

I doubt owners will for a moment consider the wages denied the regular working poor who man the food kiosks, dispense over-priced beer and ridiculously inflated merchandise, sell tickets, and patrol the aisles to protect reserved yet unused corporate seats from regular Joes.

Nevertheless, there will be some justice. The owners, after all, are their own worst enemy.

Just as in the past two negotiations, owners will consistently find ways to undermine the agreement, and shoot themselves in the collective foot by signing mid-talent guys like Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to 13-year-$100-million contracts.

Agents will pour over the fine print, discover the loopholes, and then find GMs willing to circumvent the stop signs that Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly will insert into the language of the new agreement. It was that way in the past two CBAs and it will be that way again this time, and again in say another seven years.

I love hockey, but I’m pretty certain I won’t spend more time or money on the NHL. At least not in the current climate of greed and complete disregard for a fan base that the NHL so desperately needs, yet so blatantly ignores.

If there is one thing fans have learned from the lockout, we can live without the NHL.

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