In the midst of all the quotes coming out from National Hockey League players and officials, the one word I have not seen uttered once has been “fans”. I don’t want to be harsh. I want to be able to give these people the benefit of the doubt they deserve, and not automatically assume that they care nothing about the very people who even make this sport possible. Without fans, there can be no league. Not that fans should have an official say in the matter, because they do not know the intricacies and legalities of what is being discussed, but they certainly should be more vocal about what exactly they expect here. Rather than anger, it’s been a case of, “Oh, here we go again”, a statement bereft of shock and emotion, but loaded with sheer annoyance. Here they go again. It is almost as if we expected it; since the second the new CBA was reached in 2005 on the heels of an entire season lost, we expected it. Money is the root of everything today. The almighty dollar is once again the reason why we may see another lockout. “The owners want more, and they want the players to have less.” “The players just want their fair share.” Just what exactly fair treatment is to multimillion dollar athletes who play in a country where some people are struggling to feed their families, I do not know. What I do know, is that if these two colliding factions cannot reach some sort of agreement, and a another lockout does indeed come into effect and takes out either a large chunk of the season, or an entire one, you are going to see the largest mass exodus of people since Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt.
Hockey fans are die-hard, everyone knows that, but hockey fans are tired. They are a different breed of fan, but when it comes to something like this, many people may just have enough and go pick a minor league team to call their favorite, or root for a European team from afar. If the league does not care about the fans, why should fans care about the league? I’m one of those people who is just on the brink of leaving, though it would be one of the hardest decisions I would ever have to make in my life. Another lockout might not spell absolute and certain doom, but it will not help matters in the slightest bit, especially with TV ratings finally climbing and fan bases increasing in recent seasons. When it comes down to it, I do not really care what goes on in negotiations. I don’t need to hear any single shred of news or information except one: “A new CBA has been reached, and we are good to go for 2012/13.” That’s all. The players want to make more money, and the owners want to make more money. That’s the only aspect I really care about understanding, because it’s a simple one.
I would like to see many changes made, but in the end, it does not matter, because it will only set the stage for another lockout down the road. High on my list would be getting rid of the salary cap all together, or making it a soft cap with a luxury tax for over-spending teams to pay into, like baseball, so that the poor, smaller market teams are not affected. After all, that’s one of the main reasons we had a lockout seven years ago anyway. The smaller market teams! No one wants to play for them! So let’s cry and pout and lie face down on the ground and pound our fists, and maybe, we’ll get a salary cap so the big bad wealthy teams can’t keep signing all the star players. Well, what happened? Nothing! We have a salary cap that has expanded from $38 M to $70 M in these seven years, and each time it grows, so does the floor teams have to reach, which again, less fortunate teams have a hard time doing. So, in turn, they then overpay on overrated bottom six forwards who can’t get a job anywhere else, to fill their ranks because they need to reach a minimum. By doing that, and giving lower tier players ridiculous sums of money, it drives the prices of stars and people actually worth more through the roof. Where will those stars sign now? Are they going to think, “Gee, there’s a salary cap, so I’ll go sign with the Panthers, Coyotes, or Predators”? Not a chance. Teams like the Red Wings, Rangers, Flyers, Penguins, Blackhawks, Kings, and a few others will always reel in the top catch; they’ll just work out the contract in a barely legal way to afford them. My, didn’t that last lockout solve a whole lot? Why is Gary Bettman and Co. married to a hard cap?
So, here we go again. The same old song and dance. Both sides want more money, both sides want the other to settle for less. Now we have to hear really threatening words like “Declaration of War”. Give me a break. That’s a phrase only being used to sell papers and draw in readers to websites. Declaration of War? More like vintage posturing and negotiating: I start ridiculously high, you start ridiculously low, and we meet in the middle…I hope. But there I go again: too much thinking. Have we reached an agreement yet? Nope. Okay, let’s move on, but no, it cannot be quick. It has to be a “long, arduous process”, because no one is willing to put their ego away in their pocket and say, “Look, just get this damn thing done!”. Better yet, how about, “Let’s get this done for the fans.” No. There has to be a feeling out process, where people look each other in the eye and smile while insulting them. Then they sling more insults around and back away. Then an insulting proposal is made, to which insulting responses are yelled back in return. This will just keep repeating itself over, and over, and over again, until one day, someone pulls their head out of their respective rear end and gets the job done. But it always has to drag on. It will. It will last until the very, bitter end. On or around September 15th, the expiration date on the current CBA, it will be decided. Everyone will then shake hands, smile, and give fake compliments to one another for being so cavalier. Either that or we will see a lockout. Training camp will be delayed, then canceled all together. The last slivers of hope for the currently set opening nights will disappear into months without hockey. The players and owners will weep because of their greed. Fans will weep because their only enjoyment was sapped away.
Do they really care about the fans? Only one thing will tell us: lockout, or no lockout. That is the question. Should both sides abandon the very people that make the league possible yet again, then fans should just turn away and not come back. That will be a statement more provocative than losing a few games and a few bucks. I mentioned earlier that fans do not seem angry enough, because we have seen this show before. Fans need to look to a film like Network, open the window, aim towards NHL headquarters and in the words of Peter Finch, yell at the top of their lungs, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” NHL fans are not stupid—they are not going to keep allowing themselves to be slapped in the face only to put their head right back and await another hit. It’s time for fans to be more vocal, to let their concerns be known, and to show the people in important roles that they will not tolerate another loss of hockey. It’s time for you to get mad. Will you do something about it? Or will you just sit there and let them destroy your sport once more?