That the NHL is on the cusp of sinking into its second lockout in seven years is disgraceful and hockey fans are fed up with the business end of the sport.
But there is something real and capitalist behind all this, which doesn’t compute with the average, frustrated fan. Discussions of what constitutes shareable revenue come out as white noise behind darkened arenas and empty fantasy draft tables. How difficult can this be to solve?
Discontentment leads to anger, anger leads to vitriol and vitriol leads to a pool of misinformation that clouds any reasoned understanding of what is actually painfully playing out in front of us.
As we become ever more flabbergasted at the boardroom actions of the NHL, certain red herrings have been produced to rally the loudest of the troops (the fans), though they blur or simplify the real issues. I’m as much on the side of the NHLPA as the average fan, but these notions need to go away to have any constructive criticism.
For instance, as the NHL asks players to scale back salaries once again, Gary Bettman continues to rake in about $8 million per season and voices sympathetic to the NHL Players’ Association want you to know the commissioner won’t see a rollback himself. However, this is completely irrelevant to the pending lockout. This negotiation is over which large pools of revenue will be counted and to where the funds will be diverted, so $8 million total between 30 teams is less than a drop in the bucket. The fact Donald Fehr isn’t drawing a salary is often mentioned beside this point as a PR ploy, playing off the fact we’re all revolted by what these people earn in salary.
Another common comment from the PA’s side in the PR war is that unscrupulous NHL owners have been offering players contracts they have no intention of paying in full. As ridiculous as it is for a league to circumvent its own salary cap by offering mammoth decade-plus-long contracts and then try and negotiate them out, the players and agents knew very well what was coming down the pipe when contracts were signed this and even last summer. Daniel Alfredsson even stood as a shining example of what signing a long-term, lucrative contract just before a lockout could entail. For a long time, we’ve all known there was a good chance the NHL would push for salary rollbacks and these pacts were inked with that knowledge. The security of having an NHL contract is a big reason why and players had to know that security could come at a literal cost. It’s bad form for the NHL and an injustice to the players, but it’s hardly a surprising development no one could have planned for.
The bane of all NHL fans, the hockey-related revenue formula, is another contentious point. Why do the players not get a cut of certain revenue streams that come in to owners if it’s really a partnership? For the same reason players don’t help towards the payment of renovations, new arenas and community projects owners at least partially invest in. No matter how you choose to look at this aspect, it’s complicated and deep, which is why a 50-50 split on all revenues is an oversimplification which really is a non-starter.
Last week, excellent Toronto Star columnist Cathal Kelly wrote a column about a man who had died after a sports argument grew out of control. The article spoke about a generation of fandom that has evolved to where we are inundated with information at every angle, to the point where we believe we have it all figured out. In our minds, it’s impossible to misunderstand and be wrong about an opinion on the sports landscape:
“Call this small tragedy a meeting point of two emergent trends in sports fandom – a constant, overwhelming flow of sports minutiae that was unavailable even a decade ago; and the way in which the Internet has brought warring tribes together online to create a new sort of debate, one that knows no conciliation or compromise.”
We need a better understanding and more compromise. There are two sides to every story and each is tugging on you to believe in theirs. Keep an open mind. Think long and think of the big picture.
The reality is often in the vast grey area between.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.
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