Turn Those Clapping Hands Into Angry Balled Fists

Ed. note: This appeared in yesterday’s Piggies Weekly.

Hockey fans, particularly those of the NHL, have endured a lot over the years. Franchise relocation more frequently than the other major sports, dismissive to flat out derisive treatment by the vast majority of the sporting public, and most notably three work stoppages in less than 20 years.  It is those injustices, both perceived and real, that have steeled the resolve of fans across the continent and around the world, even heading into what was viewed by all as yet another unavoidable labor dispute. But for all that grizzled determination and resignation to the fate, few could have imagined the absolute fucking stupidity surrounding this latest impasse.

In their last foray into pointless rhetoric in lieu of actual hockey, many understood the goals, if not particularly the means, of the League in gaining their famously dubbed “cost certainty”, particularly through the mechanism of the salary cap, which the NHLPA was so averse to. It led to the only work stoppage that has cost any major sports league an entire season, but the fans forgave and forgot, mostly due to the superior product that emerged once the league finally returned. But it’s that positive reinforcement that has further emboldened the league into shutting its doors this go around, taking for granted that the asses in those seats will return once more because they did last time. Only now it’s about mere percentage points rather than a paradigm shift, and to this point, the fans have not been as understanding, and justifiably so.

Exacerbating matters is that now across the table representing the union is Donald Fehr, who famously led Major League Baseball’s players association in cancelling the 1994 World Series due to their strike. For as cutthroat a motherfucker as Fehr is, it cannot be denied he’s good at his job. And in the early proceedings he was proving worth every penny, unequivocally dictating the public narrative and garnering support from fans everywhere, turning the public even further against the owners of the league they already distrust.  But as this process has dragged on, Fehr, his cohorts, and his constituency are proving to be just as villainous, underhanded, and disingenuous as his opponents.

One of the primary reasons for the difference in how this lockout is being viewed from the most recent one (and how revolting and depressing is it that that phrase is even uttered?) has been the proliferation of social media since 2005. With no gag order on the 700-some-odd players in the NHLPA, this has led to countless individuals taking to the intertubes completely unfiltered and delivered to the masses instantaneously. On paper that seems like a great way to garner public support, but as the NFL and NBA players unions quickly learned, it can also go a long way in undermining their negotiating positions. And it’s shocking that someone as skilled as Fehr didn’t learn anything from these examples.  More than seven hundred millionaires with 8th grade educations asking for sympathy 140 characters at a time hardly seems like a recipe for victory, particularly given the timeframe of being at the height of an election season when the bottom line for middle class households is the crux of 95% of the discourse.

What’s most galling, however, is the blatant lack of truth in the rhetoric the players are spinning. The common refrain after the league’s latest offer of a 50/50 revenue split and all present contracts honored with the difference being accounted for in increased escrow payments to be paid back over the life of the deal is that the players just want the deals that they signed. They want to be guaranteed to receive every cent stated on that piece of paper. But what makes that statement so infuriating and manipulative is that the players were never guaranteed every cent from those deals, due to escrow payments under the previous CBA- a CBA they spent 3 months of the summer lobbying to keep working under. Under that system, and any proposed new system, the cap is calculated off of projected revenues, which are always increasing, which leads to a higher cap, which leads to more money for the players. But because of that, a small percentage (8-10%) is withheld from each check and then repaid at fiscal year’s end, with interest, after the final revenues have been calculated so that the appropriate share can be met.  That rate would be increased to approximately 12% to artificially lower the percentage of total revenues the players took, with the difference to be paid out over the life of a player’s contract. That’s just simply how it has to work without asking the players to possibly give salary back after the fact in the event of a shortfall if there were no escrow. Money can’t really be missed if it was never in-pocket, right? All told, under this system for the past eight years, the players were paid just a hair north of 97% of the total value of all contracts league wide.

So has it sunk in yet? The players are effectively asking for a backdoor raise while publicly being willing to lower the total percentage of revenue they’re entitled to, and screaming about the injustice the owners are trying to perpetrate on them. Their math simply does not add up. Furthermore, this asks anyone signing their first league contract and any subsequent contract henceforth to foot that bill with even higher escrow rates out of lowered salaries. Whether the players are willfully misleading the public or are just completely ignorant of how their paychecks work, neither is excusable. Especially when you have players like Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk with approximately $100 million dollar deals playing Spartacus to the media stating that they’re fighting for what’s right and won’t take a cent less than what it says on their current contract lest they walk away.  But keep on thinking that players are fighting the good fight if you’d like.

