Saturday, April 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Tom Jones' Two Cents: This ridiculous NHL lockout

Know how bad the NHL lockout mess is? They're now having meetings to figure out when they're going to have meetings.

The NHL and the players' union talked over the weekend just so they could agree to meet formally later this week. Hey, no hurry, fellas. Take your time. After all, the season was only supposed to start this week. What's a few more days when the lockout is already on Day 24 with no end in sight?

The league is cancelling games, players are flocking to Europe and fans sit here wondering whether to be angry at the billionaire owners or millionaire players. Actually, the NHL should hope fans are angry. At some point, especially south of the Canadian border, anger will turn to apathy.

A few questions to consider while we're not watching the NHL.

What's the lockout about?

Answer: Who cares? Honestly, does it even matter?

The gist, of course, is how to divide up a big ol' pile of money. There are a few other issues — length of contracts, free agency, revenue sharing and that sort of thing. But, basically, it comes down to how to slice the pie. The owners are offering the players a little less than half the revenues. The players want a little more than half.

Here's the thing: I have a feeling both sides know exactly where that magic number is, the percentage that it will take to unlock the doors and get the players back on the ice. Instead of rolling up their sleeves, ordering a bunch of pizzas and Red Bull and not getting up from the negotiating table until this thing is hammered out, the owners and players insist on playing this arrogant game of chicken.

And who suffers? Regular folks. The NHL office has gone to a four-day work week and employees — a bunch of 9-to-5 office workers making a tiny fraction of what owners and players pull in — are taking 20 percent pay cuts. The St. Louis Blues laid off nearly 20 staffers, and those lucky enough to keep their jobs are taking pay cuts. Look for other NHL teams to do the same if the lockout continues to drag on.

Don't you find that offensive? Don't you find it sickening that the people who take tickets, serve popcorn and clean sticky aisles in order to buy food will miss paychecks because a bunch of knuckleheads can't figure out how to divvy up $3.3 billion? Doesn't it seem like a publicity stunt that the NHL was crying poor and slashing office paychecks even before the first regular-season game was wiped out?

And what's even more disgusting is the total lack of urgency to get this deal done, as if both sides are content to not have hockey until Thanksgiving, Christmas or later.

That leads us to the next question …

When will this thing be solved?

Here's a better question: Why hasn't this been solved already? The NHL and NHLPA only had seven years to iron this out. If you believe the owners, Donald Fehr took over the players' union then refused to answer calls from the league for more than a year.

Meantime, the owners and commissioner Gary Bettman, who is now overseeing the third lockout in 18 years, severely underestimated just how upset the players are, and that shows a total lack of respect for the players.

So …

Who's to blame?

It's always easy to side with the athletes in these labor disputes. We know the players. Fans root for them, put their posters on their walls and their bobbleheads on their desks. No fan has the name of the owner on the back of his jersey.

And in this case, it's easy to see the players' point. They took a 24 percent cut before negotiations even started back in 2005. They accepted a salary cap. They lost a year in salary and a year off their contracts because the whole season was wiped out.

The owners pretty much crushed the players the last time around and now, suddenly, that owner-friendly deal is no longer good enough for the owners even though a bunch of them keep signing players to 13-year, $100 million deals.

Sometimes you get the feeling that this dispute isn't between the owners and players but between owners and other owners.

Which brings us to …

How is this going to end?

The guess is we will have hockey at some point this season. Maybe as early as Thanksgiving and no later than the Winter Classic outdoor game on Jan. 1.

You just keep telling yourself that there's no way these guys will let this last. Then again, this is a league that lost half the 1994-95 season and the entire 2004-05 season. There's no pressure to get a deal done because everyone in charge counts on hockey fans forgiving and forgetting once an agreement is reached, and they are probably right.

Fans like to talk tough and threaten boycotts and swear they'll never watch another game, but they can't help themselves. When hockey returns, so will the fans. And I'm not blaming them. NHL hockey is a wonderful sport. That's why we love it so much.

I'm not sure those who run it feel the same way.

   
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