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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Game of Chicken....shit!

Opinion piece


The National Hockey League has been on strike/locked out for about nine weeks now. Do I care? Not really. I got bored and tired with hockey, (professional hockey) the game I grew up loving, long ago. If they don't settle and the season dies,  or they do settle and they salvage it, my life won't change either way. There was a time when I wouldn't have felt that way, but over time they have soured me and lost me. That is not the case for everyone, but more than there used to be.

What he doesn’t realize, is that hockey fans love hockey, not the NHL. They love the Stanley Cup, but it doesn’t belong to the league. They love pond hockey, which is why the league’s heart-string twanging nostalgic playoff commercials are so widely beloved. There is no loyalty to some “shield,” the way Roger Goodell refers to the NFL. There’s hockey, and goddamn is it a terrific game.
Even if the league does get it figured out and only a half-season is missed, I’ll call it now: the fans aren’t coming running back this time (unless it happens like, soon-soon). There’s only so many times you can abuse someone before they snap. Some people have shorter fuses than others, and I’ve talked to people who’ve gone from anger to apathy this time, which as Elliotte implies, should be petrifying for the NHL.

I received a lengthy email from my Dad this weekend (who as I may have mentioned, played some NHL hockey himself), who wrote about talking with people in his daily life who A) of course have no idea what the issues really are and don’t care to know, and B) who don’t give a shit. Actually, that’s basically a direct quote:
Like myself, most people don’t know or understand most of the issues but the real truth is, no one really gives a shit.
 And the men in charge seem so lost in their own private battle that they can’t see the forest for the trees, which makes it even scarier.

-from the above link

 At this point, I like to debate the issues that are brought up by this endless mess they seem to be in but otherwise I don't give a crap. I don't miss it anymore and unless I go looking in the news, I wouldn't even know they have settled it or not (to this point, when I read my news site,  it appears they are not even close to solving it). That is how sour I have been on it for about 15 years. I think, this time around,  many of the faithful who have stuck it out this long are starting to feel the way I already do. The goodwill that the NHL has relied on over the years has eroded considerably.

I still love to play hockey, and sometimes watch it. Last week I happened into a small community arena where some kids were playing and many parents were watching. That is still fun and what hockey is about. 
But what about pro hockey and the labor battles?
When we discuss the hockey labor stoppage, who are the two combatants?
On one side we have very rich men (the owners) who are used to getting their way in business by being bullies and deceptive as a rule and...
On the other side we have very rich men (athletes) who have always been catered to, treated as special and mostly have been filthy rich since the day they turned 18. 
This is who is negotiating with whom in this dispute over who is trying to take advantage of whom. Of course, with the average man on the street and hockey fan (otherwise known as the customer and the one who pays all the money they are arguing over) it seems totally ridiculous that very rich people argue over who should get richer. But the fact remains that both of them have rights and are entitled to fight for what is their legal right to do so. That is the democracy we live in. But just because you have the right to do something, doesn't mean it is in your best interest to do so.

As with all labor negotiations, there is an inherent distrust between ownership and labor. Because of that, there is a seemingly endless battle that becomes a pissing match almost every time. With hockey, that is no different. That degenerates into name calling and finger pointing and it gets very personal. And at that point, some even forget what they were originally fighting for.

 I can understand the frustration of the players not gettin’ a paycheque because I’m not gettin’ a paycheque. But if the players think they’re helping themselves by calling Bettman an idiot and sayin’ Bettman is a cancer. . . . First, you unfeelin’ jerks. How do you think the people with cancer feel? What is the point of stickin’ Bettman and the NHL? All you do is make them more determined. Because now, and I agree with Cory Schneider, it’s almost gettin’ personal. Because I don’t care who you are, nobody likes to be called a cancer or an idiot.

