Friday, September 14, 2012

An NHL Die Hard's Guide to the Inevitable Lockout

It looks like it's time to face the facts. Hockey broz everywhere are going to feel a little empty inside for the indefinite future. It's not official, but the words no sports fans want to hear are upon us:

Work stoppage.

By putting roster players with two-way contracts on waivers today, NHL teams can ensure that those depth players can go to the AHL risk free. 60 players total were waived in the intriguing move, but it's just another sign of the impending apocalypse - excuse me, lockout.

And to put the icing on the cake, Sidney Crosby, acting as spokesman for the NHLPA, said in a press conference, "right now it's not looking great." He has also noted that the players have been willing to sacrifice, and the owners have not offered any concessions.

The league and the NHLPA have until this Saturday to reach an agreement to avoid an indefinite lockout, and from all accounts, both sides are still far apart.

In 2005, after the second of what will now be three work stoppages under Gary Bettman's reign as commissioner, which lasted the entire season, both sides agreed to a deal that tied the salary cap to the revenue seen throughout the league. What the owners may not have foreseen, was NHL revenue increasing to over $1 billion in the years since the work stoppage. This has taken the salary cap from the lowly $37 million in 2005, to $70 million in the now-hypothetical 2012-2013 season. The increase in the salary cap also means an increase in the salary floor. The forced spending has already taken out one organization, when the Atlanta Thrashers were forced out to migrate north to Winnipeg. A number of other organizations have also had financial troubles, including the Phoenix Coyotes and the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Clearly, the deal the owners agreed on may have come back to bite a few of them, but with revenues increasing as much as they have, not everyone in the league can cry poverty. Still, with a current salary cap set higher than teams spent before when there wasn't a cap (yes, this includes the New York Rangers), it's clear the system has gotten out of hand.

What the owners want is to reel in the cap so their wallets aren't stretched so thin. The players are apparently willing to concede this, but with teams already spending up to the cap that they have deemed to be too high, it will be impossible to lower that cap without proportionately lowering the actual salaries from previously signed contracts, something the players, naturally, do not want.

NHLPA executive Donald Fehr, who is the former executive of the MLBPA, and led baseball players through three separate lockouts of their own, has been working tirelessly to get a fair deal, but still, nothing.

While it's hard to know what has been going on in the negotiations, and just as hard to understand the rhetoric from both ends, there is one thing that remains clear: the fans have no voice, and no representation. And while the last lockout may have helped the NHL in the long run, the pain was felt throughout. We were promised lower ticket prices, and for a season or two, that seemed to be the case. But those hopes quickly vanished. Regardless, in the seasons following the 2004-2005 non-season, we were happy to have our beloved sport back. The memory of an entire season without the sport was a painful (and boring) one, and we all got comfortable with the knowledge (or apparently now, the thought) that this wouldn't happen for many years to come. We were wrong. While it is not official yet, us hockey die hards wait for the inevitable.

As all true hockey broz out there surely know, there will be a sense of emptiness inside when October comes and goes and there is still no hockey. So now, without further adieu, I will try to help out my fellow hockey-crazed fans the best I can by providing some alternatives...

1) My first bit of advice: get REALLY into Fantasy Football. Nothing passes the days by better than studying every possible match up, and every player on the waiver wire.
"Pssst...I'm better than you."

2) Next, start being a political junkie. Whether you're voting for Obama or Romney, the first month and change of the impending hockeyless hockey season will be covered with the presidential election that is dividing and angering the country more than any election since, well, the last one. Maybe now New York Rangers fans and Dallas Stars fans can have a rivalry. Either way, the heated campaigns can provide the perfect distraction from the lack of boarding calls, hockey brawls, and brothers Staal.

Hot dogs, beer, America. Hockey?

3) At 7:00 every night, you can turn your TV to Versus (you know, if you actually get it) and check out the fine programming available for hockey fans. We also have the History Channel, the Outdoor Channel, the Golf Channel...Anyone up for some Swamp People?

Wait. Really?

OK, so if you'er getting the message, there really isn't much else to get us through. If you're lucky enough to be as much of a die hard for football, baseball, or basketball as you are for hockey, than good for you. But for the rest of us, who have a hockey puck where our heart should be, well, this is going to be a rough year.

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