Penkava: When hockey players became hooky players

I’m taking a bit of a chance on the timing of this column. As I am writing this, the National Hockey League owners and the ice hockey players continue to be at an impasse and the season hasn’t started yet. If they settle before publication today, then what I am writing is as relevant as yesterday’s barometric pressure.

But that’s the excitement that I thrive upon as a freewheeling, gonzo community columnist ... cutting-edge topics (like last week’s cream-filled snack icon exposé) and demanding editors with crushing deadlines (“Man up, Penkava! Accept it: Twinkies are gone! Now stop whining and get me that column, pronto!”)

Then there are the copy editors who mercilessly change my column headlines. Just for your reference, the headline I submitted this week was, “When hockey players became hooky players.” I think it’s pretty cool. But check out what they changed it to ... see what I mean? (Sudden thought: They didn’t change it, right? Or did they? Or didn’t they? Urg! Man, those copy editors really know how to mess with your mind!) Geesh.

But back to that ice hockey conundrum. The problem is, as usual, centered on money. The owners want more. Last year, they collectively earned profits of about $125 million. The players want more. They averaged $2.4 million last season. So what it pretty much amounts to is that there is a whole Zamboniload of money out there in hockey and those guys just can’t agree how to divide it.

Basically, what it boils down to is determining the difference between being rich and becoming richer. But since these guys can’t see their bank account through the stacks of thousand-dollar bills, I came up with an agreement that wouldn’t take months to negotiate. Here’s my plan …

As I see it, there are actually three parties involved in this dispute: 1) The owners, 2) the players, and, 3) the fans. So any equitable solution must involve all three parties. My theory is that there has not been an agreement because the fans have been taken out of the equation. Putting them in the mix will provide the catalyst to bring the other two sides together. It’s kind of like epoxy that needs that extra tube of stuff mixed in it to make it work. Yep, what this situation needed was a tube of catalyzed fandom.

So, what role would we play in this arbitration? Well, I’m no financial genius, but it appears to me that a lot of the money that the owners and the players are fighting over is being supplied by the fans. Why, the average price for a seat at a hockey game is about $50, not to mention the $25 for parking and whatever you spend for a couple of hot dogs, a beer, a slice of pizza, nachos, and a grilled Caprese flatbread sandwich. And that’s just for the First Period.

So, what if we fans directed the talks between the owners and players? It might go like this …

Fans: “OK, owners and players, here’s the deal. Why don’t you guys split everything 50-50?

Owners:  “No, we want more.”

Players:  “And we want more, too.”

Fans: “Well, look at that, you are both finally agreeing on something … you both want more. Here’s what we will do. Owners, you can have more. Players, you can have more, too. All you have to do is split it.”

Owners:  “So, we get more?”

Fans: “Yes.”

Players: “And we get more, too?”

Fans: “Definitely.”

Owners: “Then we’re good.”

Players: “We’re good, too.”

Fans: “Great! Let’s play some hockey!”

How easy was that? Just promise them more, and they’ll be happy. Just give both sides a Golden Ticket. Let each of them think they have more Everlasting Gobstoppers than the other. Throw in a few Oompa Loompas, if that helps. If their dream is to become the richest men in the cemetery, so be it. Just open the arena, strap on the skates, and game on!

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He is ready to come out of hockey retirement if the Chicago Blackhawks need replacement players. He can be reached at mikepenkava@comcast.net.  

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