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- First the most obvious: a settlement to this lockout to salvage whatever remains of the 2004-05 season. Some observers believe there could be a 32 to 38 game schedule if an agreement can be reached by mid-January 2005. At this point, I'd take that over nothing.

- Dany Heatley is able to finally put the tragic accident that killed his friend Dan Snyder behind him...and that he loses his license for ten years and has to make people aware of the dangers of reckless driving.

- The next CBA contains a better revenue sharing scheme than the toothless $64 million currently being kicked around if small market clubs are to be truly competitive against the big market teams.

- We'll get to enjoy the rookie seasons of Kari Lehtonen and Alexander Ovechkin.

- Mark Messier finally retires. Hey, for the first 17 years of his career, he was one of the best, but now an entire generation is growing up only knowing "Moose" as the bald, fading captain of the Rangers, rather than the dominant force he was throughout the 80s and the early 1990s.

- The NY Rangers are finally, actually committed to rebuilding with youth and don't succumb to the temptation of stocking their club with aging UFA players.

- Theo Fleury overcomes the personal demons that drove him from the game.

- Mario Lemieux has one final injury-free year in the sun so we can all appreciate one more time what a truly gifted talent he is.

-Hockey fans expecting ticket prices to drop under the new CBA won't be too bitterly disappointed when they discover that local markets, not player salaries, are what drives ticket prices.

-Players like Bryan McCabe, Bill Guerin, Robert Esche and Manny Legace discover that trash-talking only works on the ice, not in labour talks.

- The NHL braintrust finally takes some real, productive measures to improve the game.

- The Calgary Flames are for real.

- The Tampa Bay Lightning mount a worthy defence of their Stanley Cup championship.

- The Atlanta Thrashers, Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Sharks and Montreal Canadiens continue their respective improvements.

- Eric Lindros, for the sake of his health, retires. I'm not a fan of his, never have been, but I don't want to see him get seriously injured.

- The LA Kings roster can stay healthy.

- Marian Gaborik gets his offensive game going consistently.

- Martin St. Louis continues to prove that little guys can excel in the NHL.

- Scott Stevens gets to return for one more season.

- The Ottawa Senators get a star goaltender. What, they got Dominik Hasek? Why yes, that would be a great 2000. He's not good enough anymore to carry a team to the Cup.

- We finally see the end of uncalled obstruction masquerading as defensive hockey.

- Some owners finally take responsibility for their free-spending ways.

- Players quit staging holdouts for more money than they deserve.

- Both general managers and player agents stick to the rules of the next CBA, rather than find creative ways to exploit it for their own purposes.

- The Chicago Blackhawks hierarchy stops driving away their die-hard fans and start icing a team they can be proud of again.

- The Boston Bruins and Nashville Predators never, ever wear those ugly coloured "third jersies" ever again. They look like Bozo the Clown puked on them!

- The Pittsburgh Penguins finally see an upswing in their fortunes. They've suffered enough.

- The Washington Capitals make progress under their new rebuilding plan, with Ovechkin as the centerpiece.

- Chris Pronger can enjoy another injury free season. He's one of the top five blueliners in the league when he's healthy.

- The Toronto Maple Leafs start drafting better than they have over the past several years. There's a reason why they keep acquiring veterans.

- Chicago's Tuomo Ruutu gets to prove he's truly the best player of the 2003-04 rookie class.

- There is a draft in June 2005 so we'll get to see who'll be lucky enough to draft Sidney Crosby and Gilbert Brule.

- Canada wins the 2005 World Junior Hockey Championship after a seven year drought. Hey, remember, I am Canadian!

- There is a real crackdown on the overinflated goaltending equipment. I don't begrudge the goalies desire to be protected, but what they're wearing now is ridiculous and is more about stopping shots than protecting them.

- If the lockout is resolved and the season is saved, we don't hear from Bob Goodenow and Gary Bettman or their respective lieutenants for the rest of the year. That includes the Stanley Cup presentation, Gary. Have Wayne Gretzky stand in for you.

- All of you reading this have a safe and properous New Year! I'll be taking New Year's Day off for obvious reasons, but I'll be back on January 2nd.

RETIREMENT WATCH. recently posted a listing of NHL players who may face retirement if the NHL lockout lasts throughout the 2004-05 season. Given the lack of real news of late regarding the lockout, I thought I'd take a look at the most significant players on that list and offer my opinion as to whether or not they should retire.

As always, your comments will be appreciated and will be posted in an upcoming "Fans Speak Out" if I get enough of them.

Sergei Fedorov (35)

He'll never regain his dominant form of the mid-to-late 1990s, but he's still a long way from retirement.

Shawn McEachern (35)
Scott Mellanby (38)

McEachern is clearly on the downward slide but may have another season or two left. Mellanby was acquired for his leadership but it remains to be seen if he has another season left.

Tom Fitzgerald (36)

He'll come back for at least one more season.

No players over 32

Martin Gelinas (34)
Roman Turek (34)

Neither will retire.

Group III Free Agents
Dave Lowry (39)

Yep. He saw very limited action and most likely will be part of the coaching staff.

Rod Brind'Amour (34)
Bret Hedican (34)

Brindy is no longer the player he once was. Perhaps a season off to rest his body might help. Hedican will still keep playing.

No notable players over 32

Vincent Damphousse (36)
Joe Sakic (35)
Rob Blake (35)
Peter Forsberg (31)
Teemu Selanne (34)

Damphousse and Selanne are clearly on the downward slide. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if Selanne never returns to the NHL. Damphousse might have another season left in him. Forsberg might return if this season is lost to lockout as he's still clearly in his prime, injuries notwithstanding. Sakic still has a few more years left in him, but Blake may be feeling the effects of his long career. He won't retire but there may not be many years left in him.

Andrew Cassels (35)
Luke Richardson (35)
Arturs Irbe (37)

Cassels and Richardson will likely return, but the latter has hinted he might pack it in if there's no season. Irbe might try to come back but the odds are long.

Mike Modano (34)
Pierre Turgeon (35)
Bill Guerin (34)
Sergei Zubov (34)

Modano, Guerin and Zubov will be back, but Turgeon's best days are obviously well behind him. He should do himself and the Stars a favour and pack it in.

Steve Yzerman (39)
Brendan Shanahan (35)
Chris Chelios (42)
Nicklas Lidstrom (34)
Curtis Joseph (37)

Stevie Y will come back for one more year, but after that, he should retire in dignity. Shanny still has a couple of years left but his offensive skills are obviously in decline. Cujo will return as will Chelios, although I think he should've called it a career after last season. Lidstrom is still among the best blueliners in the game so unless he decides to return to Sweden permanently I'd fully expect him to come back.

Group III Free Agents
Matthieu Schneider (35)
Steve Thomas (41)

Schneider will, but Thomas won't. In fact, I think "Stumpy" realizes that retirement has been decided for him. Nobody will offer him another contract.

Igor Ulanov (35)

If the Oilers want him back, Iggy Pop will return.

Sean Hill (34)
Alexander Karpovtsev (34)

Hill will come back, but I think "Potsie" should've retired a few years ago. Injuries and rumors of off-ice drinking problems have hampered his effectiveness.

Group III Free Agents
Lyle Odelein (36)
Donald Audette (35)

Both are past their "best before" dates and should call it a wrap.

Los Angeles
Stephane Quintal (36)

He'll seek a rebirth with the Kings, but it'll be interesting to see just how much longer he'll still have in the league.

Wes Walz (34)
Dwayne Roloson (35)

Both are in their prime right now, so I doubt we'll see them thinking of retirement if this season is lost.

No players over 33 - Patrice Brisebois

Some Habs fans may wish for "Breezy" to retire but don't count on it.

Group III Free Agents
Joe Juneau (36)
Jim Dowd (35) - turns 36 on Christmas Day

If memory serves me correctly, Juneau has retired. Dowd might be shopping around for a new team but could find takers to be few and far between.

Jim McKenzie (35)

He'll likely return, but he's another whose career is winding down.

New Jersey
Scott Stevens (40)

Like Yzerman, I can't see him not returning for one more season, but then I hope he'll gracefully retire after that. His concussion was likely a wake-up call that time is no longer on his side.

