Every story has a villain. Whether it is a children’s fairy tale or a Shakespearean tragedy, the villain plays a prominent role. In this NHL lockout, there are no shortages of villains. In fact this lockout is full of villains, with no heroes to be seen to save the season. With knaves aplenty, some stand out more than others. Here are the top 10 bad guys, of the NHL lockout.
1. Jeremy Jacobs
The owner of the Boston Bruins, Jacobs is a despicable, disgusting, deplorable human being. He is the one of the lowest life forms on earth. Jacobs is the leader of the negotiating committee for the owners, and has presided over the lockouts in 1994-95 and in 2004-05 in which the entire season was wiped out. Jacobs has been known to treat players like dirt, and is proud of that. He is a penny-pincher to the nth degree, which has included ripping off employees and investors of the club. Former Bruins coach and outspoken TV commentator Don Cherry remembers Jacobs as a very rich man who makes his millions of the blood and sweat of others. Every proposal that the NHL has presented to the players, has been drafted by Jacobs. He is basically controlling every move in this lockout. One theory has that Jacobs sold his soul to the devil, in order for the Bruins to win the Stanley Cup in 2011. But how can one sell his soul to himself?
2. Gary Bettman
We all know about the commissioner’s track record. 3 work stoppages in 20 years. There is no doubt that Bettman is a villain in this mess. Whether it be his condescending attitude towards every proposal the NHLPA sends his way, or the arrogant tone of one of his news conferences, Bettman acts like he’s better than everyone else, and only he knows what is best for the game. Let us not forget that Bettman is technically an owner. The NHL still owns the Phoenix Coyotes and Bettman is overseeing that franchise. Can we say conflict of interest? Let us not forget the PR battle the NHL has tried to wage. Bettman and his cronies hired Frank Luntz, a well-known spin doctor for the Republican party, to help them with the public relations battle they were losing. Bettman is the classic lawyer. He always talks in legalese terms that the general public won’t understand, just to make himself look smart. The truth about Gary Bettman is simple. He’s only the lookout for himself, damn the consequences. All he wants is the big win. If that means sacrificing another NHL season, just to get the deal he wants, he’ll do it. Shameful behaviour. Classic villain.
3. Donald Fehr
The NHLPA isn’t innocent in this fight either. The players, led by Fehr have come across as spoiled brats, who are only interested in monetary gains, instead of playing the game they love. It is also been perceived that the players are far more interested in winning the PR battle, than trying to negotiate a deal. Fehr is a master at public relations, and is terrific in this area going back to 1994. Baseball fans can certainly attest to that. Fehr led the players to strike that forced the cancellation of the 1994 World Series. It took many years for baseball to recover from that loss, and in some ways, they have not recovered. Fehr spent most of that work stoppage talking up the media, rather than trying to negotiate a deal, to salvage the World Series. Flash forward to present time and Fehr is using the exact same tactics he did in 1994. In fact, Fehr’s reputation as a dealmaker is completely false. It took the US Supreme Court to strike down a notion by the owners to use replacement players at the start of the 1995 Major League Baseball season, Fehr said strike over and the players returned to their original deal. In 2002, the players threatened to go on strike again. This time the fans rebelled, and then US President George W. Bush made an ultimatum to the players. Go on strike and I’ll bust your union. The players relented and the strike was averted. The only way Fehr negotiates is when a gun is pointed to his head. In fact, Fehr had a chance to begin negotiations as early as last January. He declined, saying that he needed more time to learn the process. What a bunch of nonsense. He’s just as much of a villain as Bettman is.
4. Allan Walsh
Player agent and Twitter whore. Walsh had been adept at using social media to get his propaganda across. While some things he says are accurate, most of the time, Walsh is spewing hatred and spin against the owners and his support for Fehr and the NHLPA. The problem is Walsh can dish it out, but he can’t take it. He blocks people who make a dissenting voice, no matter how rational. Walsh spends far too much time on social media, arguing with the likes of Darren Dreger of TSN or Damien Cox of the Toronto Star, instead of trying to help his client in resolving the lockout. To me, Walsh is using this lockout to further his profile as an agent. He’s trying too hard to be the next Drew Rosenhaus or Scott Boras. That makes him a villain.
5. Daryl Katz
If slimeball was an entry in Webster’s dictionary, a picture of the owner of the Edmonton Oilers would be right beside it. There is no other way to describe this blockhead. How else can you explain Katz’s “surprise” visit to Seattle, while negotiations with Edmonton City Council broke down, over a new arena deal. While a lockout continues to deprive fans of hockey, Katz is out there, gallivanting to the Pacific Northwest, where they just signed a deal to build a brand new arena. Let’s not forget the Oilers are in the top half of revenue generators in the NHL. Greedy? Indeed. Katz might be wise to lay off on the “business trips” and focus on trying to negotiate a deal with the players.
