2011-12 Ramblings

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“Bad Faith” and Distrust: A Players’ Perspective on the Lockout

Gary Bettman and the NHL don’t seem to get it. They never have. Since Gary took over in 1993, the NHL has seen three lockouts. Briefly, lockouts occur when the league feels that it can no longer sustain its current activities without a freshly negotiated collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Note, the league is the only one who can lockout the players. If the players are the unhappy party, they can go on strike. The CBA serves as a labor contract between the league and the players’ union on a plethora of subjects ranging from revenue, to contracts, to pensions, etc., etc.

Under Gary Bettman’s tenure, the NHL moved and expanded several teams to non-traditional hockey markets. Some have been successful and won Stanley Cups and filled stands, while others have floundered. The Phoenix Coyotes, originally the Winnipeg Jets, filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and the NHL had to take control of the team and they see some of the lowest attendance numbers in the NHL. The Bettman-expansion Atlanta Thrashers suffered so many losses and ownership struggles, that they moved to Winnipeg to become the new Jets, a city deprived of its original team by Bettman when he moved them to Phoenix to become the failing Coyotes. We can coin this the “Bettman cycle.”

In contract law, there is a term called “bad faith.” The gist of this term is that one of the parties to the contract intentionally or maliciously used deception to make the other party agree to the contract. We will examine this term with regard to the actions of the NHL.

Reports are surfacing that Bettman attempted a “bait-and-switch” of language in their CBA proposal regarding how the NHL could handle team punishments for hiding revenue (Charles Curtis- NJ.com). The league’s language was changed in such a way that Bettman would have sole control of the penalties.

Reports are also surfacing that the owners and their GMs told Gary Bettman, who in turn told the NHLPA, that they would welcome the opportunity to renege some of the contracts they offered to players (Charles Curtis- NJ.com). This of course angered the NHLPA, and why shouldn’t it? If someone offered you millions of dollars and wanted to take it back or even dump you from their roster, would you be happy about it or even ok with it? Of course not. Why is Gary Bettman, under the direction of the owners, doing this? Because they want to lower the salary cap of the NHL by ~$10M per year to $60M. That is a ~15% decrease for those not interested in doing the math.

The NHL was in a dire financial state in 2004 when a lockout took away the season. The reason they bounced back was savvy marketing. What could the NHL have possibly been marketing that would appeal to so many people and bring the league back to such great heights? Could it be players? Of course. And it was. Alex Ovechkin- drafted 2004. Sidney Crosby- drafted 2005. Jonathan Toews- drafted 2006. Patrick Kane- drafted 2007. Steven Stamkos- drafted 2008. New, young marketable players, appealing to young fans and fresh faces leading to increasing profits? You don’t say.

Fan attendance increased in post-lockout 05-06 for 25 of the 30 teams in the NHL. Moreover, the average cost (tickets, concessions, parking, etc.) for a family of four rose from $256 to $329 in 2011, per Forbes. The value of the average NHL team has increased from $159 million in 2003, to $240 million last year, and average NHL player salary from $1.6M to $2.4M (Forbes). Could it be that the reason more and more kids want to play hockey is due to young talents emerging every year and inspiring them? Could it be that the NHL is seeing record fan interest because the best players in the game are in their early twenties, bringing a new young generation of fans to the game? I think so.

Young, talented players like these are why the NHL was saved after the 2004 lockout. Young, talented players were able to bring more and more fans to the game and in turn allowed the league to increase its salary cap EVERY YEAR for the past 8 years. That is EVERY YEAR since the last NHL lockout. Coincidence? I think not.

In 2012, we saw ENORMOUS contracts being handed out left and right for big name players. Crosby- 12 yrs, $104M; Parise- 13 yrs, $98M; Suter- 13 yrs, $98M; Weber- 14 years, $110M. There were plenty of guys signed in the offseason who were arguably overpaid by their teams. For reference, go read articles by beat writers and read fan Twitters from the summer. Plenty of grumbling. Every one of these contracts was offered to players a few months before the collective bargaining agreement expired. The owners knew that the salary cap would be an issue moving forward in negotiating a new CBA, but they offered these contracts anyway. Here we are, 6-7 months later. It is January of the following year. We are still locked out, the players are not receiving their paychecks, and the owners want to LOWER the cap by 15%. The salary cap is STILL an issue the NHL and NHLPA cannot agree on. There is something fishy about this. I’m not saying that Pittsburgh, Minnesota, and Nashville are the teams responsible for the lockout. BUT, collectively, the owners knew that the CBA was going to expire very shortly after these contracts were signed, and yet they still offered them. Now, they want to lower the cap and the GMs “regret” and want to renege some of the contracts they offered.

The NHL has shown a mechanical unwillingness to negotiate with the NHLPA. A number of times when the league made proposals and the players countered, Bettman and his cronies stood up and walked out of the room. The NHL has used fruitless, and frankly pathetic, language such as “final offer,” “only offer on the table,” and “take it or leave it” in their negotiations with the NHLPA. Sounds a bit like something a small child would say when he or she doesn’t get his way doesn’t it?