Group III Free Agents
Igor Larionov (44)
Tommy Albelin (40)
Corey Schwab (34)

Larionov has retired, and I think Albelin has as well. Schwab should return as he's still a capable backup for either the Devils or anyone else.

New York (Islanders)
Garth Snow (35)

He's got no retirement plans but should find himself displaced as the Isles starter by Rick DiPietro.

Group III Free Agents
Mariusz Czerkawski (32)
Cliff Ronning (39)

"The Polish Prince's" NHL career is likely over, as is probably Ronning's.

New York (Rangers)
Bobby Holik (33)
Jaromir Jagr (32)

They'll be back.

Group III Free Agents
Pavel Bure (33) - may stay in Europe or retire due to past injuries
Eric Lindros (31) - we know his history of concussions
Mark Messier (43) - he's probably retired anyway

Can't argue with Sportsnet's assessment. Messier should've retired several years ago.

Ottawa Senators
Dominick Hasek (39)
Daniel Alfredsson (32)

Both will be back, but the clock is winding down on "the Dominator's" NHL career.

Group III Free Agents
Peter Bondra (36)
Jody Hull (35)
Curtis Leschyshyn (35)
Rob Ray (36)
Shaun Van Allen (37)

Bondra will still find interest from other clubs, as might Hull. Leschyshyn and Van Allen have both hinted at retirement. There seems to be some confusion regarding Ray. The NHLPA apparently considers him retired, but he doesn't, hence his lawsuit against the association for his lockout stipend. Personally, Ray should've stayed retired after the 2002-03 season.

John LeClair (35)
Tony Amonte (34)
Sean Burke (37)

LeClair and Burke should probably give some serious thought to retirement. Amonte still has a couple of years left in him, but he's clearly not the player he once was.

Group III Free Agents
Vladimir Malakhov (36)
Alexei Zhamnov (34)

Zhamnov should be back, but Malakhov might opt to foresake the NHL for Europe.

Brett Hull (40)
Petr Nedved (33)

Both will be back, but this could be Hull's swan song.

Mike Eastwood (37)
Mark Recchi (36)

Recchi will be back, but it's touch and go for Eastwood.

Group III Free Agents
Mario Lemieux (39)
Kelly Buchberger (38)

Super Mario will give it one more kick, but "Bucky" may be finished.

San Jose
No players older than 33 - Scott Thornton

And he'll be back.

St. Louis
Dallas Drake (35)
Eric Weinrich (37)
Al MacInnis (41)

Drake isn't the player he once was but he still has a couple of years left in him, as does Weinrich. MacInnis, on the other hand, is probably finished due to his eye injury.

Tampa Bay
Tim Taylor (35)
Dave Andreychuk (41)

Both will be back, but for Andreychuk, this could be the final season.

Joe Nieuwendyk (38)
Gary Roberts (38)
Tie Domi (35)
Alexander Mogilny (35)
Brian Leetch (36)
Ed Belfour (39)
Mats Sundin (33)

All will likely return, but Nieuwy and Roberts don't have much left in the tank.

Group III Free Agents
Calle Johansson (37) - Came out of retirement last year to play with Leafs

And will stay in retirement this time.

Ron Francis (41)
Bryan Marchment (35)
Robert Reichel (33)
Mikael Renberg (32)

Francis is done, Marchment should return, Reichel and Renberg are off to Europe, probably never to return.

Trevor Linden (34)

He's still got another season or two left in him.

Group III Free Agents
Mike Keane (37)
Martin Rucinsky (33)
Magnus Arvedson (33)

Keane should retire, Arvedson has left the NHL for Europe, and Rucinsky might well follow him.

Olaf Kolzig (34)

He'll be back.



Welcome to this week's segment, where I offer my rebuttal to media commentary regarding the lockout. Original comments are in italics, my aren't. And awa-a-a-y we go!

First up, Chuck Gormley of the Camden Courier-Post:

Bettman and Goodenow need to step outside the board room and let the people who negotiate the contracts … the player agents and general managers … hammer this out.

Let's face it, the agents want this lockout over yesterday. They are not getting paid and when folks aren't seeing paychecks, they tend to get creative. The general managers … not the owners … are the ones negotiating contracts and would best be able to come up with parameters that work for their clubs.

But Chuck, the player agents and general managers are also just as responsible for this mess as the owners and players, in some cases even more so.

It was player agents who recommend their clients stage holdouts to get "comparable" deals, and it was Joe Thornton's agent who dreamed up the notion of bonus clauses to skirt the hard cap on entry-level salaries. It was general managers of big market clubs who, with the blessing of their owners, paid out ridiculously high salaries to players who clearly didn't deserve it.

Next, retired centre Adam Oates:

"The biggest thing for the players is we talk about how we're solidified [as a union] and you've got 300 guys making money [playing in Europe] and that is not solidified in my eyes," he said. "We talk about the union and [it's] always looking after the little guy and how the big guy is always going to be looked after. Well, we're not looking out for the little guy because the big guys are still making money in Europe.

Adam needs to take a good look at the list of NHL'ers currently playing in Europe. While there are a few "big guys" making good money in Europe, the bulk of the NHL'ers are strictly "B" list talent and most of them are European, making far less than what they would've made in the NHL, but money isn't the reason why they're over there. Rather, they're doing what they do best: play hockey. It's keeping them in game shape in the slim chance that a settlement can be reached in time, and more importantly, giving them something to do besides sitting around at home worrying about negotiations. For many Europeans, it's providing them with a thrill of a lifetime, playing in front of their hometown fans.

Or you've got a bunch of guys who can afford to go a year and a half without hockey. The little guys on the totem pole, they must be dying right now, panicking. I've got enough money, I'm not rolling in it, but I could take the $600,000 I lost [in '94] and give it to my brother and sisters. Everybody could. It's a joke to say otherwise."

But if Gary Bettman and the owners get their way, the median salary (currently at just under $1 million US) would be slashed back to pre-1994 lockout levels ($435K). That's why you're not hearing any more grumbling from "the little guys on the totem pole", as they're the ones who stand to lose the most under Bettman's cost certainty.

Sure, it was easy to believe that cutting the average salary from $1.8 million to $1.3 million wasn't such a bad thing, but that average is artificially inflated because of the high salaries of a minority of players. The median salary is where the bulk of NHL players make their money, and it'll be the little guys who'll get hurt the most if that gets cut in half. Once Bob Goodenow explained that to guys like Pierre Dagenais, suddenly there was no more grumbling from the fringe players, and hasn't been in almost two months now.

"It's ludicrous that with no TV deal we don't have a salary cap, but I think the numbers should be very flexible," he said. "We have to admit there is no TV deal, so there should be a cap, but the league should be flexible in agreeing that certain markets do better than others and there should be a luxury tax in those markets. I don't have a problem with a salary cap. We've got six or eight teams making money because they've got a great fan base and a great ownership situation. So, have a luxury tax on them and give that money to the other teams."

Hear, hear, Adam! A good suggestion, one that would make an adequate compromise if both sides were willing to take it. Sadly, however, it doesn't appear as though Oates' suggestion will be taken up by the league or the association.

Next up, Rich Anderson, Toronto Star columnist, former campaign manager of the Canadian Reform Party and a season ticket holder:

We know well the elements of hockey's problems and potential solutions.

The economic problems: Player salaries that bankrupt teams, escalate ticket prices, and estrange fans.

Wrong. Player salaries have done nothing to bankrupt teams or escalate ticket prices. That's determined by the individual markets. He is right about those salaries estranging fans, but if he's a fan of a big market NHL club, like the Maple Leafs, then he's probably heard more than a few of those fans complaining their teams aren't spending enough to build a winner!

The players are losing the street-level debate about whether the owners or the players are more badly led.

The NHLPA realized a long time ago that even if the all the facts support their claims, they'll never win the PR war against the NHL. The majority of hockey fans are ill-informed about the business of hockey and thus find it easy to blame the players for a work stoppage. I'm not suggesting the fans are stupid, but it's become quite obvious that most hockey fans either don't know or don't care about the reasons for this lockout.

