NHL lockout shrouded in fog
By Stu Hackel
Just like the talks that took place over the weekend, secrecy persists when it comes to the exact location of the CBA sessions in New York on Tuesday that began in mid-afternoon. No formal press briefings are expected as the sides take a shot at trying to hammer away at the logjam that for weeks has dammed the NHL's attempt at negotiating a new contract with its players.
[UPDATE: The sides met for over seven hours on Tuesday and plan to meet again on Wednesday, a sign that real bargaining might be occurring for the first time since the sides began meeting in July. Here's the Canadian Press story on Tuesday's talks, after which neither side provided statements to reporters. Helene Eilliott of The Los Angeles Times reported, "People familiar with the nature of the talks but not authorized to speak publicly said progress had been made, but both sides declined to describe specifics of the sessions, which were attended by top executives of both sides as well as 13 players and several owners." Pierre LeBrun on ESPN.com cautioned, "Let’s not carried away here. This thing can still go sideways and implode. It’s still too early to call." ]
That doesn't mean things won't leak out, and one that did on Monday evening was the disclosure by a player on the NHLPA bargaining committee who told Kevin McGran of The Toronto Star that the much-ballyhooed offer by the owners to honor the full value of existing contracts had still not been formally presented, and as of the NHLPA's conference call on Monday afternoon nothing in writing had been seen during the week since it was first proposed.
“If the league wants to take responsibility (for player contracts) in this ‘make whole’ thing, then we have something to talk about,” the player told McGran. “We’ll see. We’ve seen a lot of b.s. in this process so far. If the owners do take responsibility, then there’s movement. But the way this thing has gone so far, we (the players) wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t. Right now there’s nothing on paper. Hopefully (Tuesday) we see something on paper and we go from there.”
We wrote on Monday about how fans should be cautious about getting their hopes up because of these latest talks, and this little piece of news only underscores that.
Hawks and Doves: Which owners support the league's hardline approach in these negotiations and which don't and why should we care? That's an ongoing subject of debate, and the subject of this Red Light blog post last week that looked at the difficulty in identifying which owners line up where and concluded that "considering the absence of hard information, we’re only assuming, sometimes guessing, and really can’t know."
In his latest essay in The Globe and Mail (which concerns itself with the fans' place in the lockout and is well worth your time), Hockey Hall of Fame goalie and former Maple Leafs president Ken Dryden writes, "Collective bargaining is about the owners and the players. The fans understand that. It’s their private contest; their seventh game of the Stanley Cup final. It’s their world. The owners and players like to say these negotiations are about getting the game healthy and right for the fan. But it’s not about the fan. Games are about the fan. Lockouts are about the owners and players.
"And the fan can live with that. They’re fans. They follow everything that has to do with sports. To them, this lockout is just like another game. It’s something to watch, argue about, be right about; pick out their good guys and bad guys."
Dryden is probably right, as he often is about other things. Which owners support the league's current stance and which don't somehow fascinates fans. Now, another hockey writer has taken a crack at it: Mark Spector of Sportsnet.ca.
Neither the owners nor anyone employed by their clubs is permitted to speak publicly -- even anonymously -- about the lockout or the negotiations, with a stiff financial penalty for transgressors. Just how anyone can draw up lists and not be speculating is a mystery, but that's not stopping enterprising writers from doing so.
Unlike Elliotte Friedman of the CBC, who divided the owners into three camps -- “the ones who want to play; the ones in the middle...who want a better collective bargaining agreement but recognize not playing is worse; and the hardliners" -- Spector has only two camps: Hawks and Doves.
Just how Spector arrived at his list or developed his criteria for grouping the owners is not revealed. He tweeted that it "was a lot of work." He quotes a couple of anonymous folks, including a "Western Conference source" who provides some strange thoughts about revenue sharing, but that's about as far as Spector goes. At the outset of his article, he says the Maple Leafs might seem to be Doves, but they're really supporting Gary Bettman and the Hawks because they will want the commissioner's support for their future endeavors. Then, he puts the Leafs in the Dove camp anyway. Go figure.
