I’ve refrained from making any sort of posts about the impending NHL lockout, partly because I remained optimistic, but also because I think everyone’s tired of hearing about millionaires squabble over millions. If you want a more detailed breakdown, James Mirtle has done what I think is the most comprehensive piece so far.
The question I have for everyone is this: what’s wrong with a 50/50 split? Both sides need to swallow some pride, especially the owners, who often have other financial ventures outside of hockey. The NHL claims that half of their teams are losing money, and while I don’t dispute that, how much of that is a result of unprecedented expansion in the 90s and 2000s? California, Atlanta and Florida may have big TV markets, but for Gary Bettman to think that the NHL can simply place franchises there and expect to have a built-in TV audience was a poor gamble.
Over the past three days, despite the midnight deadline, the NHL has yet to show a willingness and urgency to get the game back on the ice. Bettman needs to stop pretending he cares about the game.
Sidenote: one of the most cringe-worthy moments in hockey is when Bettman takes the mic and makes his little speech, amidst a chorus of boos and jeers, before handing the Stanley Cup to the winning team’s captain. (I’ll also never forgive Bettman for not honouring the Avs’ request that the 2001 Cup be handed to Ray Bourque first, not Sakic, who had already won in 1996). I worked at the Hockey Hall of Fame this summer and saw the real Cup. We had two rules you never break: One, always wear white gloves; two, you never lift it over your head. The only people who were exempt from those two rules? The players themselves. That Gary Bettman, with his bare hands, is the first to touch the Stanley Cup makes me gag.
In The Dark Knight Rises (NB: worst of the trilogy), one of the subplots had Gotham City’s politicians attempting to dump Commissioner Gordon because he wasn’t a “peace time” kind of cop. It’s the same with Gary Bettman. He learned from David Stern, grew the NHL into a truly global brand and exposed the game to non-traditional hockey areas.
There’s no doubt Bettman gave a lot to the game. Under his guidance the NHL is now a billion-dollar enterprise with record-breaking revenues. But he’s not the right guy anymore. The NHL needs a commissioner who truly loves the game, one who won’t stand to see this beautiful game locked out three times since 1994.
But now that we are headed to a lockout, what can we expect? Here’s a couple things to keep in mind.
1. Unlike the previous lockout, the players have been very, very vocal about how disappointed they are with Bettman’s antics. How this plays out in the future will be interesting to see. In my experience, if you don’t respect those with authority, there’s room for dissent. The seeds have already been planted, let’s see if they grow. Keep in mind, though, Bettman was hired by some of the most powerful and richest owners in the NHL, including Snider and Jeremy Jacobs.
2. The NHL saw a resurgence after the lockout because of the amount of hype that it received. The two No. 1 picks in two of the deepest drafts in recent memory, Crosby and Ovechkin, would go head-to-head in just about everything, from scoring and trophy races to nasty playoff battles. The first year of CBA hockey introduced us to a vastly superior game with a crop of incredible rookies. Ask Upper Deck – the arrival of both Crosby and Ovechkin at the same time single-handedly saved the trading card industry. The NHL won’t have this kind of advantage if the entire year is cancelled. Huberdeau vs. Granlund just doesn’t have the same kind of profile.
That’s not mentioning the fact that the AHL is one of the beneficiaries of an NHL lockout. The Oilers have sent their young stars, including Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, to the AHL. They’ll get more seasoning there and return to the NHL as better players. I have little doubts about that. If, however, sometime down the road, the Oilers are lauded for the development of their young stars, I’m going to point out it was all blind luck.
3. If it were up to me, I’d contract the league to 28 teams. Once Shane Doan retires (what a ridiculously expensive extension, the Canucks dodged a bullet with this one), the Coyotes are gone. I’d seriously evaluate the viability of having two teams in Florida and three teams in California. I’d much prefer to send them to Seattle (my reservations aside, although the new rink will now be in Downtown Seattle, not Bellevue) or Quebec City, one of the few cities I think deserves a franchise, and more importantly, is able and willing to support it.
4. One of the most overlooked aspects of this lockout is that it affects more than just players, coaches, general managers and owners. Pierre LeBrun has a laundry list of things on how the lockout can affect players. But there are many others who don’t work directly in the world of hockey, such as the seasonal workers at arenas, who need to support their families. Referees, rink officials and other support staff will have to find other ways to make money.
5. I’m bitter, but I know that when hockey comes back, I’ll be among the first to pick up tickets and sign up for NHL GameCenter. There’s enough lifelong hockey fans to keep the NHL’s chequebooks nice and fat, but the casual fans the NHL worked so hard to attract won’t care nearly as much. All the positive attention the NHL received from the 2010 Olympics and the past few Stanley Cup Finals which have featured historic teams… all just evaporated.
6. I also wonder what the arguments are against keeping the salary cap at one number for the entire duration of the next CBA. This prevents poor teams from complaining that they’re having trouble reaching the cap floor, rich teams from handing out bigger and bigger salaries and also gets rid of any speculation and uncertainty over how much the cap will rise from year to year. A hard $65 million cap for the next ten years. Easy to plan for, easy to manage. If NHL revenues continue to grow and owners can’t spend more than $65 million a year on their rosters, that’s more money in their pocket, isn’t it?
I’m still hopeful. I hope we’ll have hockey by November. Fingers crossed.