Which brings us back to the two productive hours needed to solve this problem and what could solve this tomorrow, were there a willingness:

A salary cap, not fixed but a percentage tied to revenues that would resume growing if players and management work together on the health of the game. NHL players now receive 76 per cent of revenue; their union has rejected any cap at all. Gary Bettman's offered them 54 per cent. (Hint: basketball players get 58 per cent of revenue, baseball 63 per cent, American footballers 64 per cent.)

The reason the players are rejecting the league's hard cap is not because they don't believe the league is losing money, but rather they question just how much the league claims to be losing, something backed up by the findings of Forbes Magazine late last month. They're willing to cut back on salaries, hence their acceptance of a payroll tax, something they were dead set against ten years ago.

Independently audited books, so that owners and players can work at improving the game's health and sharing its benefits from the same set of facts.

Good luck getting that to happen! The NHL wouldn't even make public the full findings of the Levitt Report, only publishing an overall summary. Two years ago the league gave the union access to the books of four teams:Boston, Buffalo, Montreal and Los Angeles. When the union discovered over $50 million in unreported revenues, that ended any possibility of the league giving the union full access to the books of the other 26 clubs.

Revenue-sharing among the teams to achieve economic parity, put teams on a level playing surface where player and management skills outweigh TV rights, and align everyone's interest on an attractive and competitive product that grows and diversifies revenue.

Unfortunately, the NHL, and in particular the big market teams, aren't interested in true revenue sharing. They want a hard cap system with a toothless revenue sharing scheme worth just over $60 million per season, which is to be spread amongst the fifteen or so small market teams. At an average of $4 million per team, that's not going to improve the fortunes of most small market clubs or make them more competitive, even under cost certainty.

Which means that nothing will really change under Bettman's cost certainty. Big market clubs will still spend whatever they want, particularly if there is little or no controls to prevent them from finding legally creative measures to skirt a hard cap. Meanwhile, many small markets will face two choices: try to retain their best players at the expense of their overall depth, or cast those players aside in favour of signing cheaper, less-talented ones.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

An end to arbitration and guaranteed contracts, replaced by pay-for-performance. No one begrudges the top contributors on the winningest teams doing well. Others can scrape by on a million or two per year.

The problem with "pay-for-performance" is it could be ripe for abuse by management. A player would be totally at the mercy of the GM, who would decide on his own, rather than on a set of agreed parameters between the league and the association, whether or not the player deserved being paid his full salary for that season.

Restoring the game's speed and finesse and excitement, through progressive thinking and steadier rule enforcement, also key to expanding the revenue base.

Unfortunately, progessive thinking and steadier rule enforcement aren't qualities the NHL is renowned for, and given that pretty much the same bunch who've run the show over the past ten years will be back after the lockout, I'm not holding out hope for significant improvement.

And finally, Stan Fischler of MSG Network:

Don't laugh but one retired NHL owner tells us he believes that the 2004-2005 NHL season will be saved next month.

Believe me, I'm not laughing, if anything, I'm holding on to that slim hope. This stopped being a laughing matter a long time ago.

As ex-Oilers' owner Peter Pocklington correctly notes, "When the players understand the seriousness of this, they'll settle it. But a lot of them don't care. How much of the high-priced talent (Bill Guerin, Vince Damphousse, Trevor Linden) is controlling the vote? They're not the average player." Guerin, Damphousse and Linden already have made so much money, each could retire now and not have to play again.

Ah yes, Peter Pocklington, the man who built a near-dynasty in Edmonton and then sold it off, piece by piece, to pay off his off-ice business debts before finally selling the club in 1998. One wonders if that great 80's Oilers team would've been chopped apart as much as they were if Pocklington were a better businessman. What he's got to say about the state of today's game is meaningless.

As for high-priced talent "controlling the vote", that's ludicrous when one considers that around 250 of the NHLPA's 1000-plus membership earns more than the average salary. If the majority wanted to return to action tomorrow, there'd be little Guerin, Damphousse and Linden could do about it.

A good reason why ownership will not compromise in CBA talks is that the govs have long memories. One who was on the NHL negotiating team in 2004-2005 tells us, "We had (Bob) Goodenow on his knees the last time and made the mistake of letting him up. This time Gary (Bettman) is committed to fixing the economics."

They have long memories, eh? Strange, but most of the owners who were around in 1994 are no longer running NHL franchises. As for Goodenow being "on his knees", that's merely indicative of the contempt some owners have of him. The reality was, Goodenow was Bettman's equal in negotiations, and both were deadlocked until some of the influential big market clubs forced Bettman into last minute negotiations.

Just wondering what his "union" is doing in support of NHLPA card-holder Steve Moore - felled by fellow "unionist" Todd Bertuzzi - who may never be physically able to play pro hockey again. Bertuzzi's sucker-punch leaves Moore still with reduced sensation in his right shoulder, problems with short-term memory, reduced energy levels, mood variability and dull headaches. He also is without an Avalanche contract. (No surprise there!)

Good question, Stan. While we're at it, why is Moore without an Avalanche contract? Or a contract offer from any team? For that matter, what measures will the NHL take to ensure such cheapshots are no longer tolerated?

Anyone who thinks the "new" World Hockey Association will get off the ground should consider this: Its economic model is weak and there are few arena leases available. Fughgettaboutit!

I agree. The WHA is only a pipe dream. Thirty years ago, they had alternative cities to play in and maverick owners with money to spend. Today's version has neither.

Typical Bryan McCabe. He sulked his way home from Europe in time to deliver a cheap-shot (no surprise!) at Gary Bettman. Like Shane Doan, Robert Esche, et. al. McCabe proves once again that the obviously desperate players don't know when NOT to say anything!

The overwhelming majority of players have said little or nothing about this lockout or about Gary Bettman, only expressed their hopes that a new deal can be reached soon. Yet a few big mouths like McCabe, Doan, Esche and Manny Legace flap their gums and their comments are taken as "proof positive" the players "don't get it" and are "obviously desperate". Whatever...

Meanwhile, other media types continue to blast the "union." Buffalo News' columnist Bucky Gleason writes, "How can a union 700 strong, one that's made up of smart, tough players, not be wise enough to see through Bob Goodenow's nonsense or tough enough to make him accountable?" Answer: The players don't get it!!

Yes, that's right, they're all dumb as a bag of hammers and not one of them can see that the Anti-Christ is leading them down the path to certain ruin. The fact the NHL has done little to actually negotiate with them, that their first offer was little more than an ultimatum, that Bettman's latest offer would slash the median salary down to pre-1994 levels, thus hurting the bulk of the players rather than the highest paid, that it wants to eliminate arbitration entirely, cap entry level salaries and eliminate their bonuses, and has proposed a toothless $64 million revenue sharing scheme that'll do NOTHING to ensure small market clubs improve but will ensure big market teams get richer is indeed proof positive that Bob Goodenow is evil and leading the poor dumb players to disaster! Where's a group of villagers with pitchforks and torches when you need them?

European fans are becoming more disenchanted with out-of-shape, disinterested NHLers taking jobs from local folks.

Only in Slovakia has that been a noticeable problem. In other countries like Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, the fans are thrilled to have NHL calibre talent in their respective leagues.

I'm also wondering where Stan's concern for local European talent was when former NHL veterans like Corey Hirsch were heading overseas to take away jobs?

Flyers' honcho Ed Snider has it right when he says, "When union leadership stirs up the players to a point that they would rather die than have what they see as a Salary Cap, what are you going to do? The bottom line is that we have a system that doesn't work."

And whose fault is that, Ed? Wasn't it your club who overpaid to retain a broken-down John LeClair? And wasn't it your club who overpaid Jeremy Roenick? And wasn't it your club who traded for a fading Tony Amonte and his $5 million-plus per season? So why doesn't the system work, Ed? Would'nt be because teams like yours overpaid certain players, would it?

Jeremy Jacobs - one of the NHL's most influential power brokers - is the first to cite a key issue in the CBA battle - malingering stars.

I'll let Colorado's Joe Sakic respond to that: "Here in Denver, we'd like to thank Jeremy Jacobs for the way he runs his business. Otherwise, we wouldn't have gotten Ray Bourque and won a Stanley Cup."




First, here's hoping you all had a wonderful Christmas weekend and didn't get trampled in those Boxing Day blowouts. Now then, to business,

So Sidney Crosby thinks he'll "probably" play in the NHL if they go to replacement players.

