It is just over a month away now. Devastation, the likes of which we have never seen before or since. A cataclysmic event that will destroy life on this little planet of ours once and for all. Armageddon, Ragnarok, or the End of Days, call it whatever you wish but the day of reckoning is soon at hand. On December 21st, 2012 it will all be over according to those who believe in a Mayan Prophecy based on its long count calendar. Maybe this picture of New Jersey Devils fans and New York Rangers fans uniting together on an issue is one of the signs of the coming Apocalypse. It sort of reminds me of a line from the movie Ghostbusters where Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) says, "Its cats and dogs, living together, MASS HYSTERIA!" No, I am not going to ask you to repent, or to spend all of your money or to construct a bunker or anything like that. In fact, I don't believe in any of those prophecies. Most of all, even if it does come true its not worth worrying about; if its all going to end its not going to matter one bit what I do in the meantime. In many ways, these prophecies; especially if they do not come true are a lot like the NHL lockout. While for some its profoundly disappointing, and if you're an employee who now just lost their job because billionaires couldn't agree with millionaires to go to work so they can both make money then you might say its causing them some very real heartbreak. But for most of us, its a minor disappointment. Its something where you shake your head at the thought of it but move on with your life and in many cases you (gasp) find your hockey fix elsewhere. So what do NHL fans really think of the lockout thus far, who is to blame, and whether they believe we'll be able to save a partial 2012-13 season?
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I am not sure if its more torturous to have the NHL lockout or go to a Pittsburgh Pirates game (I'm kidding of course, seriously, I am)
This is where we (the State of Hockey News) come in. We want to serve as a sounding board for the fans. The 'other' less talked about group in this lockout fiasco. Like you (hockey fans) out there, I am one as well. I have my feelings about it but what do you think? I asked a series of questions to a bunch of NHL fans that I know from the wild.com and Hockey's Future message boards to get their views on the lockout. Their responses truly do say it all (literally and figuratively), but do they match your views?
4 fans answered the call for questions; 3 wild.com regulars in KISSArmyman, Fargokman and 54Fightin' while HFboards leader Gopher State chimed in on just the 1st question of the survey. I would like to thank all of them for contributing as they did. I asked each of them 6 questions about what they've been doing during the lockout and whether they felt we'd have a 2012-13 season or not. Here are their responses, enjoy!
1. With the NHL lockout in full effect, what have you done with your spare time that you normally would've spent watching NHL hockey?
54Fightin': I'm following football more this year than last. The biggest switch is watching Gophers' hockey.
Fargokman: It's very rare I ever have "spare" time. Not having NHL hockey just means I have more time for other things. There is no direct trade off. I have to make time for NHL hockey, to specifically plan my schedule to watch games. If there are no games I don't make those plans and the vacuum is quickly filled by other things. For example, the weekends we'd spend going on road trips to see games live will easily be filled by road trips ice fishing or to watch North Dakota hockey or simply saying home for a change. Another example - the wife and I like to go out to sports bars and watch Wild hockey. We'll still go out, Wild hockey just won't be the centerpiece or part of the event anymore. One specific time filler will be Fargo Force USHL hockey, though. And there's always NFL and college football on Sat, Sun, Mon, and Thursdays.
KISSArmyMan: I've been watching old episodes of The Rockford Files, Star Trek (Original Series), Hawaii Five-O and other classic shows. Spent some time at Forest Lake High School football games (oldest is on the freshman team), helped my kids with their homework, stuff like that. Reading lots of classic literature (Catch-22, Ulysses, Grapes of Wrath, etc). I really haven't missed the NHL.
Gopher State: I've spent the time covering and writing about college hockey while also going to more Elite League games - but that's it. I made the decision to not write about the Lockout or CBA negotiations until it's over. Have no interest in getting my hopes up and dashed 10 times and when they come back, I'll be back. I guess that's an answer on its own.
2. Who are the biggest losers of this lockout? The players? The owners? The fans? The game? Or is it something else?
54Fightin': Fans are #1, the game #2. I believe that this has tarnished the game by this being the 3rd lockout in whatever (19) years and it seems like someone is always not happy with the other side. Make this deal long term or fans will see right through the CBA. In my opinion as far as the players and owners are concerned, they are in the same boat. They need to understand that they are fighting over money the fans have spent to see them and support them. Without our money there is no game or lockout! To those who say without the players or owners there is no game is hogwash. It's us the fans who spend the money on tickets, hats, jerseys, etc. They make their money off of us, the fans!
