There is an incessant need to assign blame in the way we analyze situations. We love our dichotomies. There are good guys and bad guys. People who are at fault and people who are victims. Winners. Losers. So on. So forth.

More often than not though, this isn’t how things work. Rarely, in the grand scheme of things, do things break up so conveniently. It would be magnificent for those of us who have to write about things, but it’s simply not the case. When it is broken up that way, it’s largely fabricated.

I’m here to tell you NHL Labor Dispute 2012 (TM) is not Gary Bettman’s fault. It’s not Donald Fehr’s fault. It’s not the owners’ fault. It’s not the players’ fault. It’s their collective fault.

They are all utterly terrible.

Gary Bettman

Gary Bettman is a slime ball, I know this, you know this, your mother who hasn’t watched hockey since Bobby Orr’s rookie season knows this. There’s something incredibly offputting about his demeanor and general approach to dealing with human beings that ignites the rage furnace lying within each of us.

He is the Kurtz of this novel and the NHL, the league we watch 10 months of the year, is his vile abyss. He plucks teams from their homes, he locks the doors on seasons, he conducts boos from center ice like a maniacal conductor playing to the audience.

He postures on how the NHL is working diligently to solve the problems that they have played a starring role in creating. They’ve been ready to negotiate for months apparently, they want to talk it out, it’s that damn NHLPA holding up the process.

We just want to work to get the game back for our fans.

No, he doesn’t. He has a job to do and he doesn’t give a damn about you, or me, or your mother who hasn’t watched since Bobby Orr’s rookie season. He is a mouthpiece, nothing more. A smug, infuriating mouthpiece. Yet, for all of his cons, this is not his fault. He’s playing his part, doing his job and his job is to get what his bosses need and get out.

Donald Fehr

Donald Fehr is a weasel. For those of you who don’t follow the baseball circuit, you didn’t know this when he was hired, but you will soon find out. He causes problems. He did in baseball and he will maintain his performance across sports. Bo Jackson, meet your union head equivalent.

To clear up his track record, he presided over an MLB lockout and lost World Series in 1994 which put a hefty portion of people off the sport. This came before a nice segue into the Steroid Era which brought fans back to the game with DINGERS and alienated them at the same time when the fallout came.

If you’re a player you love this guy and it’s pretty clear why. He doesn’t take crap from the league, Bettman or the media. You know he’s going to get you closer to what you demand. And you know he literally doesn’t care what you think about him.

If you’re going to guess how many damns Donald Fehr gives, set the line at one and take the under.

Again though, like Bettman, he is a mouthpiece, nothing more. He is there to butt heads with Gary Bettman because the players pay him to, and regardless of how much of a jerk he appears to be, it’s barely more than a charade. Everybody has a mortgage to pay, and his need to pay the bill requires an unsavouryness that we have and will come to know.

The Owners

The owners are totally insufferable, aren’t they? I mean seriously. You get coaxed into signing these players for a decade plus and hundreds of millions of dollars and then cry poor come negotiation time. You weren’t poor two weeks ago, how are you poor now?

If you want a league with a sustainable economic structure, perhaps you shouldn’t be handing out contracts to the Rick DiPietro’s of the world which put them on various Forbes lists for the world’s wealthiest people despite the fact he doesn’t work very much. Wouldn’t it be nice to have 82 paid sick days a year?

Obviously this is hyperbole, but still. Completely ridiculous.

Again though, this is ultimately what the fans want from their teams. To assemble a winner at all costs, financial or otherwise. What do we care anyways? They’re loaded, they can afford it. Who cares if we’re stuck with Rick DiPietro for another 332 years? Or Alexei Yashin for the rest of his life? I want titles dammit!

Yet, we don’t want this. Nobody wants this. We have created a monster.

Charles Wang, you have set a dangerous precedent that became much much worse once you made Ed Snider think you were on to something.

The Players

I understand that it’s tough for people to see how the players are at fault in this scenario, but it’s really not that tough to understand. You can’t blame these guys for signing outrageous contracts because that’s not how things work. I have a hard time believing any of us wouldn’t take all of the money for several years if we had the offers, but the rhetoric gets tiring.

