By Drew Markol, TSN Contributor - Archive - Email
Nobody asked me, but...
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's time to stop the dance, pick the gloves up off the ice and talk nice.

The last thing the National Hockey League needs, or any professional sports league for that matter, is another lockout. Or strike. Or anything that keeps the product away from the fans.

In pro hockey's case, it's a lockout of the players by the owners because, now get ready, the owners want to give the players a smaller slice of the pie. Come Saturday, the lockout will become official and players who try to go to practice rinks across North America will find them locked. Keep out until we settle this thing.

The problem with settling this thing is that the owners seem content to let the players sweat for a while, miss a couple (maybe more) paychecks, and then give in.

It is, like most of these things work, a battle between billionaires (the owners) and millionaires (the players). And in the end, who always wins these battles? The folks with the most money, of course. Never fails.

Despite revenue and player salaries that have never been higher (which means everybody is cashing in), we have problems.

Currently, the players receive 57 percent of league revenue. The owners wanted to cut that number significantly down to 43 percent.

Naturally, the players balked. The owners recently came back with an offer to up that number to 46 percent, still an 11 percent chop. Again, the players balked.

A lot of this also is tied to how long the agreement lasts. The owners want a long time frame, the players not as long. The owners also want to put the hammer down on free agency, making player movement scarce.

Add in the owners trying to do away with the players' right to go to salary arbitration and you can see why the rank and file are angry.

The NHL, more than any of the four major sports, needs to be playing. Take away the NFL, or Major League Baseball, and you have riotous fans and deep scars that last for a long time.

Take away pro hockey, at least in the United States, and most of us will get used to it not being around and adapt. That's the last thing the NHL needs. It needs to keep building on its run of success and keep its game in front of our eyes.

Legal mumbo jumbo and video of guys in suits walking out of offices gets awfully tired awfully fast. Figure it out and don't blow it.

Some have said this latest labor strife could last until 2013, enabling the NHL to bring back its game for the New Year's Classic on Jan. 1.

If that's the case, it seems to me like the owners will be taking a big leap of faith in hopes its fans will return.

Jan. 1 is not that far away in everyday terms, but for sports, the first day of the New Year is an eternity.

By then, the NFL will be cranking up for its playoffs and college football will be near its title game. The NHL could get lost in the shuffle and few will mind.

Let's not let that happen. If you ever want your game to be even close to mainstream in the United States, we need to be seeing from when it's supposed to start in October until somebody raises the Stanley Cup in June.

Don't blow it, guys. Figure it out.

Neither side has to have complete victory in the negotiations. You give a little, they give a little. It's called compromise and it's called smart. The season is supposed to begin Oct. 11, four weeks from today. It would be a shame, and dumb, to see Oct. 12 come around and nobody talking about what's happening on the ice.

Drew Markol has been a sportswriter and columnist for several newspapers in the Philadelphia area for more than 25 years.

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