It's like the annoying, festering, plague-ridden, defecating, endangered elephant in the room: Not hard to acknowledge at all, but no one wants to speak of it because the implications are just so depressing.
Still, the NHL CBA negotiations are set to resume for the first time since the NHL's initial (depending on who you read) laughable, insulting, or par-for-early-negotiations proposal. In his always must-read 30 Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman noted who's representing the $3 billion captains of industry:
Right now, the owners on the NHL's negotiating committee are Jeremy Jacobs (Boston), Murray Edwards (Calgary), Ted Leonsis (Washington) and Craig Leipold (Minnesota). (Brian Burke, Jim Rutherford, Bill Daly and Brendan Shanahan also attended last Friday's meeting.)
Friedmann goes on to cite the irony of the presence of Leipold, the guy who bailed on Nashville -- remember when he sold them to Jim Balsillie? -- then bought the Wild, then cried poor about player salaries this spring, only to drop a combined 26 years and $198 million on the two most-sought free agents this summer.
But I'm equally interested in the other members:
- Jacobs, the eternal hard-liner who, with Harry Sinden, made the Bruins one of the zombie Original Six markets for way too long (it didn't get as bad as Wirtz Blackhawks, but it was pretty dicey), and
- Leonsis, a refreshing "new era" owner who -- unlike some of the members the NHL courts -- actually had money and enthusiasm.
Jacobs is always interesting because in his outrage over player salaries he used to run his big market squad like a small market team, and the attendance showed. Then he cleared the books for the last lockout in a plan to gobble up free agents in a salary cap system (didn't work out). Now his squad is a more traditional cap-ceiling squad with a recent Cup win to show for it. It's tough to see the formerly miserly Jacobs going for the only reasonable alteration for the NHL to maintain 30 healthy teams: Increase revenue sharing and lower the floor so you don't have five or six superprofitable franchise inflating everything, and maybe roll back the players' 57% share of revenues just a smidge.
Indeed, with the owners generally having longer time horizons than the players, it's hard to see where they'll "give" at all.
Leonsis is generally seen as a "good guy" owner by fans, resuscitating the Capitals, returning them to their original colors, creating exciting hockey and even giving Alex Ovechkin a non-cap-circumventing deal. But the shine has dulled a little bit on the Caps and especially that Ovechkin contract. And now Leonsis is canceling the very popular Capitals fan convention two-three months in advance in a blatant alarm about "labor uncertainty" heading into the fall.
Maybe Leonsis is just doing his part as an owner, acting all "I'm serious!" about the possibility of a stoppage in the fall. (Even so, why not engage fans at that time, when there are no games to keep them attached?) But I suspect he's also making a calculated decision not to set staff and fans up for an event that he thinks has a very good chance of being canceled anyway.
As with the instant and fiery reactions to the NHL's leaked proposal last Friday, it's too early to let the emotional temperature rise based on the ups and downs of negotiations and the makeup of the parties at the table. When life seems intolerably absurd, best to play around with frivolity and mirth. But I'm going to overreact anyway, because the 2004-05 lockout was too painful to have to relive.
Granted, certainly if the owners want concessions -- they obviously do -- they need to start from a position of gloom and make it seem like a lockout is entirely possible. Which it is. They won't want to lose a whole season again, but they're probably willing to make the least lucrative months of September, October and November optional. Hey, small price to carve out a larger slice of the pie, right?
It's just an unforgivable thing to do to fans. Unforgivable to put them in this situation this summer -- Hey, got your Brooklyn plans finalized yet? Have any road trips in mind? -- just as it was unforgivable to pretend that keeping ticket prices down was a primary motivation in the last lockout. Friedmann also notes that a lot of coaches have clauses where they'll get paid only 50 percent of their normal rate during a stoppage: Class act when arguing over how to split up billions!
Ah, sports owners, toying with the most blindly loyal consumers in the marketplace. At least the movie version of all this was entertaining.