So OK, the old collective bargaining agreement (CBA) expired on 9/15 and, unable to reach an agreement with the players' union on a new one, the owners took their collective ball and went home. Everything stops. No games, arena staffers about to join the unemployment list, the TV people and various sponsors left in a quandary, etc., etc. Union chief Donald Fehr was absolutely right when he said, "This is a lockout of choice. They don't have to do this".
Indeed, by imposing a lockout, everybody loses. Why not play on under the old CBA terms while at the same time bringing in an impartial arbiter/judge that has the power to force both sides back to the bargaining table, oversee and weigh the merits of their opposing arguments, and give them an option? Namely -- either settle this amongst yourselves, quickly, or I'll settle it FOR you -- quickly. The deal would get consummated -- in a hurry.
But my oh my, how things have changed in the NHL over the years. It may be tough to comprehend, but there was a time when smart-phones, Facebook, texting, personal PCs in their various forms, and even microwave ovens didn't exist. But a quite famous hockey player named Gordie Howe did. Back in those days, there was no such thing as sports agents representing players either. Whether or not they have been beneficial or detrimental to sports over the years is an argument best left to others far wiser than I, but besides Howe's prowess on the ice, it might be fairly said he was an impediment to progress. How so? Because when Howe's contract was about to expire, Red Wings' management would bring him in to "re-enlist". Gordie had such a passion for the game he didn't much care about the money. Consequently, the Red Wings would get the best player in the game to sign another contract far beneath what he was worth. This had a ripple effect. When very productive players on other teams would ask for a well-deserved "raise" in their next contracts, management would counter by showing them what Gordie was willing to play for, and ask -- do you think you're worth more than Gordie Howe? What could they say? Bless his naive Saskatchewan heart and Popeye forearms, Howe unwittingly imposed his own "salary cap" on his NHL brethren, decades before that same term would come into prominence not only in the NHL, but other pro sports.
Back to the present. Are modern day NHL players overpaid? That's a tough call. Certainly the high-end free agents appear to be with some of the ridiculous long-term contracts they've signed of late. But what of the "grinders" that are out there every game getting beat up and hoping to contribute in ways that don't always show up on stat sheets making much less? Sure, they make more money than the average guy on the street, but hey, it's the NHL. Just GETTING there means a player is really, REALLY good. The competition is ferocious, not only every year, but every day.
Look at what's happening right now with the locked-out players. They're heading off to such places at Russia, Sweden, and Czechoslovakia to temporarily play for other teams while they await a settlement in North America. That's the thing about hockey players. From pee-wees to seniors, it's in their blood, their DNA, in the very fiber of their being. They have this insatiable desire to play. If the only option available was skating in Timbuktu in the middle of a war zone -- they'd find a way to be there.
Major league baseball and NFL players don't have the same options. NBA players would be busy tweeting and making videos. They'd kick back and enjoy the extra time off.
In my opinion, the NHL players should do the same thing. If the owners want to lock them out -- then kick back and relax. Continuing to play somewhere else always involves the risk of a freak injury, that could end a career potentially worth millions. One never knows.
If I was Donald Fehr, I'd advise the players to go back to their usual off-season work-out routines. Eat healthy, run, skate, pump iron, and enjoy a friendly no-contact pick-up game here and there. If the owners aren't worried about the games, then why should the players worry about staying in "game shape"? Fehr shouldn't give in, but rather harden his stance. Make it a condition of any new CBA that once agreed upon, the players will go through their usual training camp and exhibition games before the season starts for real -- just like any other year. Once that is complete, the predetermined regular season schedule will resume where it left off, with no modifications so the owners can cram in more games to fill their arenas. It would be interesting to see how an impartial judge would rule on such a proposal.
But that ignores the most important people of all -- the fans who crave the game? Perhaps. Yet, I would suggest most owners never gave a rat's behind about the fans except the revenue they could provide. To be fair, anymore the players don't seem to be far behind. Like other pro sports, there's a reason why ticket prices, parking, concessions, ad nauseum, have gone throught the roof.
Maybe Gordie had the right idea in the first place.