-Don Cherry

This is actually the fourth work stoppage and if history is any indication, it will be the longest. Each of the others went progressively longer. In 1992 it was 10 days, in 1994 it was 48 days and in 2005 the whole season was wiped out.
Lets take a brief historical tour to see just how bad it was when the trouble first started and why it spills over and is so bad now. I think it pretty much tells you why they go through the same process that ends up in a long work stoppage now.
It boils down to trust. Better stated, it boils down to a lack of trust on the players side and a power hungriness on the owner's side. Both sides have a very sharp dose of greed and lack of common sense. Whether the owners actually have legitimate concerns and points is not entirely relevant anymore. Their history shows a long standing will to control the players and break the union. Do the players really make so much money that they don't have any reason to complain? Maybe. That is not really for me or anyone else to say. They have the right to demand to be paid whatever they think is fair, and if they don't get it withhold their services. I really take no sides on this either way, other than to make the point that I will at the end of the blog. The fans just want hockey, but they don't really matter in the grand scheme of things. In this chess match, they are not even on the level of pawns. They aren't in the game. In that way, they have been excluded completely. A very dangerous tactic to take from both sides when that is who actually generates the income they are fighting over.

 The History

In the late 1940's the Professional hockey players were basically slaves and had no say as to where they played, any ability to make a fair salary and any future once their hockey careers were over. A player named Ted Lindsay tried to change that. 

Ted Lindsay was a very tough player in an extremely rough era in the NHL. He has the scars and face to prove that.

Lindsay, a star player on the Detroit Red Wings, which was one of six teams that comprised the NHL up to 1967, attended the annual pension plan meeting in 1950 as the representative of the Red Wings players, where he found that the plan was kept secret. Later that year when he attended a promotion with football and baseball players, he found out that conditions in the other sports' pro leagues were much better. He was introduced to the lawyers for the players of the other leagues and became convinced that only through an association could the players' conditions be improved. To that point, hockey players had no union at all. They were at the mercy of the owners whims and were treated as such. If a player got out of line,  no matter how good he was, he was punished. Many players were sent to the minors, never to return. The owners had complete control of all the variables. The players knew that. They were made to be very aware of it at all times.

At a time when teams literally owned their players for their entire careers, the players began demanding such basics as a minimum salary and a properly funded pension plan. While team owners were getting rich with sold out arenas game after game, players were earning a pittance and many needed summer jobs to make a living. Almost all of these men had no more than a high school education and had been playing hockey as a profession all their working life. Superstars in the 1950s earned less than $25,000 a year and when their playing days were over, they had nothing to fall back on and had to accept whatever work they could get in order to survive.

Lindsay and star defenceman Doug Harvey of the Montreal Canadiens led a small group in an effort to organize the first National Hockey League Players' Association. In secret, all of the players at the time were contacted and asked for their support to form an "association", not a "union", which was considered going too far. Support was nearly unanimous.

Lindsay worked doggedly for the cause and many fellow players who supported the association were benched or sent to obscurity in the minor leagues. He and Harvey then became convinced that only a union could win the demands, and set up a schedule to get players' support on record to be certified as a union. In a defiant gesture, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings were targeted for certification votes. While Montreal's ownership was not opposing a union, Toronto's Conn Smythe was adamantly against it. In the United States, the four teams were controlled or under obligations to the Norris syndicate. Despite Smythe's efforts, the Toronto Maple Leafs players unanimously voted to organize. Next was the turn of Detroit to organize, and the Norrises would fight back.

Lindsay, one of the league's top players, was first stripped of his captaincy, then was traded to the Chicago Black Hawks. Jack Adams then planted rumours about Lindsay and false defamatory comments by him against his old team in the press, and showed a fake contract to the press, showing an inflated annual salary. The ruse worked and the Red Wings players rejected the union. Harvey suffered a similar fate, being traded from Montreal to the New York Rangers.

