Lockout, lockout, here we come. It's about time, too.
The folks here at LBC haven't covered the looming NHL lockout in great detail up to this point, mainly because there's generally nothing to report that hasn't been covered ad nauseam through just about every other news outlet, including many of the hockey blogs here at SB Nation. Aside from some ridiculously obtuse and vague commentary from the puppet shows that are Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr's press conferences, there just isn't much to say anymore that can be considered news worth reading. There's arguments to both sides and although it seems the media and fans are mostly siding with the players, it matters not. The billions of dollars in the pot still sit there and the two sides are still holding on to a stack of Benjamins (or perhaps a sack of toonies), one on each side, pulling back and forth while the rest of the world watches and shakes its collective head.
As we watch this debacle continue to unfold, as we pick sides and bang our fan-drums while condemning millionaires for their supposed greed, as the media continues to provide insight and speculation into a process that shouldn't be this hard, many of us also sit back and mourn the loss of the sport we love so much. We fret that our beloved fall evenings won't be filled with hushed screams as our favorite players roof the game winner or shut down the opposition on a powerplay. We hang our heads and realize that the game we all love simply won't be there until this quarrel is settled.
Not me. Let's get this non-party started.
Let's make this very clear: the two sides aren't happy with each other, nor their "offers" that have been brought to the negotiations so far. They're not close, not even remotely. Any indications of this labor dispute getting solved quickly are non-existent, and anyone hoping to see different should lay their hopes to rest. The 2012-2013 season simply will not start on time. And you know what? That's a good thing.
This labor dispute, and the subsequent lockout, are indicative of a much larger set of problems. The NHL, as it stands today, is unquestionably growing in both size and profitability. Things like the Winter Classic, season openers in Europe, rising television ratings and a whopping $3+ billion in revenues should indicate the NHL is not only becoming a more relevant sport in North America, but globally, and now is the time to sit down and truly hash out the constant, stifling labor issues that help prevent NHL hockey from becoming an even larger presence in the sporting world. It's akin to leaving a benign tumor in your neck. It's not going to kill you, but eventually it's going to get so large that you find it hard to ignore.
The NHL and NHLPA need to have this lockout happen. They need to have their profits and livelihoods threatened and they need to spend a serious amount of time working on a comprehensive solution to the many issues that both parties have brought to the table this offseason. The league as a whole needs to devise a system, with the player's involvement, that can not be continually abused or broken again in several years so that another work stoppage doesn't have to arise for a fifth time since 1992. Both parties need to stop thinking solely about themselves and start thinking about the long-term health of the league and sport in general, because if this type of event is on a four or five year cycle, that $3 billion figure likely won't get a whole lot larger over time.
We as fans need to let this happen and support it. Why should we support millionaires and billionaires arguing about money? That's a question we hear a lot, and it's a valid one, but so is this: Don't you love hearing about how the Panthers are losing money and will eventually be relocated? No need to answer; that's rhetorical. Of course fans of the team (and Bettman himself) hate hearing that question, but until the hockey related revenue issues are better fleshed out and revenue sharing among the 30 teams in the league is more equitable and balanced, every hater of sunbelt hockey, whether it be Florida, Phoenix, Dallas or elsewhere, will continue to use as much anecdotal revenue slamming of those franchises as possible to justify their relocation to the middle of a frozen tundra. That goes beyond the sunbelt as well. Just ask the Devils, Islanders or any of the other teams that sit in more traditionally hockey-friendly locations yet suffer financially as well, partially due to a busted revenue sharing system.
No one, not even Bettman or Fehr, are clairvoyant enough to solve problems that may arise with a new collective bargaining agreement 20 years from now. But they, and everyone else involved in these negotiations, can surely fix the glaring issues that exist today in such a fashion as to prevent further work stoppages for close to the next decade. Bettman has solidarity among the owners, and Fehr the same with a very unified (pun intended) base of players. What they truly need is solidarity among everyone to acknowledge the damage done to the league in the long term if a solid CBA is not constructed over the course of this lockout. The goal shouldn't just be to have the players and league participate in the 2012-2013 season, or even the next three years. The goal should be to keep the league, and those who rely on it for their own livelihood, in a growing and profitable state for a long, long time, and that means working out a CBA that stands the test of time.
I don't have much hope for that, and I doubt many others do as well. This has become, as so many other things do in today's world, about money and nothing else. Sure, both sides trumpet their "all for one and one for all" plans at times, but beneath all the rhetoric, it's about the almighty dollar. Until both sides start thinking about the sport and the league itself, we're doomed to repeat history yet again.