So, Spector's Hawks list include Jeremy Jacobs (Boston), Murray Edwards (Calgary), Henry Samueli (Anaheim), Peter Karmanos (Carolina), Craig Leipold (Minnesota), Philip Anschutz (Los Angeles), John McConnell (Columbus), Cliff Viner (Florida) and Tom Gaglardi (Dallas).
His Doves are Larry Tanenbaum (Toronto), Mike Illitch (Detroit), Ed Snider (Philadelphia), Eugene Melnyk (Ottawa) and Jim Dolan (New York Rangers).
It's interesting to note that Friedman has Leipold in the middle camp and includes Ted Leonsis of Washington as a hardliner, which some found curious, along with Tom Stillman of St. Louis. Both Friedman and Spector have Ed Snider as not being among the hardliners, although not everyone agrees with that -- including Jesse Spector (no relation to Mark, I think) of The Sporting News in a video found here -- citing the fact that his team, the Flyers, can absorb the revenue losses of a lockout, not to mention that he's among the most powerful owners in the game, the longest-serving individual governor, and a member of the Board of Governors Executive Committee, which helps direct all league policy.
Jesse Spector's notion that many owners of low revenue teams actually want to play and can't afford to miss too many more dates doesn't seem to enter into Mark Spector's view of the divide, except to say that those teams don't want to take revenue sharing money from the big clubs.
One of Mark Spector's sources tells him, "There are more than 20 teams that are 100 per cent happy to wait" for the best deal. Reading Friedman's take on the ownership divide, you get the sense that the hardline group is a great deal smaller. And Friedman's three categories have the advantage of accounting for owners who may support a hardline, but only up to a point: losing the entire season.
Well, let's hope it doesn't come to that. As for judging which owners line up where, I suppose educated guessing is fun, but I still don't see how we can know with any certainty where many of them really stand and I don't think we're about to find out.
Collateral Damage: A few stories in recent months have told of the plight of people who are not part of the NHL but have been adversely effected by the lockout. The most recent is by Dan O'Neil of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. He writes, "If you’re looking for signs of economic stress, you won’t see it among the parties that are butting heads in the NHL labor war. In the end, they will arrive at a settlement and split the billions they fence over. In the end, the damage is strictly collateral. The ones being hurt financially by the NHL lockout are the ones who have the least to gain, the ones who lean on professional hockey for a critical piece of their livelihood."
It's been difficult to write about this subject other than anecdotally. A few business stories from various cites have estimated that an average game brings in about $1 million to the area. But O'Neil gets more specific. He quoted a couple of bar and restaurant owners who cater to hockey crowds and they estimated that their joints have taken a 25 percent hit, at least on game nights.
More distressing, however, is the plight of arena workers, who don't make much to begin with. One is a 55-year-old who contractually was forced to speak with O'Neil anonymously and said he/she normally makes $5,000-$6,000 annually at Scottrade Center's various events, which comes to about 20 percent of that person's family income. “The last time there was a lockout (in 2004-05), we had the (St. Louis University basketball) Billikens,” the employee said. “But we don’t even have the Billikens anymore. I’ve been trying to use my income wisely, save up for retirement and at the same time, try to keep the household going, so it’s been tough.
“And I know others in the same situation. When it’s just you and this is what you’re counting on for your budget, and you have it pulled out from underneath you...I think it’s just so concerning that they couldn’t get this thing worked out way before now.”
O'Neil noted that the Blues averaged 18,560 fans per game during the 2003-04 season. After losing 2004-05 to a lockout, attendance fell to 14,213 per game in 2005-06. The following season, it fell to 12,520. It took until 2008-09 for crowds to top 18,000 again. Blues owner Tom Stillman is identified as a hardliner by some in their listings of where the owners line up on the lockout.
Ken Dryden writes that the lockout makes fans feel powerless, but it may force them to discover the power not to care any longer, the power to be apathetic toward the NHL when it returns. Even if a small percentage didn't return, it could be devastating.
“You wonder if they’re going to come back,” another Scottrade employee told O'Neil. “A lot of them got mad the last time. And honestly, over the past couple of years, I began seeing people I had not seen for six years previous to that, because they were so mad. I’ve had people tell me, ‘Yeah, this is my first game since that last lockout.’ And here it is, they’re doing it again.”
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