Lindsay initiated an anti-trust lawsuit against the league, alleging a monopoly since 1926. The players had a strong case, that could be easily proved with an exposure of the Norris syndicate's operations, and Frank Calder's efforts against the American Hockey Association (AHA) in 1926 and 1932, ironically involving James E. Norris on the AHA side. Also, the various Norris arenas were hiding revenues through ticket scalping and under-reporting arena capacities and actual ticket sales. Rather than face the lawsuit in court, the NHL, in an out-of-court settlement in February 1958, agreed to most of the players' demands, although the pension plan was not exposed until 1989, showing a surplus of $25 million. 

 -from Wikipedia 

 It was only because of the toughness and determination of Ted Lindsay that the players finally banded together. At that point the owners had all the power and had no qualms about using it. The owners broke the union by trading players involved with the organization or sending them to the minor leagues. If that didn't work, they simply spread lies about them. After an out-of-court settlement over several players' issues, the players disbanded the organization. This was also standard labor practice in the real world and in many cases it worked. Unions had not risen to the level of power they came to enjoy later.

The association formed again in 1967, when representatives of the six NHL teams met and elected Bob Pulford their first president and appointed Alan Eagleson as its executive director. Eagleson was a noted lawyer and player agent and the players felt that he would represent them better than just a player. In hindsight, while he did do that, Eagleson was a crook and that came back to haunt them in later years.

To prevent the new NHLPA from suffering the fate of its predecessor, Pulford met with the owners of the NHL teams and demanded they recognize the new union or the union would seek official recognition from Canadian Labour Relations Board. Additionally, the players sought guarantees that no member of the new union would be punished for being a member. The owners acceded. In return, the NHLPA agreed that it should represent at least two-thirds of the active players in the NHL and that the players would refrain from striking for the duration of the agreement, so long as the owners did not contravene any terms or conditions.

 -from Wikipedia

 At the same time,  the NHL expanded to 12 teams and it became much more difficult to control the players. While there was more opportunity and less overall control, the salary expectations were still not being met. The top end players were still not being paid what they perceived as their worth, and to that point there was no free agency. Their only option was simply to sit out and not play for their team, a team that controlled their interests, future and earning power. As demands for higher salaries came,  a new league was also born.

1972 was a very important year for professional hockey in many ways. Several events happened in a very short time to change the nature and direction of professional hockey.
The average NHL salary in 1972 was $25,000, the lowest of the four major sports, while players were bound by the reserve clause, a clause in every player's contract that automatically extended a player's contract by one year when it expired, tying them to their team for the life of their career. Basically, they were owned for life by the team they first signed with, and in many instances, those rights were determined even before they signed. They had no freedom to negotiate or gain employment the way that the rest of the free world did. That changed in late 1971.,&source=bl&ots=FLN4S5nghi&sig=2j88GMc8SegoRWtbjmOhikzUhDo&hl=en&sa=X&ei=xjN-ULXiDInj0gGbvICgCA&redir_esc=y 

"It brought major-league hockey to a series of new and sometimes improbable markets. It made rich men poor and poor hockey players rich....the rebels broke down the NHL's monopoly on hockey and liberated a generation of players who were chained to a brutal system"

-Ed Wiles in The Rebel League: The Short And Unruly Life of The World Hockey Association 

A new league, the WHA (World Hockey Association) was formed as a response to the monopoly that the NHL held. It was the first significant challenge to the league in almost 50 years and it did something that the union could never accomplish to that point: it gave players a choice and freedom to move they never could achieve previously.

What many don't remember is that the WHA started just a couple of weeks after the famous Summit Series, and those two events would have far reaching impact on the future of pro hockey.
While the Summit series in 1972 was one of the crowning moments  in top level hockey (being the first time the best of the Canadian game played the best of the Russian game),  it also pointed out the control and spite that the NHL owners had towards players that refused to be treated as slaves. Despite the union, the owners were still very determined to underpay the players what the actual market could bring.  In fact, they were guilty of collusion, although that charge was never brought.
One of the greatest players in NHL history, and the top player in the last few seasons at that point, Bobby Hull was one who wanted to be paid what he thought he was worth. Because of that,  he opted to join the WHA. And because of that, he was excluded from playing for Team Canada in 1972, as were other players.

