It’s ironic really that the Minnesota Wild 2011-12 calender is short a few months, ending after September. Hanging as the official calender of my office cubicle, I — like I am sure many fans who use the same calendar to track the days — was expecting to pick up a new 2012-13 calender during one of the three home pre-season games scheduled to start Sept. 25.
As of 12 a.m. on Sept. 16, that wasn’t going to happen.
And who knows if it will happen, with the NHL imposing it’s third official lockout — second in just eight years and fourth work stoppage in 20 years — this past Sunday.
There was the 1992 player strike during playoffs; the 1994-95 season resumed on Jan. 1 with 486 games lost; and 2004-05, still fresh in so many fans’ minds that resulted in the first non-Stanley Cup winner since 1919 and the first-ever cancelation of an entire sporting season.
The NHL has now lost 1,698 regular-season games due to labor disputes since 1992. That is more than MLB (938) NBA (504) and NFL (0) combined.
To say it’s frustrating for fans is an understatement. It’s downright wrong and all fingers are pointing at NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who has now secured a hattrick of lockouts in his tenure.
Like many professional sports, the NHL and NHL Players Association (NHLPA) are in war over a Collective Bargaining Agreement. The NHL boasted its highest grossing revenue last season — $3.3 billion — and the owners decided they wanted a bigger piece of the pie. Players currently reap 57 percent of the revenue, a percentage owners wanted to drop, with the latest proposal offering a six-year deal with players’ share dropping first to 49 percent and then to 47 percent. Players contested there will be an anticipated salary growth over three to five years and would drop their share from 54.3 percent to 52.3 percent.
Many players began receiving escrow checks containing 8 percent of their 2011-12 salaries — $80,000 for a player who made $1 million last season. And while they are technically listed as unemployed it’s others that are making even bigger sacrifices.
Ask Stanley C. Panther, the Florida Panthers mascot who was laid off along with 12 other Panther employees due to the lockout. The Ottawa Senators also reported layoffs for its staff.
And of course, there are the sacrifices by the fans.
Wild fans rushed to ticket offices following the huge offseason transaction of free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, with nearly 4,000 additional season tickets sold for the upcoming year. The Wild announced Monday that they will credit season ticket holders for canceled games, plus 10 percent interest on the dollar value of tickets for the lost games to be applied toward future games or season renewals.
That hype is correlated with the hype the NHL strives to generate year in and year out.
The game has made tremendous strides, including rising stars, Stanley Cups in both traditional markets like Boston and Chicago and lighting a buzz equivalent to the Wayne Gretzky trade in Los Angeles with that city’s first Stanley Cup championship this past year. And let’s not forget the Winter Classic taking center stage on NBC, with this year’s game drawing an original six match-up between Detroit and Toronto.
All of that wiped out. Locked out. Again.
So what do we do as fans? What about us fans?
There is high school, junior and college hockey to bemuse us and many are predicting a return of the NHL at some point during the season. But is it fair to ask us to come running when there is a return? Ticket prices have already soared in the eight years since the last lockout, and that $3.3 billion revenue is due to the fans shelling it out.
Think of the fans when negotiating and give us what we want: The game we love. We’ve paid enough.