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As Leaf world activity slides into a hole, a quickie survey for you regarding your views on the pending NHL lockout

If we received, say, a hundred responses here at VLM  to the simple question:  who do you blame for the (almost certain) lockout that is now before us, I’m guessing 98 people would say Gary Bettman.

Even the most thoughtful hockey fans seem to vilify the guy.  I’m sure not here to defend him, but as I tried to stress in a previous post here, he is, for the most part (in addition to acting as a strategist and senior advisor to the ‘can’t get out of our own way’ individuals who run the NHL, is simply doing their bidding.  It’s his job to do exactly what he does, including displaying the smug manner in which he addresses virtually every subject facing his league.  Believe me, if the owners wanted him to “act” differently, he would.

I went through my own stages of grief when Bettman took the job many (20? I can’t even remember…) years ago and in what we might call the early “Bettman era”.  At this stage, I just can’t summon the energy to dislike the guy.  He is what he is, and does what he has to do. (My views in this regard may have been shaped by my God-fearing and hockey-loving father, though I'm not sure of the order there.  Dad used to tell me repeatedly when I was just a kid, and Clarence Campbell was the “President” (commissioner, really) of the NHL way back in the old 1960s “Original Six” days:  “Mike, the guy is just a puppet for the owners….”.  Dad was not right about a lot of things (for example, he was passionately devoted to the Montreal Canadiens.  It was just awful….) but on that note, he certainly made sense.  Now, he may have been bitter because Campbell was the guy who had suspended Dad’s favourite all-time player, Rocket Richard, shown at right, from the entire playoffs in 1955, I think it was, but I’ll give Dad the benefit of the doubt…)

So Bettman is more than a puppet, but he is the mouthpiece for the owners.  I’ve promised myself (and you) that I won’t whine about this subject ad nauseam here.  Unfortunately, fresh hockey subjects are few and far between these days.  Activity in Leafland is even less fruitful, which has reduced us to talking about the 20th best prospect in our system; in other words, guys who may never play in the league, much less be impact guys with the blue and white. 

So here we are.  As summer winds down and we would normally be excited about the prospects for the new season, training camp only days away, big trades and late summer free-agent signings that could help a bit, we are instead reduced to receiving predictable p.r. missives from the league and the NHLPA, as they, once again, strive to get the upper hand on public opinion - for what that is worth - in what will surely be yet another messy dispute.

All the early civility will soon pass, and we will be left with what we always are—being told that the sides are very far apart, they see the world very differently, and there isn’t much time to bridge the gap, etc..  Both sides will sound eminently reasonable, and have the future and the welfare of the sport top of mind.  If things get really unbelievable, we may even be told that they care about us, the fans. (Before we get too far and Donald Fehr talks now about how well baseball is doing in their labour relations, let’s not forget he was loathed by owners when he was in charge of the MLB players Associations.  That likely meant he was doing a good job on behalf of the players, but he wasn’t exactly considered “Mr. Harmony” back then, so he certainly won’t be any easier to deal with in the current climate….)

My concern is that things are actually worse than they were in 2004-'05.  Then, the areas of disagreement were clear.  It cost us a full season.  This time, the differences are seemingly less significant, but reading between the lines, there is a lot that separates these two parties.

In any event, as someone tweeted to me today:  call me when it’s over.  Indeed.  Precisely what I’ve been thinking…

But since we all need amusement, in the absence of real hockey activity to wet our whistle (is that still an expression people use?), let’s address some questions that will help pass the time.  Most only require a very short answer—I’ll include a wrap up question that will allow for more thorough responses:

  1. Do you think the Leafs, given their roster realities, could actually “benefit” from a shorter 2012-’13 season (e.g. if it starts in mid-January…)?
  2. Is this really all “Bettman’s fault”?
  3. Do you believe either side was really being genuine with their initial offer/counter-offer?
  4. What percentage would you place on the likelihood of a lockout at this point?
  5. Most of us agree that the owners can’t help themselves and keep offering ludicrous (and now, ridiculously long-term) contracts to individual players.  Whether you “blame” the owners or not, are you OK with player salaries continuing to balloon out of sight or do you honestly feel there should be some sort of restriction on individual salaries and/or length of contracts?
  6. Are you concerned that the everyday family simply won’t be able to go to hockey games in certain markets  any longer, as ticket prices continue to rise (I don’t mean in Tampa Bay, or places where you can get in with a box top from your favorite cereal…)?
  7. Is there anyone, on any side of this dispute—owner, player, agent, GM—that you actually “believe” when they speak on these issues?
  8. When do you think the season will start (name the precise date)?
  9. Do you know any fans that have ever made good on their talk/threat that, “If the league goes on strike/lockout one more time, I’m never going to games or paying attention again…”?
  10. What do you honestly believe is the hold-up here?  Revenues have increased.  The players are fabulously wealthy beyond what they ever could have dreamed of even a decade ago.  Some owners lose money on hockey, yes, but they all seem to do just fine in their other business ventures.  It’s more than ego, I presume, so why, really and truly, can’t people come together and divide a huge pie and make this work?

Question number 10 requires a little more in-depth response, perhaps.  As always, I look forward to hearing your perspectives on this.


  1. Nice idea Michael,

    1. No. Not that I think a full season offers them an advantage either.

    2. Of course not. We need to acknowledge that he has his own agenda for the League and curries favour amongst owners that may share his ideas for the game. He is clearly more than a puppet.

    3. Yes, in the fact that they would have liked their initial offers to have been accepted. No, because I don't think anyone would reasonably expect either offer/counteroffer to have been acceptable to the other side.


    5. Yes to both. I am not sure that it is fair to say that contracts have ballooned out of control. I think this is very true when you compare them to other Leagues. Baseball, Football and Basketball players all make considerably more money.

    6. I have never considered tickets to the Maple Leafs to be affordable to the average family.

    7. Probably not. If I had to choose who I find most credible, I will say the players are. I think a lot of them just want to play hockey and ignore the financial issues that trouble the game. I don't think this is the right way to go about a partnership, but it seems to be the way it is.

    8. October, 2013

    9. Yes. Myself included and that will not change this time. I care less and less about the League every time they do this. And they do this a lot by the way. I hate them for it.

    10. I think that first off, I will disagree wholeheartedly with the sentiment that players are fabulously wealthy. Mitt Romney is wealthy, the players are not. I love Charles Barkleys' response when this kind of statement was made to him. He said I am not wealthy, the guy who signs my paycheques is wealthy. Lets say that a lot of players are rich. Keep in mind that they pay their agents as well as taxes out of their contracts. Lots of them don't get very long in the league either.

    The hold-up is that people who have any significant amount of money always seem to want more and more of it. Are the players guilty of this, yes they are. So are the owners.

    In a way all of the participants in this have been told forever not only to compete with others, but to destroy their opponents. How many battle and war references do we hear when watching a game, especially the playoffs? The 'they are warriors' stuff makes me want to puke. Several members of my family served in the wars, WW1, WW11, and Korea. Many never came home. They were warriors, hockey players are not.

    Gordon Gekko summed it up in the movie Wall Street. "Greed is good"

    Why are we surprised that people follow this creedo?

  2. Thanks Jim. It would not be a shock if another season was lost. I suspect the players have set aside money. They know the league will lose TV contracts and I just sense the players have lots of resolve on their side.

    I, too, dislike comparing athletes with "warriors". Whenever I use such phrases in my writing, I always try to remember to say "hockey warrior", for example, so as to distinguish clearly between hard-working athletes who play through pain and those individuals who are truly laying their lives on the line.

    Lots of food for thought in your responses. We'll see how others respond, as well.

  3. most likely a lock-out (which is... disappointing for all involved-parties including/especially fans). as a fan (of hockey and capitalism), i can't help but feel that greed is the overwhelming factor here... i'm all for players etc making the big bucks (IF the demand warrants it!). however, if a lockout hits, it's going to hit the teams & the players financially (honestly though, probably not enough to teach any kind of 'you can't always get what you want... but if you try sometime, you get what you need' lesson). ah well. fans of hockey will be disappointed, but i don't think any of us will stick to our guns by 'giving up the sport forever!' who knows though! who likes basketball eh? maybe we'll get a nash in toronto after all?

