Friday, August 31, 2012

Hockey Who?

The last time there was a work stoppage and Gary Bettman cancelled the NHL season I had been married just over three years, had a one year old daughter, was 37 years old, was just starting my career with Capsule Music, had never heard of blogs and had a dog named Ben who was a healthy lad of seven.

Eight years later, well the math is pretty simple, I'll let you do that. As for the rest I've three kids now, the youngest is starting school in six days. Even with my very infrequent posting this will be my 924th post on this website. And poor old Ben has been gone over two years now.

When the first lockout happened we had been waiting for it for years. 'Armageddon' it was called long before it came and while a true reckoning would have resulted in a half dozen franchises down the tubes along with the jobs that came with them there was still a lost season, the Stanley Cup uncontested, millions and millions of dollars lost by owners and players.

I believed at the time that it was the right thing to do, that some sort of cost certainty had to come into the game and I still believe this to be true. While the English Premier League may be wonderful entertainment (and I believe it is) the truth is that we already know the top four at year's end, give or take one and the one that misses out will probably be fifth. Smaller clubs may have a year of brilliance but invariably they are squashed by the economics of the game and so it was that even when fans pointed to Tampa/Calgary as an example of how poorer clubs/clubs on a budget could succeed, the reality is that in the nine years previous four teams had won the Cup and, even more telling, the list of teams that were truly competing for the Cup were, well, those four and a couple of others.

That was what the league had become.

Now here we are years later and suddenly we are staring into the abyss again. Why? Revenues have grown like wildfire but the problem is that there are about a dozen teams carrying the water, if that, so as the cap has gone up, so has the floor. The owners' grand southern experiment, an expansion fee cash grab and reach for the Holy Grail of US TV dough, going on since 1967, has been a massive failure and you could probably fold a half dozen franchises with very little fanfare other than the protests of their core fans.

You could cut the cap in half and there would still be teams losing money. Think about that. So while Bettman may talk about financial viability for the weak sisters being a cause here (and I don't think he really has honestly) these teams would only be saved by a return to the indentured servitude of the post World War II era when players, most of whom grew up in the Depression and the butchery of a global conflict, were literally happy to have jobs. Pretty hard to complain about your lot when you grew up with nothing and a half dozen older boys on your street never came back from Europe.

So its about the owners getting more money, nothing more, and while you still have a handful of the 'I would play for free' gang grumbling (sure you would dummies), it appears that the majority of fans and media, except for the most ardent spear carriers for the owners or those who really love the whip of authority on their asses, can see what's going on here. The players make a ton of money, sure. My wife works with kids with cancer for crying out loud, I can see that the whole thing is crazy, but hockey is a billion dollar business and the guys who play the game are the guys who generate that revenue. There are 690 of them who have jobs and probably two thirds of those, if that, have jobs that are relatively secure. So yeah, they deserve to get paid a lot.

The owners should expect to make a profit too, at least the ones where people actually come out to watch hockey and pay for it, don't get me wrong. No way the players should take home the whole pie. But this, folks, is a cash grab plain and simple.

What can be done? Well I was kicking around ideas on a patio last Friday. If you could get the politicians to say that with no agreement the writeoff loopholes would get closed off I think you might get some owners' attention. Or if the players could come together and create a challenge tourney for the Cup, Canada wide, similar to the FA Cup so you would have teams at all levels of the game playing off, well that would be something. Problem is if there was a settlement they'd have to carry it through right to the bitter end. Wouldn't happen, same as the politicians. Fantasy.

The only possibility is that this time when its all over the fans don't go back so that six or seven years down the road this doesn't happen again, so that Bettman sees that 'the greatest fans in the world' won't stand for his contempt anymore.

But do you think that will happen?

Here's the thing though. I don't care. Maybe its the fact that the Oilers have been so awful for so long. Maybe its because Bettman is such a dick. Maybe its because there are too many teams and the hockey is watered down and the league is bush, always has been.

