NHL

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fans the ones getting shafted

Rich boys cry and moan while you pay the price

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Forget Daryl Katz and his thoughtless treatment of the people of Edmonton. Forget Derek Roy tweeting photographs of his Ferrari. Forget Mike Cammalleri and his $7-million salary talking about being the victim of a shakedown. Forget Gary Bettman and his proclivity for lockouts.

Today is about you. Look in the mirror. You've officially been screwed by the NHL. Both its owners and its players have forsaken you.

The NHL announced the cancellation of another block of games on Friday, bringing the total number of Winnipeg Jets regular-season games scrapped to 20. Almost a quarter of the season.

That's nine nights of NHL action right here in Winnipeg and another 11 in front of the TV or radio. No Dustin Byfuglien at forward or defence debates. No Dennis Beyak calling goals. No wildly entertaining Claude Noel moments.

Hell, we haven't officially seen or heard from Claude for months now. Someone is to blame for that.

It's not you. It's the owners and the players. You are the child of divorce. Caught in the middle and paying the emotional toll while lawyers squabble over material matters.

Forget for a moment that it is your money and yours alone that they are fighting over. You are "revenue." That's what you represent in this battle.

Remember why we really care. Hockey. I'm told the NHL will have missed out on north of $700 million in revenue if all these games aren't played. Boo hoo. That's their fault. Certainly not that of the hockey fans of Winnipeg.

We shouldn't care how much money owners and players have lost or will lose. Not one iota.

Which seems fair enough because it's clear they don't care what we've lost.

They don't care we haven't seen Evander Kane crash the net and score.

No Pavelec-tricity in downtown Winnipeg? Too bad. Don't care.

Both the NHL and NHLPA put out meaningless statements on Friday. They may have written the exact same thing for all the impact they had. In fact, they would have both been better off saying nothing for the words they did release certainly didn't resonate with fans.

"We're sorry... want more money...hope you enjoy figure skating... we're still all rich and can pay our bills so we'll cancel our season rather than be reasonable... too bad about your Saturday nights... Check out my new mansion...Think I'll go play in Europe... My other business is booming...blah, blah, blah."

Here in Winnipeg, we've spent hours dissecting the strategy of both sides and trying to guess where it will all end. No one knows.

But we do know of some absolutes. Ticket prices will go up. Same with merchandise and hot dogs and beer. The owners? Their franchise values will increase. The players? They'll soon make more money than they do right now.

What is being achieved by this labour stoppage? Nothing tangible to you and me. Except the loss of opportunity to watch our NHL team in Winnipeg. The team we lost for 15 years due to escalating salaries and economic infirmity in the NHL.

One can understand the need for both sides to try and negotiate the best deal they can but with this block of latest cancelled of games the owners and the players have officially cut their own noses off for spite.

The future is clear and at some point the players will be forced to accommodate the owners. Time is on the league's side and no matter what Don Fehr says, that won't change. The NHL can outwait its players and it will. That's what makes this so ridiculous. The best deal attainable for both sides is now sliding off the table to be forever lost.

The question hockey fans are now asking themselves is will they return to their seats post-lockout? Both sides are banking on you doing just that. Remember, you are the revenue.

In Winnipeg, this latest stall might even serve to ramp up our appetite.

Last season was our honeymoon and already we're separated by circumstance. Once reunited with their Jets, Winnipeg fans will very likely be out of their minds with joy and quick to dispatch any hate.

For now, however, we're left to seethe. No hockey. Certainly not in October and not in November unless something changes in a hurry.

I'm at the point where I almost want them to stay out all year so they can really pay a price. Both sides talk a lot about what is fair.

What's fair about what's happening to fans all over hockey? Someone tell me.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 27, 2012 C5

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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