  4. 1- Depends on if they play like the good Leafs (October last year) or the shit ones (Jan-Feb)

    2- Not entirely. Its the teams who give the ridiculous contracts and the teams who don't make money (PHX, FLA, etc). The in-fighting between the owners will screw us all.

    3- The owners offer was aiming ridiculously high. I can't even believe that they thought it was a good starting point. The NHLPA offer wasn't perfect but at least its a starting point.

    4- 100%

    5- Length, yes. If a team believes a player is actually worth what they pay them, I have no problem with it. Also, they have to have the resources to pay that money.

    6- Not really. Going to an NHL game should be an event for a family so once (for example) per year is reasonable. At least in Canada, there's so much hockey on TV that its easy to follow your favourite team.

    7- Of all the parties, I believe the NHLPA the most. Its clear they are protecting their interests but they also seem to want to help the league (at least a bit)

    8- Dec 1

    9- No. If people are serious when they say that, they probably weren't into hockey that much to begin with.

    10- The owners are being unreasonable. For the most part, the owners got the system they wanted in the last CBA negotiations. The league proceeds to do really well. And now the owners want the players to acquiesce again instead of fixing the real problems that the league has.

  5. Here are my responses Michael...

    1. Not really. Pressure to win games would be intense.
    2. Nope. Bettman is the focus but not the cause.
    3. No. NHL’s offer was too far to the right. NHLPA’s offer was to come at it from left field and blind-side the NHL.
    4. 98% chance of lockout.
    5. They need a firm CAP and tighter contract rules to keep salaries from going crazy. See my thoughts on needed contract changes in my post.
    6. Season tickets are way beyond hope. Single game tickets continued to be way too expensive, but people will still make sacrifices to attend a game if they can. Ticket prices are an issue, but not the core issue. Fans associate salaries more with the player’s contributions on the ice (and to the team), rather than their ticket price. Mind you, it’s a hard pill to swallow, paying over an hundred dollars a ticket to watch your team play an awful game.
    7. Actually I don’t have a problem with anyone on either side, with the exception of a small group of very rich owners (and their GM’s), who let Bettman (and the rest of the owners) look like fools when they go out and sign these huge contracts that circumvent the intentions of the existing CBA. Spoiled weasels!
    8. My guess is Dec 11th.
    9. LOL. Nope. If they didn’t come back, they probably wouldn’t be true fans.
    10. Basically there are three key reasons. ONE… The wealthier teams are extremely reluctant to share their wealth with small market teams. Greater revenue sharing is needed, and these rich owners will have to make a bit more of a sacrifice to keep a 30-team league going. TWO… The players felt they got burned with the last lockout, so much that they don’t want to take the fall again. They are extremely reluctant to give up anything. Sorry boys, 57% has got to come down closer to 50%. THREE…. The existing CBA has too many holes in it, such that brash owners and greedy players can sign these ridiculous contracts. Tighten the rules, and make the cap hits truly reflect their yearly salaries.

    Would you like to know who I blame for the position were in now? Answer: The lawyers and accountants for the NHL and NHLPA. They were the ones who crafted the wording of the CBA. They should have taken greater care in making sure the rules/clauses in the CBA prevented agents and the greedy owners from circumventing the intent of the Cap.

    P.S. I'm shocked to hear you are the son of a Habs fan. Kind of reminds me of Sylvester Jr. "Oh, father, I'm so ashamed" LOL

  6. 1. I don't think the team would repeat the start they did last season. New coach (sort of), new systems to learn, and few upgrades at important positions. They'd have to rely on a lot of help to benefit.

    2. Bettman's fault? I think we all know he is part mouthpiece and part guiding hand. It is under his watch that some of the sunbelt expansion has failed. But, the owners are not blameless in that either. And not simply the sunbelt... to be fair, Long Island has long been an issue in terms of ownership and finances. He does get credit for finding ways to help Ottawa, Buffalo and Pittsburgh.

