Photo Credit: Brian Bahr/Getty Images
As the CBA drew near to its expiration late last week, a flurry of signings around the league came through the home office pipelines and antiquated fax machines as teams tried to re-sign players under the current rules of the now-expired CBA before it was to expire at 11:59pm ET this past Saturday night. Included in those multitude of signings was Predators defenseman Kevin Klein and rookie sensation Craig Smith.
Kevin Klein, ofttimes a scapegoat in some fans eyes, has played the best hockey of his career in the past season, registering 4 goals/17 assists last season in 66 games (AND only 4 penalty minutes all year long) before breaking out with 2 goals/2 assists in 10 postseason games as well. Klein’s defensive play throughout the past couple of seasons has easily increased his value while he has quietly remained out of the negative spotlight (which is great for Klein). Being signed to a 5 year, $14.5mil deal is a plus for the Predators and their defense, as Klein would have easily made much more than that on the open market.
Craig Smith came straight from the University of Wisconsin, skipped over the Milwaukee Admirals, and started the season for the Nashville Predators last year after being drafted and signed to a 2 year EL deal worth about $690,000 at the NHL level. The result? 14 goals, 22 assists (36 points) and finished tied with P.K. Subban for 13th in total points from a rookie in the NHL. Smith has a massive amount of upside and will be producing points for years to come. His deal, a 2 year, $4mil deal, is a type of “Yeah, you had a great rookie year, but here is some incentive to do even better over the next couple of years”. Some might say $2mil a season is too much, but with that point total from a rookie on the Predators? If I had the money, I’d write that check in a heartbeat.
Now, onto the more depressing and expected news of the weekend, the NHL Lockout.
Yes, we pretty much knew this was coming. Still depressing? Absolutely. Still expected? Oh you betcha. Still ridiculous? Ridiculous by the truckful. Yet, either way, the most depressing part about this entire thing is that hockey fans have to go through this for the 4th time in 20 years (1 strike and now 3 lockouts).
While the strike of ’92 was pre-Gary Bettman, all 3 lockouts have been during the tenure of Bettman. Now, is that to say I blame Gary Bettman for the lockout? No, not in the least, I blame business and greed for the lockout. However, that’s a two-way street. Personally, I believe they should just agree on a 50/50 split of everything that has to do with money and get on with it, they can work out all the other semantics later on. 50/50 would be the fairest for everyone, however someone always wants more money than the other. That’s just the way greed works, folks.
Call me right, call me wrong, call me an idiot, I don’t mind it, but you know what the most disconcerting part of this whole process is? Last week during the NHLPA’s last televised press conference, the players and Donald Fehr showed their solidarity by all standing together in front of the camera’s/media for everyone to show how they. This week? Players are darting overseas to start playing for the multitude of European leagues and the KHL as well.
So, what kind of solidarity does that show? Yeah, I know and understand that players can still stay in touch and communicate with the PA and all of their representatives while overseas and playing for another team, but the fact that so many players are already signing contracts when the lockout is less than two days old (brought to you by this) shows that not only could this be a lengthy process, but players aren’t going to wait for games to start being canceled before heading overseas to play hockey.
While I also understand there are (at least I hope) clauses for these players to come back to the NHL once the lockout is over, it puts serious doubt in my mind that this lockout will be ending anytime before the new year. While I initially thought the work stoppage would end somewhere near Thanksgiving, my normally über-optimistic self is starting to see a duplication of the 2004-2005 lockout, but this time more obvious to the fans than it was before with less “hope” to go around.
But what about the Winter Classic? That could be the only saving grace, here, as NBC has paid $200 million for their longterm deal to show the Winter Classic on their channel. While the majority of me thinks this will be the lit match below the waistline that it will take for the owners to start moving down in their demands, part of me thinks they may just go right past that date and into obscurity, which is the ultimate path for the NHL when you have a “let’s not get a long-term CBA done and just lockout every decade or so” type of thought-process.
That’s right, I said it. The NHL is going to be more obscure than it is in the major sports world if this type of ridiculousness continues. The players can’t prevent it, the fans can’t either, the only people that can prevent this is the owners. The NHL is already the 4th-most watched major sports league out of the NFL/MLB/NBA/NHL. The casual fans had just bought back into the NHL over the past couple of seasons, especially here in Nashville. You know what this lockout does? Collapses everything
Yes, at least the NHL will have better TV broadcasts being on NBC’s food ticket after the lockout is over and done instead of starting up with OLN (which turned into Versus before being bought out by NBC and turning into the NBC Sports Network), but any and all momentum that teams had with the occasional fan who wanted to take in a hockey game has now dissipated like a fart in the wind.
The major markets won’t have any trouble filling their arenas. Philly, New York (Rangers, of course. The Islanders can’t draw much anyways), most Canadian teams, yeah they’ll be fine. However, what about Floridian teams? Nope. Carolina? Sorry. Columbus? I feel even worse that they may lose the All-Star Game out of this. Nashville? It’s going to hurt Nashville too.
Every team that isn’t considered a “major market” or hasn’t had major success over the past decade will be hurt by this lockout. The casual fan will quickly forget about the NHL and move on to something else. The die hards will be back, they will always come back, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see sub-75% filled arenas on a normal basis for a while in some towns.
The real hypocrisy of it all? It’ll take time, but things will repair themselves. The NHL will be back to the level of popularity it was at when the Cup was handed out this season, one of the highest in it’s entire history. The fans will come back, because like any habit-forming drug out there, the NHL’s die hards can’t live without their hockey.
Will they pay for it? You bet they will. Will they sit through the third lockout in 20 years? Don’t think twice. Will they moan and complain about it and protest with signs in front of the NHL Store in downtown NYC? Is there another analogy I can use besides just simply saying yes? But, the fans will come back. They’ll pay their inflating ticket prices and come back to watch the sport they are addicted to, like the first drag of a cigarette after trying to go cold turkey for the fourth time.
The owners are banking on it. The owners know they’ll come back. The owners know they have such a stranglehold on the die hards that it’ll be enough to resuscitate the fan bases around the NHL until the arena’s fill up again. That’s how it happened in 2005 and it’s happening again in 2012.
Will I come back? Damn straight I will. Will I pay for my tickets? I’ll be the first to pull out my pen and sign my checks away.
This circle will never change. You just have to hope that a long-term CBA is established (10 or so years) to where it’ll take some time before we see the next lockout. The players didn’t have a sense of urgency to get it done until after the season ended. The owners aren’t going to back away from their demands of making more money than the current 43% of the revenue they have in the now-expired CBA and they’ll try to stick it to the players the best they can, even though they’re banking about $1 billion a year. The fans are going to cry foul and rightfully so as this is the third time in 20 years the people who PAY to watch/support/breath this sport are getting the screws put to them.
Either way, I’m not sure when we’ll see hockey again, I’m no longer even putting a real guess on it. But…what I do know is this:
The NHL’s current business model is a failed business model. When you have to lockout 3 times in 20 years, you have a failed business model. When you’re business is making the most money it’s ever made in it’s entire history and you still lockout the people that ultimately produce that money for you because you want more money, you have a failed business model.
Until that changes, we’ll be here to suffer and endure the forthcoming lockouts after the next CBA ends. The video below, which sums up being a Cleveland Browns fans (myself included), sums up all the hatred/animosity/depressed fandom towards a failed organization with a failed business model with one line at the end of the video:
“You are a factory of sadness!……I’ll see you Sunday…”