Friday, November 16, 2012

Four burning questions, Part IV

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 final Friday in this four-part series, once again, is  Dan DiSciullo, hockey editor at The Sports Network, Josh Janet from, and Matt Brigidi from The Checking Line and SB Nation. I thank everyone for their time and insight.

Issue #4: Now that you have become "professionals," and are covering the NHL from an insider's perspective rather than a fan's perspective, what do you want to say to new, or casual or long-time fans who have issues with the way labor problems have interrupted the course of the league over the last 8 years?

DiSciullo: I think it's easy for those of us who work in this business to become jaded about the sport, especially when we've followed these recent labor battles so closely. We search for the slightest glimpse of optimism when often there is none to be found and that process takes a toll on our fandom.

The advent of Twitter and social media allows us to obsess over the current lockout pretty much anytime we want. Although I think that type of constant coverage can be bad, there is at least an outlet for the disgruntled fans to vent their frustrations and to connect with people who actually work in the business.

However, social media is only effective up to a point. During this labor battle it's served as more of a sounding board than an instrument of influence or change. That is why I'd remind fans that there is only one way they can ensure their displeasure gets through to the league and players and that's by not showing up whenever the NHL gets back on the ice. I understand that people miss hockey and will likely offer their support at some point, but if that support is unconditional then there is little doubt we'll be talking about another lockout sometime in the near future. Simple as that.

Whenever the lockout ends -- whether that's next week, next month or next year -- don't jump immediately from anger to joy. Remember that for months and months while millionaires and billionaires squabbled over percentages, your opinions and concerns were not considered by either side. Now, I have serious doubts that people will actually form a boycott effective enough to get the NHL's attention, but I do believe that's the only way for fans to help prevent another lockout from happening.

      Janet:   I think it is worthwhile for fans to recognize during these negotiations that the owners do care about the sport, in spite of what may be written by some players and members of the media (*cough*LarryBrooks*cough*).  My “insider” experience has been limited to the Philadelphia Flyers, but the organization has invested a tremendous amount of resources into the fan, player and media experience and I doubt that it’s all that different around the league.

Take five minutes to browse the web site for the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation and you’ll understand just how far that love of the sport goes.

If you’re bummed that the NHL is on hiatus, I recommend using this time to catch up on the various other leagues around the region, country, continent and globe.  The puck is dropped somewhere around the world every day, so go ahead and explore. If you need to see hockey up close, I also recommend heading to a Trenton Titans game. The arena provides a family-friendly experience and the on-ice product is fantastic, now that some of the AHL talent has made its way onto the roster.

Brigidi: I wouldn't venture to say that I'm an "insider" in the true sense of the term. I only know what I know about the lockout by reading what the actual insiders write. 

Ultimately, I think everyone is open to their own opinion in terms of the lockouts. Yes, they suck and they're a horrible part of the sport that hurts a lot of people. I view it as something that I don't fully understand at this point in my life and reserve judgement because I don't know what an owner or player needs to put up with in order to formulate their opinions, to defend their respective viewpoints. Their money and talent is theirs alone to do with what they will, whether it's the owners' ability to excel in big business or the players' ability with a puck.

However, if the NHL and NHLPA don't manage to resolve their issues and find a way to achieve extended labor peace, I don't know how many people will continue to care about their talents or business acumen. 

Herpen: Remember two things: sports are a business above all else, and don't let that kill your love of the game -- because the game can be found in so many other places than in the 30 special venues across North America.

Your love for your favorite team, your anger over the fact that there might be two lost NHL seasons in such a short period of time, and the constant push and pull over mainstream and social media which won't really tell you anything at all, in the grand scheme means little if you don't keep your own way to separate fandom from life. It should be this way in the best and worst of times.

Fans of any stripe have a great opportunity right now, to soak up the atmosphere of the sport wherever they may be: with their spouses and kids fending off the chill of early-morning rink times, following their sons and daughters playing collegiately, learning about the college and minor-league games and going on road trips to college and minor-pro destinations, along with myriad stops in between in the U.S. and Canada where the culture of hockey exists beyond your own rooting interest. If you do so, you'll get a sharper idea of what your (least) favorite NHLers are fighting for, why they want to make millions playing a game that soaked deep into their bones at all levels up to the Show.

Nobody really has true insight into the business machinations of either the league or the players union, and we most likely will never know until years down the line no matter what happens from this point forward. Still, don't let things that are out of your control mute your passion for this sport and everything that comes with it.

Final thoughts: Unless there are things so well hidden within the cabinet rooms of Manhattan and Toronto regarding the bargaining process that will eventually lead to consensus, the fact that Bill Daly and Steve Fehr, the proxies for the NHL and NHLPA, are stuck spouting the rhetoric once limited to their bosses, it leads one to think this season is pretty well doomed.

As revealed by Renaud Lavoie from RDS of Canada, Fehr bloviated on Thursday:

"Of course everyone on the players' side wants to reach an agreement. The players have offered the owners concessions worth a billion dollars. What exactly have the owners offered the players? We believe that it is more likely that we will make progress if we don't. So we are ready to meet. If indeed they do not want to meet, it will be at least the third time in the last three months that they do not want to meet, it will be at least the third time in the last three months that they have shut down the dialogue, saying they will have shut down the dialogue, saying they will not meet unless the players meet their preconditions.  What does that tell you about their interest in resolving this?"

And Daly was portrayed in "Sad Bill" meme fashion, lamenting over the weight of his own pessimistic thoughts about saving or chucking the whole season: ""I hope not. But I'm more discouraged now than I have been at any point in the process."

So, in the midst of all this, Gary Bettman proposes a two-week break, as if the "right moment" to strike a deal described by Fehr earlier in the week, may come about after both sides cool their jets in neutral corners? Plus, players have missed their third paycheck as of yesterday and even the ones who haven't fled for Europe -- as far as we're told -- aren't exactly breaking down Don Fehr's door to offer ideas on how to fashion a new CBA.

Pardon me while I choke back some laughter. It's still a fool's game, and fans still only have themselves on their side.

Perhaps the real reality of the two-month stalemate prevented anyone other than former Islanders scribe Chris Botta to reveal on Wednesday night, that unless the union agrees to the league's last proposal by Thanksgiving Eve, the NHL will have no choice but to blow up half of December. It's not hard to extrapolate what the next arbitrary deadline will be, and the one after that, and the terminal one after that.

This is the point at which both sides are teetering over the Marianas Trench, watching to see if the other will fall to the abyss. With that much pressure and that much depth, the kicker is neither side, or both, will end up sinking into oblivion -- and still nothing will be accomplished.

That said, I keep getting recommendations to see "Skyfall," the new James Bond flick. I pass that along to my readers as a distraction until the tryptophan in our Thursday turkeys turns into the lotus of ancient times. 

Post a Comment