Or at least, that's what TSN first reported, but Crosby subsequently denied this, claiming he didn't fully understand the question.

Even if he wasn't misquoted, you can be his agent would've explained to him the ramifications of becoming a replacement players.

First, by signing his first NHL contract, Crosby would automatically become a member of the NHLPA. That means when the lockout ended, he'd to have to face his NHLPA brethren, some of whom won't take kindly to a teenager giving validity to the league use of replacements.

Second, Crosby won't be able to play in the NHL unless there's an entry draft in June 2005, or failing that, he becomes a free agent, available to the highest bidder.

For all the talk of NHL owners wanting to "get it right" this time by striving for a tougher CBA that in part employs a harsher cap on entry-level salaries and eliminates their bonuses, you can bet there would be quite a few of them willing to find some creative ways to skirt those restrictions to get Crosby under contract.

Should Crosby opt for free agency next summer if there's no draft, which would mean either the lockout was still in place or the league hasn't declare an impasse and unilaterally imposed their cost certainty plans, more than one NHL team would offer Crosby a lucrative deal and find some loophole suggesting that, because the deal was signed before the implementation of a new CBA, the old rules still applied. Or the team might claim there were no rules at the time so they made the best deal possible under the circumstances.

Then there would be the caterwauling from bottom feeding clubs such as Washington, Pittsburgh and Carolina, who likely would be in line for select Crosby in an entry draft if the season were held or if not for the league to have a draft lottery using the same bottom ten teams as those of the 2003-04 season.

Indeed, what's to stop Washington's Ted Leonsis or Carolina's Peter Karmanos from springing for a potential franchise player such as Crosby if he should become a free agent? It's not the same for Washington with Alexader Ovechkin since he's Capitals property for the next three years as a 2004 entry draft selection. A free agent like Crosby would likely give Leonsis some thought toward bidding for his services, particularly if he could pair him with Ovechkin.

Even if the league imposes cost certainty before next June, it's unlikely there would be an entry draft since there is no CBA in place. But let's say the league was able to find a creative way to skip around that problem and the draft goes off, Crosby would then have to face a personal dilemma: does he sign the contract offered by the team that selects him, or does he hold out for a better deal?

If he signs the contract, he's telling the hockey world that he agrees with the league's draconian entry-level cap and lack of bonuses. Meaning if, within two years, he were among the league's top players, he'd only be eligible to earn $850K.

It would be a major PR coup for the league, who'd then tout Crosby as a poster child for cost certainty. "Look at how much Crosby loves hockey. He's quite happy to play under our cost certainty system."

They'd use him as an example for all other young players coming into the league. If Crosby were willing to play for $850K, so should the rest of you.

Such a signing would set the benchmark for all future entry-level contracts, keeping them artificially low for players who deserved to be paid their true worth. No entry-level player, no matter how talented, would be able to earn more than Crosby.

Don't think there won't be a few young players who'd take Crosby aside and say, "you screwed us, man!"

The NHLPA has no problem with an entry level cap of $850K, but they do believe those young players should be entitled to performance bonuses, capped also at $850K. You can bet that Crosby's agenthas ensured the youngster is made fully aware of that.

You can also bet that his agent will also test the European marketplace if the NHL gets its way and implements that hardline system for entry-level players.

As I noted in a recent article, if there's a hard cap of $850K on entry level salaries, that will make it much easier for European clubs to make competitive bids for the services of promising young entry-level players.

Those offers would most likely be aimed at European players, but don't think for a moment that player agents won't be looking at those as an alternative for their North American clients.

That goes for Crosby, too. Although he'd prefer to play in the NHL, his agent will likely have little trouble finding a European team willing to offer up considerably more for his services.

Those offers could then be used to pressure whichever club gets his rights into making him a more lucrative offer.

Finally, as he matures Crosby would realize that he was used by the league as a pawn for their own ends and not for his benefit.

Any team successful in getting him signed to a four year deal capped each season at $850K would've gained a short-term victory. A 22 year old Crosby who's among the top players in the league will be seeking substantially more when that entry level deal is up, and any team trying to play hardball with him is going to have a serious fight on their hands.

Indeed, even if the NHL gets its hard cap system, in four years time it's a safe bet that a precedent will have been set regarding legally creative ways to ensure the top players can still get top dollar.

Right now, Crosby is feeling the youthful pull to realize his dream of playing in the NHL. He hasn't yet had to get tangled up in the usually nasty business side of the league.

Once that dream, and his true worth, are realized, he's not going to be so accommodating the next time he has to talk contract.

Indeed, Crosby's education has probably already started, as his agent likely had a chat with him since his comments this past weekend.

That's another consideration, how any deal Crosby signs with an NHL team will affect his representatives, one of whom is Pat Brisson, considered one of the top player agents in the NHL.

You can bet Brisson isn't going to just have his client sign any capped deal without exploring potential loopholes that'll bring Crosby much more of a return.

Besides, Brisson already stated in an interview with the Ottawa Sun that there's no way Crosby will take part in an NHL stocked with replacement players.

Sure, Crosby could fire Brisson and shop around for another agent, but he'll be hard-pressed to find one willing to accept at face value the NHL's entry-level plans.

Sidney Crosby wants to play in the NHL and knows he's close to achieving that dream. Like any teenager, he's simply speaking his mind.

In reality, however, the possibility of Crosby as an NHL replacement player is a remote one.

He will achieve his dream, but if the league succeeds in imposing an impasse and hires replacements, that dream will be on hold for a little while.


Well, folks, with Christmas upon us and things looking bleak for NHL hockey, I think I know what we're all wishing for: an end to this lockout with a deal that not only saves the 2004-05 season, but contributes to a long-term improvement in the way the league conducts its business.

All of us want our hockey fix(ed), which also leads to a link to, where for the low price of five bucks you can tell folks exactly what you want from the NHL. So if you're still in the spirit of the season or you're looking for a last second gift, why not send them a few bucks.

If any of you are seeking a hockey fix during the holidays, I highly recommend checking out the World Junior Hockey Championships, held this year in Grand Forks, North Dakota and Thief River Falls, Minnesota. It's a chance to see the future stars of the NHL from all the major hockey playing nations, from Christmas Day to the Championship Game on January 4th, 2005.

I'll be taking the next few days off to enjoy Christmas with my family, so to everyone who has read this site over the past year, all the best of the holiday season to everyone.

See you guys again on Tuesday, December 28th!


So Todd Bertuzzi finally had his day in court yesterday for his on-ice assault last March of Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore.

Forgive me if I'm not impressed or surprised by the outcome.

By pleading guilty to assault, Bertuzzi received a year's probation, 80 hours of community service (as Homer Simpson once whined, "Awwwww, not community service!), which if he successfully completes he won't have a criminal record.

Can't say I didn't see this one coming. I stated back in March that Bertuzzi would get no jail time for his actions.

He can now apply for reinstatement in the NHL, which suspended him indefinitely following the incident. It's a safe bet the league will likely reinstate him, claiming he's been sufficiently punished by both themselves and the law courts.

Meanwhile, Bertuzzi's victim, Steve Moore, still suffers the after-effects of the attack. He wasn't re-signed by the Avalanche, and possibly may never play another game in the National Hockey League.

So, Bertuzzi lost the remaining $500K of his $6 million salary for last season, still has the support of Vancouver Canucks fans, his teammates and most of his peers around the league, and will most likely be back in action whenever the league starts up again, and gets away with probation and community service.

Yeah, there's justice for ya!

I wonder what the reaction would've been if it had been Moore attacking Bertuzzi? Would Moore have had the support of the league and his peers? Would Avs fans come out in droves to support him? Would the law courts be lenient?

You could point to the latter and say yes because noted goon Marty McSorley also got a light punishment for his stickswinging attack on Donald Brashear four years ago.

But McSorley was also a former player rep who had very powerful and influential friends both in the sport and in the media on his side, and he could also afford a very good attorney.

There was no justice yesterday for Steve Moore. His attacker, because of who he is, got off with a slap on the wrist.

Now I know Bertuzzi's defenders will claim that Moore deserved it because of his questionable hit on Bertuzzi's teammate, Markus Naslund, three weeks before the incident.