Long unhappy because of his relatively poor salary in the period when he was hockey's preeminent superstar, Hull responded to overtures from the upstart World Hockey Association's Winnipeg Jets in 1972 by jesting that he'd jump to them for a million dollars, a sum then considered absurd. Gathering the other league owners together to contribute to the unprecedented amount on the grounds that inking such a major star gave instant credibility to the new rival league that was competing directly against the entrenched NHL, Jets' owner Ben Hatskin agreed to the sum, and signed Hull as a player/coach for a contract worth $1,000,000 over ten years.
Because he joined the rival league, Hull was not allowed to represent Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series.

-From Wikipedia

Harry Sinden was given the task of selecting Team Canada, which would be the first true "team" composed of NHL all-stars. When Sinden announced the list of 35 Canadian players on July 12, one of the conditions of playing was revealed; that players would have to have a signed NHL contract by August 13. His list of players included Bobby Hull, who by that time had already signed with the WHA. Three other players Sinden named: Gerry Cheevers, Derek Sanderson and J. C. Tremblay had not yet signed with the WHA, but would do so and become ineligible. 

 -From Wikipedia 

Once again, it was just another situation where the NHL owners took the opportunity to exert their immense power and attempt to control the players. Not only didn't it work, in many ways it backfired, as it drove even more players to the WHA.
The WHA was a joke league made up of a few former NHL superstars (Hull, Sanderson, Cheevers) and many more players were not even worthy minor league pro players. But if it did anything, it broke the monopoly that the NHL had. While NHL salaries never looked back from that point on, the ill will still remained and does to this day. 

"I don't mind being owned, for the money they are paying me."

-Derek Sanderson

The Philadelphia Blazers signed Derek Sanderson for $2.6 million, making him the highest-paid athlete in the world at the time.
Was Derek Sanderson worthy of that kind of pay? Certainly not, and of course it backfired on them.  Unfortunately, his play did not live up to the expectations of his salary, and between an early-season injury,  remarks to the press, and Blazer financial troubles, Sanderson's contract was bought out before the end of the season. Despite that, the league carried on, with Bobby Hull, legendary Gordie Howe, some foreign superstars who were ignored by the NHL to that point and a bunch of young up and coming players who decided from the get go that they had no interest in being controlled the NHL monopoly.  Most of them ended up on a team called the Birmingham Bulls.

 The Birmingham Bulls started out as the Toronto Toros. Despite the new leagues mandate to put teams in markets that were big enough but had been ignored to that point,  the WHA also tried to put teams in larger established markets, markets  that already had teams. Those markets included Chicago, New York,  Philadelphia,  Los Angeles and Toronto.

The Philadelphia Blazers, the team that signed Sanderson to that outrageous contract, only played one season there before moving to Vancouver, which also had an NHL team. After two seasons there, they moved to Calgary and then folded two years later.
 The Chicago Cougars were one of the original teams in the WHA and played three seasons there before they folded. They also had to play out of horrible, old, B list type arenas. Because Chicago had a long established NHL team, the Black Hawks, they were doomed to fail, and they did.
 The Los Angeles Aces played two seasons in Los Angeles before moving to Michigan and then mid season to Baltimore. Yes, in the WHA, teams moved in mid season. That is how Mickey Mouse this league was. Los Angeles already had one NHL team they could barely support, so the thought that a West Coast market could support two was ludicrous to start with.
The New York Raiders were also one of the original teams and lasted 3 years while shifting to New Jersey to play its games after season one then moving to San Diego for 3 more years.  Like most of the other teams in already established major markets,  their biggest problem was getting a major league arena to play in. The existing NHL owners were determined to make sure that would not be easy, if not impossible.
And finally, the league wanted a team in Toronto, the most successful franchise in terms of winning and profitability in the NHL. If they could compete there,  they could become established and legitimate. The Leafs owner, Harold Ballard, was going to make sure that did not happen. And he was successful. Unlike many other owners, he also owned the building,  Maple Leaf Gardens, that his team played. While he did let the Toros play in his building, he made it very difficult for them to succeed while doing so.
Although the Toronto Toros were intended to be one of the original teams for the 1972 start up of the WHA, Harold Ballard made it so difficult to place a team there that they played their first season in Ottawa as The Nationals.

