Only one person in this picture is doing the tango. The other is just along for the ride.
There has been a great deal of discussion about who is to blame for the lockout. Polling shows that the fans blame either the owners or both sides equally. Very few people believe the players are to blame. This could be for several reasons. The fans actually like the players, wear their sweaters and spend their hard earned dollars to buy tickets to watch the players. Unless you are a small business owner looking for insight, you aren't buying tickets to watch Craig Leipold.
As has been rightly pointed out here, and elsewhere, blaming the players for a lockout is, in itself, impossible. A lockout is an action taken by ownership, not the union. It is the owners' equivalent of a strike. Players can't lock themselves out, and they can't lockout the owners. Semantics? Absolutely. Still, it's part of the argument.
I, quite honestly, cannot come up with a single legitimate reason to blame the players for the labor conditions. I am open to hearing them, but I can't find them. In the absence of blame for one side, does the necessity to blame the other immediately become the only course of action? Perhaps, but not always. Sometimes, things just happen. Luckily, this isn't one of those situations.
Why are the owners to blame for the lockout? Make the jump.
This Is Their CBA
The last lockout was because the owners wanted themselves a salary cap, just like the NFL and NBA had. Always keeping up with the Joneses, in this case, the Jerry Joneses. Looking back, most fans admit it was a necessary evil to get a cap in place, and ensure teams could afford to compete with each other. The owners got nearly everything they wanted in that negotiation.
Sure, the players agreed to it, and sure the CBA wound up favoring the players in the long term, but it is still exactly as was demanded by the owners. For them to blame anyone else for the conditions in the CBA would be the equivalent of blaming tobacco for being addictive. Oh. Wait. We did that, too. Never mind.
Imagine what a whiny piss ant your friends would call you if you begged for them to do something, they caved, and then you complained about what you were doing.
They Found the Loopholes
If anyone can tell me that a player was the first to suggest a long term contract with wasted years at the end to drop the cap hit, I will eat a cake shaped like a hat. Preferably chocolate.
The point is, the owners forced a CBA through, canceled a season to get it, and then immediately set about finding ways to not live up to it. In the meantime, their CBA drove prices up for talent, and coupled with the NHLPA option cap increases, it turned in favor of the players rather quickly. Guess what? The owners didn't care.
You've heard this 1000 times. The owners wanted to sign the players, and offered them contracts that circumvented the very CBA they demanded. That's on them, not the players.
They Offered the Contracts
Similar to the above, but not the same, is the fact that the owners offered the contracts that got them here. A player, say Wade Redden, cannot offer himself a contract. Then, when the owner (and GM) decide that contract is no longer conducive to the team, they bury it in the AHL, and they walk away. To tell me that you can afford to pay Wade Redden $7 million to play in the AHL, but can't afford a 57-43 split of revenue makes my heart bleed for you.
This point is key. Owners offered these deals, knowing full well what they were going to do to the revenue split. These guys didn't get to be billionaires by not understanding the long term impact of a contract. You can bet they have long term projections on the league, each contract, and how all of it ties together. If they don't, they don't deserve to be in the position they are in.
They didn't do this out of blind love of winning. Well, maybe some of them did. They did so knowing what was going to happen and how to make money doing it. Or, in some cases, lose money on purpose to balance out their other business gains.
They Signed the Contracts
The players are always going to negotiate for more money. If you think they didn't have to, go to your boss tomorrow and tell them you are willing to cut your pay if it is good for the interests of the company. Make that a serious offer. Don't just suggest that maybe, someday, you would be willing to. Demand they cut your pay by, say, 24%. Then, seven years later, after working your tail off and earning raises, go back and demand they do it again.
Anyone out there ready to do that?
The owners signed the contracts, which in both the US and Canada, is a binding legal agreement. It really is that simple. Need another exercise? Call your mortgage company and demand they take a lower payment for your house. Report back on the answer, if you would. You signed it, they signed it. Neither side gets to get around it.
This is the most ridiculous part of all of this. The owners want to skirt contracts they signed in good faith. That's just sad.
They Made the Opening Salvo
The owners were the first to make a proposal. It was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, not a good faith offer from a group that wanted to get a deal done and have a season if it meant anything less than running the union over once again. The opening offer from the owners soured the negotiations, and made the situation much worse than it needed to be. The offer was insulting and they knew it. They did it anyway.
Strong bargaining position, some called it. What it was is the same thing as skating onto the ice with a rival and immediately slashing the opposing team captain over the head ala Chris Simon. I'm sure that game would be played with love and rainbows for the duration.
It Takes Two to Tango
This is something I have read quote a few times to justify the "equal blame" argument. JS is part of this camp. A near equal share of the fan base is in this camp. One comment even suggested that fans here at Hockey Wilderness "get it" because a large portion of the poll voted for equal blame. I can respect that. Most fans here do, in fact, "get it."
On this, I would remind you that it does not, in fact, take two to tango. One person can tango all by themselves if they are willing to look stupid while doing so. One hand clapping still makes noise (ask Bart Simpson), a tree makes noise when it falls in the woods, no matter what (it's physics), and a fight can be a one man battle.
Metaphysical conversations are great, and cliches get us through times when words struggle to, but if the owners want to dance by themselves, they certainly can. The owners and players were both dancing through the last CBA, but it was the owners asking the players to do so. Now, the owners are dancing a different tune, and are mad because the players rather enjoyed the dance they were forced to dance for 7 years.
Blame Solves Nothing
We can discuss blame until we're blue in the face. Who the fans blame means nothing, and does nothing in the negotiations. It makes people feel better to know where the devil sits. If it makes you feel better about the helpless position you are in, then blame away. I don't really care who is to blame, and this certainly isn't going to win me any points with ownership, but I have a strong indication of who has made the missteps here.
What say you, Wilderness. Why is it equal? Why are the players to blame?