    3. I found the owners' initial proposal somewhat shocking, rolling back from 57% player share to 46%, something like a 24% cut. I do realize some franchises are in trouble, but the league as a whole is healthier from what I have heard, so this volley kind of makes me lean to the players' side... it just seemed a drastic, almost provocative move. Don't get me wrong though, I do realize the players are going to get as much as they can, and I have heard their offer is somewhat deceptive too. Have not read up on it enough though.

    4. I'll say 50-50. I think there are some people who realize how damaging work stoppage could be.

    5. Wasn't the cost certainty of the cap supposed to limit this? Players and agents will try to get as much as they can. Owners will pay what they want. Much like housing in Toronto and Vancouver, you;d imagine it cannot continue to climb out of sight... one day the bubble will burst.

    6. A family can't go to much. A parent and a kid could potentially go. The ACC will always be full... I am hopeful though that the Marlies will benefit from pricing that allows families to go.

    7. I believe all of them. But, I start with the caveat that they are all out for their own self-interests, and within that context, what they are saying is true.

    8. On time. I think there will be some fancy dancing to salvage this without losing any games.

    9. I almost did with baseball. I have been to 1 game since the strike in 1994. I might watch 20 full games-worth a season. I used to watch Jays, Braves, Cubs and Red Sox games, the game of the week, etc. I really loved baseball, but never went back. Hockey on the other hand....

    10. It's business. It comes down to fundamentals I think. The owners believe they take so much risk, provide the capital, and to have to give up 57% of revenue is abhorrent to them. Individually, it's fine, if it makes his team better, but collectively, and to think that's what it costs to compete, they hate it. Conversely, players feel they sacrifice themselves to perform, they risk injury, they do public appearances, deal with the media, have to be away on the road, and it lines the pockets of some guy or corporation that has enough money anyway. So, why shouldn't they be entitled? Yeah, Ed Snider and Mike Illitch and Jeremy Jacobs and MLSE put up huge money... but no one comes to see a pile of money sit on the ice. It's the Girouxs and Zetterbergs and Charas and Kessels people pay to watch. No player, no draw... no draw, no money...

  7. Sasko (formerly BlueSasquatch)August 17, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    1.Well, we've seen this team play well enough to clinch a playoff spot over the course of two short spans, one roughly 40 (end of 2010-11)and the other roughly 55 (start of 2011-12). I think a shorter season may be exactly what this team needs as a confidence boost to get them there and keep them there. But then again, there's always the old saying...that's why they play the games. It'll be interesting to see what happens.
    2. Pfft, hardly. There's plenty of blame to go all around here. With that said, Bettman makes himself very easy to vilify. I mean seriously? This could be his third lockout in 20 years. What other professional sport has done that? What other professional sport has lost a season? I've always tried to give the man the benefit of a doubt because it does tend to seem the media likes to give him loaded questions and other ridiculous things. With that said, my patience is running thin.
    3. I believe the players were being more genuine but regardless, neither was doing it completely. It's funny how after the owners apparently "win" the last lockout, they're the ones calling a lockout and the players are trying to keep status quo. Ironic much?
    4. I believe a lockout is roughly 90% likely. I don't think we will see a deal done before September 15th. Maybe it might happen...if we're lucky.
    5. I believe the easiest solution to this problem is capping contracts at a 5 year limit. To me, that seems fair to the owners, players and insurance companies. These contracts today are perhaps worse than the ones before the last lockout! Luckily, the League is in a way better financial situation and can handle it better this time around.
    6. Ticket prices in Canada and other tradition markets will always be high and that's the way it's going to be. Supply and demand. I really can't say anything more than that. The owners have the right, as a private enterprise to charge what they want. It's not like hockey is an essential necessity (as much as we around these parts tend to think).
    7. Taking anyones word seriously during a lockout is like believing every word a politician says during an election. No can do!8. Well considering I just got an email about buying tickets to the Winter Classic yesterday, I'm going to be optimistic and say...January 1st! :D just like in basketball!
    9. I personally don't know anyone who has, and to be honest anyone who has such a strong opinion on the matter will probably come back 9/10 times. It's NHL hockey, everyone has their allegiances. I can't directly blame the Toronto Maple Leafs and MLSE for this lockout, even though they are part of the problem (and solution...?)
    10. I honestly think the biggest hold up here are the League trying to control and limit contracts and their length and the split of the HRR. It's pretty apparent that the PA wants to keep the status quo at 57% while the NHL wants them probably below 50% (aka closer to their salaries before the last lockout). I honestly think they should just do a 50/50 split, limit contracts to 5 years and be done with it.

