point counterpoint

I’ve got some bad news. The NHL players have been locked out and they’re not getting back into their dressing rooms for a long time. As a fan of the game, I almost asked hockey fans for a moment of silence in light of this sad fact. However, we will all have enough time for silence from October onwards when our reasons to cheer disappear.

The thing is, this lockout is anything but fresh news. Players were told as early as two years ago to prepare for the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). And here we are, two years later, with league commissioner Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow no closer on the key issue of player salaries. Goodenow refuses—and has convinced the players he represents to refuse—any limitations on their salaries. Bettman represents the beleaguered owners, whose profits have largely disappeared as league revenue has plummeted. From their perspective, it is essential that a link be established between league revenues and salary expenses.

It would be naïve but enticing to blame the lockout on these two stubborn, American-born lawyers, especially from the perspective of a Canadian fan. But, Bettman and Goodenow are mere representatives and the majority of the blame can only be leveled at the lackey players, or the “impoverished” owners.

I choose to put the owners in the penalty box over this one—and it’s not just because I think Ryan Smyth has a nice smile, although I know at least one person who does.

It’s easy to blame the players’ greed. They’re millionaires. Can’t they take a pay cut for the good of the game? In the end, they might have to; it’s just that I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the owners when they demand “cost certainty.”

After all, these owners are the same former leaders of industry and corporate bigwigs who decided to dole out huge sums of money to players without the same network television money that the NFL, NBA and MLB garner. Analysts have defended the owners with the argument that it’s a competitive environment, and for teams to be successful they must outbid one another for players. That’s true—but paying Bobby Holik $9.6 million is the business equivalent of offering $10,000 for a stapler.

The situation has spiraled out of control under the attentive eyes of the owners, while the players have continued to play and, in their spare time, listen to Goodenow.

The owners deserve the major misconduct for creating an untenable business and hockey environment. If they serve their time—and the players sacrifice a little—us fans will hopefully not have to pair up the letters NHL with CBA for a long time.

--Gordon Miller

It’s my contention that the blame for the moratorium on the National Hockey League’s season should fall squarely on the shoulders of the players, who have repeatedly stymied negotiations with their refusal to accept a salary cap.

A salary cap—for those of you who’ve been living under rocks or who couldn’t care less about hockey—is a hard and fast limit on a team’s spending. The players feel a hard salary cap means their salaries will be unjustly restricted.

But, such a constraint would give team owners cost certainty, another term that has been bandied about a great deal in the past few months. The owners would know precisely how much they’ll need to spend on their teams, and in turn, this could stop them from losing more and more money and having to fold.

The collective bargaining agreement that expired Sept. 15 has been used for the past 10 years and in that time, according to the NHL, teams have lost more than $1.8 billion US per year in total. In that same period, the average player salary has grown hugely from $733,000 US to $1.8 million US.

Players contend that less than half the players make that amount, and that the owners have overstated their yearly losses. But, the fact remains that you don’t hear about players living below the poverty line, and you do hear about teams having to fold and move due to lack of funds.

Loyalty to their teams seems to mean nothing to the players in their drive for unrestricted salaries. Would it really be so bad to receive only a few million dollars less, in order to keep your team where it is? To ensure there’s enough to go around for your teammates? To play a game that you love in front of fans who think you’re awesome?

Loyalty to the cities and fans of the NHL seems to mean very little to the players. The NHL has already laid off more than half of its employees, and the effects will soon spiral outwards through those directly affected by the stoppage including team bureaucrats, arena workers, hot dog vendors, as well as cities and businesses who depend on NHL revenues.

Make no mistake—the players refused to play just as surely as the owners locked them out. Steve Thomas, a long-time hero of mine and former Toronto Maple Leaf, lost my respect with the comment, “The whole NHLPA is very committed to a work stoppage.” Uh...thanks, Steve.

I’m hoping those words were taken out of context, or that I’ve misunderstood them. But, their implications are clear. The NHL’s players were totally prepared to stop playing in order to get what they want, and what they want are unlimited salaries. Well, I’d like a monkey, but that’s not really going to happen. I’ve learned to live with that sad fact; why can’t they?

--Megan Grittani-Livingston

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