Monday, October 15, 2012

A Bolt From the Blue

The NHL is currently indulging in another lockout, with neither the players or owners seemingly willing to budge on how revenue is divided... revenue that reached a record $3.3 billion last year. $3.3 BILLION. That honey pot is currently split with the owners getting 43% and players getting 57%. The owners now want it split 50/50, which means the players will take a 12% pay cut. Naturally, the players don't want to do that.

Personally, I'm disgusted with both sides. To be totally honest, I've been a bit sour on the NHL since the last lockout in 2004-2005. I used to be an avid fan, especially of our own hometown Lightning, and enjoyed watching whatever NHL game was on ESPN or Versus or whatever channel we could find a game on. But when the owners and players forfeited an entire season squabbling over money, I lost my taste for the league. And now they're back at it.

Now, I can totally understand the players not wanting to take a 12% pay cut, but it's not like they're being asked to take a 12% pay cut on a $50,000 annual salary, which was about what the average US household income was in 2011. The minimum NHL player salary for the 2011-2012 season, per the last collective bargaining agreement, was $525,000. That's over a half a million dollars. A 12% pay cut would bring it down to $462,000 if my math is right. Goodness! How could we possibly ask someone to live comfortably on that paltry amount? Those poor, downtrodden lowest earners in the NHL... what a struggle they'd go through to make ends meet. Oh how they'd suffer! Such a tragedy. (Can you smell the sarcasm, people?) At the average US household income, it would take about nine years to earn what the lowest paid NHL player would make in one year, even after that 12% pay cut. NINE YEARS.

I'm not saying the owners are right in asking for such an abrupt and significant shift in the distribution of revenues. They agreed to the current numbers in the last CBA, so it seems a bit rapacious for them to be demanding such a quick jump in the new one. But the real problem is that neither side has yet to talk about this issue in their negotiations, even though it's the main point of contention! Come on, fellas... there's plenty of money for everybody. But by the time you figure it out and end the lockout, I'm guessing revenues will probably be down over last year. Maybe it's just me, but there are probably a lot of other soon-to-be-former fans who won't bother coming back to support the NHL. Y'all get paid for playing a game... a game that a lot of average slobs struggle to even be able to afford to play in local rec leagues.

Which leads me to the one bright spot I did see last week that gives me a shred of hope for the NHL, or at least for the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was a segment on the local news about the startup of a local recreational hockey league for military veterans. Hockey is an expensive sport to play. I can attest to that fact from past personal experience, being a former co-ed rec league player for several years. Ice time doesn't come cheaply, and neither does the equipment. The founder of this league, a veteran himself, is trying to make it affordable so that veterans can enjoy the physical activity and the camaraderie of being part of a hockey team. And here's where the Lightning come in... Since the ice at the Forum isn't being used due to the NHL lockout, the Lightning has allowed the Veterans Hockey League to use it. That's some fine ice, there! I had the privilege of playing on it myself a couple of times a few years ago. They also donated their practice jerseys, and have committed to giving the veterans league ice time even when the lockout ends. What a great way to show appreciation for their service to our country!

Yes, that's really me... making a snow angel at center ice at
the Forum, which was still called the Ice Palace at the time.
Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is a class act. Despite the BS going on with the CBA negotiations, Mr. Vinik remains high in my regard. I have a nephew currently serving in Afghanistan. He played hockey as a kid, and it warms my heart to know that he may be able to enjoy playing in this league someday. Hopefully, he'll be able to skate on the ice at the Forum too.

If you'd like more information about the Veterans Hockey League, or if you're a vet interested in playing in the league, check out their website here. They also have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and LinkedIn page. If you're lucky enough to find you have a few extra dollars to spare, I'm sure they'd appreciate a donation. I'll bet even those impoverished and beleaguered NHL players and owners could cough up a couple nickels if they were so inclined. If you ask me, I think both sides should take 49% of the revenues, and establish a charitable fund to benefit organizations like the Veterans Hockey League with the remaining 2%. But I won't hold my breath.

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