I don't get paid for this gig except in kudos and the occasional ability to direct friends and family over to the site to show what REAL fans think about all of this lockout nonsense. I cannot imagine what the hockey beat writer is going through right now, having virtually nothing to work with since the lockout started. Both factions are earnest in spouting their constant and maddening rhetoric with no apparent end in sight. Both sides have a lot of money in their coffers to sit this mutha out for quite awhile and neither side is giving props to the other for anything. People are bored of this whole thing already and though we all wish hockey would come back, nobody that I know right now is hurting, pining, yearning or even cooing for the game to return.
I truly feel for the hockey beat writer, a person whose prime mission in life is to report the goings-on of the home team, the injuries, the coach's thoughts, the contract talks, the determination of the slumping player to get it in gear, the cool proclamation of the hot player explaining how it's the 'help of his teammates' or that he is 'just getting the bounces' or being the first to report whether the rookie, free agent or trade acquisition has been given the ending of 'sy' or 'er' to their last name as the snappy new nickname. (If the NHL could throw anything in these CBA talks, they should force the players to come up with original nicknames to save us all that indignation). Most of all the reporters share with us all the 'little' human stories that everyone ohhs and ahhs about and gives our heroes a level of humanity that we can all empathize with (damn I hate that Matthew Barnaby but what? He's a huge fan of 'The Gilmour Girls' and he thinks the X-Men are just the coolest? Well, he's aok in my books! These stories brighten our days and make everyone just a little happier. Alas, there are no players around the rink, most of them don't live in the hometown and nobody at this point are obligated to talk to the press about anything. When any of the players are talking to the press, it is all the same, the NHL are the evil empire, wish they would see the light and we are in it for the long haul. These are a whole new bunch of clichés that are growing older by the second.
Hence the beat writer's dilemma, what in the name of Zarley Zalapski can they write about that people are going to actually be interested in? Trade rumours (ahem) are nothing but complete speculation so like with some writers (you know who you are Garrioch and Brooks) they can't even champion getting rid of players who won't give them the time of day for an interview or laugh at their fashion sense. Let's also not forget the fact that trades cannot be executed at this point so it is also a practice in futility. Can the writer talk about the human factor? No fan right now is seeing any of this with any sort of humanity involved because most of the people talking for both sides are lawyers and we all know that lawyers aren't human. They are all doing their best Borg imitations (Resistance is futile! You will agree to a hard cap! No, you will agree to a luxury tax system!) Any players we see have glum looks on their faces and all look like they have spent time looking at Bob Goodenow's watch as he moved it side to side. As for Bill Daly, put a blue shirt on him and you can picture him whacking his hat at Gilligan. It's a joke and sound bytes are at a premium.
Whenever anyone breaks the ranks, the writers are jumping on it like piranha. Oh wow, Paul Healy might break the line if the league goes with replacement players? Paul Healy isn't good enough to crack the Leafs fourth line in a 30 team league so I'm pretty sure this has Mats Sundin awfully worried. That Russian kid in Florida might break ranks? It will also be the only chance for him to see more than 3 minutes a game. Chris Chelios wants Gretzky as commissioner? Chelios is now training for the Greek bobsledding team and is crazier than a loon so enough said about that. The new Atlanta owner says they will go with replacement players is nothing is resolved in a year? Hey, let's all file that one under D'uh! The point here is that the writers really have nothing to work with.
'Mr. Bettman, bring me a dream, makes this the best season that we've ever seen'
With apologies to Pat Ballard and the Chordettes, I believe this paraphrased verse from the classic Mr. Sandman is not too much to ask. In case Mr Bettman (who I know is a regular reader of Spector and the skillful and handsome writers who contribute to the website) is unsure of what might help make this an outstanding hockey season, I have decided to jot down five suggestions, wishes more so, of things I would really like to see for the upcoming season.
