You don’t often see clear winners and clear losers in protracted labour disputes.
Eventually any labour stoppage ends in a situation where both sides are merely able to save face, trumpeting small victories that they might have scoffed at when the strike or lockout began.
The biggest loser can be the people dependent on the service that has been withdrawn.
So with that in mind, it’s perhaps time to look at the largely pointless labour disruption that has idled NHL players since September. A tentative deal was reached over the weekend.
If you’re keeping track, this is the fourth stoppage in the last two decades.
Proponents of the league or players will give you impassioned reasons why each of these stoppages was absolutely necessary -- or, depending on which side they stand -- completely pointless.
The NHL and its players must have some sense of how this has played out in the public. Perception may not be the truth, but often it’s more powerful.
The broad-stroke view of the two sides is well established.
On one side, a widely hated American commissioner is leading a cabal of affluent owners greedy for more money.
On the other side, a group of greedy players has lost sight of the fact that they are well compensated for playing a game.
Is either characterization fair?
Of course not.
But we live in a time where deep examinations of the issues are cast aside for snap judgments and extreme opinion.
It’s easy to characterize groups as evil without singling out the effects on the individual.
Former Prince Albert Raider defenceman Nick Schultz, who now toils for the Edmonton Oilers, was back in P.A. in November to sponsor a section of seats at the Art Hauser Centre. If he was one of the arrogant, greedy players that people were talking about, he certainly hid it well.
He talked about how the lockout was impacting him.
“Last year I missed my son’s birthday, Halloween, things like that,” he says. “Obviously you can’t control that with your schedule but I’ve had a chance to be around for a lot of things and help take them to their activities. That’s helped fill the void of not having hockey.”
Despite the money he has earned, he remains a personable young man from Strasbourg who was a little bewildered by the work stoppage.
Surely that’s a story repeated over and over throughout the league.
But even having a whole bunch of nice guys off work might not help.
Will this latest strike be the one that really hurts the game?
You get the sense that there might be a hangover of sorts in some of the American markets where hockey remains a tenuous business. It’s easy to get out of the habit of doing things and going to hockey games could be an example.
It’s hard to imagine that our hockey-mad friends in Winnipeg or any of the other Canadian cities who have teams will lose much in the rink. The people with season tickets have overwhelmingly kept them.
It will be interesting to see what happens with the more casual fan. Their lack of interest could be charted in lower TV ratings or perhaps reduced sales of team jerseys and T-shirts.
Sports fans can be a funny bunch. The person loudly exclaiming a month ago that they were done with NHL hockey could very well be the first to turn on the TV when it returns.
If NHL fans had the true courage of their conviction, they would make the league sweat a bit by hurting them in their pocketbooks upon the game’s return.
They wouldn’t go to games. They wouldn’t tune in. They wouldn’t buy the jerseys.
Because NHL fans have talked the talk but never walked the walk, the league and the NHLPA feel free to poison the well over and over without fear of retribution.
Sometimes the best way to teach a fool a lesson is to ignore them for a while.
The choice is yours, NHL fans.