Sunday, December 30, 2012

Let's Get It Started

I know they're just talking. But they're talking. They were quiet for a while. And now they're talking. And time is running out. It's been pretty much layed out that the season can't start any later than January 19, which is 3 weeks from yesterday. And I read that the drop-dead plan is to have 1 week of training camp that follows 1 week of legal mumbo-jumbo and paperwork. That leaves us with 6 days, including today (in which they will be talking or texting or skyping or something), to get a deal done so the other necessary stuff can get started. There isn't a whole lot of time.

Personally, I don't think 1 week of training camp is enough. Some players are playing in Europe, some in the AHL, and some are renting ice time at local rinks around North America. Some aren't doing any of that. One week isn't enough time to back into shape when players have been at different activity levels since this stupid lockout started. Some players played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, while others didn't. That might matter too.

The owners obviously want to get the games going as quickly as possible so they can make money. They don't make money during training camp, so keep that as short as possible. But, since everyone needs to do a little giving, here's something the owners can offer the players.

  1. Say that, at this point, no matter when a deal is done (assuming one is before the cutoff date of next Saturday), the season starts on January 19.

    I guess we can go as far as saying that all 30 teams play on that day, and if they're smart, stagger games throughout the day. Maybe even start with a pseudo-Hockey Day In Canada and Hockey Day In America. Get the CBC involved in Canada (and TSN if CBC would allow another national network to broadcast on a Saturday). Get NBC SportsNetwork involved in the US for the afternoon games, and of course, NHL Network US showing Hockey Night In Canada.
  2. Now, for the more logistical fun...Say that the sooner the players and owners agree that a deal is made, the longer training camp can be. Let's say they have the handshake agreement tomorrow (Monday).

    In parallel, have the lawyers working this out starting on Tuesday. Have the teams open facilities conditionally for players to gather (but no ice time yet), start pre-camp physicals, and work out the other logistics of officially starting training camp once the lawyers are done (sticking to that one week), one week from Tuesday.

    If the agreement is made on Tuesday, then everything is pushed back by one day, and training camp is one day shorter. So, for every day that they can't get a deal done this week, it's one less day for training camp, with the breaking point of next Saturday, not leaving enough reasonable time to get anything started by the real drop-dead date of January 19.
It puts a little pressure on the players, knowing that the sooner they can close the deal, the more time they have in training camp before the season starts. But if it works, it makes things slightly more legitimate by having a longer training camp. Honestly, I don't know what's going to happen here. Knowing the parties involved, I wouldn't be surprised at all if they just can't make it work and we lose the entire season. But I'm still hopeful that common sense will invade the process (50% of something is better than 100% of nothing) and a deal will be made this week, and we'll have NHL Hockey on January 19.

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Fight

I know a lot of what I write and tweet about the NHL lockout might be doom and gloom scenarios. For the most part, that is how I choose to see things. I was hopeful for a long time that a deal could get done, but we're here on December 15 and there is no CBA.

And as much as it looks like (hopefully not just from me) that Don Fehr and Gary Bettman are the bad guys here, they are both people representing groups of people that are fighting for things that (I hope) they believe in, and they are fully within their rights to do so (both to believe in certain things like a salary cap, contract limits, travel expenses, and to be able to fight for them).

But both sides are being asinine, stubborn, and stupid here. Taking a hard stance and hoping the other side rolls over is a foolish viewpoint. But then again, being the side that rolls over is also foolish. Both sides need to be willing to compromise (I may be wrong, but it seems that the players have been more willing to do this than the owners) in order for it to work. Otherwise, it's going to be a stare-down.

I have my own opinions on who's right and who's wrong in what they're asking for. I'll save them for another post (and I think I've shared a few already). This gripe isn't about that anymore. Unfortunately, this don't-back-down mentality is something that's invaded our culture in America a bit too much. Look at the U.S. Congress (I promise I won't get into politics here). They're doing almost the same thing, but instead of playing with the collective money of a relatively small group (professional hockey players), they're playing with the money of an entire nation. Even business and other forms of government leadership has taken this stance, and all it creates is problems. From these analogies, I don't know which is the chicken and which is the egg, but it's all poison.

