September is here, and for those of us who live for the game of hockey that means a few things. It means that later this month players and coaches across the NHL will head back from the lakes, from their home training facilities, and from their offseason abodes, and report to their respective NHL cities for training camp. By the end of the month we will have preseason tilts, find out who looks like they are making the team and who is going back to juniors or the AHL, and by the beginning of October this season will be upon us. Gloriously, mercifully, after a long summer without hockey, Labor Day and the month of September should mean that hockey is coming back.
That should be a guarantee. It should be taken for granted. It should be automatic. It isn’t though. It isn’t automatic, and it won’t be, as long as the a league is headed by a man who is obsessed with cutthroat negotiation and what he sees as favorable deals, but can’t be bothered to give a damn about the greatest game in the world, which he has appallingly been placed in charge of. As long as Gary Bettman is in charge of the league, every time…EVERY TIME the CBA is up for renewal, hockey fans can expect to lose the game, at least for a time, because the simple fact is that Gary Bettman doesn’t care.
Bettman, who comes from a hockey background of not having any hockey background whatsoever prior to being named commissioner, has no reason to care about hockey. I have no idea whether or not he likes hockey, but the facts are that he had never worked in the game before, having worked for the NBA for most of his career, and that since he was named commissioner, he has a record that demonstrates an utter neglect for the game of hockey and its fans.
The basic fact of these negotiations is that the players want to get back on the ice. They want a deal that looks a lot like the current one. The Owners, led by Bettman, aren’t willing to go along with that. This is ridiculous when you consider how the current situation came about. The players union was responsible for a base that wanted badly to get back on the ice, because it represented a base that cares about the game (I hesitate to say that the union itself ‘cares’ about the game, as it is a business entity, but individually, every hockey player cares deeply about the game), but also because after a year of not working, players needed once again to have employment.
The owners, on the other hand, weren’t going to feel the heat from the lockout. There is no such thing as an NHL owner that relies on hockey income to feed his family. These teams are the toys of extraordinarily rich individuals. Some of them, individually, may care about the wellbeing of hockey, maybe even the majority, but their voice comes in the form of the commissioner who, alas, does not. The result of that situation was that the owners negotiated from a position of decided power, and they came away with most of the things that they had wanted all along.
They got a hard salary cap, to limit what they could give to players. They got a TWENTY FREAKING FOUR PERCENT rollback on existing salaries, knocking 1/4th off of the contracts that THEY HAD AGREED TO. They got the deal that they wanted all along, and it was a good one.
This time around, that fleecing isn’t good enough. They want a lower cap. They want a lower cap. And most laughably, they want a guarantee that they will get more of the revenue than the players who are, you know, doing all the work to make sure that there is a National Hockey League. Think about that. 30 people who are already much wealthier than any player, none of whom actually contribute anything to the product that fans pay to see, most of whom will see HUGE capital gains if they sell their team, want to make sure that they get MORE of the revenue created by the game than the 600+ players that create approximately 100% of what people actually like about the NHL.
This would kind of be a justifyable situation if it were necessary, but it isn’t. Revenues are up by about a billion dollars since the last lockout, and that is through a crippling recession, higher unemployment and questionable economic footing in many of the NHL’s markets. Revenues are way up, and they got pretty much everything that they asked for. Now they want more. Why?
The reason is simple. Gary Bettman simply cannot be in a position of power without squeezing Every. Last. Penny. out of the situation. Read this- http://deadspin.com/5899459/stay-sober-around-gary-bettman?tag=gary-bettman if you don’t believe me. That’s it. Greed in its purest form. I can, so I will.
You could make a case that Bettman is just doing his job, trying to maximize the margins for the owners that employ him, but that isn’t a fair characterization. The NHL isn’t simply a business. It is an organization that has a moral obligation to the resot of the hockey world. It should be, anyways. It is the keeper of Hockey with a capital H. It gives out the Stanley Cup, and has a responsibility to look out for a game that millions care deeply about. Right now, though, it has a leader that doesn’t understand that. Gary Bettman sees the players as a commodity that he wants to buy, but only at the right price.
He sees the fans as no object at all.
I don’t know if fans complaining, spreading emotional videos like the one at the top of this column or ‘uniting’ can do anything to protect this. Social media has certainly allowed the players to win the battle for hearts and minds, and to let the world know how one sided the ‘negotiations’ are, but at the end of the day, no one with the ability to do anything seems to care about the hearts and minds, or anything other than the wallets of the fans. I hope I’m wrong. I hope that PR and public pressure can stop the lockout.
Really, though I have given up on the beginning of the 2012-2013 season. I just hope that after we lose the sport we love for a while we can send that scumbag back to the NBA where he belongs.