Since the 2004 lockout, NHL league revenues have increased by nearly 64%. Revenues, of course, don’t translate to team profits and there are only a handful of financially viable teams in the league. There are a number of teams struggling financially. Some are struggling due to poor ownership and mismanagement, but others are struggling, because they are in places where hockey fans simply don’t exist and hockey teams don’t belong in the first place. This falls squarely on the owners and the league, not the players. Still, the players have made concessions. They have agreed to a 50-50 split of revenues, they have agreed to limiting contracts. Still not enough. How does the NHL respond? They behave like stubborn children, say “take it or leave it” and LITERALLY just walk out of the room. They try to make a preemptive strike on the NHLPA by going to court and trying to block the NHLPA from disbanding and filing an antitrust suit against the league.

We’ve heard from numerous reporters and writers from TSN and various other news outlets that there is a strong sense of distrust between the NHL and the NHLPA. Are you surprised? I’m not. The players are the ones who bring the fans to the stands. The players are the ones whose skills allow teams to market them and bring people to the arenas. Convincing players to sign for their teams by making them believe that they will receive a large amount of money and ultimately wanting to renege those contracts by masquerading under a new collective bargaining agreement? That is the DEFINITION of “bad faith.” Putting up with the NHL’s unwillingness to compromise, hearing the NHL say “final offer” countless times, watching the NHL storming out of meetings and behave like an 8th grader who just got dumped; do these things seem like the type of behavior that builds trust? Is this behavior expected to be perceived as professional? The question you need to ask yourself is, how would you feel if you were in the players’ shoes? Would you be okay with the NHL wanting to renege some contracts? Would you “trust” them? I sure wouldn’t.

The NHL needs to keep in mind that the players are the ones who rescued the league after the last lockout. The players will be the ones who will help them bounce back from this lockout. Fans don’t come to see Gary Bettman and his golf buddies at hockey games. Fans come to see the Crosbys, and the Ovechkins, and the Toewses. This lockout won’t end until the NHL decides to accept this and start showing some more respect to the players.

End of Season Reviews: Jimmy Hayes

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Part two of the dynamic duo called up in 2012 is Jimmy Hayes.  I had really high hopes for this kid this season, but his presence was merely a teaser of his future potential on the Blackhawks, as well as a potentially promising indication of what’s to come.

I have a soft-spot in my heart for the big guy.  For one thing, he’s American.  Secondly, he is 22 years old.  Lastly, and most importantly, Jimmy’s frame is built to bruise.  Standing 6’6″ tall and weighing in at over 220 lbs, Jimmy has the body to hit and hit hard.

Jimmy started the season strong, scoring 2 points in his first three professional games.  He netted 2 points in three different games for the Hawks.  Not bad for a kid playing just above 10:00 per game on the season.  Hayes started the season as a top line forward and netted 7 points in his first 10 NHL games.

Unfortunately, Hayes was a part of the player carousel that the Blackhawks had going this season, and it prevented him from developing any sort of offensive consistency, dropping in the depth chart towards the end of the season.

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Things are Gonna Get Easier

Adrian Aucoin participating in second-round playoff hockey for a team that resides in the desert seems about as likely as him being captain for the Blackhawks. Unfoturnely, both have happened.

Well, maybe they won’t. I don’t know. They’re definitely going to be different, though. Right?

Basically, there are a lot of questions marks for Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks’ roster in the offseason, and with hockey still being played in places like Hollywood, the desert and whatever the hell you want to call New Jersey, attempting to make sense of it all seems futile.

What we will do, however, is discuss the good and the bad among last season’s contributors and disappointments who donned the Indian head on a player-by-player basis.

Each week we’ll bring you five player reviews and maybe some random discussion. Here’s what you can look forward to for the first week, as myself, Jim, Tim and JMH breakdown your 2011-12 Blackhawks – who will be playing as much playoff hockey as I will the rest of this season.

Monday — Duncan Keith

Tuesday — Jamal Mayers

Wednesday — Bryan Bickell

Thursday — Andrew Shaw

Friday — Patrick Sharp
We’re going to try and mix in stars and role players each week, with these recaps taking you through the Stanley Cup finals. And if St. Louis ends up playing for the Cup, you’ll likely need your hockey fix since you won’t be watching those assholes.

So, even though the Blackhawks’ season is over, ours isn’t quite yet. Keep checking back.

Detour On The Road To Dynasty

( Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune)

Well, it’s not the way we had it scripted, but the 2011-2012 Chicago Blackhawks season ends not with a bang, but a whimper.

It was supposed to be  a lot different (better), of course. This particular ‘Hawks team was going to be the one to restore all the glory after a mostly forgettable 2010-2011 season. That season was written off fairly early by many fans who understand how contracts and the CBA worked. Hey, they would be back with a vengeance the next season, reloaded and rested, right? We heard a lot about how much that loss to Vancouver pissed them off. We heard about how hungry they were to prove the critics wrong. We were told the ‘Hawks finally had some money to spend. We had reason to be optimistic.