The NHL owners and players can go out and set an example for everyone that you can be successful even though you don't get everything that you want, even taking/accepting things that you don't want. But they both have to be willing to do that. If one side bargains while the other side sits firm, that's not going to solve anything, but it might bring the NHL back into NHL arenas sooner rather than later...only to go through this again in 6, 7, 8, or however many years.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

The End is Near

Fuck it. I'm done.

Na, why leave now. It's just getting interesting.

It sounds like the battle between the NHL and NHLPA is heading to the courts. This goes beyond my level of expertise. But I think the end of something is near.

Some think the court system will help end the lockout quicker. But I think there is a fundamental divide between the players and owners that doesn't show any signs of being resolved. And that's why I say this (but I'm only about half-joking when I say it).

This whole time, the two sides have shown no interest and no ability to work together to resolve their differences. They have to try to resolve the labor dispute, and they both need to sign off on it, in order for business to continue. It's kind of like a law of physics. Gravity brings/keeps objects towards/on the ground. There's no escaping it. Just like there's no escaping the fact that the NHL and the NHLPA are partners.

Oh wait, what did I just say? They're partners? Unless the NHL is going to fold, they need a collection of players to play games. It's a partnership that really can't be broken.

Maybe I'm wrong, but the two sides aren't acting like there is a real partnership here. They sound more like a couple going through a bitter divorce (fortunately, not something I know first or even second hand). On twitter, I joke a lot, but there's some truth in what I tweet.
These two sides are in a bitter fight. One that's now going to the courts. They really haven't spoken the same language during this whole thing. There have been times when they don't even agree on how to resolve their dispute (remember last week when they tried to take Gary Bettman and Don Fehr out of the picture?). It even appears that professional mediators have given up trying to help this dispute. They also got the sense that at times, they weren't wanted by one party. Some reporters (those who I trust to know what they're talking about) have said that this dispute could have been resolved long ago, or that a deal is close if they want it, but obviously, nothing has been settled.

Of course, the last two times the CBA had expired, there was a lockout (1994-95, and who can forget the non-season of 2004-05). This is a pairing that in the past 18 years (the Gary Bettman era) just hasn't worked out well. There's a bad history between these two sides.

They don't get along. They don't work together. They aren't trying to work together. Even if one side caves to save the season, or to save the start of next season, they're going to do this again when the future CBA expires. In a marriage, this is where getting a divorce is better for all parties, even if it hurts the kids (which, in this analogy, is the fans, who are hurt by all the fighting). All of this fighting is petty. Taking it to the courts with these lawsuits is even worse. And that's why I think there is even a chance, and I half-jokingly say a 15% chance (up from 12.5% just this morning and 5% in September) that the league never plays another game, and the two sides go their separate ways.

The end is near.

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

As the Puck Turns

I've spent some quality time with my computer tonight listening to TSN Radio out of Toronto as they covered the NHL press conference and analysis. It sounds bad. It sounds like the NHL and NHLPA aren't speaking the same language. Something I've felt this whole time, but tonight was the first time I was able to actually listen.

I've always been a union guy (and not just in hockey). I think the NHL players are going to get screwed by the hard-line owners. I think that's wrong to happen. Don Fehr has a job to do, and this is to prevent that from happening. But I think Don Fehr is not going to get a deal done, and without a season, the terms of the CBA that they're fighting for are moot.

I don't know if the words that come out Don Fehr's mouth these days are anywhere near reality. He's painting a picture for us that really makes it sound like there is going to be a deal very very soon. And while that's going on, the owners aren't even eating at the same table as Fehr. Maybe this is a PR move, or maybe he's smoking something. Reality is that it's probably somewhere between those two ends. It's been suggested that Fehr, on behalf of the NHLPA, is pushing instead of rolling over. Good for him, and good for the NHLPA for trying. But giving the media and fans the appearance that is so far from the truth is not a good move. It's going to backfire, and I think tonight, at least in the court of public opinion, it has. It really makes me wonder what purpose he's going to serve.

