Blackhawks owner: “I don’t think the owners or the players should have to apologize” for the NHL lockout

In a fascinating interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz said something truly remarkable: that neither the owners nor the players should need to apologize for the NHL lockout.

It’s a ballsy comment, and particularly interesting because Wirtz backed it up with a legitimate argument.

The transcript of the full interview can be found here, and it’s quite a read.

Asked directly whether fans were owed an apology, Wirtz answered this way:

I don’t think so. I think we can thank them for their patience. But I think the process we went through, I don’t think the owners or the players should have to apologize for going through a collective bargaining process. Labor is labor, and that’s just the way it is. It might be very distasteful for the fans, but unfortunately, when you have unions involved, that’s the process you have to go through. There’s nothing you can do. This happens to be a labor situation that’s more public than most businesses. When there are union negotiations, unless it impacts people’s lives, usually we don’t know about it.

Essentially, the argument boils down to ‘this is a business, and sometimes labour negotiations lead to work stoppages.’

Wirtz further added that neither Gary Bettman or Donald Fehr should be painted as villains in the process:

Gary did exactly what the owners asked him to do, and that was to get a contract in which all 30 teams could be profitable. The owners were all walking in lockstep, as the players were. Many times you read about people villainizing Gary Bettman, [but] he was doing just what the owners wanted him to do, just as Don Fehr was doing what the players wanted him to do. You have to respect their positions, but I don’t think anyone should [begrudge] either of them for doing what they’re paid to do, and that’s to sit down and collectively bargain. It might take longer than people wanted it to, but it was a process they had to go through.

Wirtz’s comments are in harmony with an earlier interview with the Chicago Tribune, where he said both men did a “terrific job” and went further to describe Fehr as “a very smart man” and a “very good labour leader.”

I’m of two minds on his comments.

On the one hand, I think Wirtz is basically saying what a lot of people on both sides of the negotiation were thinking. Even as individual players slammed Bettman, and the league’s various surrogates in the media (thanks to a gag order, owners/team employees were kept quiet) ridiculed Fehr, there was never much doubt that the negotiations on a new CBA were a hard-fought contest between a pair of formidable leaders. The fact that it’s a business is inescapable these days, and the battle wasn’t a fight between the forces of good and evil so much as it was a tussle between two competing groups each looking out for their respective interests. I’m also more than a little surprised that there was an NHL owner with the nerve to put things so bluntly – and I prefer an honest, if unsympathetic answer over a meaningless apology.

On the other hand, the NHL business is built on emotion. It’s why the City of Edmonton – as other cities around North America have before it – is going to contribute public funds to an arena despite the fact that the financial case for it is questionable. It’s why fans throw money at anything with a team logo on it, why sites like this have such a passionate following – because fans love the sport, even if they don’t always (or even usually) love the people running the league. To say, ‘well, it’s just business’ is at odds with how people feel about hockey.

Still, I appreciate the honesty.

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  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Except for the fact that…

    1) they knew the cba was going to expire forever and waited way too long to start bargaining in earnest

    2) the fans aren’t merely external factors, they are the ultimate paymasters. the product we paid for was taken away.

    but ultimately an apology is wasted anyway, because it reads as trite

    • It’s your 1st point that makes me angry as a fan. Negotiations dont HAVE to wait for 3 months after the agreement expires. I’m no labour lawyer, but I dont think that’s what is supposed to happen.

      And that falls on both sides.

      • oliveoilers

        Totally agree & I also fully agree that the villainisation (did i just make up a word?) of Bettman is totally misplaced. If the owner’s wanted to negotiate in the summer and start the season in Sept. they would have done so. Bettman is their employee and acts at their direction. I know in my job I will often don the black hat and be the bad guy for my clients as an intentional strategy to make it easier for the parties to co-exist after the deal is struck.

        That said, bottom line is hockey is entertainment and as fans it’s our choice whether we want to continue to invest time, money and energy in the NHL. That falls on us.

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        It’s irritating to no end and happens in a lot labor negotiations.

        Withdrawing labor/payment ought to be last resorts not par for the course.

        It seems to have become standard practice for both unions and mgt. teams across diverse working situations to feel the need to pressure the other party in this manner.

        It’s hard to see the benefit beyond a psychological one (I forced them to accede to my demands).

        The monetary tradeoff of losing labor/productivity in one case and losing wages in the other only to reach a deal that is marginally, if at all, different from what the deal was always going to be… seems a negligible benefit.

  • Dustin Terpstra

    I may be of the minority here but I agree with the owner. I realize it is a business and as much as it sucks not to start on time I know why it happened and that it isn’t a slight to fans. Glad they are back though. Let’s go Oilers!

  • Dustin Terpstra

    Rocky make a legitimate argument …. but the FIST GM to extend a really stupid contract which compromises the intended results of said collective bargaining process should then be asked to defend how and why it isnt such a stupid idea………………..(Sorry someone speaking to me…what??? Lamoriello signed Zajac to what??????).

    Lou Lamoirello please take the stand.