Thursday, July 07, 2005

Comparing the NHLPA and the Post-WWII German Volk

Here is the rumored final deal between the NHL's owners and players. Often, when a labor deal is struck in the sports context, there is some debate as to whether the players or owners "won." You don't need to be a Charlie Weis (or at least the Charlie Weis of Charlie Weis' imagination) to figure out that the owners won this dispute, getting everything they wanted, most significantly a hard cap at a fairly low number tied to league revenues.

The silver lining to losing an entire season is this: conflicts that are resolved with one side coming out as the clear victor, leaving the other side no way to save face or claim victory, often lead to a lasting peace. This is a pet historical theory of mine and it has led to disagreement on the part of others, so take it with a grain of salt, but I usually use Germany after WWI and WWII as the example. Because the Germans surrendered in WWI when they still had troops on the ground in France, Hitler had room in the 30s to argue that Germany hadn't really been defeated, but instead, had been stabbed in the back by Jews, Bolsheviks, and other enemies of the state. As a result, the peace after WWI was short-lived. Conversely, after WWII, when the war ended with the Allies razing Germany to the ground and exposing the facts of the Holocaust to the German citizenry, Germany was forced to reckon with its own culpability and reform itself. Now, there were certainly intervening factors, namely the Depression following WWI, as compared to the Cold War and Marshall Plan following WWII, but I'm fairly certain that the fact that there was a final, complete defeat for Germany in 1945 played a role in their transition to a stable, progressive country.

As applied to the NHL, the players cannot view the final result of their labor impasse as anything but a complete defeat. Gary Bettman is hanging his hammer and sickle from the top of their Reichstag while Bob Goodenow is contemplating the pros and cons of cyanide as opposed to a bullet in the brain. The players have probably realized at this stage that they aren't the NBA. Their league's revenues are significantly lower, mainly because of a non-existent national TV market, and their rosters are twice the size of NBA rosters. As a result, they can't use NBA (or NFL or MLB) players as a benchmark. The labor stoppage has almost certainly forced them to reckon with the fact that their league's popularity has been declining over several years and they are now going to feel that in their pocketbooks. They now have the incentive to work like hell to increase the league's revenues, which will mean less griping when the NHL makes changes to increase scoring and game flow. (For G-d sakes, could they start with the size of the goalies' pads? I was watching some old Gretzky highlights last night. It's no wonder that 215 points in a season was possible when goalies wore half the padding and therefore had to be able to skate to cut down angles, as opposed to sitting in the crease and letting shots hit them. He routinely skated around goalies and shot into empty nets, which you NEVER see anymore.)

A couple other thoughts:

1. I can't figure out why every team is going to have an equal shot at Sidney Crosby. Why wouldn't there be a weighted lottery? In any event, if there was ever a situation where a league had an incentive to play with a lottery, this is it. The immediate thought is that the NHL would prefer to send Crosby to the Rangers, knowing that the league was at its height in 1994 when the Rangers were good. On the other hand, the NHL has a huge dormant market in Chicago that could be reinvigorated with a new young star and a "spend or sell" order to Miserly Bill Wirtz. Finally, Crosby could be very useful in a place like Los Angeles or Boston. Basically, if the NHL is going to pick where he goes, they need to send him somewhere where he'll have maximum impact on their US television revenues.

On the other hand, maybe he won't be coming out at all. This could just be posturing by his agent, but if not, that #1 pick won't be worth nearly as much.

2. Overall, the new NHL landscape will favor a team like the Thrashers slightly because they will never be a high revenue team and the cap will therefore protect them. It will put a premium on quality drafting and player development, just as it does in the NFL, and Don Waddell has proven to be fairly good in that area, although it's hard to screw up when you have so many high first round picks. More importantly, a more open league with increased offense will favor an offensive team like the Thrashers. The question is whether they'll be able to keep Heatley and Kovalchuk under the cap while still preserving some quality depth.

1 comment:

Kwazy Kat said...

"Because the Germans surrendered in WWI when they still had troops on the ground in France, Hitler had room in the 30s to argue that Germany hadn't really been defeated, but instead, had been stabbed in the back"

They signed the armistice because, despite the still-impressive performance of the German armies on the ground in France in 1918, Germany's main general on the Western Front (Ludendorff) basically got exhausted and wimped out. "The Pity of War" covers this in pretty good detail. Ferguson in that book calls it a stab right to the front, and by Ludendorff in particular.

"Conversely, after WWII, when the war ended with the Allies razing Germany to the ground"

Whoa-- the Allies definitely didn't raze Germany to the ground, not by any stretch. Despite the bombings most German cities were pretty intact (which is why the country still has so many of those old castles and cathedrals), plus Germany got the lion's share of the Marshall Plan money and retained its industrial base. Had the Morgenthau Plan gone ahead then yes, Germany would have been razed to the ground, but Truman rejected the plan. The result was that many expelled Germans (as well as German-Americans) returned to a country that still had its industrial base in place.

"but I'm fairly certain that the fact that there was a final, complete defeat for Germany in 1945 played a role in their transition to a stable, progressive country."

It probably had more to do with the fact that it was a basically modern place with decent structures of a republic-- if crude-- by the late 1800's, which the Kaiser and the Nazis basically f'ed up. Post-1945 was in part a return to what was there before. Remember that in the 1800's the Germans had espoused all kinds of social responsibility movements (they were big on antislavery campaigns for example, and Germany was one of the first countries in Europe to extend full emancipation to its Jews, in the early 1800's), plus Germany had an advanced scientific and engineering culture that invented and discovered a lot of the basic technologies we take for granted today.

As for reckoning with its past, maybe the Marshall Plan and the postwar occupation did have something to do with it, I'm not sure. I'll add that there are plenty of other countries that definitely have not come to terms with their own atrocities in their histories. Britain for one in Ireland for example, or in India where tens of millions of Indians were killed by British retaliatory moves after the Indian insurrection of 1857, the near extermination of the Tasmanians and Oz aborigines, black slavery in the Caribbean-- plenty of examples to choose from. The European Allies in general were hardly guilt-free themselves.