Don’t Be Fooled: The NHL Owners Are To Blame



Donald Fehr knows the players cannot afford to give in (Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE)

Something very strange and annoying is happening in this country, especially when business issues are discussed.  People have somehow embraced the ridiculous notion that the men and women who own multiple corporations worth billions of dollars, not only are being victimized by one group or another, but are also immune to any kind of criticism.  This is particularly puzzling when noticing that many suit defenders have never even worn one themselves.  “Don’t you dare criticize us, you just hate us because we’re rich”, seems to be the idea animating these people.  No, we don’t hate you because you’re rich.  We hate you because you are greedy while pretending that you are not.

This applies to any chat about the NHL lockout.

Personally, I find demagoguery and drill instructor type noise about “bootstrapping” and “hard work” unbelievably tiresome.  Work as hard as you like, but an absence of luck will keep you working…and nothing else.  People are reluctant to admit that luck, not industry, is a difference maker at all, let alone the critical one.  Becoming a billionaire requires more luck than James Bond could ever imagine experiencing.

But, I’m in the minority on that point, so we can shelf it.

For the record, the NHL has experienced miraculous growth since it was literally dead in a dumpster in 2005.  The unknown “Outdoor Living Network” attracted a small but dedicated following, which reached a critical mass when NBC purchased the network, putting an end to that station’s testosterone titled “Versus” reign.

Forbes magazine, not anyone’s idea of a cheap socialist pamphlet, had this to say when they anticipated the “cantankerous” negotiations, or lack of which, we are witnessing now:

The average NHL team is worth 47% more than it was before the lockout thatcancelled the 2004-05 season. Let’s hope the NHL can get a more economically sound CBA without having another work stoppage. The average NHL team is worth 47% more than it was before the lockout thatcancelled the 2004-05 season. Let’s hope a the NHL can get a more economically sound CBA without having another work stoppage. Business has improved too much the past seven years.

Let me enunciate this again, because it’s important:  Business has improved too much the past seven years.

Gary Bettman (Tom Turk/THW)
Commissioner Bettman has never tired of pointing out the league’s record growth, except of course when the doors are closed and such statements would furrow the brows of the owners he so faithfully serves.

On the surface, the same old gibberish amounting to “athletes are overpaid” and “owners take all the risk” might seem to hold more water than usual.  But only on the surface, which many people are satisfied with.

It is true that profit margins are resembling fissures more than canyons, and this is because of player costs.  The Parise-Suter signings will remind people of this.  But honestly, whose fault is it SOME players are overpaid?  Overpayment, by the way, is a subjective idea, held hostage by the whims of whomever is commenting, including myself.

Craig Leipold, the owner of the Minnesota Wild who is so trigger happy with his check book that a life in the U.S. Government might be more appropriate, embodies the hypocrisy on the owner’s side of the table perfectly.  This man, who shelled out Crosby-like cash to players who are not Crosby, has been one of the most consistent voices shouting “offsides” during negotiations.

Craig, if player costs are the problem, then cut player costs.  I’m sure you have multiple letters after your name, but even a blogger who occasionally comes up with a clever remark can understand this basic business principle.  You can’t win without spending this kind of money? Sure, you can.  Hire better scouts.  Draft better players.

And do owners really take all the risk? Do they risk grave personal injury? Are they one shift away from financial ruin?

Source: Wikipedia

Players do not have a job without owners, and owners have no product without players.  So this blackmailing attitude that the players should show undying gratitude is absurd.  No one pays to watch Mark Cuban get pizza on his face, except maybe for the owner of a pizzeria.

At the risk of sounding naive (perhaps it’s too late), let me raise another question: Who would you expect more honesty from? The kid next door who you grew up playing street hockey with, or the 60 year old who makes the sticks you used?  Is it the ordinary person who can play hockey extraordinarily the one hatching devious schemes?  Are the players reading Machiavelli or Maxim on plane rides?  Do they have some incredible understanding of how to use the supply and demand economic system to their advantage?

Probably not, and that is why I am more inclined to believe someone like Jonathan Toews, when he drones away in his unassuming voice, than the cold and calculating commissioner.  And this is coming from a Detroit fan who despises the Blackhawks.  Looking back over the last paragraph, I don’t think I’m being naive at all.

The players are not blameless of course.  They should have taken the 50-50 deal that the owners offered.  Donald Fehr, by all accounts, is a cutthroat, and perhaps has brought some unhelpful baggage to these proceedings.  And it is laughable when players skewer Bettman in one breath, and praise their owners in the next.  “The owners are being disingenuous…except for my owner,” is what they seem to be saying.

But make no mistake.  The owners got us into this mess, and are making it worse by repeatedly walking out of negotiations.

There is a Neo-Red Scare going on in America right now.  The remarks I’ve made above about business owners will make me a “socialist” or maybe even…gasp, a “progressive”, in the eyes of others.

I am neither of those things.  I’m a hockey fan who loves to write, I’m tired of listening to lawyers instead of announcers, and I want my sport back.

It’s as simple as that.


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