Saturday, October 20, 2012

And the Insanity Continues - Four Weeks and Counting ---

Maybe I should have just titled this blog post, "this month's rant" but hey I really don't expect anyone to make it through to the end so let me give you the BLUF - bottom line up front:  a) the NHL's last offer to the NHLPA stinks as anything other than a starting point for reasonable discussions;b) if you were a player you wouldn't take it, I know I wouldn't; c) the latest PR campaign by the NHL to turn public opinion against the NHLPA is morally reprehensible and ALL fans should be insulted by it; d) as such I believe all fans should use every available outlet, in particular social media to let the NHL staff and Owners know they still hold the owners responsible for the LOCKOUT and the fact their henchmen Buttman and Daly aren't negotiating in good faith is wrong/stinks, etc. Now onto my rant with more details in case you want some sarcasm, etc. that you might find humor in since you don't have hockey to watch and the Nationals have been eliminated from MLB post-season play.

Well, last week the league - you know Gary Buttman and Bill Daly - finally put a reasonable initial counter-offer on the table to counter the reasonable initial offer the NHLPA has had on the table since July.  That was good news and we fans immediately got optimistic that progress might be quickly made and we might be able to attend an NHL game before January 1, 2013.  Alas it now appears that optimism was totally misplaced and the League - Buttman and Daly had no intention of using that as a starting point to negotiating in good faith and providing we abused hockey fans with the sport we crave.  Nope, not at all. Instead, what they wanted to do based on the events since the meeting on October 18th - that one hour long, grueling dialogue of emotionally draining, stressful attempt at compromise on their part, in the service of the Billionaire (or nearly so) owners , was to use it as a starting point for a PR war against the players that who after this ludicrousity is settled, are --- their product. 

You see ranging from the immediate press conference he held in front of a black background (am I the only one who see's the physical resemblance between Buttman at that press conference and "Barnabas Collins" in those old "Dark Shadows reruns?) to the ongoing self-serving portrayal of the "fairness" of the NHL's latest and  "best we can do" - so it's basically in negotiating speak a "best and final" offer; the NHL has been conducting a very urgent and concerted effort to make it sound like the players are being unreasonable now.  How crazy is that?  The NHLPA has had a reasonable starting point for negotiating a settlement on the table SINCE JULY.  The NHLPA wanted to start negotiating during the latter part of last season to avoid a lockout.  The NLPA has indicated a willingness since July and reiterated it with their three counter-proposals to move to a 50/50 split in a fair and reasonable way over time that honors all current contracts.  The League (is it really the League or is it these two wingnuts - Buttman and Daly - who fine anyone "on their side that voices a contrary opinion, call the Red Wings if you wonder what I'm talking about here.  Wait a minute, never mind they won't answer you anymore.

Let's be clear yes this is a battle between millionaires (the players) and billionaires (the owners) - no question there, this isn't your traditional labor dispute between a large group of people making between 40 and 100K and a couple of CEO's and their boards making millions.  That said, the players didn't put guns at these owners heads over the past 5 or 6 years and force them to sign the current contracts they have.  The owners did that on their own competing with each other for the services of the "best of the best" so they could own the team that held the Stanley Cup and reap all the financial and egotistical rewards and benefits that provides them and their organizations.  Sure some players play for 20 seasons in the NHL like Chris Chelios but many, many others have short careers - a lot like Brian Pothier and Tom Poti have careers shortened by injuries sustained during games.  Games that are played for our entertainment and games that provide the revenue that is being fought over.  Games that over the past NHL CBA generated revenues that have grown over 200% since that deal was struck and that the players were entitled to 57% of under the last CBA.  Before you scream "57%" incredulously, remember that 57% was a HUGE rollback and concession by "the players" last time.  Also remember since they agree to it, EVERYONE, has profited and benefited.  For the owners and players the revenue pool has grown to over $3Billion from ~$1.5B - since 2006 - that's huge growth; much better I'd postulate than any investment in almost any fan's 401K - and while the players have reaped 57% of that revenue there are ~1500 players sharing in their part of the pool; while on the owners side there are between 70 and 150 sharing in their 43% and as far as Capital gains go in addition to the increased ongoing revenues most of those owners now also own franchises worth A LOT more than the teams they owned in 2004-2005.

