Memo to NHL players: You’ve lost. Accept it, concede, and take what you can get from the league.
You already make, on average, $2.4 million annually, third among major North American sports leagues but ahead of members of what is acknowledged to be the gold standard of such leagues, the National Football League whose minions, sans guaranteed contracts as many of you NHLers get, earn on average $1.9M annually based on latest available evidence.
But beyond that, you’ve lost, predictably enough, in the current dispute with the NHL because no matter how you slice it, it comes down to this: You want to play. You want to play in the NHL. The NHL has locked you out and its ownership has made quite clear they are in a take it or leave it mode, play by our (NHL owners) rules or don’t play at all.
So unless you form your own league and, sorry, fellas, but a bunch of for the most part, at present, at best high-school or some college-educated athletes would soon find running a business isn’t exactly easy.
Which is why one senses desperation - and petulance (particularly on social media) - when players are interviewed after assorted bargaining sessions (unlike REAL labour negotiations in the real world which almost always operate under a news blackout). The owners are, to put it in hockey terms, ragging the puck, have been from the start of this, and the players can't take it away from them. The players simply can’t seem to accept that the owners have said, take it or leave it – we’ve survived a no-season before; in fact reached greater heights of success after a no-season; we can do it again. If you (players) can go elsewhere and do it better, go try. And of course the players could not. They know that. Otherwise they would have taken steps to start a new league already.
So it's game over. A settlement will eventually be reached and, no doubt, it will be painted in the media as some sort of equal agreement, that certain key superstar players played a major part in solving it, but that will not be so.
Players want to play. That’s all they really know at this point in their lives, and they know they have a limited time to score the big bucks. In that sense, even with the support of the likes of veteran pro sports union negotiator Donald Fehr, the players remain essentially the serfs they were in decades past, albeit and obviously with more power than that held by the likes of, say, Gordie Howe, who at one point reportedly got a hockey jacket as a bonus for signing with the Detroit Red Wings. In the end the players are – and they know it – subservient to the owners, who assume the financial risks of running the league and hold most if not all of the cards.
The way it stands now, the players are being taken to the woodshed by the owners and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, a man loathed by many in Canada simply because he is seen as a know-nothing American running ‘Canada’s Game’ but who in fact has boosted league revenues into the $3 billion stratosphere from the low millions during his tenure. Beyond that, he's a tough as nails commissioner and negotiator of high intellegince who will, in the end, as he did during the 2004-05 lockout, win yet again.Yes, Bettman has made mistakes - the thing that irks many Canadians about him is the failure of the non-traditional hockey markets footprints in the south and southwestern United Sates. Even then, though, it's interesting that when those footprints were first planted, Wayne Gretzky, via his 1988 move to Los Angeles (which had a franchise in 1967, when Gretzky was age 6, by the way) is credited but when they fail, it's Bettman's fault.
Bottom line: Give it up, players.You can't, as you would in a hockey game when you get frustrated, petulantly start a brawl to blow off steam. This is suit and tie business (although most of the time you appear behind Fehr in media conferences in 'woe is us' T-shirts and jeans; you're not fooling anyone).
So tell Fehr you want to settle, or at least vote on the proposals before you - oh, right, the NHL has taken those off the table and if and when they come back to the table, the proposals will be even worse for the players, and keep getting so. One senses the players want to admit defeat but only pride is preventing it.
Because in the end, the players won't beat Bettman and the owners. They're businessmen, most of whom are successful in other fields and hence don't necessarily need the game. So they're tougher than the players. The players need to recognize this and concede - before they have to face the daunting prospect of getting real jobs.