On Monday the Grand Rapids Griffins opened training camp to get ready for the 2012-13 season. Their parent club only wishes they could have opened camp.
Because of the NHL players lockout – the second this decade – there will be no hockey in Hockeytown. Nor do I suspect there will be any time soon.
The core issue is money. The owners want to pay less of it to the players, and the players aren’t about to make major givebacks.
This whole scenario harkens back to the wiped-out 2004-05 season. Players were locked out then, and thanks to the bullying of commissioner Gary Bettman and a weak players’ union head in Bob Goodenow, the players caved in.
The same thing is playing out now. Bettman, with his ego very much intact, wants to force players to not not only give back some of the salary they signed for, but also wants them to take less of the overall pie. He’s modeling this after the NFL and NBA, who each got the players to give back a chunk of money.
There’s a few of interesting backdrops to this lockout that weren’t there in the previous one.
First, the NHL made $3 billion in revenue last season. No, that’s not in the same area code as the NFL, but still, that’s a lot of money to make. So there should be plenty to go around.
Also, it’s the owners who decided to sign these contracts like the long term deals handed out to just about ever star player over the past two seasons. No one put a gun to their heads and said they had to sign them. So it’s their fault the players are getting paid so much.
And finally, the fans come to see the players play, not the owners own.
So owners cry to the players to give back, and the players are looking at them with quizzical looks. If they thought they were giving out too much money to the players, why did they sign those players to contracts like those?
Unfortunately for hockey fans, this won’t get settled any time soon. Bettman is going to stick to his position of an immediate salary reduction no matter what, and new NHL Players Association head Donald Fehr, the former head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, isn’t going to give back much without seeing something come back in return.
Because of that I predict the 2012-13 season will also be canceled. The chances of the there being an agreement are so slim because of the personalities involved. It’s not likely they’ll see eye to eye in the near future.
The damage done to the sport will be vast if that happens, and it may not recover as quickly as it did after 2005.
So I hope West Michigan hockey fans enjoy the Griffins. Or maybe the North American Hockey League’s Muskegon Lumberjacks. Or the Central Hockey League’s Kalamazoo Wings. Or they are willing to travel to the other side of the state for the Ontario Hockey League’s Saginaw Spirit or Plymouth Whalers, or the NAHL’s Michigan Warriors – all of which play junior hockey.
Because that’s about the only hockey anyone is going to see this winter.