The saddest part of all of this is the confounding lack of perspective from all parties involved, the fans included. While the two combative parties engage in their dick waving contest and lose the forest for the trees as the total revenues continue to diminish with every passing second, fans are quick to take sides and assess blame and futilely protest at every turn. The vast majority of the public ire has been directed at ownership, and most of it deserved, while ignoring the manipulation and hypocrisy from the players’ side. To anyone with a critical eye affixed on this situation, it’s clearly been a zero sum game from the start, with a present course set for mutually assured destruction. It begs the question if someone, anyone, on either side is grown up enough to break ranks to let sanity prevail. But given the laundry list of atrocities committed on either side of the table, holding one’s breath for such things isn’t recommended.

  • raditzzzz

    cba negotiations:

  • Necessary reading.

  • StealingHappyHour

    “Whether the players are willfully misleading the public or are just completely ignorant of how their paychecks work, neither is excusable.”
    You sit down and try explaining how paychecks work to Ben Eager and Brandon Bollig, McClure.

    • putmeinthemadhouse

      bollig actually seems to be kind of intelligent and funny, bickell might be a better choice here.

      • I’d put Bicks in there with Eager before I’d include Bollig as well.

  • ben9599

    This blog is pure! This blog is just! This blog waves the punk rock pirate flag in a sea of hypocrisy! Professional hockey is an endeavor that only capitalist pigs engage in! If only the greedy players and greedier owners would realize that their petty arguments are destroying the TRUE proletariat! Real working people, like those with calluses on their thumbs from slaving away over their keyboards while struggling to produce the insight that only this blog can provide! The TRUE proletariat are the ones who suffer in this senseless lockout!

    If there was any justice in this filthy capitalist world, hockey players would skate on frozen ponds simply for the joy of the game. They would use skates forged in the steel mills of Pittsburgh by the hands of the working class. They would use sticks they themselves fashioned from the wood of the land. They would perform their acts of grace and athleticism for the benefit of weary passersby on their way home from corporate sweatshops. Then, if only for a moment in their endless grey existence, the proletariat would be free while enjoying the spectacle of the game of their youth being played at its’ highest level.
    Only THEN will WE, the hardened observers of OUR fair game, TRULY be free of the tyranny of our capitalist pig overlords! In fact this blog was founded on the dollars of its’ readers donations! That is true communism. If only the players and owners would follow the example we set for them! If only they would set aside this disgusting struggle over dirty money acquired by the sweat of the working class. And while their at it they should set up a shared owner/player pea patch garden on the roof of the NHL offices. THEN true harmony will be achieved.

    In the real world, labor negotiations are viscous and bitter. You obviously know they don’t give a shit about you so why do you give a shit about them? If you are so outraged why do you put up with it? Spend your dollars elsewhere. That’s your, and any other fan’s, only leverage. But you won’t and I won’t and no one else will. We will all be back on the pipe as soon as the doors are open and the beer is flowing. That is true hypocrisy. If you want to make a statement, shut down the blog and send a check to the people who sent in donations. Fuck hockey, because you obviously believe it has fucked you.

    But if you decide to not fuck hockey and put on your big boy pants, you’ll remember that this is how labor negotiations work. They are slimy and gross and full of two-faced lying bastards and retarded rhetoric. It’s been that way since unions came to be and it will be that way as long as there is a buck to be made in any industry with organized labor. These NHL labor negotiations aren’t special, you and I certainly aren’t special. The only thing that is special is the game itself and the men who play it. They deserve to fight for whatever they can get in the very short amount of time they have to play the game for money.

    The players better hold the line as long as they can because the owners will be back in six years for five more percent. And six years after that they’ll happily take another five percent.

    Yours in solidarity,
    Comrade ben9599

  • Sapper84

    can someone just stop Toews from giving interviews? I’m really starting to not like hearing from him

    • justforkicks

      might be easier to just not read/listen. just saying.

      • Sapper84

        hard when I am looking for lockout news and that’s all I see on my twitter from the beats, however I’m pretty close to just deleting all hockey reporters anyway

        • justforkicks

          I don’t see much from him on yahoo!sports, and if you’re following twitters of like Katie Strang, Darren Dredger, or some others, you’ll get good updates without those comments I think. Maybe you don’t need to delete them but just change who you are following?