Just so we’re clear on a couple of things here… players complaining about the way rules are enforced for safety reasons is a joke. You want to stop getting hit in the head or plowed from behind? Don’t hit anyone in the head or plow them from behind. A riveting concept, I know.

Also, this hockey brotherhood business is a little confusing. I know they’re all brothers and such when the camera is rolling, but the on-ice atmosphere is considerably different. It’s very cute seeing guys with a history of run-ins bro-hugging their way through union meetings.

Also, do overseas players count as part of the hockey brotherhood? Because I don’t think it’ll feel that way when NHLers hop overseas to take their jobs during a lockout. I wouldn’t do that to my brother. Well, unless he was a real jerk.

The players here are completely self-interested and self-absorbed, like every other party here, only they have less riding on this than anyone because they will be hired no matter what. The players are just as guilty of jobbing the fans as our previous three nutbar parties and you better not let them off the hook in the court of public opinion.

Conclusions

Everybody in this situation sucks. They are all flat out terrible. Bettman is a fink, Fehr is a rat, the owners are hypocrites who need to be saved from themselves, and the players don’t give a damn because they’re going to get paid no matter what, it’s just a matter of where and whose job they’re taking.

The lockout, forthcoming at that, is not as simple as being Bettman’s fault, Fehr’s fault, the owners’ fault or the players’ fault. Anyone who tells you to zero in on one is lying to you and probably has an agenda. It’s not black and white but it is that simple.

Collective bargaining means collective blame.

Comments (9)

  1. You forgot to blame the fans. I mean, we still put up with all this crap, don’t we?

    • that’s exactly what i was going to say.

    • Hit the nail on the head.
      At the end of the day everyone is trying to figure out how to divide /our/ money that we /the fans/ spend. The NHL is fast approaching a point where they don’t deserve our support at all.

    • *Checks to-write list*

      There may be a post forthcoming on this very thing.

    • i guess it must be easy to forget about the fans – the players and owners have.

  2. If your best argument against the players is that they should stop complaining about excessive violence in the sport and just stop being excessively violent then I think you need to do better. For starters, very little of the negotiations (or lack thereof) going on seems to deal with player injuries. I’m not hearing anything about changes to the injured reserve rule, the over-35 rule, or insurance or anything.

    Furthermore, if the owners wanted less injuries to their players, they would tell their coaches to tell players to stop being excessively violent. But they’ll never do it. The coaches will continue to tell players like Steve Bernier to finish their checks and finish them hard otherwise they’re going to be on the next bus back to wherever their AHL affiliate happens to be playing tomorrow night. Maybe if owners couldn’t threaten players with demotions to the minors (which comes with an 80%+ salary cut) then players would actually let up a bit despite their coaches wishes. Still, I don’t hear anything about waiver rules or two-way contracts in the negotiations.

    It’s going to be tough on foreign players who lose their roster spots to NHL players during the lockout, but ultimately this helps grow the sport in the rest of the world which helps build hockey communities, etc. etc. It’s not like all 800 NHL players are going to the Swedish Elite League. There are a lot of leagues in Europe with a lot of teams. They’ll find room for NHL players which will draw sell-out crowds on a nightly basis.

    I don’t disagree that everyone is guilty here, but I don’t think you’re making a strong enough argument for what the players could do better. I think you should make them accountable for these huge contracts. Sure, you would sign one, and I would sign one, but players and agents are using contract length, movement clauses, and signing and performance bonuses as a way to play owners against each other causing synthetic inflation of market value in players like Christian Ehrhoff or even Zach Parise.

    • “Sure, you would sign one, and I would sign one”

      Yep, but you and I also would have taken the initial offer because it too was a gigantic wad of cash. The agents game these things and drive up the price for the player. I know that everyone wants to get the most that they can, but really, once you’re making millions – can’t that just be “good enough”? Not to mention that they hurt their own teams by driving them up against the salary cap so that they can’t sign more good players.

      • Very true. I would have taken the $550,000 annual minimum salary and been thrilled about it!

        The players and agents need to be held responsible for this kind of thing.

  3. The MLB workstoppage in 1994 was a players strike, not a lockout.

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