...Bettman is sanguine about the way forward, and more than a little proud of the way he has transformed the game over the past two decades. League revenues are now eight times what they were when he came into the job. Attendance is up from 14 million a year to more than 20 million. The two work stoppages weren’t lost seasons, he says, they were hockey’s most crucial ones, full of reimagining, planning, and analysis: "We needed the game to be better than it was. It was being bogged down because of the economics and the style of play. And we did that. We were able to completely turn the dial." The Instigator by Jonathan Gatehouse, p. 226
It’s 2012, and the NHL has lost more games to labor disputes than all the other major leagues combined.
Is it time to crank the dial back already? Oh. Whoops. I should have been ready for that. I'm a hockey fan.
Every time Bettman and Daly express their sorrow over the lockout that just "needed" happen again, I think about the quote above. Bettman defends the black marks on his track record as crucial seasons of transformation. In this view, lockouts are ordinary hiccups every sport has to go through from time to time. A way to reset the clock, if you will. Lost seasons aren’t just natural – they’re right and necessary. Calibrations to the system.
Somewhere along the line, losing an entire season over a CBA went from unthinkable to normal. When did this happen? As Quisp reminded me recently, it was when Bettman took charge.
Now, I am not losing sight of the fact that Bettman serves at the will of the owners--I think they have just as much to answer for in this debacle--but we also shouldn’t overlook how much power he has been given to wield over these negotiations, and what this planning has wrought. Changes were made to the bylaws in 2000 to grant the commissioner more power in these situations; any CBA that meets Bettman's approval only needs the backing of eight owners to become reality. Armed with this power, Bettman began preparing for the 2005 lockout more than four years in advance, marshaling support from owners for a long-haul freeze out and working out his legal strategy with Proskauer Rose. (Proskauer Rose has moved on to become the king of lockout advice for all four major sports leagues, and the sharp rise in labor disputes is no coincidence.) The result was a CBA widely viewed as the most owner-friendly in pro sports -- and, strangely enough, it's still not good enough.
Ahem. That's not right.
If you ask for remedies to fix a broken economy, and get everything you want (2004), and then revenues explode to historic levels of more than $3 billion, and you say YOUR ECONOMY IS STILL BROKEN, then — well –
– YOU SUCK AT YOUR JOB. --McSorley's Stick
Or maybe, in the owners' minds, you're brilliant at it and you should be the emperor of hockey forever. And you keep locking out players to squeeze more and more concessions just because you can.
To be honest, I'm starting to view this lockout with a strange sense of detachment. I love the game, but my ability to endure this every seven years is slipping away. It's like watching the captain of a ship spy a massive iceberg ahead and decide to ramp up speed before he smashes into it. That's an insane thing to do. I'm insane for caring about it.
The NHL was the first to lose a whole season to a lockout. Now, the NHL might become the first league to lose two.
Lost games and lost seasons are failures. It's not right, it's not necessary, and it's not normal. But we just expect it by now.
This, in the end, is the NHL's shameful legacy.