Hockey fans and players ride lockout blues – again

On July 4, Minnesota Wild fans rejoiced for more than just the holiday. The Wild announced that Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, two of the NHL’s biggest names, had signed long-term contracts to play for Minnesota. As the months passed, excitement for the upcoming season built, but Minnesota sports fans knew all too well that there was bound to be a letdown.

That letdown came Sept. 16 at 12:01 a.m. with the official announcement of the NHL lockout. The decision meant indefinite suspension of the 2012-2013 season until the collective bargaining agreement is settled between the National Hockey League Players Association NHLPA and the owners.

The new agreement, proposed by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, demands the players take a 17.5 percent pay cut. The pay cut would give the players only 47 percent of the total revenue – leaving the owners the remaining 53 percent.

The NHLPA countered Bettman’s offer by agreeing to drop its current portion of 57 percent to 53 percent, but Bettman didn’t budge. The lockout of the 2012-2013 season marks the third lockout under Bettman’s tenure.

“[In] the NBA and the NFL, players have recognized that, in these economic times, there is a need to retrench,” said Bettman in a news conference, referencing the recent NBA and NFL lockouts in attempt to gain support for his cause.

Bettman failed to mention that the NHL’s revenue had grown from $2.1 to $3.3 billion under the previous contract, a fact that suggests the struggling economy is not hindering the league’s monetary success. Rather, the money issues lie in individual organizations that consistently fall short in profits. These teams, unlike the Wild, are not located in hockey hotbeds and struggle selling tickets. The NHLPA believes the league’s budget should merely be tweaked to solve this problem; a complete re-proportioning of NHLPA salaries is unnecessary.

Players revealed their disappointment in the lockout and appealed to fans in a video that featured league standouts Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, among others.

“The system that is supposedly broken was designed by the NHL owners and the league itself,” Toews said in the video, a reference to the agreement formed following the last lockout. “We did our part in ’04-’05; the players that lost that season and maybe didn’t play another NHL game had to sacrifice that.”

“We don’t need to have a lockout,” said James Reimer, goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs. “We can keep playing and bargain at the same time, but that’s not what the owners want to do. They want to lock out and use it as a tactic. The fans lose the game they love.”

Under the lockout, all training facilities are closed and salaries withheld, causing many players to sign with European professional teams to bide their time.

Fans have made numerous YouTube videos, desperately pleading for an agreement. Unfortunately, fans have little power and will have to await the outcome.

The parties met again on Sept. 28-30 to iron out smaller issues, but core economic issues were not discussed. The talks followed the league’s decision to cancel all preseason games. Until the main revenue discrepancy is brought to the table, the jerseys will continue to collect dust and the ice will lay uncarved while fans and players remain deprived of the game they love.

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