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The Only Winning Move Is Not To Play (aka: Shut Up and Take My Money)

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Perspective is a word that keeps coming to mind as I think on the NHL lockout. Perspective to see things not as they are being presented but as they are. Perspective to see why each side is doing what they are doing. Perspective to remain objective and not get taken in by some gimmick.

I can remember the previous lockout like it was yesterday. I remember reading Eklund's blog when it was still on blog spot and before he became a fraud. I remember being on a business trip at the University of Arkansas when the players offered the 24% roll back. I remember driving up to Maryland to visit my brother who had just finished basic training when there was the fake news about the lockout ending.

Remember that one? It was a particularly good one. A rumor started Friday that the lockout was going to come to an end by Saturday at noon. There was to be a press conference at a hotel in New York by noon on Saturday marking the end of the lockout. ESPN picked it up and started reporting it as true. This was when Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux got pulled in. It ended up being a stunt, mostly perpetuated by a few rogue agents to try and force something.

I can also remember when Bob Goodenow said he wasn't going to show up to meetings if Gary Bettman was there and how poorly that turned out for him. Stick tap to DBSJ who reminded me of this a few days ago. Goodenow made a power play and thought that if he wasn't there, no deal could get done. The problem is, Bettman accepted his gambit, sent his second in his place, and a deal was struck. Goodenow proved how toxic he was, a deal was struck without him, and he was ousted.

Perspective. So what does this have to do with the current lockout?

See, in the previous lockout the stakes were different. The Rangers, and with them a few other big market teams, were spending money like it was going out of style. You can say it was only a few teams, but it only takes a few teams to greatly distort salaries. If you need a corollary look at how player salaries have jumped in MLB since the Yankees return to prominence in the mid to late 90's and the escalation of the Red Sox and Yankees rivalry. See when a few teams are willing to spend that much money on players it forces all teams to spend. You see, talent, especially top tier talent, is scarce. It only takes a few well heeled teams to completely change the market.

And, in the previous lockout, the market itself was what was broken. Oh sure, Dollar Bill Wirtz tried to hold the line on salaries, but look how well that worked for the Black Hawks who went from a Stanley Cup finalist in 1992 (and seriously, check the roster for that team. It was so stacked Dominick Hasek was the back up to Eddie Belfour. The back up! And we haven't even started talking about Chelios, or Amonte, or Roenick), to an also ran in just a few short years.

Add to that the rising discrepancy between the US and Canadian Dollar and you had a market that was squeezing out Canadian teams (Jets and Nordiques) while at the same time making things unbearable for small market teams.

(Quick side note here, I find it completely disingenuous when I hear Fehr or the players yapping about having to save the owners from themselves. It's the market that dictates, not the owners. See, if it were the Owners that were dictating these things, that would be collusion, and the NHLPA would be up in arms about that. The PA can't have it both ways. It needs to accept that what's going on here is market based and needs a structural change and not simply rogue owners who opt to pay too much, especially when there is a salary floor that forces those things)

The thing is, with this lockout, is that there are no huge structural market changes that need to be made. There need to be some tweeks, no doubt about that. Even NFL players recognized that allowing owners to have a pool of money to improve stadiums ultimately leads to higher revenues for everyone. Owners need to recognize that things aren't so dire that they need a huge immediate roll back of salaries, and that large market teams are unequally prospering and therefore need to kick in some additional revenue sharing.

The problem is, it's hard to maintain that perspective when the two sides treat the fans like pawns. On Friday, two unrelated but similar events occurred, one from the players side and one from the owners side. First, the players side, which has been covered already by Jamie. It was on that day that, at least in Carolina, although I did read some tweets about it occurring elsewhere, players started to skate in NHLPA jerseys that had on the back "#theplayers". Second, Carolina Hurricanes Owner Peter Karmanos, or his surrogate, sent out a letter to Carolina Hurricane Season Ticket Holders. I believe it's been posted elsewhere, but this is a direct link to the letter on the Canes Now blog.

Both sides, remarkably enough on the day that training camp would have opened, came out with a message. The PA making us remember this is about the players and how much we like and respect them. Ownership, not just management but ownership, with a message letting us know that they are looking out for our interests and will keep us informed of any new developments. Both sides are looking out for our best interests while at the same time refusing to negotiate.

What does my perspective lead me to think on these moves? It leads me to think that both sides think that we, the fans, are at best pawns in some larger game. More realistically, they don't even think of us.

Jimmy Devellano, a senior vice president for the Detroit Red Wings, gave an interview with Island Sports News recently where he called the players "cattle". The things is, as a fan, I'd love to be of the level of cattle in this lockout. Cattle get fed and get the well being looked after, something the fans aren't getting at the moment.

The thing is, both sides, the players and the owners, have lost perspective here. I'm not terribly surprised. The players allowed a guy like Fehr to become the Union head, a guy who took the job for the sole reason of going up against Gary Bettman and refighting the last lockout for no other reason that to stoke his ego and perhaps raise his reputation. And the owners, the owners have been unrealistically looking at the previous NFL and NBA negotiations as precedents for the current NHL negotiation when in fact those were more antecedents of the last NHL negotiation.

Both sides are so deep in to this fight over splitting up the pie that they've forgotten one thing: It's not the owners and players pie to split, it is the fans pie to give. This $3.3 billion in revenue isn't magically created by the HRR fairy, it's created when fans like us get up, go to work, and decide to spend some of our money watching a game. And, worst of all, neither side cares about that. Neither. They're so enamored with the dollar signs, they've forgotten where those dollar signs come from and that ultimately both sides are in customer service. Here we are, as fans, shouting "shut up and take my money" like we're Philip J Fry and they're pushing Slurm, and they don't care.

The unfortunate reality for fans is that right now the only winning move is not to play. Until we as a group opt out of the system, this silly fight will continue. Hockey is our crazy significant other, and until we are truly willing to break up with them they're going to keep getting drunk at parties and embarrassing us. Maybe it's time we start giving that nice sport our parents have been talking about.