Hockey is the only sport that has lost an entire season because of a work stoppage. In 2011, NFL owners and players fought one another for every dollar until the moment when everyone on both sides realized that missing actual games — even exhibition games — was a disaster for everyone.
Then, there were hugs and kisses on all sides, and the money continued to roll in.
Next up was the NBA with verbal volleys flying in all directions. This time, games were lost. But by Christmas Day — when people traditionally begin paying attention to the NBA (except in Washington, where it is the day everyone officially gives up on the Wizards) — the angry words had stopped and basketball had started. Each team lost just 16 regular season games, and the playoffs were a major ratings success.
Which brings us to hockey, the sport that simply doesn’t get it.
Since Gary Bettman became commissioner almost 20 years ago, the league has had three lockouts. The word “lockout” is important: It is never the players insisting they can no longer survive under the existing terms of the collective bargaining agreement; it is always the owners.
Bettman and hockey’s owners clearly don’t believe in compromise. To them, compromise means the players accept exactly what they are offered without negotiating and thank them for allowing them to share the same room.
That may sound harsh, but it is almost literally true. During one bargaining session, the owners made a proposal, and when the players responded by making counteroffers on three of the points in the proposal, the owners and their representatives got up and walked out of the meeting.
In fact, when NHL Players Association Executive Director Donald Fehr said a couple of weeks ago that he believed the players and owners were close to making a deal, Bettman was apoplectic, making it clear that they were not close to a deal and how dare Fehr imply such a thing.
Eight years ago, when there was no hockey season, the owners insisted on a salary cap and major salary rollbacks. They got both: a cap and a 24 percent rollback in salaries. Now, they are saying that wasn’t nearly good enough. Part of the problem is that the owners themselves have manipulated the cap by giving players ludicrously long-term contracts front-loaded with signing bonuses in order to keep the cap hit down.
Beyond that, even though the league’s hockey revenues have gone from $2.1 billion at the time of the last lockout to $3.3 billion now, some franchises are struggling financially — in part because of mismanagement but in part because the league put teams in cities where they didn’t belong so it could rake in lucrative franchise fees from prospective owners. All of which is why the owners are insisting they need a larger chunk of hockey-related revenue and a CBA that prohibits them from giving players the kind of long-term contracts they have been issuing with abandon in recent years.