So that I can stop hearing complaints about my owner's bias, I need to set the record straight. I am not biased for the owners: I'm biased for this version of the game.
Before that, let me take you through a little of my own history.
In the early 1990s, we used to play League Sim which was a program based on Wayne Gretzky's Hockey (an old hockey game for the computer which was difficult to score in). There were around ten different statistical categories, and every player had a range for those categories. Every player also had a salary. So here, we do a fantasy draft and hope our team doesn't run out of money (if that happened, your team would play like garbage for the rest of the season). So we got a chance to play a very simplified GM. During the season, certain teams would do well, and I would boast to my brother's friends about my draft choices and how my team is playing. And when one of our teams were bottom dwellers, we'd fire the coach or make a trade with the stingy computers. Every deal was, however, a hockey deal, and all of our variables were cleanly on the table. Also, every team had a budget.
Fast forward 8 years later, and we're playing a league sim version of NHL 2001, drafting players with more complex statistical analysis, and we don't have a coach this time, but we adjust the way our team plays (ie 3 forecheckers, 0 forecheckers, etc). It was still pretty much a guessing game. However, it was the same: when our teams were faltering, we'd analyze our team and then we'd make a trade. Everyone was on fair grounds, so it didn't matter whether you were the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Columbus Blue Jacket. The GM's skill had a lot to do with the game.
These games were really fun. And right after the last lockout, we were excited to see the way that teams were managing the players. It added the element of managing a team under a cap and not just Toronto and New York throwing money at an all star line-up because I can't express to you how boring the NHL is when only three teams are competitive (not that they were... the forces that be didn't favour them then, but it would only be a matter of time until they do). I like it when fans of every team have something to cheer about. It takes me back to being a child when my brother's friends were all over the map: I was a Pens fan at the time, someone else went for St. Louis, another went for the Rangers, my brother the Nordiques, my dad the Canadiens, other brother the Bruins. After the Pens won their second Stanley Cup, a great era in hockey began where now GM and coaching mattered, where strategy mattered, where intelligence mattered... rather than putting a superstar on your team and protecting him, you still needed to build a team. Now GMs and coaches could be the superstars, now the team's drafting and scouting system can be the superstar. It's a beautiful complexity that adds up in the end to building a winning hockey team.
I like seeing a team needing to shake things up in the summer, so we see Doug Gilmore get traded in a three way deal. Then we see Wayne Gretzky move because maybe his time was up with the Kings. Then we see Brendan Shanahan move, Scott Stevens move, Mark Messier move. A player could be a team all star one year, and be somewhere else two years later. Why? Because that's how competitive the league is.
The more competitive the league is, the more exciting it is, not only for hockey fans of those teams, but also for hockey fans whose team is out of the playoffs. Then they can pick teams they respect and they'll have a decent chance of taking out the team you hate the most. I hated the Oilers in the 80s, and guess what, I didn't watch hockey in the 80s very much. It was as cheesy as watching an action flick where "the good guy always wins". I didn't watch hockey in the early 90s very much either. I started watching hockey when the league started to get more complex/unpredictable.
I look forward to seeing four conferences. I look forward to seeing 30 teams with similar budgets competing against each other. I look forward to see who'll draft intelligently, and who'll build their team around what dynamic. I look forward to see creativity match up against creativity behind the scenes just as much as I look forward to seeing stars work their magic on the ice. And I understand, if hockey doesn't work somewhere, you move the team to a place it does work (Atlanta to Winnipeg).
But... this hockey that I love so much, the parity, the new expansions, the randomness of the draft and scouting... that all came under Gary Bettman's watch. I don't hate the guy... I know... *explosions*. He's a funny little NHL villain, but he's doing his job. Maybe he's not the best negotiator, but NHL's gotten bigger and better partly because of him.
You can cleanly tell that this kind of NHL is what the owners want. You can tell by looking at what they're asking for, and I've been underlining it the whole time. I'm not siding with the owners, I'm siding with THIS version of the game, and so are the owners.
But some things are diminishing. "Hockey trades" are going extinct, and I'll give you a good guess as to why (hint: the nhl's hill to die on). Trades now have too high an element of "well your player isn't worth as much as you think he is because he's on a contract that's way too long" (see Luongo). And if it were in my hands, I'd also hatchet the possibility of "no trade", but I still favour "limited trade" clause (as in you can't dump me off on a team I don't want to play for)... so that players can pick one of at least ten possible destinations (or they earn that right the older they get... ie can only negotiate no trade after the age of 35, can only negotiate limited trade past the age of 27).
And don't come to me talking about players earning right to whatever, players serve the game, the game does not serve the players. If the game requires short term contracts because players can't promise they score 50 goals a season, then too bad. If the game requires players uproot their family and move them elsewhere because a GM needs to shake things up to keep the fans coming to his games in order that they be a competitive market, well then too bad. Why? The game, the NHL demands (not the owners, the game itself) that players serve the part of the industry called "entertainment" as it's what makes them the money they're squabbling over to begin with. If the game is damaged, then both sides have to fix it. And these overlong untradeable contracts are part of the damage and to be omitted. So please, instead of calling out an owner's bias... suggest a solution to these untradeable contracts (and don't say "the gms gave it to them", the gms are forced to ice a competitive team and integral pieces of that team extort them for everything they're worth by holding their team's competitiveness against them... they might as well be drawing up these contracts with a rifle up their nose).
If the game starts to serve the players, you're going to go right back to the boring NHL days of pre 1993, and don't think that the goals are coming back, not unless you strap the deer-hair iron anvil pads back on those goaltenders. So you'll get one of six teams winning the cup every year, 24 irrelevant teams which will contract down to 18 because nobody wants to watch the same thing every year, and a game that will remain stagnant for good. And then another league will come out that's better than the NHL, one that actually evolves, and this one will get left behind, and the players will be eventually playing for that very system that they so vehemently oppose at this present time come 20 or 30 years.
So it's like this: pretend you're a GM of a team in 1992 and you have to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins and you don't have a counter Mario Lemieux, how do you do it? If the players had their way: you do nothing. Why? Because you have three good players, one who is in midrange but will require a huge raise next year, and the other two, one is earning about 4M more than he's giving you in stats but his contract lasts another four years, and the other is signed for two years and doing all right. If you choose the option of, "Well I wouldn't have signed that player", I'll say one of two things: 1) when you signed that player, he was worth it, then he decided to play lousy and you're stuck with him, 2) when you wanted to sign that player, he demanded a 7 year contract or to be traded, and when you traded him, you got roster players, one close to retirement, a draft pick who's going to remain in the AHL for the rest of his life, and an okay defenceman. Now you're going to say: well you're not leaving me any choices here. Oh the GMs had a choice all right: they complained to the owners, who complained to the commissioner, who said "I'll fix this in the next CBA".
The players can threaten with decertification and all that other garbage all they want, but they don't run the game and neither do the owners. The "good of the game" runs the game, and right now, the good of the game favours the owners. The ONLY thing the players can barter for is more revenue sharing. The contract privileges (NOT rights) that they're fighting for will be the death of them like a prideful hero in a Shakespearean tragedy.