 The franchise was awarded to Doug Michel in 1971 to play in the WHA's inaugural 1972–73 season. Initially, he had discussions with Harold Ballard, owner of Maple Leaf Gardens and the Toronto Maple Leafs, about locating the team in Toronto, but the talks did not get very far. He then tried to base the team in Hamilton, but the city did not have an appropriate venue. Michel settled on Ottawa and the team became the Ottawa Nationals.
 -from Wikipedia

 By 1973,  they moved back to Toronto, and because Harold Ballard was in jail for tax evasion, his son Bill was in charge and wanted the team to play in Maple Leaf Gardens, which they began to do. But not for the 1973-1974 season. They played one year at the Varsity Arena, which was not a major league facility. In the meantime, they began to sign young prospects and attempted to sign Maple Leafs young superstar Darryl Sittler, which they almost did. Clearly, they were the threat to the status quo that the other major market teams were not. Also, come 1974-1975, they got their wish and began to play at Maple Leaf Gardens.
By that time, Harold Ballard was out of jail and back in control of the team and the arena. In effect that meant the Toros were in for a long battle that they would eventually lose.  
  Ballard was a virulent opponent of the WHA; he never forgave the upstart league for nearly decimating the Leafs' roster in the early 1970s. He deliberately made the Toros' lease terms at the Gardens as onerous as possible. The Toros' lease with Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. called for them to pay $15,000 per game. However, much to Bassett's outrage, the arena was dim for the first game. It was then that Ballard demanded $3,500 for use of the lights. Ballard also denied the Toros access to the Leafs' locker room, forcing them to build their own at a cost of $55,000. He also removed the cushions from the home bench for Toros' games (he told an arena worker, "Let 'em buy their own cushions!"). It was obvious that Ballard was angered at the WHA being literally in his backyard, and took his frustration on the renegade league out on the Toros.

 -from Wikipedia

Despite all that, the team drew very well, 10,000 fans a game,  and signed two of the Leafs biggest stars, Frank Mahovolich, who had previously been the teams best player, and Paul Henderson, who scored the winning goal in the Summit Series just 3 years earlier. 
The pressure however, did not let up, and after one more year, the team was forced to move to Birmingham, Alabama and became the Bulls.
It was there that they made their biggest impact and eventually the dagger that forced the NHL to relent and start paying its top players more in line with the rest of the sports world. 
Future superstars like Rick Vaive, Craig Hartsburg, Pat Riggin, Rob Ramage, Michel Goulet and others were high draft picks that decided to take larger contracts with the Bulls. Others, such as Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier played on other teams in the league as 16 and 17  year olds. Because of this, the NHL was forced to start conceeding that they could not maintain the absolute control that they had for something like 60 years.
By this time, baseball and football had begun to give out high salary, long term contracts to its players, also in large part to litigation and rival leagues pushing them. Basketball had already been doing the same, and hockey was the last holdout.

The same year that the Bulls moved to Birmingham, the greatest player in the game, Bobby Orr was a free agent and wanted to be paid what he thought he was worth. His agent, Alan Eagleson, also the president of the players union, was going to make sure that happened. This, and the Bulls signing of a lot of the young talent at high end prices, was the watershed moment.  
In 1972, Bobby Orr had already signed the first million dollar contract in NHL history. Now he wanted more. However, by 1976 he was a broken down player on his very last legs. In spite of this, in fear of losing him to the WHA, they gave him a contract that he would never be able to live up to. He retired 3 years later having barely played 30 games in 3 seasons.