  8. I "catch your drift" as we used to say in my younger days, Alex. Are lessons ever really "learned", I wonder, in these situations.

    You also gave me my smile for the day (Nash)- hope it's not the only one....Thanks.

  9. Thanks for chiming in on this one, Geoff. I'm thinking early January, but you may be right with a December 1 start-up.....

  10. Thoughtful and fair perspective as always, Mark.

    There is plenty of revenue to go around for everyone. Personally, I'd like to see the wealthiest owners share with the owners in more challenged markets, as you mention. I'd also like to see "rich" players take a bit less to share their "plenty" with players who don't have as much security.

    And yes, in the early days of VLM, I wrote a lot about my Dad and his passionate devotion to the Habs. My two older brothers, too. I was the lone wolf as the youngest in the family.....I actively chose the Leafs, I'm told, at the age of 4.

    Thanks Mark...

  11. My post just above this was intended to respond to TML__fan! My apologies TML__fan. I will address Mark's comments below.

  12. Interested to see you feel the season will start on time. That would be tremendous, Mark.

    I, too, wonder if the players' response/counter-proposal was deceptive. I think it was. Owners won't be be fooled, but neither will the players.

    Your phrase "self-interest" rings true: we all understand that, at the end of the day, both sides are mostly about their own interests. They can say they care about the welfare of the game and fans, but it's about money- and more of it for each of them.

    Great stuff, thanks Mark.

  13. I'm with you on the 5-year contract limit, Sasko, but I wonder if the NHLPA would even consider that. There would surely have to be some other trade-offs, I suspect. (And the league would still have to allow for the current contracts to progress as signed...)

    I agree, hockey is not an essential service! And I like your reference to politicians- can we ever really believe most of them most of the time?

    I hope for a lot of reasons it gets done by January 1, too.

  14. Admittedly Michael, I am feeling optimistic that a majority of people will realize that the NHL is further ahead than it was before, and there is significant risk involved in going out. The NBA just did it, I am not sure if it hurt them at the gate, but I doubt anyone wants to return to those days when leagues were routinely out with work stoppages.

    The Cup is in LA, fans want to see Sidney back on ice, Rangers fans will be eager to see Richards and Nash, things on the ice are good in Nashville... lots of good stories out there. Losing time to labour issues will not bode well in my opinion if the owners and players wish to keep momentum going.

  15. I'm in absolute agreement, Mark. So many good stories to build on, and they'll just end up playing catch-up if they can't work this out.

  16. 1.) Yes
    2.) No, he has to do what the owners tell him to do
    3.) No, but I think the NHLPA was more fair
    5.)I'd like to see seven year max deals, and maybe some sort of cap per player, but i'll leave that to someone smarter than myself
    6.)No, as someone who is 15+ hours away from a major market hockey team, you can find inexpensive seats in any market as long as you look and plan accordingly.
    7.)No, because those who know what's going on aren't saying exactly whats going on.
    8.)The season will start on time, as long as both sides are still in negotiations.
    9.)No because those people are idiots
    10.)reimburse all leaf fans since '67 for our collective emotion abuse, also if you watched game 7 in '93 you should get double with a free shot to punch kerry fraiser in the groin

  17. amackeigan- Fair point about being able to find lower-cost tickets.

    I love your answer to question number 7.

    How much could fans charge for your response to number 10!

    Thanks, good stuff.