My point is simple - from a players perspective - pretty much any player in the NHLPA, the deal that Buttman and Dudley put on the table - STINKS.  That's right as anything other than a reasonable starting offer, it's a joke.  There is NOTHING in that deal that would or should entice any of the World's best European Players to come across the ocean and continue to enable the NHL to be what it has been up to this current LOCKOUT. (This is NOT a STRIKE - this is OWNERS depriving or attempting to deprive the best ice hockey players in the world - the ability to make a fair living and enable them (the owners) to renege on legal contracts they have signed over the last five years with those same players.)  There is also nothing in the league's last proposal that should keep the best North American players here playing for the NHL instead of "spreading the wealth" and raising the level of play in all those European Leagues where many NHL'ers are playing right now to either make a living or keep in shape.  Nothing at all on the part of the league.  If the NHLPA were to accept this deal, the only reason to play in the NHL vice the KHL, the Swedish Elite League, etc. is again you and me - a larger market of affluent fans here in North America.  In short, what i'm saying is the deal as currently offered to the NHLPA by Buttman and Daly is, in both the mid and longer term detrimental to the quality of product the NHL will put on the ice.  That's why if I were the Monumental Sports and Entertainment, MSG or any of the other 30 NHL Owners I'd be working very hard to use my Board of Governors vote and influence to show BOTH Buttman and Daly - the door.  As my dear departed father used to say - it's time to give these guys their walking papers - this is the third lockout that Buttman has choreographed, FANS DON'T FORGET THAT!  It is the reason to legitimately really dislike this guy and everything he stands for.  Whether, you have a son who plays hockey and aspires to make it to the NHL or you just have a sense of basic decency and fairness recognize that Mr. Buttman has done nothing over his tenure as the Commissioner of the NHL that hasn't been grounded in either serving his own ego or feeding the baser instincts of his collective masters (the owners), in particular their egos and greed.  Buttman is smart no doubt about it - his PR victories this past week make that clear.  But smart is NOT decent, moral, or fair.  In fact i doubt those words ever enter in Buttman and Daly's minds when they are "negotiating."

So here's where I'll reiterate some words from an interview between Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun that were reposted on PuckDaddy as I think they are "dead nuts on":

"Two questions of note from the Garrioch interview, including this one that's frankly leading the witness a bit: 
QMI: Why does the league not want to honour the deals that were signed?
FEHR: "They want to pay less money. That's all. It's really very simple: 'We've agreed to pay to the dollar all the contracts we've signed.' We've now decided that's more money than we'd like to pay.' The reason we made the last proposal the way we did was simply because they want to move toward 50-50. The players have already indicated they are willing to do that over time. The question is: Should you agree to honour the contracts you signed between now and then? Players think that's a straight-forward thing to do and not an unusual thing to do. It's sort of the way everybody does business." 
The "make whole" provision the NHL proposed tries to give the owners what they want (an immediate reduction in player costs) and the players what they want (the full value of their contracts, through deferred payment). No one can blame the players for being suspicious or mistrustful about the League's proposal, because the NHL has done little to earn that trust in this negotiation or through its actions back in 2005. 
That said, Nick Cotsonika nailed it: This was a path for the NHLPA to achieve its primary objective, and "they could have proposed that it come out of the owners' share instead. They didn't." 
The players deserve the full value of their contracts, and any NHL proposal that doesn't achieve that is garbage. But there's no question the League's latest salvo showed a desire to fulfill that obligation through some creative accounting; it's just a matter of whether the numbers add up and who pays for it. Which is why the NHLPA should build off that idea.  
It has potential.
• This was also interesting, regarding the PR victory for the League this week in gaining major sympathy from the fans: 
QMI: What's your message to fans who have spent the past couple of days calling players "greedy" after the 50-50 offer from the league?
FEHR: "It's pretty hard to treat seriously the notion that the athletes, who are the only people who anybody comes to watch, that they would be greedy in the face of a 24% reduction in their pay last time; billions of dollars went to the owners, not the players; seven years of record revenues that was more than anybody thought. The result of all that success is for the owners to say, 'OK, now we want to renegotiate all the contracts again and we want to lower them.' My message to the fans is: I don't think that characterization hits the facts very well. Hockey players are pretty down-to-earth people. That's why fans like and identify with them. They want to do the right thing. The right thing here happens to be proceeding in a way which is not merely, 'Oh the owners asked for billions of dollars I guess we have to give it to them because who are we? Hockey players.' " 
Fehr is completely right here. 
It's been stunning to witness fans and media turn off their brains and swallow up the NHL's talking points out of an insatiable desire to have an 82-game schedule. There's been way too much "oh, they went 50/50, take the deal boys!"; it's a sentiment that exists without regard for the contractual concessions the players would have to make, the revenue sharing system and other considerations that make "50/50" an unbalanced deal.
We ask these men to sacrifice their bodies on a nightly basis. We ask them to sweat and fight and bleed, to show resolve that many of us couldn't imagine having in pressure situations. 
And then we expect them to fold like origami when the League finally makes a mature, quasi-equitable proposal? 
Again, it's a credit to Bettman and the NHL (and Frank Luntz) that the proposal and the PR blitz worked this week. But like Fehr said: If you're a "greedy players" person, that characterization doesn't hit the facts very well."
So I say NHL Fans - go forth and light up the social media and the web from Twitter, to Facebook, to TSN.CA to any and all outlets including NHL.COM to let the owners of the NHL that you know how cray and stupid and disingenuous Buttman and Daly's PR campaign is and that YOU the fans want NHL hockey back on the ice and NOW and the fact it's not is wholly the fault of their henchmen Buttman and Daly.