(In descending order of importance)
5. One more good season from Mario
Until that Crosby kid is old enough to get into the draft (and with absolutely no guarantees that he will be able to live up to his hype) the NHL has only one true bonafide superstar and that is Super Mario. At 38 working 39 but apparently 100% healthy and with something to prove, we could be treated to one last great season of Mario. Mario also wants to teach his kids in Pittsburgh how it feels to win and he no doubt wants to end his career, and this time for good, on a strong note. Cheer him on folks, one of the greatest ever.
4. Lose the instigator penalty
It's not working, trash it. This is handcuffing a team's policeman from doing their job, which is primarily protecting their skilled players. Star players are getting mugged and because of the lack of consistency in calling obstruction and interference penalties, a lot of the mugging is going through unpunished. Players think twice about grabbing sweaters and sticks when they know that the next shift could very well end up with them kissing the ice. With the instigator penalty in place, which was created essentially to curb fighting majors in the league, enforcers have to be very careful not to draw the extra two and thus putting their teams at a disadvantage. The penalty has not helped a thing because scoring is way down and those same skilled players are getting hurt from the clutch and grab tactics widely used in the NHL nowadays. (Remember JR's face after he got drilled with the stick? Exactly.)
3. For the love of Ron Duguay, get rid of the trap!
A simplistic and unrealistic wish but a wish nonetheless. Basketball can get called for an illegal defense, is there anyway the NHL can do the same? Damn Jacques Lemaire and his 'play not to lose' philosophy. When Jersey won their first cup in '95 with this absolutely mind numbing style of play, several teams adapted it fairly quickly as it's main strength is positioning as opposed to speed and skill. The result has been having some very unlikely teams reaching very deep in the playoffs on the merits of this 'system' (Florida and Minnesota are two teams that come to mind). The system slows the game down and essentially invites the oh so riveting dump and chase style of puck pursuit which though can be effective, generally has a low percentage of success and helps yield many of those 2-1 and 3-2 barn burning snore fests NHL fans are relegated to every night. Yawn. Do something about the damned trap Mr. Bettman and yeah, I'm looking at you too Bob Goodenow!
2. A Canadian team, any team, wins the cup! (Even the Leafs)
I am an Ottawa Senators mark and before they came into the league, a Habs fan. I also like watching the Canucks, thoroughly enjoyed the Flames run in the playoffs and feel good when the Oilers make the playoffs. I will even admit that for the sake of my subject line, I could possibly tolerate the Leafs ending their eternal struggle to bring the Cup back to Hogtown (but not before the Sens, Habs, Canucks, Flames and well the Oilers but damn bring it home boys!)
Let's face it American readers, we need that damned piece of hardware way, way, way more than any of you do. Every major team sport except hockey are popular in the U.S. since most Americans would switch over to a British dart playoff on ESPN 76 as opposed to watching a hockey game involving the local team. That is not to say everyone feels like this but c'mon, we have not had the Cup back here since '93 and have only been to finals twice since then. Hockey gives us Canadians a sense of our national identity and I don't think even the pounding Canada could administer at the World Cup can satiate the country's overwhelming desire to bring the cup home. The good thing is if and when the season begins, there are 6 Canadian teams all have a chance of going deep in the playoffs judging by many of the moves they have made. The Flames also proved to the entire league that with a hot goalie and a team playing a strong system every night under a no-nonsense coach, anyone can win it, ask the Lightning.
1. A season before Christmas
Sadly, the most unlikely wish of them all. Like any labour dispute, no side will blink and that most likely will be the owners as they watch the players barnstorm, play in Europe and maintain a united front (hear that Stumpy?) and the losses mount from no games played. I truly hope and wish for some kind of miracle resolution before the 15th but that is extremely unlikely. It's the owners with everything to lose here and unless they soften the talk of the hard cap, we will have to relegate ourselves to watching Slap Shot, Mystery Alaska, Youngblood (ugh, yuck) and the Mighty Duck classics. Let's wish for this not to happen.
Is anyone getting tired of the NHL labour talks yet?
For most fans, it is hard not to look with at least one eye open and with at least some familiarity in the notion that this is coming down to the same staring contest back in 1994. The only difference is that wait a second; there is no damned difference.
