An Open Plea From A Concerned Hockey Fan

Realistically, it doesn't seem like the last lockout was that long ago.

It feels almost as if this lockout is part of that lockout and we haven't gone anywhere but in circles as the NHL and NHLPA try to chase their own tails without taking a break to talk to each other professionally or even cordially for that matter.

Thing is, they don't care much for each other at the present time and it shows in the length, time, and lack of effort put into these negotiations.

To even call what the NHL and NHLPA has done over the last months, after the last seconds ticked off the clock as Staples Centre in early June, as negotiations, or even more specific – progress, would be asinine at best.

This lockout isn't about hockey – the sport that ultimately is and should be right now at the heart of the entire process.

Sadly, it isn't.

That is what happens when you have a former senior vice-president and general counsel to the National Basketball Association (NBA) and a former executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association being at the top of the two respective sides.

What do they know about hockey beside the money?

Can either relatively say they know anything about hockey as it is – a game?

These negotiations have proven that the game is severly broken, decapitated, and needing an immediate and thorough surgery to make sure all the parts and vital organs that keep NHL hockey running alive and well as well as maintained properly.

Jack Edwards, the Boston Bruin's play-by-play commentator for New England's Sports Network (NES), said it best during an interview with Winnipeg's TSN 1290 on Hustler and Lawless when he called out the NHL and NHLPA's actions as abusive.

Paraphrasing Edwards comments, he said that the NHL and NHLPA are in a relationship with the fans of the game – from New York to Los Angeles to Chicago to Winnipeg – and they are being abusive and taking their role of being the superior person in the relationship and simply abusing the people who can get hurt the easiest.

It was clear to me then that if the media can see this abusive relationship as clear as day in both Canada and the United States, there is more than fundamental problems at stake for both sides.

There is a deeper seeded problem when it comes to the game's fans.

In 2004-05, most fans were upset about the season being lost but ultimately understood that it was for the good and health of the game.  At that time there was a weight on the smaller market teams, which gave an unfair balance of power to the richer teams.

Without going back into details of that lockout, the simple fact was that hockey needed to be fixed then and it was done successfully, it seemed, at the time.

Winnipeg – the smallest NHL market – got it's Jets back and everything seemed to be on the up and up, but underneath the skin, there was massive damage about to be inflicted.

This time around, the fans will not be so willing to have another season lossed due to player salary demands and NHL demands for lower sharing of hockey related revenues (HRR).

The NHL has offered the players take a cut below 50%, working its way to 50%, while taking the bump for the teams in markets where hockey is struggling.

The NHLPA wants a share north of 50% of HRR as well as not having anything to do with helping smaller markets – the richer owners should be the ones doing that.

Realistically, the NHL has no right to ask the players to pay for the teams that are failing financially in markets such as Florida, New Jersey, and Phoenix. 

The NHL placed teams there, it's their responsibility to clean up it's own mess – not the players.

As for the NHLPA, the players have become more and more of spoiled kids rather than consumate professionals coming out with videos on how it is the NHL's fault the lockout is happening.

Rather than face the fact that they want more money rather than playing a game they love, the players can still find work, bump other players in Europe from their jobs, and still find happiness in their careers.

Both sides have their demands, but what about the fans?

As a fan, I'm disgusted at both sides attitudes.

I have been on one side of the negotiations then on the other side not exactly sure which is in the right or wrong.

Then it hit me – they are both in the wrong and need to wake up to the reality of the game.

First of all, if the fans are not to be as forgiving as last time – and guarantee me, they won't especially in non-traditional hockey markets – attendance will suffer and there will be more trouble for those financially struggling teams.

Secondly, the NHL had record revenues over $3 billion in 2011-12 and are willing to risk that all to make sure they don't have to take their own responsibility to clean up the messes in Phoenix, Florida, or New Jersey.  

In turn, the NHL is set to loose more money over this lockout than gain any advantage.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the NHL and its record revenue in 2011-12 will mean nothing now with the lockout becuase the league will fall further behind than it already is in popularity in the North American sports scene.

The good that has been brough by the CBA of 2005 will be wiped out and the NHL, for the third time in Gary Bettman's tumultuous career as NHL commissioner, will be starting from square one.

As a hockey fan, not an NHL fan, that is frustrating.

I watch baseball and football and basketball and I enjoy those sports.

But they are not the same to me in my heart as hockey is.

And when I lace up the skates on a cold, winter day and play the game I love – the game I grew up loving – I wish that the Gary Bettman's and Donald Fehr's of the world could realize how important this game is to the fans.

Because if the players and their union and the NHL have forgotten what hockey is really about – then the game may be far from being fixed properly.