I share with most hockey fans this stunned silence that has permeated this recent NHL lockout, a work stoppage that continues to boggle the mind. It is also the first work stoppage that has been the recipient of social media thoughts, questions, opinions, and outrage that wasn't there in prior conflicts.
It is interesting to see what impact that will have on the talks and the process. I have noticed both sides are putting more emphasis on getting their position and messaging out to the general public and hockey fans in particular. It's a different world from previous confrontations.
The 1992 player strike was met with disbelief. Hockey players, who we believed would play Canada's national game for almost no pay, actually followed through and went on strike. Their newly minted executive director, Bob Goodenow, relished the opportunity. Among those who met the strike with disbelief was NHL President John Ziegler. His ineffectual handling of the strike on behalf of NHL owners was his ultimate undoing as league head.
New NHL commissioner Gary Bettman steered the NHL through the first lockout in 1994. He relished the opportunity in the same manner that Goodenow showed two years earlier. We, as hockey fans, really had trouble believing that it was actually going to happen. The fact that the NHL pre-season games were held had most of us believing the lockout wouldn't become a reality.
Then Bettman announced a two-week delay of the NHL regular season and we still thought/hoped it would be a blip. That two week blip, unfortunately, lasted for well over three months. The result? A 48-game regular season and the loss of some of the momentum gained from the New York Rangers memorable Stanley Cup victory in 1994.
Next, the 2004 lockout and I remember thinking it was inevitable from the moment the first NHL lockout was settled in January, 1995. I know that wasn't quite the case, but we were all much better prepared and braced for the inevitable.
Canada beat Finland for the 2004 World Cup (hockey, not soccer) in September, and the lockout began a day later. Not a single face-off was taken in the form of a pre-season, regular season or playoff game for an entire season. It was the first professional sports league to shut down for an entire year. We had all been expecting it and were aware that the entire season was in peril. It was more like a yearlong toothache for hockey fans and for those of us who are fortunate to work in the business.
Now we are confused. What has happened? Didn't we just hear Gary Bettman talk about how phenomenal the NHL is doing as we saw and heard him throughout the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs? Isn't this the deal that the NHL basically unilaterally put in place in 2005?
On the player's side, why now? We saw what happened in 2005 and no longer will take them at their word that they are committed, if necessary, to sitting out an entire NHL season again. In 2005, they seemed no longer committed to their players' association. They settled with Bob Goodenow after they proved unwilling to follow his directive to be prepared to sit out for at least the one season and likely more. They hastily voted in Ted Saskin as their new boss. Then when it proved to be an inappropriate process by which he had been elected, he was gone. Enter Ian Penny. He lasted three months, or was it three weeks or even three days? Whatever.
Then entered the "next" Bob Goodenow, who would steer them through their next CBA contract talks when it expired in 2012. Paul Kelly seemed to be endorsed by everyone in and around the players' association and the game of hockey itself. In less than a year, the very same contingent of player's who had played a large hand in the hiring of Kelly, was now playing a large hand in orchestrating his ouster.
Enter the legendary Donald Fehr. He came rather late to the NHL "party" when it came to the collective bargaining agreement. But, he came as a "star" labour negotiator with an impressive track record. He had been a mentor to Bob Goodenow during his time as head of the NHLPA.
So, how did we get in this time warp? Hockey fans had been under the impression that labour peace was all but guaranteed for 2012 and a number of years beyond. Why does Gary Bettman want to take us back to 2004 all over again? Why does Donald Fehr seem to want to take us back to 1994 again (pick the NHL or Major League Baseball)?
By the way, one often overlooked fact. Though NHL executives can plead the case of the financial struggles, rightly or wrongly for a number of NHL teams and the NHL as a whole, they have benefited mightily along with the players these past two decades. The acceleration of player salaries has meant a commensurate acceleration of the salaries of NHL general manager and coaches. While Bob Goodenow was negotiating "against" them, he actually ended up negotiating for them as well.
Goodenow tells the story of being in a restaurant in an NHL city in the late 1990's. A well known coach is dining nearby. The waiter comes to Goodenow's table and mentions that the coach would like to buy Goodenow an expensive bottle of wine. Having finished dinner, Goodenow politely declines the offer. A few minutes later, the waiter returns and says that the NHL coach is pushing the offer. Again, Goodenow declines as he is about to leave.
On his way out of the restaurant, Goodenow stops by the NHL coaches table to exchange pleasantries and to thank him for his generous offer. "Hey, when the animals get paid more....the zookeeper gets paid more" and he gives the NHLPA director a big thumbs up!
Back to accessibility links