Friday, November 09, 2012

Four burning questions, Part III

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

Searching for different ways to approach the issue of the current lockout, the brain trust at the Phanatic decided to canvas fellow colleagues for their thoughts on how the labor battles of 1994-95, 2004-05 and now 2012 have colored their perspective on the game of hockey from their time as fans to their status as credentialed professionals.

Joining us for the next four Fridays will be Dan DiSciullo, hockey editor at The Sports Network, Josh Janet from, and Matt Brigidi from The Checking Line and SB Nation.

Issue #3: Which side, NHL or NHLPA do you think is more to blame for the lockout, or should they shoulder it equally? Who should be the one to make concessions if a compromise
cannot be struck?

DiSciullo: I'd place the blame on the owner's side this time around. They won a big victory by getting the NHLPA to agree to a salary cap after the lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season. That new system was supposed to make smaller-market teams more competitive, but now that it hasn't had that desired effect owners want to impose their will on the players once again. You may say that's just business, but it doesn't seem right to me.

The owners also look bad for trying to reduce player salaries after a summer in which free agent salaries went through the roof. Since the owners are the ones signing the checks it's obvious that curbing rising salaries is something they do have a measure of control over whether they like to admit it or not.

The NHLPA are not innocents in this fight but it has always seemed to me that the owners are the ones who have to make concessions for a compromise to be made this time around.

Janet: In general, both parties are equally to blame for not starting discussions at the beginning of the year or earlier. There is absolutely no reason why negotiations should have begun in August.

Philosophically, I have sympathy for the players’ desire to have their existing contracts honored, with an eventual 50/50 split reached over the length of the next CBA.  Regarding who should make concessions first, though, it’s irrelevant what my opinion is.   

This is a labor negotiation between wealthy athletes and even wealthier owners. It has no bearing on my life; I will simply show up once the game returns.

Brigidi: I have a hard time blaming either side. With any kind of relationship, both sides carry a segment of responsibility. As someone who is on the outside looking in, I don't believe I am knowledegable enough about the inner workers of either the NHL or NHLPA to gauge who is doing what. 

In terms of the owners, there are so many components to running a business that I have absolutely no understanding of what the NHL or an NHL owner is paying to keep their operations going. So, I can't say what they need to concede. 

In terms of the players, they have a unique set of skills that make them valuable enough to be recruited by the top professional hockey league in the world. At the same time, those skills have a limited time for which they can be used. If I had a resource that was dwindling, I too would want to make as much money as I could while I still had it. Because of that, I can't say what they should concede, either.

What I am comfortable in saying is that the NHL and NHLPA have made progress since the last lockout. They have generated an increase in revenue every year, which culminated last year with $3.3 billion; the most revenue they have every generated in the history of the league. They need to keep that ball rolling.

Ultimately, the NHL season is long. Losing games will not kill them. Losing the Stanley Cup will. While it may not result in the collapse of the league, it will result in years of wasted growth.

Herpen: It's abundantly clear that both sides are responsible, and therefore, to blame for letting things get to this point: the league, in the person of Gary Bettman, for pouring gasoling on the fire by declaring a lockout if the CBA wasn't formulated by September 15, and the union for concentrating more on their own solidarity rather than trying to negotiate the major issue at hand. Let's also not forger how either side refused to negotiate until late Summer.

As far as conciliatory measures or concessions are concerned, obviously, both the NHL and NHLPA need to step up. However, since it is the league's owners who are trying to be Indian givers regarding the contracts to which they've already signed players which drove up costs that "forced" their hand, they have to be the ones to bend over further than the union to get a deal done. They simply must give in and cough up some of that money they've so obviously tried to hoard.

Until some measure of progress is made, all the talk going on between the guys who are second-in-command in New York is just that -- talk. Doesn't matter if it's three, or four, or five, six, 10 straight days. In all that time, gestures have to be made on both sides of the table for real progress to be made. The true essence of compromise comes when both sides are dissatisfied but the situation is resolved. Anything short of that is playing with people's emotions unfairly.

A final thought: As the lockout reaches the two-month mark, the only desperation shown in any corner of the situation seems to be coming from outlets who would normally report on the games as they are played and the league as a whole. Where once, it was just the big events getting the most column inches, now the need for content is so pressing, that stories about simple meetings have been given precedence.

At my company. for example, there were priority headlines given to the talks in New York that spilled into the weekend.
Though nothing substantive occurred, thousands of clients across North America were subject to late-night pieces titled "NHL, NHLPA meet for second/third/fourth straight day" and the count will undoubtedly get higher the longer these confabs continue. Contained within are no new bits of information, insight or analysis which might justify the keystrokes. 

Still, those who pay us writers a lot of scratch to steal our news for themselves are starting to cling to every bit of reporting like a child who sees toys in each aisle of the store, only to forget the one previous and throw a fit over the next new shiny thing he sees.

That's a problem, since the literal definition of news is "anything which can be reported." Just because it can be covered, doesn't mean it should be, and have writers waste time slapping together daily "nothing happened" posts.

I can tell you with absolute certainty that those who really matter -- readers and fans, not clients -- don't care and won't read a whole lotta nuthin' if there's no valid information about the future of their sport at stake.
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