Like most open-minded left-leaning people who’d love to smack the smug little bastards on this site, my knee jerk reaction regarding any labour dispute is to side against the capitalist overlord. This is why my initial impulse to the NHL lockout, which has now claimed the entire preseason and all November regular season games, was to fantasize about water-boarding all of the hedge fund addicted owners lead by that midget vampire overlord, Gary Bettman. In my mind, NHL owners handing out long term, big money contracts to overpriced talent they now claim are out of control, is a little like the heroin dealer acting all surprised when their customers are scratching at their door for an extra fix. While the hating the owners thing was certainly working for me, things got complicated when the players came along and started hyperbolically framing themselves as victims of a war crime against Canada’s commercialized national past-time. You can see what I’m talking about in the video below.
This third-rate player plea for public sympathy is ridden with cheesy nostalgic anecdotes about skating at the outdoor rink “until your toes are numb” or “imagining game seven.” It made me want to stab myself with a freshly sharpened skate. If they really think they’re being severely mistreated, then maybe they should go and see what other multimillion-dollar jobs they can get with a high school education and a junior hockey career. And, let’s be honest, originally asking for 57 percent of league revenue, when the NBA and NFL (two vastly more successful leagues) operate at 51 percent for players, makes them look like greedy assholes. Meanwhile, blue-collar franchise employees, like ushers and administrative staff, are completely out of work with no multimillion dollar savings account to back them up.
First of all, the oppressive days of yore when owners practically treated players like peasants tilling fields, profiting off of their sweat with uneven pay distribution, have been over for at least forty years. Consider that any of the former greats like Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, or their entire teams combined, didn’t exactly earn the type of make it rain money in their entire career that the average player makes now in a single season. Granted, since then there’s since been market inflation, a collective bargaining agreement for the NHLPA that isn’t based on serfdom, and bigger revenues. That said, the Orrs and the Howes were actually the ones that got treated like shit. Many former players made so little money they had part time jobs as firemen or handymen. Rocket Richard famously spent the day moving furniture before scoring eight points in a game and it’s not like the guy wasn’t moving his own apartment just to prove a point about his virility, he just couldn’t afford a fucking mover. Juxtapose that image with Alex Ovechkin’s January purchase of a $4.75 million mansion in Virginia and I hope you’re beginning to see where I’m coming from here.
I’m not one to exclusively shit all over the players for how much they make. Frankly, their salaries are a direct reflection of league revenues, which includes ticket sales, twenty-dollar beers, and mega-TV deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In other words, player salaries are fairly calibrated to the industry we willingly pay to watch. Next time you hear somebody disgusted about “what a fucked up world we live in where surgeons make a quarter of what a hockey player makes,” call bullshit. If people wanted to pay a minimum of seventy-five dollars to watch some nerd cut up a geriatric’s hip open from the nosebleeds, then maybe they would, but nobody does, so shut up.
That being said, the players are going to have to be willing to act like adults and negotiate, rather than try to make people feel bad for them. Although NHL economic growth may be healthy and exponentially increasing right now (a frequently cited point by the NHLPA), everything from the apocalypse to a depression has been forecasted by most economists, and guess what? Besides a few people in Minnesota, the only people who give a baker’s fuck about hockey in North America are Canadians. It won’t be the NBA that dies out during an economic plummet, or even the lowly MLS who can at least count on ethnic communities in North America to support them. Revising revenue schemes might be a justifiable and pre-emptive move towards ensuring the league’s financial stability so it doesn’t disintegrate in the event of a market collapse. And outlawing fourteen year marathon contracts worth an estimated 110 million dollars might be a way of doing that. C’mon guys, it’s called an austerity measure, ask Greece about it.
Instead of making themselves the victim, players should admit that this lockout hurts most for fans. In fact, the kids they were describing who are still innocent enough to think hockey players are heroes, you know, the ones lacing up their skates for 6 a.m. practise and freezing their toes off, dreaming of game seven or whatever the fuck, they’re losing out too.