Spector on CBA: Situation needs perspective

It is the first morning after the Labour Day weekend, the beginning of the new fiscal year for hockey people. Summer is over, hockey rinks await, in places like Penticton, Traverse City, or local rinks where pros gather to prep for training camps.

This Tuesday has always been, for those of us lucky enough to make a living on the periphery of the great game, an annual changing of the mindset. There are rookie camps around the corner, followed by main camp, followed by preseason games…

You know the drill, because you are a hockey fan.

This Tuesday morning was, alas, different. We are in a recess, the leaders of the game tell us. It is about hockey related revenues, escrow, and other bleary numbers that do not represent goals and assists.

It is about Janne Makkonen’s fine montage of hockey moments, a Finnish freelance TV editor whose anger was channeled so perfectly in a must-see Youtube video.

It is about a report by colleague Eric Francis out of Calgary that the Flames have put their front office staff on notice that pay cuts loom. About some quotes from Vancouver about the 1,500 game day staff at Rogers Arena who are in line to start missing paychecks.

It is always with news like this that the absurdity hits home: One day a 20-year-old Taylor Hall is signing a $42 million contract. The next, a guy who makes an extra buck hawking popcorn at NHL games, or the woman who counts dearly on her game-night tip money, is looking for some other way to make their car payment.

All so some owner who thought hockey was going to fly in Florida can sip a better brand of vodka.

All because of a bunch of hockey players somehow believe they are entitled to 57% of their sport’s revenues, while their colleagues in football, baseball and basketball all work in the 48-50% range.

So, while we can’t wait to watch the game that has become a part of our country’s fabric, played at its highest level by National Hockey League players, we instead get the mental image of watching hockey’s economic pendulum swing back towards the middle.

Paint dries in a day. Grass grows in three or four days.

This, folks, takes much longer. Currently, the NHL has called negotiations off after rejecting the union’s latest proposal. No new meetings have been scheduled, so we are left with the mental picture of a swinging pendulum, the less-than-thrilling product of an economic history that has always been askew.

Years ago, when NHLPA head Bob Goodenow was kicking Gary Bettman’s can around the block on an annual basis, things got out of whack. Hockey players were making baseball money, which is kind of like the wife of the assembly line guy driving the same vehicle as the wife of the CEO.

In those days, Goodenow used to extract concessions from the NHL in order for the NHLPA to consent to attend the Olympics.

Can you imagine? Bettman would extend a CBA that was unfavourable to the owners, so that 25% of the players could have the experience of their lives playing Olympic hockey for their country, while the other 75% would get most of two weeks off for a Hawaiian vacation in February.

That was always my metaphor for how far the pendulum had swung in the players favour back in those days, the same way it had been on the owners side back in the ‘50s, when the players were firmly taken advantage of.

By the time of the lost season of 2004 the players were raking 75% of league revenues, a figure that was immediately dismissed by the P.A., but never accurately refuted. It took the owners a lost season to get the players down to 57%, and now the pendulum still has some swinging to do to get to an even 50-50 split in revenues.

So, hockey fan, that’s what you get this fall: A mental visual of a swinging pendulum. Top that off with a heaping helping of labour rhetoric from both sides, a bunch of owners who secretly don’t mind losing games because they struggle during the American fall anyhow, and players who really can’t tell you why they deserve 57%, only that they know they do.

It’s not exactly what you signed up for, is it?