I went into this with a great distrust of Gary Bettman. Two lockouts in less than 20 years in the NHL. In general, I don't trust the Hockey CEOs (that's the owners). By in large, I feel that way outside of hockey too. I think a 50-50 deal is fair for both sides, and anything that crosses that line is, well, crossing the line. Of course, there are many things, as I've learned in following the lockout, that don't seem to be able to be quantified as 50-50. For example, there is maximum player contract length. That complicates things.

Negotiation is a compromise. Both sides have to give a little in order to take a little. The line of 50-50 is not a straight line. It's a wavy line. Some of it leans above the line in the favor of one side, and some of it leans below the line in the favor of the other side. What the NHL and NHLPA are doing with this lockout is drawing their own lines that I don't think are even on the same plane.

Both sides will need to understand this before we can really move forward. I don't think I can trust what information Don Fehr is feeding the media. Each side is trying to dictate the rules of the game, take it or leave it. Neither side was prepared for this. They both need to get past this. They both need to get past the PR games.

The best 2 best things for the league as a whole are to put the PR war aside, sit down, and buckle down and draw out a real deal, maybe even from scratch, and then to get back to playing hockey and have labor stability. The NHL's PR image has been damaged just by having this lockout, just like it was damaged by the other lockouts under Gary Bettman. The more the two sides talk out loud (to the media and fans), the more damaging it is to their PR images. They need to get past the "us versus them" mentality and rebuild their broken partnership, because without the partnership, there's nothing.

Tonight, I came to the conclusion that there won't be an NHL season in 2012-13. I've been (half) joking this whole time that there was a 1-in-10 chance that the league never plays another game. This morning (before these press conferences), I bumped that up to 1-in-8 that the league never plays again.

But all I can hope for is this:

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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Something to fill the time

While I try to gather the words to express my feelings about the NHL lockout (and I've tried multiple times since the 82 game season was no more to do it in more than 140 characters on twitter), I offer this alternative to fill the void in NHL programming.

This is directed at both NHL Network US and NBC SportsNet.

I can't say what's been televised in every US NHL market. I live in northern New Jersey and see what's on in the NYC market. NHL Network US has televised some Stanley Cup clinchers, some classic recent playoff games, some Stanley Cup films, and last season's playoffs. NHL Network has also televised some of the Canadian Junior Hockey leagues (OHL, WHA...I think they're the junior level). MSG Network has televised some of last season's MSG-produced Rangers, Devils, and Islanders broadcasts, and is starting a new series that focuses on the Rangers' rivalry with both of their in-market competitors. I think the Rangers lose some of those games. Don't get me started on the Devils and Islanders playing on a TV network owned by an in-market league rival. MSG has also had Rangers broadcasters calling KHL games off monitors and even the College Hockey game at MSG last weekend. NBC SportsNet has added some College Basketball to their schedule (something they should be doing anyway) and some more College Hockey (or at least, bringing their top NHL broadcasters into the college game).

There seem to be 2 things missing from that. One is the AHL. I've made the trip up to Albany, and I plan to do it again, to see the Albany Devils in AHL action. I remember MSG televising some games during the last lockout just to give us a taste of live televised hockey (maybe the KHL is a cheaper alternative to that). Nobody has picked up any AHL games yet this year. I'm not even sure how much of a local TV contract they have in different markets. There is a lot of AHL in the Northeastern U.S., but it's not really national like the NHL tries to be.

So what's left? One of my favorite hockey competitions to watch. International Hockey. I know NHL Network will have coverage of the World Junior Championships later this month and into January like they do every year. And I'm sure NBC SportsNet will give some attention to the annual International championships in Europe like they do every spring (and without the NHL, it might be a better competition, since it usually involves NHL players not in the Stanley Cup Playoffs).

But what about showing classic International Hockey games. Surely NHL Network or NBC can acquire the rights (or films/tapes) to the 1972 and 1974 Summit Series, the 5 Canada Cup tournaments (1976, 1981, 1984, 1987, 1991), the 2 World Cup of Hockey tournaments (1996, 2004). Or even the Olympics tournaments with NHL players (1998, 2002, 2006, 2010; the latter 3 of which NBC televised, so I'm sure there isn't much to do). I don't care about the results. Those games are something different, some are part of the sport's history, and some are just classics, regardless of who won.

Give us something different to keep our interest in top-level hockey while we wait for the NHL to return.

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