The NHLPA has, for the most part, won the PR battle and has the support of common fans. While the NHLPA has looked united, calm, and seems to be methodically plodding away, the NHL owners have looked like whiny rich kids trying to bully the little guy. To a certain extent, they are. But you should support the owners anyway, and here's why.
As hockey fans, our top priority is NHL hockey. We want it now, we want it in the future, and we want it uninterrupted.
In order to avoid future interruptions in NHL hockey, the NHL owners need to implement a CBA by which the vast majority of NHL franchises are financially sustainable. According to Forbes, 18 of the league's 30 teams posted negative operating profits in 2010-2011, and note that that's negative operating profits (as in, before expenses like interest and taxes, so note that even clubs with small operating profits are losing money, on a net basis). The current financial system isn't working for most teams, and it's difficult to argue that.
The current group of owners isn't willing to continue under the current system, and quite frankly, nobody is willing to take their place either. We know that because of multiple lockouts, and because the NHL has had multiple teams for sale for years, continually struggling to find new owners. The Dallas Stars struggled for years to find Tom Gaglardi. The St. Louis Blues were on the market for over two years. The Carolina Hurricanes have put out numerous calls for new investors. The Florida Panthers have been quietly for sale for as long as I can remember. The Phoenix Coyotes, as everyone knows, have been owned and operated by the NHL for several years now, with nobody willing to buy the team.
The owners have shown time and again that they need an improved system in order to continue providing us with our beloved NHL hockey. The owners, as a group, aren't simply posturing for more money for the sake of getting more money; they're doing it because, outside of a select few, they need it in order to make continuing operations worthwhile. If they didn't need it we'd be watching hockey right now. And if they didn't need it, the NHL wouldn't struggle so mightily to find new owners and investors. When the NHL owners aren't happy and can't get out, they take away hockey, making us unhappy too.
I'm not asking you to feel bad for the owners (I know I don't). I'm not asking you to absolve the owners of blame either, nor am I saying that you should support all of their positions. In fact, I believe that the current, unsustainable system is mostly the owners' own fault, and I also believe that the owners should honor existing contracts (i.e. NHLPA's "make whole" provision).
But regardless of whose fault this mess is or how you feel about a particular issue, we're in this situation now. And like it or not, the fact of the matter is that the owners are the providers of our beloved NHL hockey, and our happiness is directly tied to theirs. We need to make owning and operating NHL teams worth their while. Otherwise, with nobody else to take their place, when the owners are unhappy they do things like stop providing hockey by locking out the players. That makes us unhappy too. I'm not necessarily a pro-owners guy, but I'm pro-NHL hockey, and the owners are ultimately the providers of said NHL hockey. Because of that, I ultimately support the NHL owners to implement a financially sustainable system, and I think that you should too.