Before the latest agreement between the NHL and NHLPA was even concluded, one did not have to go far to hear the threats of a NHL hockey boycott by disgruntled fans once it returned to the ice. Most of these threats happened to emanate from Canada (likely because people in the Sun Belt forgot what hockey is during the lockout). One need only peruse twitter or online polls to see the bravado of once loyal fans in taking what they think is a position on the moral high ground.
As a Canadian and a hockey fan, I am delighted to see the NHL return this year. NHL hockey is one of the few redeeming qualities of winter and I was at serious risk of having 2005 levels of S.A.D. set in had a new CBA not been concluded.
I want to remind these jerseyed Quixotes of two things before they embark on their moralistic crusades in boycottistan: first, I don’t believe 99% of them will actually follow through for long with the hockey boycott. Second, I challenge them to consider the numbers and what collective bargaining means before simply lashing out at Gary Bettman, the NHL or the NHLPA.
Consider this: if they players or owners would have accepted the original negotiating position of the other, fans may have been faced some very unpleasant scenarios indeed. The first involves ownership instituting their original bargaining position. In this scenario, players would be obviously disgruntled at a situation where their pension is not improved, their share of league revenue is trimmed back from 57 to 43% and existing contracts severely clawed back. In such a situation, many players may have made a run for the KHL (a league where contracts mean little and its intentions toward the NHL are that of a rival at best and a sabatoeur at worst). Fans would obviously be upset at such an outcome and twitter tirades would obviously ensue worse than those associated currently with the hockey boycott.
The second scenario involves the players getting their way entirely. In this situation, many vulnerable teams would be in severe financial peril, contracts would be long and cumbersome and teams would be faced with taking on ultimately unsustainable and exorbitant Defined Benefits Pension plans that would bleed teams dry for decades. Worse still, an extremely uncompetitive system might result in a situation similar to that of the mid 1990s where the existence of Canadian teams outside of the GTA came into serious question (this was caused more by the dollar). The risk of losing many teams in this scenario is real. This outcome, too, would be decried by the NHL fan base: again cue Twitter outbursts.
What fans should realize is that labour negotiations take time and are a dynamic process. If coming to labour deals was easy and as ‘common sense’ as people seem to think, we would have such an elaborate system of law governing labour relations in Canada and the United States.
So for those on the high horse threatening the hockey boycott, please get off, understand that collective bargaining is a regulated form of ‘industrial warfare’ and come enjoy the best sport on earth.
Alexander Shalashniy may be targeted by NHL twitter tirades @alexavellian.