Yesterday marked both the one month anniversary of the lockout and the first missed paycheque for players. In the NHL players get paid 13 times per season so this missed paycheque represents what would have been 7.7% of their annual salary. The final take home amount would have been reduced slightly to account for escrow payments (last year this rate was 8.5%) but even after escrow, some of which the player might see back at the end of the year, for a player like Shawn Horcoff, who is set to make $6M this season, the cheque he was scheduled to received yesterday would have been in the range of $420k before taxes.
Not surprisingly Horcoff is less than pleased about missing paycheques like that and would much rather be playing hockey right now. Especially as his salary drops to $4M next season and $3M the year after, and that's before any roll back. In a conversation with Craig Custance yesterday Horcoff had this to say about the lockout and the lockout:
It’s the same thing every time with the owners. [Commissioner Gary Bettman's] first defense is to cancel games and test the players. There’s been no effort to negotiate on his stance. Their negotiation is 'The players have to come down to us or we’re not moving at all.' Gary has forced the players' hand into this situation and frankly, he’s [ticked] us off. I think at the start, that first offer they gave out, that was a big, big mistake on Gary’s part.
I can't exactly disagree with Horcoff here. The first offer from the owners was laughable and stalled talks more than it jump started them. But where Horcoff losses me a little is when he starts talking about being upset with how the first offer was handled. Hockey is a business and the players need to treat it as such by leaving their emotions at the door. If the players are upset with Bettman and are planning to stick it to him in these negotiations they aren't doing themselves any favours and I think we'll all be in for a very long lockout.
Horcoff goes on:
I sit there and read Gary and Bill’s comments about, 'We feel sorry for the fans.' Well, I find that really hard to believe. I think it’s a blatant lie, personally. I don’t feel they feel sorry for the fans at all. Gary feels like no matter what, [the fans are] going to come back and couldn't care less if they're frustrated with this. He’s going to do what it takes to get the best deal and couldn't care less what they feel.
Again I'm in generally in agreement with what Horcoff is saying. Bettman is going to try and get the best deal he can and what the fans think is none of his concern, this isn't exactly a ground breaking revelation. It's also what he's been directed to do by the owners. And Horcoff, who lost a season to a lockout in 2004 and has spent time on the NHLPAs Executive Board, probably knew this about the NHL Commissioner long before now.
I struggle though with the idea that it is only the owners who are at fault here, that they are the only ones taking the players support for granted. I am, and have been from the start, more on the side of the players than the owners in this dispute but from where I sit there is plenty of blame to be shared between both the players and the owners.
If either side felt a labour disruption would hurt their bottom line there would have been some urgency to start negotiations before training camps loomed on the horizon. That didn't happen so it should be clear that both sides are expecting the fans to return like we did in 2006. There was the NHLPA wasting time with challenges to the Alberta and Quebec Labour Relations Boards that were never going to go anywhere and were about nothing more than the public relations battle. Not to be outdone the NHL decided to run a focus group on Friday to figure of the best way to spin their message. And all the while both sides sit and stare at the other side waiting for the other side to blink first.
All of this is part of the negotiation process and I'm fine with that. But it has nothing to do with what is good for the fans and everything to do with what is good for them. I wish the situation was different but the fans do not factor into what either side is working toward in negotiations. I've made my peace with it. I do wish though that both sides would stop telling me that they are on my side when they very clearly are not.