Johnson: Never forget the anguish these parties put you through
Fans will return, at least in Canada, but they should never forget this ridiculous lockout
Hockey is back.
Oh joy. Oh rapture.
After months of dithering, of ignoring meaningful negotiations in favour of petty politicking and juvenile one-upsmanship, there were arch-nemesis Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman in a midtown Manhattan hotel late into the New York night on Saturday, right on cue, at the death, playing at being tighter than Wally Cleaver and the Beaver.
And so the NHL season opens for business, four months late.
What a waste ...
Basking in the reverential glow of their impending return, we are, naturally, being called upon by birthright to simply ignore the financial collateral damage to arena workers and office staff, turn a blind eye to the damage done to the game’s reputation and, last but not least, the crap they’ve put their most valuable commodity, the paying patrons, through.
Why? Well, just ... because. THAT’s why! OK, all together — group hug!
Please, though, forgive those of us who weren’t out tooting car horns or shedding all inhibitions and hugging total strangers with abandon Sunday morning. This isn’t the liberation of Paris, people. It’s the end of an acrimonious labour dispute that went on far, far too long for the good of all concerned and, most vitally, for the game itself.
Hockey, for what it is, what it means, deserves so much more from the people entrusted with its care.
Better late than never? Certainly. But why, oh why, this late to begin with? Given the procrastination involved, the orchestrated ending at the 11th hour, both parties played loyalty and trust the way Zamfir plays the pan flute.
That firm, and as it turns out fully justified, belief in the slavish devotion of a large portion of the fan base has always been the ace up their sleeve.
The collective bargaining agreement is for 10 years, with an eight-year opt-out. The salary cap is set at $64.3 million, the floor at $44 million. The revenue split is 50/50. Term limits for free agents are seven years and eight years for a team signing its own player.
Give a little here. Take a little there. It’s called compromise. Always so much more meaningful than conflict.
And yet they required 113 days, the loss of 625 regular-season games and a final 16-hour push late Saturday night to finally sort the thing through. Absurd, in retrospect. But in the end, Bettman got in his ‘meaningful’ partial season and Fehr got his fight. Yay.
What a waste ...
They figure now that by saying sorry, turning on the lights, opening the doors, freezing pucks and cueing up Stompin’ Tom, then everything should be back to normal; fine and dandy.
A suggested one-game boycott of all home openers is a lovely dream. A pipe dream, surely, but lovely all the same. Even if all tickets are accounted for in certain rinks, the sight, the sounds, of empty buildings would be a shattering statement of how badly the two sides misjudged. While the loss of adjacent revenue — parking, beer sales, etc., etc. — would be dead-bang certain to get the attention of the owners.
A defiant gesture, some form of protest, is in order.
They ignored you for half a year. So ignoring them for at least one evening doesn’t seem so wildly out of line. After all, they won’t be cutting you any slack on ticket prices or hotdogs, even if only briefly, to demonstrate how much they appreciate your patience, that upfront season-ticket money you invested or your ongoing patronage.
The Scotiabank Saddledome, as well as the Bell Centre in Montreal, Scotiabank Place in the nation’s capital, Winnipeg’s MTS Centre and the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, the Rogers Centre out west and Rexall Place up north will all doubtless be full to capacity whenever the abbreviated, 48- or 52-game season does begin. That, sadly, is the reality. Because that’s what the game means to us. If not to them.
What a waste ...
Be happy hockey’s back. By all means. It’s arguably the one thing that truly bonds us as a nation; moving us in mysterious and emotional ways. Indisputably, we’re better off with it than without, no matter how shamelessly self-serving the people who inhabit its inner corridors. And regardless of how we’ve come to realize the world as we know it doesn’t fall into a fetid sinkhole just because the game finds itself held for ransom every eight years or so.
But, a friendly suggestion. Enjoy the return, get pumped again by the wins and feel gutted by the losses, but never let that gnawing frustration of the past four months fade. Remember the compounding disbelief. The childish name-calling. The farcical script that, as the closing credits approached, played out like some transparent prime-time sitcom. The growing certainty (if anyone needed reminding) that you, when push comes to shove, are the very least of their concerns.
Don’t give them a free ride.
Keep close those feelings of mistrust, of anger, the sense of yet another betrayal and abandonment at the golden altar of commerce.
Long may they linger.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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