Or maybe its because the reality is that its a game. Its entertainment. A hobby. A way to waste time. And the reality is its not that big a deal if they don't play this year.

My son is almost seven and in a few weeks he will start hockey for the first time. We got him his gear last weekend and came home and he tried it on and he was so proud and so excited and he is going to hopefully love the game like I do. The real game. Not the NHL game.

This week I got on the ice myself three times. Playoff game on Monday (we got killed) and then shinny at the 'new' Maple Leaf Gardens Tuesday and Thursday. Hockey with old friends and new. A lot of laughs and some good healthy competition and I scored one on a tap in from inches out and scored another on a clean cut breakaway, high over his glove (I never score that way) and while last night my hip hurt (occasionally does) and my knees hurt (quite often they do) and my ANKLES AND FEET HURT (what the fuck is happening to me!!??) it was all worth it. Winter hockey starts in a few weeks for us and I will play shinny every Wednesday like I did last winter and hopefully the boy and I will go for a spin now and then as well. Hockey. Love it.

What else? Well the boy and I are going to help my old man close our camp down again this fall. We have a wedding in September and Jenn's birthday is coming up so we'll go for dinner and maybe overnight for that. We have friends and family coming to visit in the fall and we have our own busy lives to live, good food and drink and the sex as well. Books to read. Music. You know, living.

So I'm thinking that yeah I'll be ok. And whenever the players end up caving in this time then yeah I'll turn the TV back on and catch the games when they start again.

But I won't miss them when they're gone. And neither should you.


kanadienkyle said...

You know, other than the fact that I will miss the Oilers and the drama they cause in my life and watching Wild fans realize they are not Cup contenders, I am not all that worried about not having the NHL.

If I am of this mindset, Bettman should be very worried.

Bar Qu said...

It really is a getting older thing isn't it? Last time I was really worried. Now? I am not even concerned. I will take the boys to some WHL games, I will watch something else on TV or nothing at all. And I won't miss a beat.

At this point my boys are more jacked about Olympic sports than they are about hockey, which is something the NHL should be concerned about. Canadian kids are getting more exposed to more sports and I don't know if the NHL will be able to draw as heavily on Canada in 20 yrs as it has (but I could be way off base too).

Black Dog said...

Kyle and Bar Qu - I think as older guys, I mean we're not ancient but we're not 21 either, as a general rule you start caring less and less about pro sports so when someting like this happens then our interest, already slipping slips some more

The thing is there is always a new raft of fans coming behind us, I guess the NHL figures they will just keep on from there but if you're right Bar Qu, and you may be, then some day the golden goose will be gone.

Now the thing I don't understand is why the NHL seems willing to lose fans like us. I'm not rich but I have disposable income, certainly a lot more than a 19 or 20 year old. If I was the NHL I would want to keep guys like me in the fold.

Bruce said...

If you were the NHL the league would have a @#$%^ brain, and things would be Very different.

Anonymous said...

In any workplace in the world employees do not make more than the owners. This is not a NON profit organization. Were the owners dumb to pay 57% prior, heck yes they were. From their perspective i would not pay more than 49%. Sure you might lose a year but you would save that back pretty quickly.

Anonymous said...

Hey Pat did you know that TSN is showing the 1987 canada cup final next week? Forget NHL hockey, I am sooo excited to see and tape these games. I've always thought game 2 was the greatest game I've ever seen.

Anonymous said...

I used to think it was insane when my dad would say he quit watching when Gretzky was sold to LA, but now that I am older I can see why issues like this can make you turn away.

Black Dog said...

Are all 3 anons the same?

Anon 1 - yes but sports is not regular business, players are employees and product. 50/50 I think is reasonable but on caveat that all revenues are HRR

Anon 2 - I just got the DVD set and will be watching it soon

Anon 3 - yeah as you get older and busier it becomes less important, I don't think I'd ever stop watching hockey but I used to watch a lot of baseball and NFL too

And Bruce lol that's a good one.

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