by Clark Groome

If you haven’t been paying attention to the sports news lately, focusing, perhaps, on the presidential election, the new TV season or the beginning of the new academic year, then the following is possible:

A group of Flyers ticket holders arrive at the Wells Fargo Center for their first game of the season and, after finding there are no other people at the center, react much the way the employees at the World Wide Wicket Company reacted to the lack of coffee in Frank Loesser’s 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning musical “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.”

Rather than singing “There’s no coffee! No coffee!” they sing (I hope the people who control the “How to Succeed” copyrights have a sense of humor and might even be hockey fans):

 

There’s no hockey!

No hockey! Oh!

If I can’t have my Flyers game,

My Flyers game, my Flyers game,

If I can’t have my Flyers game,

Something within me dies,

Lies down and something

within me dies.

 

If I can’t make twice weekly trips

Where gleaming ice

The skater chips

And watch the teams check

with hips

Something within me dies,

Lies down and something

within me dies.

 

The two parties that caused this mini-made-up pageant at Broad and Pattison say they are trying to settle the dispute that centers around how hockey related revenue (and even the definition of HRR is in dispute) is divided between players and owners.

The last agreement, which ended up canceling the 2004-2005 season, gave the players 57 percent of the revenue and the owners 43 percent. The owners were able to impose a salary cap on the teams. The players’ salaries were reduced by 24 percent.

The cap was designed to promote more parity among the teams and to keep the richer teams from offering humongous contracts that some of the smaller market franchises couldn’t afford. Not surprisingly, the general managers found a legal way around that.

Here’s what they did: If they wanted to sign a player for five years at $8 million like they had before the salary cap but only could afford $5 million/year under the cap, they would sign him for eight years, front load the $40 million contract (pay more in the early years and less later on) because the cap hit was based on the average of the contract over its length. This process led to many outrageous long-term contracts.

Thus the financial bind the owners now find themselves in is really their own fault. Why would a player turn down all that money if the owners offered it?

Now the owners want it back.

They want to reduce the HRR split to something approaching 50/50. They also want to limit the length of contracts, the very loophole they used to get themselves into this pickle.

For all the contention, they still say what they really want is to get back on the ice.

How about proving that by asking for some independent mediation? My impression is that the players would be in favor of that but the owners would not. That’s because the owners would likely get less than what they want from an arbiter.

Listen carefully, folks, to what both sides are saying, when they are talking, which isn’t all that often. There just doesn’t seem to be any urgency about this, from either side.

After an exchange of offers that looked very promising last week, Commissioner Gary Bettman said that the NHL Players Association’s responses to the NHL’s proposal were a “setback” and a “total disappointment.” He said that less than an hour after the meetings began to review the NHLPA’s three proposals.

Don Fehr, head of the NHLPA, said, “Today is not a good day – it should have been, but it wasn’t.”

I think the players have the stronger case here. That said, the players are going to have to, and should, contribute something to solving the dispute.

When one side walks away, however, and the other wants to talk, that’s not good for a season that has already lost three weeks of games with more – including the emblematic Winter Classic – in jeopardy.

Negotiations are tough. The opposing sides don’t really like each other, understandable since from afar neither Bettman nor Fehr seem all that likable.

But this should be about the game. It should be about the thousands of game-day employees who are losing income because of the lockout. It should be about really rich people getting together to figure out a way to reach an agreement that works for all involved. Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NFL have all been able to do that.

Most important is what this does to those poor fans who, with nothing else to do at the Wells Fargo Center, broke into song bemoaning the fact that “There’s no hockey.” Those fans should be cheering for their teams – not feeling screwed by people who, for the third time in 17 years, don’t seem to give a damn about them.

Sit down and talk, people. Get a mediator if necessary. But stop posturing and act like grownups for a change.