Because the WHA had Wayne Gretzky and many other stars,  but was quickly falling apart, both sides decided it was a good idea to merge. When that happened, the days of lower contracts were over and the battle was now for more of the piece of the pie, for which the owners now knew they could not stop the players from getting.
In this time, the biggest thing was players asking to renegotiate existing contracts, something they would not even have considered before the 1972 season. The players now had the balance of power, and the owners were set on making sure that now that the WHA was disposed of they were going to begin taking some of that back. In this way, an even bigger divide was developing, one that would lead to all the strikes that followed. 
While Wayne Gretzky came into the NHL in 1979 and became the biggest superstar the sport had even seen, the next big star had an even bigger impact. 

Mario Lemieux was "the next one" when he was drafted first overall in 1984 by the Pittsburgh Penguins, a franchise with a long and sad history of losing seasons since they joined the league in 1967.

                                                                                                      Even though the rival league was now dead, Lemieux and his agent knew that the Penguins would have to pay him. These were not the old days where the teams could simply wait you out. In the end, he got what he wanted. It was a moment that changed hockey, only to be repeated on an even larger scale about 7 years later.

 "He and his agent were deadlocked with the Penguins and could not negotiate a contract. Because of this, when the Penguins called his name as the first overall draft pick, he did not shake general manager Eddie Johnston's hand or don the Penguins jersey, as is NHL tradition. He claimed he was upset about the contract negotiation, and said that "Pittsburgh doesn't want [him] bad enough."

-From Wikipedia
The next great star to come along was Eric Lindros in 1991. Not only did he want to be paid like a superstar up front, as Mario Lemieux did,  but he also decided which teams he would not play for. One of those, the team that drafted him, was the Quebec Nordiques. Lindros had told them up front he would never play on their team, and he stood firm on that. Now the NHL lost another level of control. Eventually, Lindros got his way. By the time he joined the league however, once he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1992, the league was ready to start putting up a fight.

 "Lindros was selected first overall by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. Lindros had signaled in advance that he would never play for the Nordiques, citing distance, lack of marketing potential, and having to speak French; the team selected him anyway. The Nordiques president publicly announced that they would make Lindros the centrepiece of their franchise turnaround, and refused to trade Lindros, saying that he would not have a career in the NHL as long as he held out. Because of Lindros' popularity and hype, it is alleged that the NHL President intervened to get the Nordiques to trade him, as it would otherwise damage the image of the league."

-From Wikipedia

By this time, the honeymoon with Alan Eagleson was over and the players realized that he was actually working secretly with the owners behind their backs to line his own pockets. That only made them more defiant than they otherwise would have been.

Eagleson stayed on until the end of 1991, when the players replaced him with Bob Goodenow. Eagleson went on to face criminal charges relating to his conduct during the time he worked at the NHLPA, and ultimately, on January 6, 1998, pleaded guilty in a Boston court to three counts of fraud, agreeing also to pay a fine of CA$1,000,000. The following day in Toronto, Eagleson pleaded guilty to another three counts of fraud and was sentenced to 18 months in jail.
Bob Goodenow would seek to restore respect and honour to the Association during his successful 13 years of service to the players as Executive Director. He led all NHLPA members through the strike of 1992, which most notably gave players the rights to the marketing of their own images.
The 1992 NHL strike was the first strike action initiated by the National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) against the National Hockey League's (NHL) owners. It was called on April 1, 1992 and lasted ten days. The settlement saw the players earn a large increase in their playoff bonuses, increased control over the licensing of their likenesses and changes to the free agency system.