Fargokman: The biggest losers are the NHL players. I am NOT saying that they don't have very legitimate complaints, and the way this has been handled by the NHL has been atrocious and outrageous, but the bottom line is they are losing hugely. No matter how it is eventually resolved, they'll never regain what they're losing. The owners are also losing, but they are much more able to sustain loss than the vast majority of individual players. The fans are being disappointed, but actually retaining money. What are fans truly losing? Simply the enjoyment of NHL hockey. That isn't like losing your job and paycheck and huge amounts of money, like the players and owners, it's simply losing a small luxury or hobby. And the fans are the ones saving that $3.3 billion in revenue. Its kind of abstract to talk about "the game" like it's a person, so I don't really consider that. Will the NHL as a business lose a lot of money? No doubt. I suspect the fans will not flock back as quickly and in the numbers they did after the last lockout. The NHL is a fringe sport, now it will be even more marginalized and ridiculed so in that way, the game is also a big loser. But in my opinion the true biggest losers are all the real people who are losing full time and part time jobs because of the obstinance and greed of the owners and players.
KISSArmyMan: The biggest losers are the fans. And not because they are missing their game, because there is plenty of hockey out there if you look for it. They're losers because they will race each other back to the ticket office the minute an agreement is announced, pay exorbitant prices for nosebleed seats and concessions and then complain about how the owners are screwing the fans. If fans want to truly send a message to the owners and the players, stop buying tickets. Stop buying merchandise. But they won't. They'll point fingers at the "greedy" players, blaming them for not just taking the owners offer in order to get back on the ice and entertain them.
3. Wild defenseman Ryan Suter recently made comments saying he questioned whether NHL ownership bargained in good faith and after those comments were made public he backpeddled and said he did not doubt whether Wild owner Craig Leipold bargained in good faith. Where do you think the truth was in his statement and other similar rants about league ownership by players with long-term deals. Do you think the owners bargained in good faith or is Ryan Suter right?
54Fightin': Hard answers here, I would like to think that Craig Leipold did this in good faith, but if you look at it from the outside it kind looks bad. Ryan's (Suter) right to the fact of he and Zach were signed to the contract they should honor the said contract.
Fargokman: Suter was just expressing his dissatisfaction with an insane circumstance. He's retracted those statements. Leipold was simply working within the framework at the time. No one knows how this is all going to work out, I don't think there was anything dishonest or dishonorable about the Parise, Suter negotiations. No matter how it comes out, they've got insanely good deals. I totally reject super slime agent Walsh's conspiracy theory about the way ownership has a specific plan they've followed step by step. If a more reasonable man had been in charge, a deal easily could have been made based on the owner's last proposal. Instead of muddying the waters and refusing to negotiate by throw three "proposals" on the table that were obvious non-starters, a deal based on the owner's proposal could have been forged.
KISSArmyMan: I think there is a grain of truth to what Suter said. Leipold is on the bargaining committee of the NHL, so I highly doubt it was a surprise to him when Bettman announced an initial CBA that included significant salary rollbacks. It may have given Leipold a bargaining advantage over other owners with both Parise and Suter if he could bank on a 20% reduction in their salary that many other owners may not have been privy to. A little like insider trading. People will initially speak from their heart about what they are passionate about, and then backpedal when someone calls them out or they've had time to think about what they've said. Much like many of the gaffes documented in this year's presidential election. So yeah, I think Suter believes that Leipold knew he wouldn't have to pay Suter a decent chunk of his contract, but then backpedaled when either he realized or someone told him his comments wouldn't help the negotiation process.
Are NHL Fans blaming Bettman, or Fehr or someone else for the current lockout?
4. Is NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman really to blame for the lockouts of 1994, 2004 and now 2012? Or is he just an easy scapegoat since he really couldn't do anything unless NHL ownership was ready to support him. Does NHLPA leadership of Bob Goodenow and now Donald Fehr share any level of responsibility for this dysfunctional history between the two groups? If so, how much blame does each party shoulder in this mess? If not, why are they blameless?
54Fightin': I blame him for not making the CBA's longer in term. Also, for not trying a year in advance to get the ball rolling. Donald Fehr, I think he's in this for the win, and I mean a total win. I don't see any give on his (NHLPA) side. That they want it all with no compromise, make side a little with the owners. I blame Fehr for 85% of this mess.
Fargokman: Bettman is hugely to blame. I don't buy the apologist argument that he's just doing what the owners want. He's in a Leadership position with a huge ability to influence the owners one way or the other. But in this specific case he's matched by a guy who apparently doesn't care what happens to the guys he's supposed to be representing. Both Fehr and Bettman are equally to blame for this ugly mess. I do believe that it's an ego war between two amoral egomaniacs, where "winning" is the ultimate goal, no matter what the cost to the fans, ownership, non-player employees, the fans or even the sport itself.