6. Ed Snider
To be honest, the longtime owner of the Philadelphia Flyers has been rather quiet during this lockout. I know, there is a gag order to prevent owners from speaking out, but that has never stopped Snider from voicing his opinion. However, he hasn’t been present at some negotiating sessions this time, which is a surprise. Still, there is no doubt Snider is a villain in this lockout. However, no one takes more pride in being a villain than Snider. His Broad Street Bully teams of the 1970s raised havoc and terrorized opponents. Meanwhile, his cutthroat business dealings told everyone, he was in charge. Just before the lockout, Snider and the Flyers offered Nashville defenceman Shea Weber a 12 year $94 million offer sheet. Then, after the Predators match the offer, Snider goes off saying that contracts are too long and we, the owners are paying too much. Slightly hypocritical if you ask me. It also doesn’t help Snider that he looks like a hitman for the mafia. Yes, Snider is a classic villain. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
7. Craig Leopold
If you want to talk hypocritical, look no further than the Minnesota Wild owner. When Leopold owned the Nashville Predators, he constantly complained about escalating salaries. However, after Leopold sold the Predators, and subsequently purchased the Wild, Leopold suddenly found himself with some cash to spend. So what does he do? When the free agency period opened on July 1, Leopold spent money like a Hollywood starlet on Rodeo Drive. Leopold signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to 12 year $90 million deals. Yet Leopold is one of the leaders of the lockout, proclaiming yet again, salaries have escalated, and are too long. Really? And who do you think is responsible for that Mr. Leopold? The nerve of some of these people.
8. Charles Wang
The owner of the Brooklyn Islanders…I mean the New York Islanders, Wang’s timing of announcing the franchise moving from Long Island to Brooklyn is rather curious. I admit his arena deal at the dilapidated Nassau County Coliseum was horrible. And yes, the Islanders desperately needed a new arena. But why announce the move while there is a lockout going on? Do you know something Mr. Wang that we don’t? Do you think this will increase hockey related revenue? And was this done to speed up the negotiation process? Either way, the timing of the move is very fishy. If players are locked out, then owner can’t negotiate franchise relocations.
9. The Media
OK, so technically not a person. But a group of people. And yes, I’m putting them in all in one group. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some terrific reporting by individual members of the media. However, they have also teased and tantalized their readers and viewers with headlines like the following. DEAL ALMOST DONE! BIG WEEK IN NEGOTIATIONS! BACK AT THE BARGAINING TABLE! CLOCK IS TICKING! I have one for you. JUST STOP! Yes, you’re just doing your job reporting the news of the day. Yes, the tedium of the lockout is difficult. Yes, we all want hockey back. But, the coverage the media, especially the Canadian media gives this lockout is absurd. And since when did sportswriters become accountants? This lockout has given every sportswriter with a calculator, a chance to add up the numbers, and play with monopoly money, while trying to divide over $3 billion dollars in revenue. They all think they could have the lockout solved with a single column. Well, it doesn’t work that way. So just stop and stick to reporting facts. There’s a reason why you’re sportswriters and not accountants. Stick to writing.
10. The Fans
Really? The Fans? Absolutely! In fact, we, the fans deserve quite a bit of blame for this lockout. Why you may ask? First let’s go back to 2005. When the NHL resumed play in October of that year, after a season long lockout, fans came back in droves, crying tears of joy that their precious, beloved game had returned to them. It was like long-lost lovers reunited, and it was so romantic indeed. The NHL promised it would never do such a horrible thing again, even taking the time to splash out a lovely “Thank You Fans” message at all arenas. This, even after the NHL reneged on their promise to reduce season ticket prices. In fact, ticket prices have gone up 39% since 2005. Yet the fans continued to spend their money and buy tickets and merchandise, lighting up cash registers in arenas across North America. Unlike baseball fans, who made the owners and players know how they felt after the cancellation 0f the 1994 World Series, with empty seats and low television ratings, hockey fans filled arenas and TV ratings soared. Canadian hockey fans are really guilty here. The game took off to ridiculous levels as both CBC and TSN saw their ratings climb to huge heights. The sport was so popular, Winnipeg got a team again. And fans there, (myself included) bought tickets and merchandise like a drunk buying rounds at last call. We couldn’t get enough. The owners think they can afford another lockout because they think the fans will come back again. Sadly they’re probably right. Need proof? The last proposal the NHL made to the players wasn’t to get a deal done. It was made to see the fans reaction to the deal. The fans reacted with excitement and giddiness. The fans reaction, emboldened Bettman and his evil band of owners to prolong the lockout, when they refused the players counter proposal faster than a Ferrari on the Autobahn. So fans, please quit with your tweets of “I Want Hockey Back” or “Please get a deal done NHL and NHLPA.” Or “I Miss You NHL.” All those tweets are doing is telling the owners, you’re coming back, ready to put more money into their pockets once hockey resumes. It is the wrong message to send. It is time for the fans to take a step back and chill out. No more protests or fan rallies saying end the lockout now. Take a break from the NHL. Watch junior hockey. Get involved with another sport. Find another passion outside of sport even. Send the owners and players a message. Tell them you don’t miss them and you don’t need them. It would be the right message to send. And yes, I’m a fan, so I will take blame for this lockout as well. I’m just as much responsible as everyone else. It is time for everyone to look in the mirror.