I Should Be in Traverse City

My vacation started precisely at 4:00 PM Friday, but it should have started 24 hours earlier.  On Friday morning, I was supposed to be in my car headed north to Traverse City, on my way to Red Wings‘ Training Camp, and Friday night I should have been relaxing in my hotel room, getting ready for the first day of camp.  But I’m not.  Not because I couldn’t afford it or didn’t get reservations.

I’m not in Traverse City because there is no hockey.

Back in 2004, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman locked out the players in order to get a new collective bargaining agreement between the players and the league.  The lockout lasted all season – an entire professional hockey league season was lost because the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement.  In the end the players gave in, agreeing to a salary cap, a 24 percent reduction in salaries, and a whole bunch of other stuff, just to avoid having the lockout go into a second season and, ostensibly, to prevent a lockout from happening again in the future.

Yet here we are, eight years later, and we have another lockout.

I am not going to get into all the specifics of the CBA, save for a couple of things.  First, I am squarely on the player’s side in this thing.  Now, before you say, “Yeah, but they make millions, so what are they complaining about?” think of it this way – imagine your employer came to you and said your salary is going to be cut by 1/4, because that’s what the NHL wants to do – again.  It doesn’t matter if you make $30,000 a  year or $3 million, having your salary cut by a quarter is A LOT.

Secondly, the NHL KNEW the CBA they and the players agreed to in 2005 was going to expire on September 15, 2012.  They KNEW it.  Yet they waited until August to start negotiating.  Like, one month before the thing expires.  Why on God’s green earth would you wait until the eleventh hour to start negotiations…unless you wanted the lockout?  See, maybe I”m a little biased because I freaking hate Gary Bettman.  He’s a weasley little guy who really could care less about the history and the heritage of the game.  Among other things, he “NBA-ized” the NHL, much to many fans’ chagrin, ditching the traditional conference and division names (Detroit used to be in the Norris Division of the Campbell Conference) for generic geographic names (Central Division, Western Conference).  He expanded the number of teams in the league from 24 to 30, putting them in places that have no business having a hockey team, like Phoenix, which is now owned by the NHL because it is such a mess financially.  My personal opinion?  There are about four teams too many.

Photo illustration: Peggy Dombrowski

Oh, and this just happens to be the THIRD lockout under his watch.  Since 1993.  That’s 19 years, so basically every 6 1/3 years, there’s a lockout.  That just can’t be.  From a fan’s perspective, we’re fed up.  We lost a whole season not even 10 years ago, and now we’re being told to settle in for another long lockout, with some experts saying not to expect a season to start – if it does at all – before Thanksgiving.  Which should be just about the quarter-point of the season, meaning at least 20 games lost.  Now, word came down Friday evening that the NHL might cancel the Winter Classic, the now-annual January 1 event that this season is scheduled to take place at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor between the Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs, supposedly so the players can’t use it as a bargaining chip.

The 2004-05 lockout was about having the players share more of their salaries and revenues to make the NHL more financially healthy.  This lockout is just about greed.  The league wants more from the players, even though the league has been making money and is as financially healthy as it’s been in years.

I love hockey.  It and baseball are the only sports I will seek out and watch.  I am a diehard Red Wings fan…I live and die with the ups and downs of this team.  But dammit, I’m mad!  I’m pissed off!  I AM NOT HAPPY!  I WANT MY HOCKEY!  And I know I speak for a lot of fans who are fed up because we feel like the NHL doesn’t care about us.  Us, who, if we didn’t purchase tickets, t-shirts, sweaters, all sorts of memorabilia and all the other crap that you can slap a team logo on, you wouldn’t get paid.  Yes, Mr. Bettman, that’s right – WE the FANS pay YOUR salary.  YOU work for US.

We hockey fans are passionate and dedicated.  We love our sport.  But you’re walking on thin ice here, Bettman (pun intended).  You’re messing with our loyalty, taking our enthusiasm for hockey for granted.  It’s probably not wise to do that.  There are a lot of fans who are still upset because of the last lockout, and this one certainly won’t endear Bettman to any fans.  At all.

Maybe Nicklas Lidstrom had the right idea – he quit and moved to Sweden before the lockout crap hit the fan.  And the fans.

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