NHL lockout: Didn’t we just have one?

Scott Feschuk on players, owners and the PR war

Didn’t we just have one of those?

Getty Images; CP; Photo Illustration by Taylor Shute

We’re weeks from an NHL lockout and I know what you’re thinking: didn’t we just have one of those? We did. Remember that long, dark winter when you spent Saturday nights actually talking to your family? Believe me: they couldn’t wait for it to end, either. With the league having set Sept. 15 as the deadline for a new agreement, let’s see where things stand:

Who are the main players?

The owners are represented by Gary Bettman. Known to his friends as “Sir” because those “friends” are actually employees that he forced to come out for a drink, Bettman has been league commissioner for almost 20 years now. To this day, he remains every bit as popular among hockey fans as $9 arena beers. The head of the players’ union is Donald Fehr, who attends negotiating sessions in the company of high-profile players such as Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. This has symbolic value—but it may be risky to allow the work-averse Ovechkin to float his way through bargaining.

Bettman: So we’re agreed then—owners get 103 per cent of revenues in perpetuity.

Ovechkin: [Nods while reading a comic book.]

What is the current state of negotiations?

There’s not much common ground. Here’s what the owners want: a radically altered revenue split, a reformed salary cap and stricter rules for free agency. Here’s what the players want: not that.

Who’s got more leverage?

For most owners, their NHL team is basically a $200-million vanity licence plate. In fact, it’s entirely possible that several of these people don’t even realize they own a hockey team. Example: it is widely believed that the purchase of the New York Islanders was a gesture of spite by Charles Wang’s disgruntled accountant.

Where does Don Cherry stand on this?

Don summed it up nicely: “Everybody’s making money but everybody wants more money.” If the CBC is smart, the network will keep Cherry busy this fall on its other shows. He’d be perfect for Dragons’ Den. THAT DUMB IDEA IS STUPID AND EVERYTHING. Plus, imagine how much fun it would be to hear him try to pronounce “entrepreneur.” It would take him a week.

What will players do if they are locked out?

Some will play overseas. Most will pursue other interests such as realizing that hockey players don’t have other interests, at which point they’ll just stare out a window or at a spoon or something.

Who’s winning the public-relations war?

Bettman said recently, “We recovered well last time because we have the world’s greatest fans.” Fans rightly took that as an insult, like when a woman tells a guy, “You’re great because you don’t make me think too much.” (And may I just say: That still stings, Rhonda.) Bettman is probably right that hockey fans will always come back. But does he really need to rub our noses in a puddle of our own helplessness?

Who should I root for?

The players. The owners got pretty much everything they wanted last time and now they’re bellyaching that it didn’t work out as planned. Well, BOOHOOHOO. Let’s remember: it’s the owners who’ve put teams in cities that have tens of hockey fans. It’s the owners who are throwing $7 million a year at players like Scott Gomez. (Tragically for Canadiens’ fans, none of this money is being thrown at Gomez in the form of pennies from a good height.) What have the players done wrong? They just get handed outlandish contract offers and say, “Um, okay.” Hard to hold it against them.

What are the implications of an extended lockout?

It’s going to be tough on players if they don’t suit up until January. The Leafs usually need a good five months to figure out how they’re going to miss the playoffs.

When will it end?

I’m not saying I’m pessimistic but this year’s edition of HBO’s 24/7 series will likely focus on Ducks’ coach Bruce Boudreau cutting up mango for his New Year’s Eve fruit tray. Expect profanity.

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