OK, time to get away from the hilarity of LW3H’s acronym mania.
Today is the first day of Rangers training camp, which of course won’t happen, and thus is the first actual day of Rangers being locked out.
Here’s the unedited version of my column from The Journal News and LoHud.com today:
By Rick Carpiniello
So I went to the doctor for a physical yesterday, and what did he say as soon as he opened the examination-room door?
“When are we going to have hockey?”
That’s a hockey fan. Their sport has been locked out for less than a week, and in that time there wouldn’t have been any hockey anyway, and yet they fret.
Today would have been the first eventful day for the Rangers, who were supposed to open training camp with their annual no-pucks torture-test administered by coach John Tortorella.
And in addition to declaring a lockout (in a supposed unanimous vote, though that seems suspect) at midnight last Saturday, the owners have canceled all preseason games through the end of this month.
Not much else has transpired to cause a hockey fan much immediate grief – other than many players making contingency plans to play in Europe.
There is grief, though, mostly because NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, the man who locked the doors, has done this before – this being the third lockout of his regime, including the one that killed the entire 2004-05 season and playoffs.
There is grief, too, for anybody with a conscience, even those who don’t particularly care which team wins or loses, or which side gets 57, 53, 47 or 43 percent of the $3.3 billion of the NHL’s revenues.
That includes me. I find it absolutely disgusting that in this battle over billions of dollars, minions are getting clobbered. People who make $50,000 a year, or $30,000 or whatever, are being laid off or furloughed by billionaire owners because of the owners’ lockout.
Heck, the Florida Panthers even laid off mascot Stanley C Panther. Some teams have said they don’t plan on layoffs – good on the Rangers, Devils, and Carolina Hurricanes, to name three – but the league headquarters, where Bettman is king, is cutting down to four-day weeks. In other words, 20-percent paycuts for the people who do all the work behind the scenes.
Disgusting. The teams could probably pay all their employees all year for what Bettman makes (nearly $8 million per), or what the star player on their team makes.
Bettman and his first lieutenant, Bill Daly, have both said they won’t accept pay during the lockout, after NHL Players Association boss Donald Fehr did the same. That’s the same Fehr, by the way, who was hired by the NHLPA after being such a powerful fource for Major League Baseball’s union, just for this particular war.
Bettman is an experienced general here, and these things always end the same way – with the players capitulating and the owners victorious.
Except that it never turns out to be that way. Bettman was rewarded with his contract extension and kingly salary after getting the salary cap in ’05, but players’ salaries rose, on average, by more than $1 million per player since that lockout. And owners claim losses of $120 million last year, despite the rise in revenue from $2.1 billion to $3.3 billion. Obviously, too, owners still have no problem handing out ludicrously lavish 10- and 11-year contracts for upwards of $90 million or $100 million. So much contradiction.
This won’t go away quickly or quietly. A key date will be when owners start losing ticket and local TV revenues. A bigger date will be Oct. 15, when the players’ first checks are due, and then Oct. 30, when the second checks are due, and so on. The owners are in for a long fight – NBC will pay them their TV money with or without games – and the players know the owners have killed one season before.
Some small market teams might even lose less money by having their doors closed than they would lose by playing hockey. On the other hand, a team like the Rangers stands to lose a bundle – especially with the expensively renovated Garden going dark for hockey.
The players act naïve. Ex-Ranger Brandon Prust tweeted this week that he doesn’t understand why they can’t play under the old agreement while trying to work out a new one. The great Bobby Orr said both sides should be locked in a room with no food or water until a deal is made (somebody always says that during these things). They have to know that it won’t work that way, that is has to be played out over time and with leverage. Right?
How much time? The NHL’s (and NBC’s hockey) Super Bowl is the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at the big house in Michigan. That’s a good guess.
But it could be longer.
As Dave Shoalts wrote in the Toronto Globe and Mail this week, the owners see fans as “ATMs with arms and legs.”
And nothing more.