Yes, the hit was questionable, and yes, Moore probably should've been suspended for it.

That doesn't justify thuggery.

If anything, this incident and it's aftermath further highlights why the National Hockey League is such a mess.

This league should've grown up a long time ago and put the fighting and cheapshots behind it. I'm no shrinking violet and confess to enjoying a good hockey fight as much as the next die-hard fan, but I also realize as I mature that the game needs to clean up its act, both to protect it's players and to improve the product.

It speaks volumes when the only time the NHL gets nation-wide coverage in the United States is when one of its players goes off their head and seriously injures another.

The game has limited appeal in the US for casual sports fans, and as one reporter put it, incidents like Bertuzzi's attack on Moore ranks pro hockey amongst roller derby and cockfighting in the minds of many Americans.

The NHL is believed looking at introducing new measures to improve the game's excitement whenever it finally returns to action. It's highly unlikely, however, that they'll do much of anything regarding the unnecessary violence within the game.

The league's problem is it remains dominated by too many "traditionalists" who believe the violence helps put the fans in the seats. Unfortunately, it's that line of thinking that hinders, not helps, any improvement in the NHL's product.

If anything thinks we won't see another incident of mindless on-ice brutality in the future, they're either naive or ignorant.

The McSorley incident occured only four years ago, right in front of Bertuzzi. Evidently he didn't learn much from it, or perhaps he learned the wrong lesson, that the worst he'd get from the league and the law courts was a slap on the wrist.

Suppose Moore had been crippled for life? Suppose he had died?

Bertuzzi's tears and proclamations of sorrow wouldn't have mattered then, but Moore wasn't crippled for life or killed. He's still alive, and while it's possible he may never play hockey again, he could still lead a full life in another line of work, so that must make it alright then.

My fear is that the next time a player loses his cool and attacks another, the outcome could be far more tragic. And apologies and community service won't make it right. The NHL might then consider cleaning up its act but of course it'll be too little and too late.

As for Moore, his attorney says his client may consider a civil suit against Bertuzzi if he's unable to play professional hockey again, but even then there's no guarantee he'll get full justice.

If Bertuzzi were truly sorrowful for what he did to Moore, he'd have offered to take care of the guy's medical bills or even offer to pay the remainder of the salary Moore lost from last season.

But of course, that never happened. Bertuzzi was embarrassed by his actions, fearful of missing playing time, and concerned over how this incident might tar his reputation and image. His tears were not for Steve Moore, but for himself.

Moore is now left to himself. He no longer has a contract with the Avalanche and received no offers. It's unlikely he'll ever get another offer. The NHLPA has been silent on this issue for some time, probably preferring not to be seen as taking the side of one association member against another.

Most players seem to believe Bertuzzi has "suffered enough", as have most Canucks fans. The league has said and done little. The general perception now is that most want to put this unpleasantness behind them and move on.

The NHL and the law courts feels it meted out fair punishment to Bertuzzi, and if Moore can't resume his pro hockey career, well, that's too bad.

So much for justice.


Time once again for my weekly installment whereby I offer up rebuttals to media commentary on the lockout. Original comments in italics.

First up, Stan Fischler of MSG Network:

Patrick Roy is the latest notable to endorse a Cap.

And yet Roy had no trouble fighting against the league during the last lockout, and would undoubtably be against a cap if he were still playing. Sorry, Patrick, but you made your fortune under the previous CBA, yet you didn't speak out against it while you were earning all that dough. Your opinion has no value.

Meanwhile, more and more respected reporters are endorsing the Cap idea. Writing in Florida's Sun-Sentinel, Michael Russo asserts, "The league is wounded. The players have to be partners in discovering a cure. That cure is a Salary Cap."

Perhaps it is, but not like the one proposed by the league. Under this system, the big market teams will rake in larger revenues without having to give up very much to small market clubs, who are likely to find the status quo won't have changed very much. It'll still be big market clubs snapping up the best UFA players, while the small market teams struggle to retain their best players.

And the NHLPA are willing to discuss a salary cap, just not the hard one proposed by the league. That's what a payroll tax system is, a form of a salary cap. Granted, their proposed systems aren't that great, but if it were to contain more "teeth" it would help narrow the gap between the big and small markets, which is what a cap is supposed to do.

Here's why playing in Europe is not such a bargain. Darby Hendrickson offers this dressing room review: "In one locker room, the bathroom had no toilet seat. On the ground; it's a circle. You just - you know!"

Yeah, stay away from Europe, all you North American NHL'ers, otherwise you'll have to deal with the mysteries of European lavatories! This is perhaps one of the lamest reasons against playing in Europe I've ever read.

The NHLPA shouldn't get too smug about a lost season. A TSN poll reveals that 63 percent of the fans would support use of replacement players by the owners to end the impasse.

Until they discover (a) how crappy the product will be with lesser talented players plying their craft under NHL coaches and their defensive trapping schemes, (b) for every fan who supports a team and could care less who's on it, there is a fan who comes out to games to watch their favorite marquee name players and would miss said players, and (c) how high ticket prices will be to watch a league full of replacements.

Let's not also forget that would mean the average arena would only be filled to 63 percent of capacity, because 37 percent of hockey fans would stay home. If over a third of the NHL's fan base wouldn't follow it with replacement players, that doesn't constitute a ringing endorsement in my book. If anything, it further heightens the risk that more casual fans will simply give up on the NHL and never return.

A hefty 75 percent back a Salary Cap for Cost Certainty and competitive balance.

Provided that system will bring about lower ticket prices, and financial as well as competitive balance.

As Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette recently noted, the NHL's proposed system will accomplish none of these things. Indeed, most fans who support the league in this lockout are going to be bitterly disappointed if the NHL gets it way.

That's not to suggest that the NHLPA's proposals are all golden, either, but what is needed now is a willingness on both sides to negotiate a deal that'll benefit both sides, taking the best out of both proposals to somehow make it work.

Meanwhile, Europeans are rapidly being turned off by NHL skaters. Slovakians are fed up with North Americans taking jobs away from their brethren and are showing their displeasure by staying away from games.

The Edmonton Sun's Terry Jones, who is in Europe, explains: "Fans support the players who lost jobs (to NHLers). Fans complain about games less pleasing to watch when NHLers are on the ice."

Meanwhile, in the very same article, Jones noted the warm reception given to North American players in Latvia and the Czech Republic. There've been other articles noting the warm reception NHL players are getting elsewhere in Europe.

Not every European fans is likely thrilled over North Americans "taking over" jobs from European players, but let's fact facts, if the owners of those European teams didn't want those players, they wouldn't have signed them, now would they? In the end, they're no different than NHL owners, out to take advantage of the competition.

Will the NHLPA crack? The Toronto Star's Damien Cox thinks so. His contention is that the players "have no meaningful leverage." After Europe - where they play for much less than in the NHL - there's nothing. "There's no equivalent pro alternatives to the $1.3 million average salary the NHL is already saying it will offer in a new system."

It's quite possible, but then again, no one should underestimate the players resolve either. The owners may be more united this time around, but it'll be interesting to see how strong their resolve is should they fail to achieve an impasse and the lockout threatens another season.

Speaking of Europe, the Blues' Eric Boguniecki isn't crazy about his Swiss hockey-playing experience. "I thought playing in Switzerland was something I wanted," says Boguniecki. "But it was awful, a painful setup." Interviewed by the Hartford Courant's Bruce Berlet, Boguniecki adds. "We played in rinks with no glass above the boards … And they didn't like you touching anyone, so they called a penalty every time you hit somebody."

For every Boguniecki, there's guys like Joe Thornton and Rick Nash who are enjoying their Swiss experience and have learned to adjust. Hey, nobody said the European game was perfect, but the North Americans who are doing well over there are the ones who are either willing to make the adjustments or have the talent to be able to.

Next up, Don Cherry, regarding comments he made during an interview on TSN's "Off the Record":

'''I don't know who should (give in) but the players will have to come again because the owners are billionaires . . . and the one thing that they want is control of the game.

Yes, the players will likely have to make more proposals, possibly even more concessions, but it's a two-way street here. The owners have to be willing to give a little to get a little, something they haven't shown much willingness in doing so prior to their latest offer.

Cherry also believes NHL players shouldn't be playing overseas during the lockout.