  18. Hey Michael,
    1) I think that is actually a far deeper question than when I first started typing a trite answer. It depends massively of where you see the team's development going this year. I want to see them being more professional and more of a unified team so I think the longer the season the better.
    2) No. If you want to blame someone, try Adam Smith or John Stuart Mill
    3) No.
    4) 80%
    5) Yes, I'd like to see constraints on contracts but I'm not sure I'd do it by dollar value
    6) Given that the cost of attending a game for includes a $3,500 return ticket to the northern hemisphere I'm struggling have any sensible perspective on this.
    7) I'm far more likely to believe that the players are being honest. They aren't professional businessmen who have made themselves rich being ethically ambivalent.
    8) I'll go for Halloween
    9) Yes
    10) Because the franchises have such a wide distribution of financial success. The only solution they'll accept as a group to help the ones who are skint and getting poorer is to claw back more and more money from the players. As a group, they wont consider better distribution of wealth amongst themselves because it's tantamount to them becoming socialist (an external set of protocols forcibly redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor) and they are all successful capitalists. The players are their only other avenue.
    Solutions? Jeez, to my undoubtedly naive and idealistic mind, it would have to be making sure that you only put franchises where people want to pay to go along and watch, rather than by trying to grow a television market. The distribution of wealth gets tighter, you reduce the have-not Owners, everyone has less reason to go looking for money from some source other than what they generate as a business.

  19. Though there have been many outstanding ones, I would like to nominate your response to question number 2 today as the informal "answer of the day" at VLM, KiwiLeaf.

    I still wish owners could informally establish somewhat more reasonable salary limits, but I guess that would be called collusion, fair or not. A cap doesn't mean much if you have a luxury tax, or if some teams spend absurd amounts on one player.

    Yes, I absolutely agree it would be better if the owners did like the NFL and shared revenues with smaller markets, but they don't have a TV deal that is even in the same hemisphere as their football owner counterparts. We'll see if the owners can really begin to look out for one another.

    I suspect we'll be see another all-too-familiar public relations media blitz for the next few weeks, unfortunately.

    Thanks for chiming in on this one, KiwiLeaf.

  20. Thanks Mike.

    Do we know if camps will go ahead if there's no new CBA for September?

  21. I don't think so KiwiLeaf. I could be wrong, but I believe the current contract expires right around the time training camp starts for most teams in mid-September, so I'm guessing they won't start camps unless there is a deal, which means the season is automatically going to start late if there is no agreement by September 15....

  22. 1. Yes, the Leafs (under Ron Wilson at least) have come across as a rip-shit-or-bust team so a shortened season may be exactly the advantage they need. The shortened season could provide them just enough time to piece together a solid run without ruining it.

    2. No, but as much as I agree with your "puppet" analogy it doesn't make me despise his smug and snarky disposition any less. It would be nice to pinpoint a particular scapegoat for this whole mess but it seems to me as if it's just a culmination of a bunch of varying factors.

    3. Not the league, but good on them for at least getting the ball rolling. The PA has shown no urgency throughout this process which has been beyond aggravating.

    4. A very optimistic 80%. If you had asked me this about a week earlier it would have been lower but recently I've been reading that the two sides cannot even come to an agreement about whose proposal to begin negotiations off of. They are literally negotiating to negotiate.

    5. I tend to fall in the Brian Burke camp on this issue. I think some restrictions would be healthy as the length of contracts are getting ridiculous. I don't really blame anyone for it, the rules currently in place allow it, so why not capitalize on it? But the potential consequences these deals could have on a franchise really do worry me.(Read: Dipietro, Rick)

    6. My only point of reference for this is Leafs tickets and I gave up on hoping to land a pair of those a while ago.

    7. I'm not in-the-know enough to call anyone a liar but I probably sympathize with the PA the most. They have shown a willingness to forgo some profit for the benefit the league as a whole.

    8. Januray 1st, 2013

    9. No, and I hate how fans are almost vilified in this process. As if we are scorned lovers who stupidly return to our abusive spouses every time they wrong us only to be slighted again. We are a passionate folk who love the game of hockey and shouldn't have to apologize for that. Yes, we may look slightly mindless when we return by the thousands to support an organization that has shown little regard for our allegiance but we shouldn't be judged for that.

    10. The owners are men of business and have spent their entire careers chasing growth and unending increase. They see a new opportunity to capitalize on to insulate themselves, pad their finances and will not relent until they are confident they have put themselves in a position where they are certain they'll be making more money.

  23. Well stated, Chris. I think you make a really fair point on number 9. As fans, we do fall back in line after being shoved aside by the players and the owners in these situations, but I like the way you explain why we do. It's our passion for the game, and that trumps our anger and frustration.