  -from Wikipedia

I remember very few things about that strike, but what I do remember is vivid and telling. I was living on my own, unemployed and struggling to make ends meet.  Not something I had ever experienced before. Having access to a weekly hockey game was a pleasure I still enjoyed. That was taken away mid season, and as a fan I never forgot that. My memory of the time is that the players were fingered as the cause of the problem and most fans were on the owners side.
The Eric Lindros saga seemed to be the last straw for both sides. Losing the power to control young players through the draft was a significant blow to the owners, since they had already given up a lot of control of player movement and salaries. For the players, the days of being told where and when they would play should have vanished (in their minds) after the WHA experience. In the real world, as adults, you are not told where and when and for how much you can work. The market determines that. The free market. Clearly, a showdown of the two sides, two sides that had never trusted each other or got along before, was on the horizon. Thus, we had the first (albeit very short) hockey strike in 1992.

One day I was driving the short distance back from the grocery store to my very modest basement apartment and I was listening to Sports Talk Radio, The Fan1430. It had just started up a year previous and the fans were livid with the players. In many ways,  I think that served to end the strike very quickly.  However, in hindsight, I think it was the beginning of the end for fans tolerance of the endless bickering that has gone on. Ten days was already significant enough and the owners and players learned nothing from that encounter. Most likely,  because they don't care. They have the attitude that the fans will always come back once the strikes are settled.

The Current Reality

That just simply isn't the case anymore. Fans have had enough and they are voicing that.
I couldn't wait for the 1993-94 season to start. Hockey for me and everyone around here was on an all time high. I had always loved hockey and looked forward to the start of the season and hockey on Saturday and Wednesday nights on TV, which was a tradition here, but it was at a fever pitch. Why was this time so special?
The last time I remember really caring was the 1992-93 playoff season. Those were great times. And if you remember correctly, came right after another labor stoppage the year before. The 1992 mid season strike I mentioned earlier. Because they had played out the season and it had finished in great style, they got a pass on that problem.

Since those days, they have not. Not from me anyway. I have learned to get along without it, as have many. So do many more each time they do this. This time,  I think they are going to lose a lot more than ever. It is a game of chicken they play with themselves. And it is a game of chicken shit which they have played with the fans that will now damage them for good. Some will always come back,  but the majority will not this time. 

The Issues and My Solution

I am all in favor of both labor rights and business's imperative to run their business as they see fit.
In light of that, I am all for being able to strike as well as imposing a lockout if that is the choice of the business.
Fair is fair.
When it comes to certain essential services, that isn't always possible and alternative measures must be taken. When it comes to sports, that certainly isn't the case. Sports are not essential to the running of a society. We can all live without a ballgame or hockey game.
If the players want to strike, so be it. If the owners want to lock them out, that is okay too. What is not okay is the game of chicken and pissing match they play.
If they want the right to strike or lock them out, then they should put their offers on the table,  non negotiable on both sides,  on the day the previous agreement expires,  and then just have it left there until one side or the other accepts it. No more negotiation.
I am pretty certain if that happened, all contracts would get settled on time.
The days of holding the customer (the fans) hostage in their game of chicken should be over.

The game of chicken is really just a game of chicken shit. The fans are not fed up with the players or owners, they are fed up with the bullshit way they do things and the taking advantage of the fan who doesn't deserve the treatment they get.

The stakes are high enough that owners and players have a right to scrap a while over how this is going to turn out.
But as the NHL prepares to lock out players Saturday night at 11:59 p.m. ET, let’s hope that the middle ground, or compromise, is as visible to players and owners as it is to the rest of us.

 Having listened to both sides make their cases this summer and acknowledging both sides make valid points on the issues, it seems clear that the solution can be found in its usual hangout: in the middle.

It would seem that offering players something in return for their concessions would seem to be a more effective strategy than strangling concessions out of them with a lockout. But it does take two sides to negotiate. Players would have to accept the idea of simple percentage reductions, rather than tying the percentage to growth numbers as they have done in their offers.
It sure seems like this is where we are headed at some point. Why not get there now before we lose two months — or all — of the season?

