Just fucking play.
That's where I'm at at this point in the NHL's lockout. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm sick of feeling like Mongo in this labor dispute. Although I'm firmly pro-player this time around, I'm in their corner less and less as their integrity undermines my enjoyment.
See, here's my problem: Even though the players are entitled to the contracts they signed, and even though every action the owners have taken screams that they didn't bargain in good faith at any point prior to locking the players out, they're also ignoring the fact that the owners are greedy, disingenuous bastards who don't do anything in good faith and that fact is going to play out in their favor.
Look, it's undeniable that player salaries have risen dramatically after every labor dispute. During the last lockout, players dug their heels in against a salary cap. We lost a season over it. The owners dug their heels in for a salary cap. They were adamant they needed to control salaries, which were their largest expense. Just four years later, the cap floor was higher than the original cap ceiling. Cost certainty indeed.
Why should the players believe the owners intend to honor anything about the ridiculous demands they're making this time around? The last CBA was intended to keep salaries down and we've seen over the past seven years just how seriously the owners took the deal they killed a season to get. But no, this time is totally going to be different. The owners are magically going to morph into fiscally responsible people who try to maintain a budget close to their competition so that everyone has a fair playing field, and would never try to find loopholes so that they can get all the best players and screw the rest of the league.
Come on. The owners have the same respect for the contracts they sign as Chazz Darby does for his. Frankly, there's no reason for the players to even show up to the negotiating table because the owners are going to backstab each other before the ink has even dried. They could demand the players get paid a dollar a goal and 50 cents an assist, and the players should jump all over that offer, because after one year of that, they'd be getting $15M signing bonuses or something. And then someone else would find some other owner who would one-up that until they declared a crisis, demanded a new CBA that paid 50 cents a goal and 25 an assist, and promptly started sabotaging that one.
I'm not making this up. This is how it's gone in every negotiation since the 1992 strike. This is how it's going to keep going because when you're dealing with million-dollar bottom lines, you fight for any competitive advantage you can find.
Players: if you want to play, then just fucking play. You don't have to do fuckall except play and take the money the owners throw at you, and you will make more money than you made the under the last CBA, because the owners will throw money at you, because they've always thrown money at you. Take the next fucking deal that's offered to you and let the owners blow holes in it. They will, because they always have.
And the worst part? The worst part... is that the players shouldn't even be in this situation. This is the kind of dispute that winds up on Judge Judy, for shit's sake. How ridiculous is it that they have to fight to get someone to do what they said they were going to do? That's right, Jeremy Jacobs, owner of the Boston Bruins, rocket science is when the scientists find things out about space! You signed the contract, you pay the contract. Period.
It should be obvious to anyone who's followed hockey over the past two decades that this lockout is not about "cost certainty" this time. It's not about preserving the game or serving it or any of what can only be described now as blatant lies that have been spewed from the ownership side up to this point, because what the owners have done is undeniably the utter polar opposite of what they said. And you know what it's called when you say one thing and do another? No, not rocket science. It's a lie. And there's no reason to believe a liar--which makes this lockout nothing more than an obvious cash grab regardless of what the owners or Gary Bettman say.
There's simply no defending the owners' position this time around. They got what they wanted during the last lockout, and either they blew it if you believe that they're losing money despite record revenue (Here's a hint: They've lied before.) or they just want more. Neither of those are even remotely justifiable reasons for a lockout. You don't let someone who builds an airplane that falls apart lead the mission to repair it--and you damn sure don't give someone who needs nothing even more simply because they say they want it.
The owners can't talk about wanting to play when they're the ones who voted not to play. If they wanted to play, teams would be playing hockey right now. It's as simple as that. And it's not a mystery how much money was made last year. Everyone knows the size of the pie this fight is over, yet every day the owners choose to continue losing more money rather than playing games.
Commissioner Bettman is on record saying:
And again, put it in the context that the business is probably losing between $18 and $20 million a day [...]
Assuming he means the league as a whole, $19M (we'll take him at his word despite the record of lies and average the high and low) across 73 days (as of November 27th) totals $1,387,000,000. That's already far more than the NHL's offer of $211M to "make whole" the contracts it originally signed and therefore should honor. Hell, they crossed that threshold on the 11th or 12th day of the lockout depending on the vagaries of $18-20M. That means by Bettman's own math, the league has already officially cut off its nose to spite its face. Keep in mind the "make whole" arrangement is proposed to be spread out over a few years, so it's not like the league would have "lost" all of this $211M in revenue this year. But they have already lost, by their own admission, more than that. For what? To get more money? In what world does losing money wind up making someone money? I'm not an accountant, but I'm pretty sure that's not how the saying goes.
Owners: If you want to play, then just fucking play. You don't have to do anything to play except honor the contracts you already signed. Seriously. Literally. Keep your word and the lockout is over. This "I know what I said, but now I'm not going to do it because I have the power" trip doesn't work, and no amount of PR campaigning is going to make you look like anything but greedy bullies. Bragging about being the guy with the gun only works if you're Ash. And guys, Ash is cool. You are not.
And Bettman? He's so smarmy, I bet when he walks into a pool a thick sheen of slime spreads out like an unstoppable oil spill. Does anyone remember when Bettman became commissioner because owners felt John Ziegler was an incompetent bumbler? Here's Joe Lapointe of the New York Times on Bettman and the state of the NHL in 1993:
Bettman's mission is simple: Put a stop to labor unrest;
sell the product in television's mainstream marketplace;
change the violent image of the game;
curb salary inflation;
force enlightened self-interest on reluctant, old-fashioned owners;
expand contacts with European developmental leagues and markets;
settle the divisive issue of possible Olympic involvement,
and help launch several new expansion teams.
Oh, hey, great success! The health of those expansion teams is debatable, but there's no denying the NHL expanded under Bettman.
As for the rest, he is a failure. The state of the league is more divisive and vitriolic than it has ever been. Players hate Bettman and owners think the players are cattle. Is it any wonder these two sides can't agree? Doom on that. Collective bargaining requires collaboration, and it's obvious that despite what the owners said about partnership at the end of the last lockout (What? A lie?!), nothing even remotely resembling that kind of environment exists right now--and the person with the stewardship of that environment is Bettman. Nothing about the NHL's first offer to the players even hinted at collaboration or partnership, so here's where we are.
And now the sides have agreed to non-binding Federal arbitration, a process that failed in the last lockout. Why even think this is more than a PR move from either side, since there's no consequences for not coming through? The arbitrator could come up with an absolutely reasonable solution for both sides and neither one has to accept it. And since the process is apparently protected by privacy law, we'll never even know what actually happens, but I have a prediction: There won't be an agreement and both sides will say, "Hey, we tried, but they wouldn't agree!"
Whatever, man. Whatever. Both sides are careening towards a Pyrrhic victory at this point. I bet the players who refused to cave for the salary cap last time wouldn't have given up that year if they knew what salaries would be like today. I bet the owners who permanently scarred the Stanley Cup wouldn't have dug their heels in so hard if they knew it was going to cost them at least $1.3 billion in lost revenue just seven years later. I bet when an agreement is reached, the pointlessness of this lockout will be even more crystallized than it is now. And I bet we're not even done with this whole pointless dance. The 2019-20 lockout already seems inevitable, and just writing that feels so ridiculous I want to drop kick my computer through my window.
Just fucking play. Everyone's going to wind up getting what they want anyway. Why should I have to suffer to give you my money?