Now that the National Hockey League's lockout 2012 has officially commenced, the battle to sway the opinion of NHL fans is under way in earnest.
The PR machines are churning away for the owners and NHLPA, and it seems more of a priority that they somehow garner public sentiment rather than have any real negotiations to end this spiraling mess. Amid complex issues, both sides subscribe to the belief that their position is the one that matters most.
In the days leading up the the lockout ...
-- We've learned from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman that the cost of massage therapy for players and fuel to transport the clubs has sky-rocketed.
-- Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly released a statement Saturday that the league really doesn't want a lockout, that it's instead the players' greed that has forced their hands to initiate the work stoppage.
-- The NHLPA released a video early Sunday morning that spliced highlights of game action with interviews from such recognizable faces as Sidney Crosby and David Backes. Highlighted several times was the fact the players love their fans, and their desire to keep playing while attempting to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement was the choice the league wouldn't even consider accepting.
-- The NHL, in turn, released a statement shortly thereafter that the shutdown was a necessary mechanism for the good of the game, as well as the good of their most important consideration -- the fans.
These not so subtle efforts were transparent in painting themselves as the true victims of the situation, the ones that would love to continue providing the highest level of hockey for fans, were it not for the terrible monsters on the other side of the negotiating table.
Those interested in the talks were alerted to the fact the league told the players' union they wouldn't be engaging in any further negotiations unless they first agreed to a large-scale pay cut.
Fans hoped for the best while preparing themselves for the worst, especially considering how the owners appeared to be giving an ultimatum rather than participating in actual negotiations.
The word that everyone expected came at midnight -- the players were indeed locked out, and those whom Bettman casually refers to as the "greatest fans on earth" (when convenient) would be deprived of the game they love for a second time in just eight years.
The only professional sports league to lose an entire season is again walking the high wire of labor discord.
Bettman has mentioned may times in recent weeks that he fully expects the fans to return as if nothing happened after the CBA saga runs its eventual course, because they've done it now twice before. He takes it for granted, and that's because the facts are there to support his way of thinking.
One thing is for certain -- despite the knowledge that these are the best players on the planet, the owners once again hold all the cards in this latest dispute.
Owners claim they are hemorrhaging money from the majority of their franchises -- some suggesting as many as 18 -- all the while reporting record growth and revenues. We all know how creative accountants and those in the financial sector can be to make numbers prove any point they are tasked with, and it would seem almost ridiculous to suggest there are more than just a few of the smaller market teams that are not actually turning a profit with the revenues being generated.
Would You Like This Option At Your Place of Employment?
I often refer to my boss as the 'King of Analogies', and it might be best to illustrate a point about what NHL owners are doing to the players by using one of my own.
How would you feel if your boss came to you every several years and told you that your company had to take back between 17 percent to 25 percent of your pay -- despite the company reporting record profits -- just because a couple of departments aren't as profitable as they'd like? They feel you are being paid too much, and the way for them to improve their financials was to decrease your pay significantly.
If we're being perfectly honest it's hard to imagine anyone saying they would be alright with that scenario, but that's exactly the circumstances NHL players have experienced. It's just plain wrong, whether you are of the opinion they're making too much money or not.
After taking the 24 percent rollback in salaries and basically giving Bettman and the owners everything they demanded following the lost 2004/05 season -- including accepting a hard salary cap, something they had vehemently fought against before eventually relenting -- Bettman and those he represents are now asking for further concessions.
Well, more like demanding further concessions.
How much is enough when it comes to the NHL owners? It seems there is no limit to what they want to take away from the players. With all the leverage on their side once again, it would appear they will get whatever they want again in this latest money grab.
Bettman's Place Upon Eventual Agreement
Thursday brought word that owners had 'unanimously' voted to give Bettman the authority to enact a lockout if an agreement wasn't hammered out by midnight on Sept. 15.
Having every one of his demands met just eight short years ago -- and hearing Bettman say how he had all of the tools necessary to make a partnership with the players work and for the league to be profitable, only to now say that 18 clubs are losing money -- perhaps it would be the best thing for the good of the game if the owners had made a unanimous decision to instead find a new leader.
It seems logical that after a trilogy of work stoppages over the past 18 seasons -- and being the one and only Commissioner to ever see the league suffer that fate while on his watch -- the necessity for a new person to be appointed to the post after the current CBA is resolved is great.
Despite the growth seen during his tenure -- and his salary more than doubling since the last lockout to roughly $8 million -- the league's credibility, within the hockey community itself as well as non-hockey outlets, has taken a severe beating.
If you thought the rude welcome Bettman has received every time he's been thrust into the spotlight at Stanley Cup presentations and NHL Entry Drafts was bad before, just wait until the next time -- if he remains in his current position.
It's all about the PR, and it would seem an eventual change in the face of the NHL would be a refreshing start. It makes sense that move comes when things are back up and running again.
It's Your Move, NHLPA
Who knows when that will happen as it would seem after just one day, there is no end in sight. With the owners not wanting to meet until the players concede to a massive salary decrease, the next move would appear to be on the players end. Donald Fehr has a world of experience and a united NHLPA behind him. Fehr's proposals have been solid, but understandably do not include the salary cuts required by the owners.
If the players union does not relent, this could turn into another lengthy stoppage.
No Rival To Keep 'Em Honest
It's a shame at a time like this that a rival league such as the WHA doesn't exist. With the possibility that star players could become fed up with the NHL's continual mismanagement and increasingly frequent lockouts, it would likely give an added incentive for NHL ownership to negotiate in good faith -- something that is not happening at this time.
Fan Protest Targets Center Ice and Game Center Packages
In a recent SB Nation feature that saw hockey fans detail plans to boycott the NHL if they went ahead and locked out the players, the single biggest target of their planned protests were the league's lucrative Center Ice and Game Center packages. Each platform allows live access to every NHL game during the season and while fans said they would attend games upon the league's return, they did say that if any regular season games were lost to the lockout, they would retaliate by not purchasing the pricey packages.
It's important to remember that if you subscribed to these plans last year, your carrier -- whether it be Comcast, Verizon, DirecTV or any host of others -- will automatically renew the full-season unless you call and cancel.
Just something to think about while there's no training camp or pre-season hockey to occupy your time and money.