Spector has mentioned that he appears to be a union mark in his most excellent writings involving the labour strife. My only conclusion to this argument is, how the hell could he not be? Let's face some real facts folks, the inmates are now running the asylum and in the utterly absurd world that is professional athletics, it is the players, not the owners, who control the trump cards now (with the exception of the NFL).
The owners are essentially telling the players that they want a hard cap and the players, who over the last decade plus has experienced a level of economic prosperity unseen of in NHL history, are telling them, and quite reasonably so, that the chances of that happening are about as likely as an mustache-less Lanny McDonald winning the Daytona 500 driving a Zamboni while singing 'Sudbury Saturday Night' (what an image). The owners are crying poor and waving the flag of fiscal responsibility and the players are telling them to get bent.
The owner are asking for protection from themselves, like they need to have mittens put on them to stop scratching at the chicken pox. They can't control themselves, they need a system in place that makes sure they can't overspend and there will be fiscal harmony and equality in the NHL. Yeah right, tell that to George Streinbrenner or better still, Ted Leonis, Tom Hicks, Mike Illitch The Leafs, The Rangers, The Flyers and the rest of the buffet abusers who have been the main reason the salaries have gone through the roof in the last few years. While it is true that the owners cannot control themselves (how many 3 million plus salaries do you think are justified? I bet less than half) but it is not the players responsibility to tell the owners what they should or should not spend on them. Imagine having a sit down with your boss a decade ago and he asks you point blank how much you are worth. Now in the art of negotiation you know that you have to always start high and management goes low and hopefully, eventually you meet somewhere in the middle. Now imagine this conversation a decade ago and you blurt out some crazy number, a number that seems almost too good to be true. Your boss, working under the premise that you are a good worker, an asset to the company, highly employable elsewhere and that they have been underpaying other employees for decades, yells 'done' and before you can say Alexandre Daigle, you have a nice fat new salary. The new salary, whether it is with this company or an even crazier company, rises exponentially every two or three years. Now your boss and saying there has to be a limit on what HE can spend, which in terms means there is a limit of what you can earn now after years of tiptoeing through the tulips. Pretty safe to say it wouldn't take very long to ask him which ear hole you could blow that out of.
NHL players make a lot of money. A lot. More than most of us will see in our lifetime and it is hard not to look at what they are saying and sigh. When you have players who make millions a year saying they have a right to feed their family it is tough for the lot of us who have to figure out if the kid's shoes will last another month or where the next month's rent is coming from. We have a tough time listening to people who chase around a puck, who play a game for a living when several of us spent thousands to go to school only to find a good enough job to spend a decade paying those thousands back and still making 50 times less than what the average third-line plumber makes. But bear this mind before you shake your fist at Sportsdesk or Sportscentral or the Score that the owners for the most part are grownups (for the most part) and should be able to control their own wallets. There have been some very reasonable signings this summer but there have also been some very unreasonable signings as well (not that I need to point any fingers or anything Larry Pleau). The owners cannot control themselves.
The players are not going to agree to a hard cap, ever. As it has been pointed out, they have a war chest and they have enough money to hold out and at least wait until the WHA gets their act together (excuse me for a second while clear my eyes from the tears of laughter). The owner could just simply set their own set of rules and standards but there is no way in hell that this agreement would come into place when a team's star player is due for a new contract, it would get just plain nasty. There are certain concessions that could be made on both sides (the hard rookie cap and the lowering of the UFA age from 31 are two things that spring to mind.) But truth be told (and I wouldn't want it any other way) get ready for a long layoff and just hope that EA's NHL 2005 is better than last year's version. If I want all the clutching and grabbing in my game, I'll subscribe to watching Nashville all year, ummm now that's good hockey.
|The opinions expressed on this page are of the author, and in no way reflect the views of the NHL, it teams or players. All material in The Short Side copyright (C) 2004 Spector's Hockey. Reproduction of this material in whole, or in part, without consent by the author or Spector's Hockey is prohibited.|