Penguins

Shea-ved Ice: Lockout 2012, Here We Go Again

By: Casey Shea
Gary Bettman

(Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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The day hockey fans have been dreading for years has arrived and our worst nightmares are about to be realized…again.

Barring a last-minute deal, the NHL will be in lockout mode for the second time in the last decade when the clock strikes midnight tonight [Saturday].

I have largely just sat back in this whole ordeal to see how it would play out, all while hoping that I wouldn’t ever have to write this entry.

I’m not going to go into the particulars of how we got to this point and which side is to blame [it’s both for those wondering], rather this is more about how this is going to impact the fans.

There have been some discussion about how the league and players know that a lockout will not deter the hardcore fans from watching, attending games or buying merchandise.

The sad part is, at least for me, they’re right. If they lose another season, or even part of a season because of this, I’ll still watch and cheer as hard as ever.

Why?

Because hockey is the greatest game on Earth. Period.

The game itself has given me so much in life that I could never turn my back on it – no matter how hard Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr try to make me.

The die-hard fans of the game understand this mentality, but that’s not the point.

While a percentage of the fanbase will always be there, that’s not where the NHL is going to make its money.

Ratings and revenue have soared since the last lockout, which cost us the 2004-05 season in its entirety.

Why?

The salary cap put every team on an equal playing field. The emphasis is on drafting, signing and trading now as opposed to just outspending the small market teams for every single star player.

As a result, teams that weren’t all that competitive before the lockout (Pittsburgh, Washington, Nashville, Los Angeles etc.) started making the playoffs and winning Stanley Cups. If you think a team being competitive in any market has no effect on the fanbase, you’ve taken one too many pucks to the head.

Look at the Penguins for proof. Before the lockout, you could walk up to the Igloo the day of a game and sit where you wanted most nights. Now, getting a seat in the building against the Islanders is a tough get.

Exposure grows for the game by expanding the reach to the so-called “casual fans.” Those are the ones who the league worked so hard to bring back last time and I think it would be a monumental task to bring them back again – this soon.

The problem I have is that I understood the need for the last lockout. The league was hemorrhaging money and small market teams couldn’t compete. The salary cap needed to be implemented and the owners finally won out in the end.

Flash forward to this time around and the main sticking point appears to be how to divvy up the money between the owners and players.

Forget the percentage game for a minute and think about what they are really arguing and negotiating about.

Sure, advertising and television dollars make up some of the pie both sides want more of. However, a major piece of that pie is your hard-earned money.

The owners and players make billions [Roughly $3.3 billion last season] every year, which is more than the vast majority of any of us fans will ever see in our lifetimes.

We, the fans, shell out our hard-earned money to attend games, watch our teams on television and buy merchandise.

In the end, part of this boils down to the players and owners arguing over how to spend our money.

The sad part is that the fans appear to be an afterthought in this process, aside from representatives from both sides coming out and saying things like, “We want to play as much as the fans want to see us play.”

I find that hard to believe.

The players are being paid handsomely [even at league minimum rates] to play the greatest game on Earth. Am I supposed to feel sorry for them? Is that where some of this is coming from?

For anyone who played the game growing up, or still plays in rec leagues now, you’ve dreamed about playing in the NHL at some point. These guys were given the opportunity to live that dream.

I’d love to spend just one day on an NHL roster. Even if I never saw the ice during the game, just to take warmups, have fans banging the glass hoping I toss their kid a puck or even just to have my name on the back of a jersey.

Just to be a part of the show for that small period of time would be worth every single ounce of energy I’ve ever spent on the game.

The fact these guys get to live that experience nightly and get paid for it on top of it all is what makes this situation even more frustrating.

I’d gladly take less than league minimum to just sit on the bench for a season and I know many of you would do the same.

By no means am I taking the owners’ side in this because they’re just as much to blame as the players in this.

I get where the owners are coming from because the NFL and NBA just went through similar lockouts and came out with a near 50/50 split for revenue sharing. Essentially, a precedent has been set and those leagues make far more money than the NHL.

Knowing that, the owners’ first proposal to drop the players’ cut from 57 percent to 43 percent was nothing shy of a slap in the face. It wasn’t exactly a great start to negotiations and the effects of it seem to have snowballed to where we are today.

Training camps were supposed to open next week with the season starting in just under a month.

I sincerely hope we don’t lose the season or even part of it. Nothing good can come of it.

Another lengthy lockout is going to drive people away and then all of these negotiations for a better deal will be for naught.

If they really do want to play as much as we want to see them play, both sides will sit down for longer than an hour a week and hammer this thing out.

So to both sides I say, be men of your word. Let’s get a new CBA in place and drop the puck, because the fans deserve better than this.

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