KISSArmyMan: Is Gary Bettman really to blame for the lockouts of 1994, 2004 and now 2012? Or is he just an easy scapegoat since he really couldn't do anything unless NHL ownership was ready to support him. Does NHLPA leadership of Bob Goodenow and now Donald Fehr share any level of responsibility for this dysfunctional history between the two groups? If so, how much blame does each party shoulder in this mess? If not, why are they blameless? Initially I think that both sides were to blame for the lockouts but after Bettman forced out Goodenow after the 2004 Lockout, I believe that emboldened some of the owners to really try and break the NHLPA (like the NFL did to the NFLPA several years ago) in the next negotiation (especially with leadership in disarray after the Ted Saskin debacle). I believe that was the intent all along of a good chunk of the ownership. Otherwise why not let the owners comment on the negotiations, like the players are? Because it will come out that the endgame isn't to fix the broken financial system of the NHL, it's to break the NHLPA. The financial system of the CBA worked just fine until some of the owners started thinking they were the smartest guy in the room and cooked up these long term deals to circumvent the salary cap (that they wanted in the first place).
5. What changes do you think have to happen in the CBA to truly fix the problems on the business end of the game? Will they ever be able to create a CBA that truly prevents the owners from hurting themselves with bad deals?
54Fightin': If the lose the whole season, the CBA will look totally different. To fix it now, 50/50 split on revenues, honor the contracts and keep the salary cap. After that they need to look at the teams in low markets and transfer to larger markets if they want growth in the league. In my opinion, that's one way to help the owners in protecting themselves and the game.
Fargokman: No CBA will ever be perfect, there will always be less than optimal provisions. But there is a great deal of room for improvement over the very poorly constructed last CBA. A new, better CBA will improve the overall business, but there will always be incompetently run organizations that hurt the NHL as a whole. The first, obvious step is to get player payroll expenses in line. That can be accomplished by getting player payroll to 50-50 of HRR. A second step is limits on contract length. That's a negotiable number, but in my opinion it should be no more than 7 years, 5 would be better. Another change would be in a more robust profit sharing plan for the small and mid-market teams. Leave things like arbitration and enry level contracts alone, they're important but not critical. In my opinion it will be very difficult to prevent certain owners from finding loopholes that allow them a short term competitive advantage but hurt themselves and the sport in the long run. Bottom line - no perfect fix out there, but there are opportunities to improve.
KISSArmyMan: Ideally, I would love to see a the free market system like MLB, but in a league that mirrors the one that is in place in European Football. All the teams in one league (no conferences), and the bottom three teams get sent to a lower division (top three teams in the lower division get promoted). That would be the punishment for making bad business deals. Loss of revenue by being relegated. If you are smart and spend within your means and make good player evaluations, you can compete. If you are stupid, the free market devours you That should really appeal to all the hardline capitalists on the WMB. But I digress. The NHL owners want their cake and eat it too. They want to throw money at the players to buy the best team, but then want a "Do Over" card if the player doesn't perform the way they think they should. The only way to save the owners from themselves is to put limits on the contracts, both financial and length. But the players want the security of long term contracts. And they want the market to dictate what they earn. So they're going to have to compromise (sorry for using that curse word). Maybe they need to go the route of the NFL, no guaranteed contracts, but the only limit is on the amount of money a team spends on a team salary cap. As a concession to the NHLPA, add in ALL revenue related to hockey to make the pot bigger, including expansion/relocation fees, interest from loans or other financial transactions and interest income. Bettman wants a 50/50 split, but wants to limit what is split, unlike the NFL and NBA.
6. Do you think they will get a deal done to save the 2012-13 season or is it past the point of no return?
54Fightin': We're close to the point of no return and a major blow to the game. Getting the fans and sponsors back after this short time will be hard enough. If the lose the whole season it will take years, yea, years to get the growth they are thinking and arguing over. That's my opinion.
Fargokman: I don't think a deal will get done, in my opinion it's highly probable the season will be cancelled.
KISSArmyMan: Once the Winter Classic is scrapped, the season is lost. That is a BIG moneymaker for the owners, and if the NHLPA causes them to lose out on that golden goose, they'll be looking for revenge. The biggest revenge they have for the players is to cancel the season. The players have few outside revenue streams other than their savings and investments, but the owners can still hold concerts, rodeos, meets, etc. in their arenas to generate revenue. Plus the revenue streams that aren't part of the Hockey Related Revenue definition.