NHL, NHLPA have abused our trust
John Buccigross [ARCHIVE]
November 20, 2012
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Wherever I go, people keep asking me, "Are you bummed about the NHL lockout?"

My answer? "No." (Then I say I am bummed only for those NHL team employees and fellow broadcasters who aren't getting fully paid. That angers me. More below.)

Listen, I'm a hockey fan and an NHL fan. Youth, high school, prep school, Junior, NCAA, minor league, NHL, World Junior Championship, Frozen Four, Swedish Elite, WHAAAAAAT-EVAH. It all entertains me. No NHL game has ever captivated me like watching my oldest (now retired), Brett, play and today watching 13-year-old Jackson wheel, sauce and snipe. #bardownhandsupcrowdcheersmomcries

Today, I'm even less of an NHL fan and more of the above enterprises. (You think people aren't making money off your 12-year-old's "elite" travel sweat? Think again, Ma and Pa. And make that check out to Coach Ca$h-a-lot).

Two NHL betrayals in eight years? No, thanks. One infidelity changes a relationship forever, even if one side decides to outwardly forgive. Two? The relationship is either over lawfully or in the heart. It will never be the same, even after it continues and we continue watching games. You can take your Peaches and Herb, throw it in a 40-ounce juicer and pour it slowly on the sidewalk in mourning, humming Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know."

I and many other adults will now be distrustful of the NHL as long as the principle principals remain. Like baseball was after its canceled World Series, the game has been irrevocably stained. The scarlet letter is "G" for "greed." Some baseball fans never came back after the 1994 strike that canceled a World Series and ended all strikes. Now there are only lockouts. Or really contracts that end. Leagues can't afford to work on expired agreements because some teams can't afford to bleed more money and leagues don't want players striking before the playoffs like the baseball players did in 1994.

As with baseball fans not forgetting 1994, NHL fans won't forget this time around. The truly sad part is that some people will not just leave the NHL but leave the sport entirely. All hockey suffers when the head is severed.

Yes, we are all connected in this mess. The mite, the pee-wee, the preppy, Boston College's Johnny Gaudreau, Minnesota's Nick Bjugstad, Sean Whitney of the ECHL's San Francisco Bulls and AHL Hershey Bear Jon DiSalvatore. The NHL's sins are felt across the hockey board. We play together on one big, perfect, outdoor sheet of new ice. We all enjoy chicken parm.

The NHL, its logos and the Stanley Cup are the birdhouse in our souls. The lighthouse. Instead of compromise, they choose to act like Washington, D.C. They turned their backs on the rest of the game, arms folded in that wine-drinking, cigar-smoking, self-absorbed way.

Screw 'em. We're set. Yes, sometimes one side IS more to blame. It is not 50/50, even as they slog to 50/50.

In the long term, the sport will survive because, like all excellent sporting enterprises, it regenerates with youth. Gigantic crowds followed Bobby Jones play golf in 1929, and throngs watched Tiger Woods in 1999. They will follow Rory McIlroy when he wins the Masters next April with a Nike swoosh on his hat.

Ten-year-olds won't remember this NHL work stoppage. When Sidney Crosby is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2030, a 28-year-old hockey journalist will write of Crosby's amazing career with joy, innocence and sentiment. The game is irresistible. It belongs to the young, and thus it will never die.

In the #rockoutwithyourNHLlockout meantime, there is plenty of great hockey to consume in North America. Gary Bettman's and Donald Fehr's, ah, um, "relieving oneself" contest will not raise my blood pressure by one number. (I've got to get on Grantland so I can use naughty words. Simmons, call my agent.)

Wait, that's right, I don't have an agent. Like the NHL (Bettman) and the players (Fehr), just about every newsperson you watch on TV has an agent who the TV person pays anywhere from 5-10 percent of his or her gross paycheck. (Athletes usually pay around 3 percent.)

Besides not being able to stomach paying someone 10 percent of my gross for information and leverage I can easily find and implement myself, the biggest reason for my going sans agent is that I want to control the process and the narrative so I know: 1) What's going on? 2) What's being offered? 3) What is the tone? 4) Who's really working for me and not some other client? When I had an agent, I didn't feel in control and felt uneasy. Like Sully Sullenberger, flying to Cincinnati on one of them regional airlines.

The players and some owners have given that power up to someone else. I understand both sides are "collectively" bargaining, whereas ESPN and I bargain on behalf of just me and the corporation, which makes it much simpler. The fact that I have the telecommunications relevance of a coaster on "The Big Bang Theory" also makes negotiations a five-meeting venture.

The 2005 NHL CBA was 454 pages. My contract with ESPN is three pages. Well, two and a half. Just how I like it. I show up. I do "SportsCenter," I write about hockey, and I do play-by-play of the Frozen Four. And they pay me. Match a little for my 401(k). (Disney, ESPN's parent company, still has a pension!) Seems fair to me. Could I have gotten a little more at ESPN or left for more money somewhere else with an agent? Maybe. Maybe not. Doesn't matter.

Fair is what you think is fair. I know what I want and what makes me happy and don't focusing on getting every last single penny coming my way. I want less crap around me anyway. The last person I want to be like is like the person who wants every last freaking penny.

Yes, the players, especially those with millions banked (Iginla, Brodeur et al.) have to think a little bit about others coming after them, but the financial cat is out of the bag. Players are making more money than ever, and they will continue to make large amounts of money in the NHL because the incentive to win championships is what pays. Coaches will coach to get a better contract, GMs GM to get a better contract, and owners own to increase their franchise value. The way all this is accomplished? GETTING GOOD PLAYERS! And winning playoff games. Teams will ALWAYS pay for them. They have forever. These are competitive, proud people. They will continue to do it because even more is on the line.

If the players really cared about one another, they would fight to raise the minimum salary. Currently, it's $525,000. Make it a million. Let's redistribute that wealth while we're at it, boys.

Put all the NHL owners in a room and five players from each team in another room. And then line up the owners on a dais with 30 chairs in front of the players' much bigger room and gave me a Frank Luntz-endorsed cordless microphone to mediate the Q and A and hash...
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