Michael Grabner’s blog and the mindset of young players

Do all the players really stand together? (Photo: Harry How / Getty Images)
Do all the players really stand together? (Photo: Harry How / Getty Images)

A week ago former Canuck and current New York Islander Michael Grabner created a blog. He’s written two entries since, going to bat for the Players Association and attempting to justify their position to us common folk. It offers a glimpse, if only a faint one, into the mindset of a 25-year-old NHL player experiencing his first lockout.

This highlights a key difference between the NHL and the NHLPA: the former is a small group of rich old men who funnel all PR through two talking heads (Bettman and Daly); the latter is made up of over 750 young guys scattered around the globe, free to start a blog or go on Twitter and express themselves in whichever way they see fit. With so many possible channels for communication and no real form of control other than their spoken claims of absolute unity, it’s amazing the PA has remained as tight knit as it has so far (the Ryan Suter slip-up notwithstanding).
Grabner’s two blog entries are very much in line with what we’ve been hearing from the PA since this lockout started, which probably sounds like the last thing you want to read right now. But that said, closer inspection reveals some interesting hints at what the mindset of a young NHL player is like right now.

Hockey players have very short careers and we know that we are risking losing money to stand up for our rights and for the rights of future players that will follow us. The players before us took many stands that have benefited everyone playing in the NHL today and we are committed to reaching a deal that we believe is fair; I don’t think that is ‘greed’.

If we as players fight for what we think is fair, knowing we might lose more money in the short-term than if we would take their offer, I personally don’t think you can call that being ‘greedy’.

That quote should scare anyone who still believes we’re going to be watching hockey at some point this season.
This is a younger league than it was in 2004-05. There are a lot of players who weren’t around then who have benefited greatly from the deal that ended that lockout. If Grabner’s words are any indication, players appreciate the efforts of those that came before them, those who endured a year without hockey in order to get a deal done that would benefit the new guard.
If that’s true, is it possible that this generation of players is actually willing to miss an entire season if it means a better future for the union? They’ve seen nothing but growth since they came into the league, and they’ve been conditioned to despise Gary Bettman. Why should they be the ones to cave? They’re feeling the squeeze — both sides have to be at this point — but they’ve also seen firsthand what patience can bring.
The owners have shown an unwavering willingness to throw away short-term profit, either to put pressure on the players or in the belief that the eventual deal will be worth the sacrifice. But it’s possible that the union is just as serious, they just don’t have the same means to display it publicly. If that’s true, we’re in for a long battle.
Now, it’s also possible that the opposite is true, that the players are actually starting to show signs of weakness. Jack Johnson’s latest blog reads like a young player on the edge of hysteria. He’s clearly feeling like a valuable part of his career is slipping through his fingers. The longer this goes on, the more the owners hope that sentiment starts to spread throughout the ranks of the PA.
Presumably most young players will fall into one of these two camps: those willing to stick it out for however long it takes to ensure a viable future for the union, and those who just want to make the most of their time in the NHL and play hockey. Whichever side the majority of players currently sit could mean the difference between a shortened 2012-13 season and another long, grueling labour war.