At this point, and many points before, it ceases to become about issues and is just a pissing match to see who will cave first. It has become personal and everyone knows that.

 I see where my buddy ex-Leaf Jeff O’Neil is bein’ criticized for taking a run at the commish, Gary Bettman. I agree with Jeff when he said the words he used were inappropriate. But, in a way, I can understand him. Jeff took a very big hit the last lockout. Millions. And never made it back to the Show. So, I know how he feels.

-Don Cherry
 It is not about getting a fair deal or compromise. That is going to happen eventually. It is about power and trust and defiance. When the players hired Donald Fehr, a labor union leader known for these types of tactics, they were clearly making a statement that they have no intention of striking a deal without a long work stoppage. They want this battle, even though they will not come out any farther ahead by taking it on. They got all the concessions they were going to get in the 1960's, 1970's and 1980's. There is no more to get. Teams are losing money, going bankrupt, ticket prices are sky high. They have gotten all they can get. It is just about over using the power they have. Just as the owners did in the days of Ted Lindsay back in the 1940's and 1950's. In the end, it wont get them where they want to get, and many players will lose a huge sum of money they can never hope to earn back. That happened in the last strike as well.

 If Fehr or Bettman come out of this losing badly in a lopsided deal, they’re the ones whose reputations get tarnished (combined with that of the league, which is collateral damage). So for them, there’s selfish reasons to win at all costs too. The game is played on the ice, but this is their chance to be on the battlefield, be the centerpiece, be the ones playing. It’s selfish bullshit.

 The two sides aren’t even close on a reasonable settlement. They’ll meet tomorrow, still be miles apart, then break off talks for god knows how long (while cancelling another month of games).

I know what they say. If you offer your final position right at the start, the other side will just view that as a point off which to negotiate more. That is why I say both sides offer your best deal and then let the other side decide if they want it. No negotiation off of that. 

Vancouver Canucks goalie Cory Schneider isn't too happy with the recent name-calling by his NHL peers.
In the last few days Florida Panthers forward Kris Versteeg has called NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his sidekick, Bill Daly, "cancers" on the game. Before that, Detroit Red Wings defenceman Ian White called Bettman an "idiot," something he regrets doing, according to Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman.
Schneider thinks it's all getting a little out of hand.
"It's getting a little personal," Schneider told Sportsnet. "We'd like to think we are adults and can handle this in an appropriate way. It's easy to direct your anger towards one person because he represents the owners and the owners aren't allowed to speak.

-from the above link

If it was just about the issues, money and fair play, then treat it that way. Make your best offer, then wait to see who accepts it. If you can't make a deal, then scrap the season. If you can't agree, hire a mediator and let them find a way. On time. 
This game they play,  a game of chicken with each other,  to see who can outlast the other, is just a game of chicken...shit. Nobody wins. Trying to make chicken soup out of chicken shit never has worked, and it never will. Fans are now realizing this. They are not even taking sides anymore. They just don't even care.
When fans don't care anymore, then you have really lost. Both sides. No matter who comes out on top in this battle, they have both harmed their own cause,  for the long term.
And all because they don't trust each other and have made it a personal battle. 
This is a demise that has been in the making for 100 years. Holding grudges and trying to make deals based on emotion and shows of power don't work. They end up in stalemates, name calling and long unsolved disputes.
Right now, they are fighting over power. Instead of fighting over rights and entitlements. In that way, they are fighting over nothing. And nothing is what they will end up with if they persist with this. Even most kids actually learn this. Rich, grown men who should know better, who have hired people who should know better, seem to have never learned this.
Which is what we see now.   
So go ahead. Make your absolute best and final offers. Leave them on the table. Don't cave one iota further. Then just wait. And if neither side is willing to accept that, then just shut it all down and go get real jobs. 
Or, continue to act like spoiled brats fighting over a cookie that won't be there anymore when you finally realize that you were fighting over it when someone took it away. 

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