  • birdhead

    I don’t understand why you keep harping on escrow, to be honest:

    All told, under this system for the past eight years, the players were paid just a hair north of 97% of the total value of all contracts league wide.

    There is a huge difference to me between using escrow to take 3% of contracts in order to make numbers match, and using escrow to take 12% of contracts. It’s not dishonest to point that out.

    Even if you make sure they eventually get that 12% back (which I believe was only true for what they lost in the first year, btw) instead of giving them the proportional pay rises they have earned as the league grows. Because another part of this system – the cap system – is that if the league does better, players do better. The way the league’s so-called make whole worked was that the players would be paid back by not getting those pay rises, which frankly is bullshit. Under the last CBA the players could actually get more back out of escrow than they paid in, if the league had done well – which they never would if escrow is a way to cut all contracts by 12%. It’s not dishonest to say that escrow where you’re likely to get none of it back is pretty different from escrow where you’ll probably get most of it back.

    Furthermore, this asks anyone signing their first league contract and any subsequent contract henceforth to foot that bill with even higher escrow rates out of lowered salaries.

    yeah man, the players’ proposals are WAY worse for new players than the owners’ proposals! … wait, what? So you’re saying the players shouldn’t compromise and should have stuck to their 57% guns?

    As for asking for a backdoor raise … well, yeah. In a systems where revenues are assumed to increase (as everyone assumes the NHL’s will), and where your salary is determined as a proportion of revenues (which was the NHL’s idea, lest we forget), every proposal made will guarantee a raise over the lifetime of the deal. By this standard the NHL’s proposals have all included raises as well. What’s your point?

  • putmeinthemadhouse

    “To all of a sudden sign a deal that changes your life and makes things
    better for you and your family, someone tries to take that away from
    you, it’s insulting and, quite frankly, it’s embarrassing for (the
    league) as well”

    You know whats insulting Toews? The fact that you think losing a small percentage of a multi-hundred thousand (or million) is that big of a deal. You got fans who make less than 40k a year with families who still pay for tickets, merchandise, and packages. go fuck yourself.

    • DesertHawk

      Having your contract dicked with is insulting, no matter how much you make. It shows that the people you work for have no respect for you. There is not a person in this world who wouldn’t be upset if some one came along and tried to nullify their payment contract. The money not withstanding there’s a huge concern with integrity/trust in the people you work with, and I can understand the players being upset.

      • I have to agree. As a career Soldier, I can tell you that there is absolute trust in your organization – unilaterally. You have to have absolute trust to the left and right, front and back, up and down. In units where that gets messed with, it gets ugly really fast. Right now, we have no say in anything to do with our pay (we have no union – though our civilian counterparts do and it is a total PITA to deal with) yet we continue to come to work as our benefits get toyed with, tweaked, depreciated and in some cases eliminated. It is insulting. You have made an agreement with an employer (in my case, the USA, in the players cases, the owners) that your services are worth $XXXXX. To have them come back later and say that they were wrong and you aren’t worth their promise anymore is an insulting situation and I understand the frustration.

        But at this point in time, I do blame all of them – NHL and NHLPA alike.

  • birdhead

    I hope the Hogs get the win with Hutton today.

    • justforkicks

      Ditto. And they just tied it up so maybe!

      • birdhead

        Hutton with the secondary assist. Jeeze, does he have to do everything?

        • justforkicks

          looks like!

          • birdhead

            aw, it’s not on the box score, looks like it’s not official. 🙁

          • justforkicks

            boo, maybe they will change it later! they didn’t mention it on the twitter at all

          • birdhead

            Their twitter is a bit useless. I got it from Kim Wrona (@kimwrona7) who livetweets just about all of the games & has usually been correct, though obvs not about this. (She’s also usually way faster than @goicehogs.)

          • justforkicks

            ah yeah, i think girlphoenix may have told me about that twitter a while ago. i just went over there, and wow way more info then the ice hogs twitter.

          • justforkicks

            Ice Hogs win!!!!

          • birdhead

            WOO! shame they couldn’t get it done in regulation! but WOOO!

          • justforkicks

            Next time!!! Yay Hutton!

          • girlphoenix

            I’m sad Stephen Nelson isn’t with the org anymore. His twitter was really good.