2012 NHL Lockout: An Insult to Hockey Fans Everywhere

By Mark Donatiello

2012 NHL lockout rumors are a personal attack on hockey fans everywhere.  It may seem foolish to take the politics and business of sports personally, but the looming NHL lockout is, in this case, a very personal matter.  NHL executives and owners believe that the loyalties of the hockey community are unwavering, even as greed and misguided financial goals prove to be the primary focus of the NHL at the expense of the fan.  They believe even in the event of a lost season, hockey fans will perpetually return to the game they adore because of the uniqueness and excitement of the “product”.

Perhaps they’re right; It’s probably an empty threat each time I lie to myself and swear off hockey in the event of a 2012 NHL lockout.    Still, every time I hear that sports are a business, the Little Leaguer inside of me dies a little.

The NHL is indeed a business, but it’s a strange business where the market value of a player can be strangled by the restrictions of a collective bargaining agreement.  Forged through “good-faith negotiations” that take place under the threat of a lost season, the NHL is attempting to choke out the freedom of the “business” of hockey.  No, the NHL is not a business in the traditional sense.  The NHL is a corrupted monopoly in which owners are attempting to protect themselves from the ridiculousness of their greed and aggression – all at the expense of the players and fans.

Gary Bettman believes that owners are paying players too much and that the future of the game is at risk as a result.  Owners, successfully building teams within the bounds of a hard salary cap, are paying players market value contracts that Bettman believes are out of control.  Rather than allowing free market business principles to take over, the NHL commissioner, in his infinite wisdom, is threatening a second lost season in less than ten years.

Ultimately, an NHL lockout is not in the best interest of the game.  We were told that the 2004 season was lost because the game needed to be restructured.  How can a 2012 NHL lockout be justified?  If contracts are out of control, teams will not be able to field winning teams and remain under the salary cap.  High-priced contracts will weed themselves out of the game if they lead to failed franchises and losing teams.  The NHL has some of its highest ratings ever despite the decision to remain with NBC sports and keep ESPN audiences away.  Why not continue to tentatively operate under the current CBA?

With stable attendance numbers across most markets, a balanced Canadian economy, and high ratings, hockey is stable.  The NHL lockout is little more than an experiment into exactly how far hockey fans, and the NHLPA, are willing to bend.  It’s insulting that the fans are victimized by the sport they so adore.  It’s disgusting that the owners are so greedy that they need protection from the aggressive contract offers of other owners.  Is hockey so unfair that small market teams like the New Jersey Devils, Nashville Predators, and Florida Panthers cannot compete?

Let the Predators fending off the advances of the Philadelphia Flyers on Shea Weber be an example of exactly how stable hockey is.  When Nashville continues to compete and is able to afford massive contracts in a non-traditional market, how can hockey be broken?  When the New Jersey Devils, sandwiched between the larger Philadelphia and New York markets, can represent one of the winningest franchises of the last 20 years, how is the NHL unbalanced?  When the lowly Florida Panthers can provide one of the most exciting first-round playoff series in recent memory, what changes need to be made to protect the competitive balance of the league?

Ultimately, Gary Bettman and the NHL owners are using a 2012 NHL lockout as leverage to create an unfair CBA.  It comes at the expense of the players and fans, and there is absolutely no need to restructure a profitable, balanced, and exciting NHL.

Address concussion issues.  Eliminate front-loaded, ridiculous contracts.  Address revenue sharing and financial issues with fair and reasonable goals.  Do not sacrifice the 2012 season – an NHL lockout will serve only to derail the momentum of an immensely successful 2012 season.


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