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Op-Ed: Blame NHL lockout on players, fans, media — and a brain virus

By Marcus Hondro     Sep 15, 2012 in Sports
It's like some weird brain virus has come down from outer space to infect NHL players, fans, media and grumpy-looking Donald Fehr. It has caused them to think Gary Bettman is evil and, more implausibly, to insist NHLers are hard done by.
There is a test you can take to see if you have this outer space brain disease. All you have to do is absorb some information and then answer a simple question; here's the information: Nashville Predator Shea Weber signed a offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers, matched by the Preds, worth $80 million in the first six years of the contract, much of it bonuses he gets even in a lock out.
Now the question: Do you think Weber's contract is simply the status quo and okay, or do you think it's totally freaking insane? If you think it's status quo and okay, and fighting to maintain such contracts is worth a lockout, and the owners' desire to eliminate them suggests they don't care about their employees - then you have the virus from outer space.
NHL headed for 50-50 split of HRR
Look, over those first six years Shea Weber will average $13.3 million per season - and no one is talking about it. Instead they're talking about Gary Bettman! Who pays for that contract? Where do the owners get their money? All that money Shea will be paid, and Alex will be paid ($9.5 million a season, for which he totaled 65 points in 2010-11) and Sidney will be paid, etcetera etcetera, all of it comes from you and I. From fans.
I know what those with the brain virus from outer space are saying: "Well, Philadelphia offered to pay it to him and Nashville gave it to him. No one held a gun to their heads so it's all owners fault." But that point of view is part of the illness and the few fans who don't have the disease see that owners spend as much as rules allow so their team will do something fun to watch - win. That is why they outspend one another to absurd lengths and create their biggest problem - player salaries escalating at too rapid a pace.
For this free market on steroids, this striving to win literally at all costs, has taken salaries into the stratosphere, and in many markets tickets prices have followed, while in others it's led teams to lose money. Yes, rich owners can help out poor owners by redistributing money, and do. But the players suggesting that will solve all the league's problems is self-serving and doesn't take into account the whole picture. The fact is 57 percent of hockey related revenue (HRR) going to players isn't keeping the NHL healthy, not with contracts like Shea Weber's.
In fact why should the players get 57 percent of HRR? Why not 59? Or 53? What makes players cry foul with owners seeking a 50-50 split, where clearly this is heading? Further, why did players think that owners would settle for 43 percent once the dust settled from the first CBA ever to have a salary cap? And why would a 50-50 split not be a fair number division of revenue? As Bettman points out, that's the split in both the NFL and NBA.
NHL media and fans: blaming Gary Bettman
This brain virus infects media, like the cloying Jack Todd of the Montreal Gazette, who toadied up to the players when he wrote "Bettman is like a bully neighbor" and Tony Gallagher of the Vancouver Province, who said "the owners are going after the players' livelihood pretty aggressively." Gallagher must feel 10 million dollars plus, where Weber's contract would fall if the numbers were 50-50, isn't much of a "livelihood".
The fans who have the illness blame Bettman and Bettman only for all this, as if he's this evil hypnotist that has the ownership of each NHL club under his spell. Did owners get rich taking orders? No. They did it giving orders. Fans fail to see Bettman is a go-between and instead of looking at the issues in any meaningful way, simplify things by creating a Bettman with horns sticking out of his head, steadfastly refusing to let the game go on.
NHL and NHLPA deadlock
Ownership made the last offer so the puck is loose in the players' corner, but if they continue to attack Bettman and trumpet the free market it doesn't seem likely they'll make a meaningful offer anytime soon. But though Donald Fehr has them under a Bob Goodenow-like trance and they're feeling heady with all their camaraderie, and that support from media and fans, things could change once they begin losing checks.
And given the owners are not backing down - and they are not backing down - that's the only hope fans have: that players will tire of losing all that money, and not playing, and order that grumpy-looking union guy to get back to the table. If they don't, in other words if someone doesn't find an antidote to that brain virus from outer space, we will almost certainly see a repeat of the 2004-05 season.
Which means no season.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about NHL, Gary bettman, donald fehr, shea weber, Nashville Predators
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