''They don't need to go over there,'' he said. ''I know a guy for sure, I won't mention his name, who had been over there (in Europe) for five years with his family and you know what (the European team) told him this year?

'''If the lockout is there for next fall, don't bother coming because we're going to get NHL guys.' Players are players, hockey players are hockey players, they shouldn't be over there.''

Sorry, Don, but your "anti-Europe" bias is showing.

There's no such thing as job security in pro hockey, regardless of where you play. Those North Americans who went over to Europe before the lockout, like Corey Hirsch, took away jobs from European players, yet nobody had a problem with that. Then locked-out NHL'ers started taking away jobs from guys like Hirsch and suddenly it's the biggest sin in the world.

Of course, it was the jobs they were taking away from good ol' North American (read: Canadian) boys that was the upsetting part, wasn't it? Few cared about the Europeans who were losing their jobs. They were merely an after-thought.

And as I've noted before, if the owners of those European clubs had any loyalty at all, they would've stuck by their players and told the locked-out NHL'ers, "thanks but no thanks". But they saw an opportunity to increase their revenues at the expense of the NHL and seized it.

If there's an opportunity for locked out North American NHL'ers to play elsewhere during this work stoppage, they're entirely within their rights to do so. Most of them are doing it to stay in shape and to keep busy doing what they enjoy doing, playing hockey. Few of them are making significant coin over there so that certainly isn't the impetus.


The NHL loves to point out that a salary cap works in the NFL and just how much NFL players like it. Too bad, however, you'll never see the NHL fully embrace the NFL system.

For one thing, the NHL would never agree to the revenue sharing system. In the NFL, the home gate is split 60-40 with the visiting team, which is one reason why small market NFL clubs are able to be competitive against their big market peers.

As we've seen in the NHL's latest proposal, the big market clubs don't want to have anything to do with real revenue sharing. Their "quick overview" tells us that, yes, they want revenue sharing, indeed, they elaborate further on their desire for "meaningful revenue sharing".

It claims to have "30 different models" to choose from, one of which would be monies shared from a pool of playoff revenues, which sounds good...unless you're a well-run small market club like the Ottawa Senators, in which case you'd be contributing money to help yourself and other small market clubs, while big market teams who don't regularly make the playoffs, like the NY Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks, don't contribute a cent.

Whatever the other 29 models are, you can be they'll mean little pain for big market clubs. The NHLPA originally proposed a revenue-sharing system worth oer $200 million, but acquiesed to the NHL's demand to lower that figure and proposed instead $65 million, with the top ten revenue generators pitching in to aid the bottom twelve.

But even that wasn't good enough for the NHL, hence their "30 model" program. As I noted in my Foxsports column, the big market teams want a hard cap but they don't want significant revenue sharing.

Too bad, because according to the book "Money Players", a study was conducted following the 2000-01 season which found that, if the NFL's "60-40" split were employed by the NHL, the lower earning clubs would "receive a large boost from the plan, while the top earning teams wouldn't be unduly hurt".

Under that study, Calgary would've received a 26.5 percent boost in revenue and Edmonton a 14.5 increase, while Toronto would experience a decrease of only 12.9 percent and Detroit only 8.9 percent.

The other reason why small market NFL clubs are able to be so competitive is the NFL's $2 billion per season television contract, which is split equally amongst all their teams. As one NFL reporter once put it, you'd have to be insane not to make money with an NFL franchise.

The NHL can only dream of NFL-type TV revenues, in fact, they'll never even come close to earning that kind of money from their television contracts, no matter how much they improve the product.

Another thing the NHL doesn't tell you is just what makes the NFL cap so workable for their players. Again, I direct your attention to the NFL Players Association's 2002 Economic Primer, and especially, to this rather illuminating bit:

" It’s important to emphasize that the Salary Cap does not create a hard limit. And even though the cap may be the CBA's most recognized component, behind the scenes, the current system is driven by four cornerstones:

* Prorating signing bonuses over the length of player contracts;
* The ability to renegotiate existing contracts;
* Free agency;
* And, the uncapped season at the end of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Since signing bonuses are prorated, clubs are able to have actual salary expenditures much higher than a given Salary Cap limit; over
the eight seasons the Cap has been in effect, actual per club salary expenditures have exceeded the cap limit by more than $1-billion--an
average of nearly $5-million per club over the cap per season."

No wonder NFL players like their cap system so much! It's also important to remember that unrestricted free agency begins for NFL players at age 24, which makes this even more enticing.

If I were Bob Goodenow, I'd use this to my advantage. Fight to have a similar components in the next CBA.

Think about it, if the NFL's system works for their players, surely employing the same cornerstones would work to the NHLPA"s advantage.

Tell Gary Bettman you'll accept a hard cap, so long as prorated signing bonuses and incentive bonuses over the length of player contracts are introduced. Tell Bettman the players will accept a hard cap provided they have the right to renegotiate existing contracts. Tell Bettman you'll want the final season of the next CBA to be uncapped in exchange for a hard cap. And tell the Commish you also want the UFA eligibility age lowered, perhaps not to 24 as in the NFL, but a "more reasonable" 27.

And if the league rejects it, tell the world just how hypocritical they've become. After all, they love to point out how the NFL's system is proof a hard cap can work, so why won't they accept a similar system?

It wouldn't hurt in the PR department either, since the majority of NHL fans want to see an NFL style hard cap without fully understanding how that system works.

It would be brilliant, the NHLPA openly stamping for an NFL style system.

And it would play right into the PA's hands, just as the previous CBA did.

Let's face facts, gang, if you put those four NFL cornerstones into the next NHL CBA, it would fully benefit the players.

Big market free spenders like Toronto, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, Dallas, Colorado and St. Louis wouldn't be able to resist those prorated signing bonuses for UFA talent. Indeed, if I were Goodenow, I'd also push for prorated incentive clauses, too.

Even if the league demanded non-guaranteed contracts, it would still work to the players advantage, particularly given the spending history of most big market teams.

It'll be the big name players who'd cash in big time under this system, but of course, as we've seen in the past, some owners have trouble distinguishing a marquee player from an above average one coming off their best year, so once again, average players like Martin Lapointe and above average ones like Bill Guerin would fully cash in under this system.

Players would love being able to renegotiate their existing contracts, particularly those who have a career season. That kind of leverage would give them the opportunity to gain a more lucrative deal. If the team was unable or unwilling to renegotiate, that player would either get traded or become a UFA, where they'd be snapped up by teams more than willing to pay them what they wanted.

And don't tell me no NHL team would agree to that. After all, look at how many of them were responsible for jacking up salaries under the previous CBA.

Lowering the UFA age limit would be perhaps the best thing the players would have under this system, allowing them the opportunity to shop their wares to the highest bidder whilst still in their prime. Jarome Iginla at 27 has much more value on the UFA market than he would at 31, and teams like the Leafs, Rangers, Red Wings and Flyers would get into a frenzied bidding war for his services.

As for that uncapped season in the final year of the CBA, if the history of the NHL's labour wars has proven anything, it's how short-sighted the league and the owners are.

Most would happily give up the final year of a cap in order to gain five years of one. And since they're their own worst enemies, they wouldn't realize the fox was in the henhouse until it was too late.

Of course, this system would do nothing to help small market clubs, indeed, we'd see little change in how the NHL did business under this system than under the previous one. It would be the small markets who'd suffer, and be forced to employ more frugal spending practices to have a chance of being competitive.

But the NHL doesn't want real revenue sharing, which would help small market clubs compete, not only under this system, but also under those proposed by the NHLPA. In essence, it really doesn't matter what system the NHL brings in, because without real revenue sharing, cost certainty won't help small market clubs.

So go for it, Bob! Give the NHL and the majority of its fans what they want, give them an NFL style hard cap.

Because when it blows up in the league's face, they won't be able to make the players the fall guys for their incompetence again.

And hopefully, it'll open the eyes of a lot of well-meaning but easily duped hockey fans.


Read an interesting article in this past weekend's Boston Globe in which Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs offered up a unique theory as to why the NHL product has declined over the past ten years.

While acknowledging such factors as length of the season and defensive systems, Jacobs believes the principal reason is one of high priced players not playing up to expectations.