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Shaw Sits Three : ‘Hawks v. Phoenix

Yup

As you all know by now, Andrew Shaw has been suspended for 3 games by NHL chief disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan for his collision with Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith in Game 2. That’s right folks, Shaw will sit longer than Shea Weber, Matt Carkner and Byron Bitz - all of whom committed offenses far more  harmful to the game than Shaw did. So what did we learn today? Do not, under any circumstance, get close to a goaltender. Why the NHL considers the brains of goaltenders more important than the brains of other players is a question they will have to answer down the road. It’s absurd.

Shanahan, praised by many as the man who would save hockey from itself, has been unacceptably inconsistent with his rulings and is quickly losing credibility all around the league. Have his rulings really been any better than those of Colin Campbell? I’m not so certain anymore. Sure, he has been more transparent with his cute little video explanations, but what good is transparency without consistency? Wasn’t consistency the real problem with Campbell? Shanahan promised to step in and reform a broken system. To date, he has failed.

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I Would Shave My Beard, but We’ve Become Attached: A Brief History of the Playoff Beard

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

It is a tradition that has become both a fan-favorite and an essential glue of solidarity between NHL fans and players.  The playoff beard.  Many fans grow one.  Many fans wish they could grow one.  Almost all NHL players grow one while they are in the hunt for the Cup.  While many of us (myself, included) partake in this superstitious ritual, I would venture to guess that there are some out there who do not know the roots of its tradition.

Nowadays, if someone mentions the New York Islanders, it’s likely going to be a conversation about how terrible they’ve been in the past decade, how Rick Dipietro might be one of the biggest busts in recent memory, how they may or may not get a new stadium, or how John Tavares simply deserves to be surrounded by a better team.  It’s easy to forget that the Islanders of the 1980s had one of the most dominant and storied dynasties in NHL history.

In 1980, the Islanders, with the likes of Clark Gillies, Gord Lane, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, and Ken Morrow, found themselves in the playoffs after an impressive 110 point season.  As a sign of solidarity, many of the players decided to grow beards during their Cup run.  Well, as fate would have it, the 1980 Islanders won the Cup.  In fact, they won the next three Cups after that as well.  The Islanders won an impressive 19 consecutive playoff series, while growing the playoff beards.  A tradition was born.

Although the beard-growing tradition took a break after the Islanders dynasty ended, it made resurgence in the 1990s and is now a league-wide phenomenon.

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Crunch Time: Tough Topics At The March Round Table

Jeff, Tim, Jim, Chris and JMN performing Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet"

It’s been a busy few weeks for the Men of Four Feathers: a losing streak, a winning streak, injuries, rookie call-ups, goaltenders and deadline trades have all kept Blackhawks fans on the edge of their seats.

While taking a break from the mayhem, the boys from Cheer The Anthem sat down early this week to toss around their opinions on these subjects, as well as traffic on the Edens, acetylene torches and the Bermuda Triangle in the March edition of the Round Table…

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Chris “Stache” Deme’s Q&A With Blackhawks Fans

Photograph by: Jamie Squire, Getty Images

A thought crossed my mind last week.  We sit here writing about this and that, and our readers loyally glance over our opinions and our pieces each and every day, but we (or at least I) have never opened up the floor to the fans to ask questions.

Earlier this week, I posted an update on Joel Quenneville’s Mustache giving fans an opportunity to ask any questions they want about the Blackhawks, hockey, or life in general.

I spent the next few days answering some of these questions, and picking a few of them to share with the world on Cheer the Anthem.  So, without further ado, here are your questions:

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Full Disclosure: Guess What? Too Bad.

Anyone who has paid attention to my moan-and-groan missives and incessant grousing over the last 2 years with Cheer The Anthem knows that I am one of the most vocal opponents of the “lower body injury” non-disclosure standard. It’s ridiculous, it’s insulting to fans, and it prevents a vitally important function of the media at large: namely, being the watchdog on behalf of the fans and players to ensure that the teams aren’t rushing players back on to the ice before they are fully healed.

When I get a bee in my bonnet like this, I go hunting in search of evidence to support my conclusion — like any hot-headed blogger would do. Don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up! But occasionally, I find out that I’m wrong. This is one of those times.

Under the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996, it is a violation of Federal law for a sports team to disclose the health information of one of their players (pronounced: “employees”) to anyone without the employee’s consent.

So if we want full disclosure, guess what? Too bad.

For those of you who are able to endure the lengthy explanation of the specifics, there are some idiosyncrasies about this law as it pertains to sports teams below the jump…

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Hawks Acquire Oduya : Scott To Rangers

Who farted?

Well, the trade deadline came and went today without the Blackhawks making the major splash many of you probably hoped for.

Stan Bowman decided the rent was too damn high and sat on his hands for the most part instead of going out and getting the 2nd Center and shutdown defenseman that this team so desperately needed. He had plenty of cap space to make just about any deal he wanted happen – but the opportunity simply didn’t present itself.

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