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Fall On Your Sword, Ajax

Dear NHLPA,

I write this to you, knowing you’ll never see it, in the wake of your latest failed meetings with the NHL and on the precipice of losing regular-season games. And a bunch of them at that. While it comes as no surprise, the reality of it being here still stings me and every other fan. Again, we’re well aware that we don’t matter and I’m not here to ask you to “do it for us,” even though I’m sure some of you will run for that cover to justify your stances and actions. That’s fine, we’re used to it.

But over the years, and decades, you the hockey players have gotten a lot of mileage out of the perception that hockey players are different. You’ve actively promoted this about yourselves many times. You extoll your virtue about how much you love your game, how much more or differently you love it than other athletes. You’re just a simple Canadian kid, right? The time has come to prove that.

You need to fall on your sword to save this season and your game.

Hey, I get it. You don’t want to roll over again in a CBA negotiation. You have to draw a line in the sand, Captain Picard (sorry, McClure). You don’t want to lose. You didn’t hire Donald Fehr to just give the owners what they want. It all makes total sense. And for the most part, we’re behind you. We agree with you. You’re getting fucked without any of the customary fun (or in my case, tears). Or at least that’s what the owners are attempting to do.

But let me try to explain this in a way that you might understand better. This is a fight with your girlfriend. You can’t win. Even if you’re right and everyone agrees that you’re right, you can’t win this. She’s smarter than you, better at this than you, and has more to offer than you do. And even if you can “win” a argument with her, the collateral damage from doing so isn’t worth it, and you’ll pay heavier down the road.

And that’s the thing, kids. If you stand firm and hold out, thinking the owners will crack, you will damage the game you claim to love beyond repair. I know both you and the owners think that all the fans will just come running back because that’s what we do. Some will. Maybe most will. But more than you think won’t. And once gate-receipts and television ratings plummet farther into the toilet, and sponsorships aren’t worth as much and neither are local TV deals, the pot of money you draw from will shrink and you’ll see less cash than you would have to begin with.

And even if you “win” this, the guys you work for will still be obscenely rich. They may be upset for a day, and then they’ll take their private jet to their residence in Cabo or wherever and be brought mojitos for three days straight and they’ll forget your name. You can’t beat these guys. Not really.

You’ve already won the PR war. That seems to be rather important to you. You could claim total victory by making it clear what you’re sacrificing to bring hockey back. We’ll come back to support you, even though we know some of our money goes to your conquerors. And all the while we know those rich assholes in the executive suites will smile and slap each other on the back and talk about how they got you again. That’ll hurt. But you’ll have your game back, which is what  you keep saying you want.

I’m not calling for a complete capitulation here. That would indeed set the stage for the future mess for you. But let’s face it. October’s already gone for you. I know you’ve got your escrow checks coming as well as the warchest payments. But you’ve already lost 15% of this year’s salary. You’re going to lose double that on Thanksgiving. I’m sure you want to exact some amount of flesh by depriving the owners of gate receipts too as they hold out your salary.

But losing a whole year’s? It’s too great of a cost to you where it will matter to you, your wallet. Offer a 12%-15% rollback this year. It’s already gone anyway. Only take 52% of revenue next year. That’ll still be around $1.82 billion. By year three you’ll be back to this $1.87 billion figure you’re at now, if not more. Make some penalties in there if the owners can’t expand revenues and revenue-sharing in those two years with the extra cash. Or something.

Offer that, and if the owners still refuse you can much more easily go the federal mediator route (which I’m aware isn’t binding but can provide a runway). Make it starkly clear who’s holding out for what.

You say you love your game and you’re trying to protect it. Do so, no matter how much it hurts. Isn’t that what love is anyway?

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