" There's a whole body of thinking by a lot of people within the sport who feel the high-priced players don't necessarily play every day," claimed Jacobs in an interview with Globe reporter Nancy Marrapese-Burrell. "They play intermittently and that has added to some of the dullness. When you pay a lot for a player, you expect him to play a lot, so we're playing a lot of guys who maybe we shouldn't be playing, who aren't really giving it the kind of interest that needs to be shown in this game. I've heard that and I think there's some truth to it. I think that we could get more out of the guys who are out there. I think they could give it a better effort. I think they used to historically."

So is there any basis to Jacobs' claim?

If we examine the performance of the highest paid 25 players last season, yes and no.

There's no question Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Fedorov, Keith Tkachuk, John LeClair, Bill Guerin, Doug Weight, Bobby Holik, Alexei Yashin, Curtis Joseph, Jeremy Roenick and Pierre Turgeon didn't play up to their level expected of players earning their kind of money last season.

Pavel Bure, Scott Stevens, Jason Allison, Peter Forsberg and Ziggy Palffy were all sidelined by injury for part or all of last season, so it's not fair to consider them "underachievers".

Indeed, Forsberg and Palffy were well on their way to earning their salaries when they were sidelined last season by injury. Prorate their stats if they played the entire season and there would be no argument that they earned their keep.

Mike Modano had a drastic drop-off in his production last season, but that was due to the psychological burden of taking over as the captain of the Dallas Stars, as well as financial problems away from the arena involving the mishandling of his money by people he trusted. Prior to last season, Modano was a consistent 80 point man in four of five seasons, which in the "dead puck" era is noteworthy.

That leaves Nicklas Lidstrom, Joe Sakic, Chris Pronger, Rob Blake, Mats Sundin, Jarome Iginla, Ed Belfour and Martin Brodeur as those whose play justified their salaries with their performance last season.

Indeed, if one were to examine the highest paid players over the past four years, one would find pretty much the same ratio: some earn their salaries, and some don't. Of those who don't, nearly a quarter of them were plagued by injuries or off-ice problems that hampered their performance.

The real question of fault, however, lies not with the players, but with the owners who paid their salaries.

In the case of Jagr, he was coming off a 121 point season and his fourth consecutive Hart Trophy as the league's top scorer. He still had two years remaining on his contract, but when he was obtained by the Washington Capitals, they tore up that contract and inked him to his $10 million per season deal.

Rather that wait and see how Jagr would adjust to his new team and surroundings, the Capitals believed he would still play up to the high level he had with the Penguins, ignoring the warning signs of his final two years in Pittsburgh that the moody Czech was clearly unhappy in both his personal life and with the state of the game.

Fedorov has been consistently one of the best two-way players in the game, but he was fortunate to play on a talent laden team like the Detroit Red Wings, where he could share the spotlight and not be called upon to carry a team, as he would be when he signed with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

Mighty Ducks GM Bryan Murray coached Fedorov in Detroit years ago and obviously thought "Feds" was capable of being the Hart and Selke player he once was. This was a classic example of a GM basing a player's salary on what he used to be capable of, rather than what he is capable of now.

Perhaps he'll better adjust the next time he suits up with the Ducks, but he was never worth between $8 million - $10 million per season.

Keith Tkachuk has come nowhere close to earning the $10 million per season he presently makes, but the St. Louis Blues willingly paid him that kind of money for the past four years ($8.3 million per season in the first two years and $10 million over the past two).

John LeClair was obviously damaged goods when the Philadelphia Flyers re-signed him to his $9 million per season. He was coming off his first back surgery and had missed most of the 2000-01 season prior to signing his new deal. The warning signs were there that LeClair was a spent force but the Flyers ignored them, their judgement clouded by what he was once able to accomplish.

Bill Guerin got his $8.8 million per season salary because of his 41 goal performance in 2001-02. Guerin has never over the span of his career posted 70 or more points and tends to average less than 30 goals per season, but that didn't stop the Stars from almost doubling his salary in 2002.

Bobby Holik has always been one of the best two-way forwards in the game, but that certainly didn't justify almost tripling his salary in the summer of 2002, as the New York Rangers did, to an ungodly $9.6 million before settling on $8.8 million for last season.

Alexei Yashin is perhaps the best example of Jacobs' claim of overpaid players not giving their best on a regular basis. Yashin had the stigma of problem child since his ill-advised attempt to break his contract with the Ottawa Senators in 1999-2000, but the Islanders believed Yashin would once again reach the potential he demonstrated during his 1998-99 performance, where he was a runner-up for the Hart Trophy.

Thus, they more than doubled what he made with the Ottawa Senators ($3.6 million) to where he hauled in $8.4 million with the Islanders last season. True, Yashin was plagued by injury that made him miss half of last season, but he doesn't get to use that as an excuse because his stats have been in steady decline since the 88 points he posted during his final season with the Senators. Indeed, his performance last season was so bad he actually spent time playing on the Islanders fourth line.

Doug Weight saw his salary more than double when he was traded to the St. Louis Blues in 2001 to $8.5 million, but he's come nowhere close to the 90 point season he had in his final year with the Edmonton Oilers.

Injuries have played a role in hampering Weight's effectiveness, but that's been a factor throughout his career and something the Blues should've taken into consideration when they obtained him from Edmonton.

Curtis Joseph has long been one of the most over-rated goalies in the NHL, thanks to his reputation for "stealing" first round series. Rarely among the top goalies statistically, the Toronto Maple Leafs believed him worthy of nearly $6.5 million per season and the Detroit Red Wings paid him $8 million per season over the past two years.

Jeremy Roenick has long been a crowd-pleaser and has never been afraid to get his nose dirty, yet "JR Superstar" hasn't posted up numbers anywhere near what he was once capable of during his heyday with the Chicago Blackhawks and Phoenix Coyotes, and that certainly hasn't made him worthy of $7.5 million. When Roenick speaks of too many players being overpaid, he should include himself in that group.

Finally, there's Pierre Turgeon, who has seen a dramatic slide in his production from 2001, when he led the Blues with 82 points, earning a raise from $5 million to $7.5 million for the 40 points he netted with the Dallas Stars.

Those players who are genuine stars, who are worthy of being the highest paid players in the game, consistently earn their salaries with their performances.

Peter Forsberg when healthy is one of the best players in the game. Joe Sakic may be aging but he carried the Avs last season and was the third highest scorer in the league in the process.

Nik Lidstrom and Rob Blake have been consistently among the top blueliners in the league, with the Norris Trophies to prove it. Chris Pronger was hampered by injuries in recent years but returned healthy and with a vengeance last season, becoming runner-up to New Jersey's Scott Niedermayer for the Norris.

Mats Sundin has been the heart and soul of the Toronto Maple Leafs since 1999, and consistently their best all-round player. In my opinion, he's paid too much, but no one would criticize his work ethic and his desire, as well as the fact he's been the Leafs leading scorer in four of the past five years.

Jarome Iginla is one of the brightest young stars in the NHL, a tiger of a player, especially in postseason competition. He starts the season slow but when he hits his stride he's lethal, the kind of player every team hates to play against but would kill to have on their roster. He was the NHL's top offensive player in 2002, among the leading goalscorers last sesaon, and was one of the top players in last year's playoffs. His star is still in ascension.

Ed Belfour is getting up in age but he's still considered one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. In both seasons with the Leafs, he was their most valuable player, the prime reason for the club's placing among the top four teams in the Eastern Conference. Like Sundin, I feel he's overpaid, but there can be no denying the on-ice results.

Martin Brodeur, on the other hand, deserves Belfour money after his back-to-back Vezina performances. Brodeur has been consistently among the top goaltenders in the NHL for the past ten years, as his record more than attests, and is on pace to break both Patrick Roy's record for games won and Terry Sawchuk's record for career shutouts.

Where the problem of money comes in is when teams overpay players who aren't worthy of the salaries. Granted, it's not always an "exact science", as with Jagr and Fedorov, but it should've been obvious to the teams who signed players like LeClair, Turgeon, Joseph, Tkachuk, Guerin, Roenick, Holik, Weight, and Yashin that they weren't worth the kind of money they wound up signing for.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, it's the owners, particularly the free-spending ones, who are responsible for under-achieving players being overpaid for their efforts.

And when it comes to signing high-priced players, that's never been a problem of Jeremy Jacobs' Boston Bruins, who tend to drive away players seeking substantial raises for their efforts.

It comes down to not how much money you spend, but how wisely you spend your money. If you invest your dollars wisely, and pay the best for being the best, more often than not you'll get a consistent return. If you invest your money in a talented but enigmatic player, a fading star or an above-average player coming off a career season, more often than not the investment will blow up in your face.

Jacobs gripe shouldn't be with those players, but rather the teams who willingly paid out the salaries.


I touched on this topic about two months ago but given the developments in the lockout since then I feel it's worth re-examination.

We've heard from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and several owners (both large and small market) how the league needs cost certainty - tying players' salaries to league revenues - in order to survive.

I've noted all along that the owners, specifically from big market clubs, were predominantly to blame for creating and perpetuating the current financial climate, and that if they would've only used the advantages they had under the previous CBA, there wouldn't be a need for cost certainty.

Still, as Bettman made clear in his press conference last Tuesday following the NHLPA's rejection of the league's latest offer, "rapid inflation" would continue under any system other than cost certainty. And guess who creates rapid inflation? None other than the owners, again, specifically the big market ones.

What Bettman is seeking is a system that will, in effect, save the owners from themselves. The NHLPA sneers at this, claiming the owners proved themselves capable of being financially responsible during the final two years of the last CBA, but it anything, that was only indicative that the only way they can be responsible is if there is some kind of measure in place - in this case, the approaching end of the CBA - that forces them to be responsible.

I too sneered at this notion for some time, but I have since come to the conclusion that, even though the owners deserve the bulk of the blame for this mess, it is now apparent they need something to keep them in line.

Would cost certainty achieve this? Possibly, but it would have to be a system that not only keeps the free-spenders in line but also gives back to small market clubs which in turn allows them to be competitive.

There are some good points in the league's latest proposal which might work, but I'd feel more confident about it if Bettman wouldn't dance around the potential flaws within it.

For one thing, where's the substantiation of Bettman's claim that the on-ice product will be better when the players are earning less money?

I'm guessing the theory here is because there will be less money to go around, the players will play harder because raises will be tougher to come by.

Nice try, but the facts simply don't support this. One need only look at the playoffs as proof. Remember, the players don't draw any salary during the post-season, as their salaries are only for regular season play. By comparison, playoff bonuses from the league are a pittance and only a handful of players, usually the elite ones, have any bonuses for playoff performance from their respective teams written into their contracts.

The only motivation is to get their name on a big shiny silver mug, yet that spurs them to play their best hockey of the year. Some will play through injuries that would cripple a lesser man, and would sideline athletes in other sports for months.

Indeed, how often during the regular season do we see players rush back from injuries they clearly needed more time to heal from? It happens a lot, and there's more to that than just salaries, since insurance picks up the tab in a lot of cases and the teams continue paying them if they're not sidelined long enough to be eligible for insurance.

The fact is, the majority of NHL players can't physically play any harder than they do now. The notion of "lazy" players is by and large a myth.

Furthermore, there would have to be significant changes to the rules to ensure a better on-ice product. If the league were to start back up tomorrow, we'd still be suffering through the uncalled obstruction that passes for defensive hockey nowadays. The product would still be duller than dishwater. How much the players earn or stand to earn doesn't factor into the equation.

Something else I found troubling from Bettman's press conference was his skirting the issue of how teams with large payrolls would get them pared down to under a hard cap limit.

That's an question I've been hammering the league on both here and in my Foxsports columns for some time.

Bettman's response was that he didn't address hypothetical issues and that it would be "easy to address" that problem. Personally, I don't see how that's possible unless the league raises it's desire cap level to a more reasonable $45 million and even then, it would also need the NHLPA's 24% salary rollback in order to ensure that the rosters of clubs like the Flyers, Devils, Red Wings and Maple Leafs wouldn't be gutted.

I also found laughable Bettman's response that fans in those cities would understand if cost certainty did result in a severe chopping of the rosters of those aforementioned clubs.

Come on, does anyone really believe the majority of fans in Philadelphia and Detroit would be pleased over that? It's one thing to cut one or two overpaid players, but if their roster was so severely chopped that both teams became cellar-dwellers, it would spark outrage from their fans.

As for the Leafs, their fans suffered enough during the team's nadir in the 1980s under Harold Ballard's regime. To see their club plunge to the bottom of the standings would set off a near-riot in Leafs Nation.

But if we give Bettman the benefit of the doubt on both issues, there are other potential pitfalls that could blow apart his cost certainty dream in a few years time.

One, and this is a major issue with fans, is ticket prices. Bettman suggests those prices may go down, but then in the next breath says that is to be determined by each individual market, which is something I've been saying for some time.

Thus far, only three NHL teams - Washington, Buffalo and Columbus - have committed to lowering ticket prices, and the former two implemented their reduction prior to the lockout. As noted by The Hockey News, the other 27 clubs either refused to commit at this time or stated flat out they wouldn't be lowering prices.

What will lower ticket prices will be the desire to get fans back in the seats in cities where attendance has been poor. That's why the Capitals and Sabres lowered theirs. Their club was struggling on the ice and fans weren't coming out as much as in the past. So how do you get the fans back when your team stinks? You lower prices.

There will undoubtedly be a price freeze or reduction in many NHL cities in the first year of cost certainty, but that'll only be as an enticement to bring back the fans. You'll hear several variations of this statement a lot: "we lowered/froze prices as our way of saying, "thank you", to our loyal fans who stuck by us during the lockout".

If prices are lowered, it won't be by much, probably by an average of $5.00, and they won't stay at that level for long, perhaps a season or two, and then they'll start rising again.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times and will say it a thousand times more, hockey fans expecting a big drop in ticket prices under a hard cap are going to be bitterly disappointed.

After all, they believed that high ticket prices are the result of high salaries. If salaries are brought under control by the hard cap of cost certainty, what will be the teams' excuses when ticket prices either rise or remain high?

Another thing I foresee under cost certainty is the use of prorated bonuses. This is what's used a lot in the NFL with their "hard cap" system. On paper, a team will be at or under the NFL's cap with base salaries, but when one factors in prorated bonuses, that tends to push teams over that cap.

That's something I haven't heard Bettman address yet and which I find troubling. I'm not suggesting the NHL braintrust hasn't thought of that possibility and perhaps once a deal is hammered out they'll have some measures in place to prevent that kind of thing from happening.

Then again, there were no measures in place to prevent teams from using bonuses to circumvent the hard cap imposed on entry level salaries under the previous CBA, and nobody saw that one coming.

The league's latest proposal seeks to eliminate all bonuses for entry-level players, but there's nothing in place to restrict bonuses for veteran players. It would be more comforting if Bettman would simply state that bonuses would be considered part of the player's salary and that under no circumstance will a team be allowed to use bonuses to skirt a hard cap.

Perhaps the most worrisome point is the fact that the fans of so many small market clubs are putting their faith in cost certainty to save their teams and ensure improved competitiveness.

But as Eric Duhatschek and David Shoalts pointed out in recent Globe and Mail articles, cost certainty would be perhaps more beneficial to big market teams than small market ones.

In the last lockout, Bettman's position was undermined by influential big market teams who forced the Commissioner back to the bargaining table. This time around, Bettman has the full support of the big market owners, and for a very good reason: they'll make far more money under cost certainty than they did under the previous system.

Duhatschek noted that big market teams would have a salary cap system without having to share their regular season revenues with their small market peers. The result would be huge profits for big market teams, which in turn could be used in the scenario I envisioned earlier regarding prorated bonuses.

The small market clubs, all of whom are presently at or below the league's hard cap of $33 million sought in last July's offer of 52% of revenues going toward salaries, would as David Shoalts predicted and the league confirmed with their latest offer receive revenues only from a pool of playoff revenues.

As Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette recently noted, that would be money coming from a pool that would see at most 105 games and at the least 60 games, meaning there would never be the same amount from year to year.

A salary cap between $39 million - $45 million would bring down salaries, but not to a degree where these small market clubs would be able to outbid big market clubs for UFAs, nor would it make it any easier for those teams to retain their best players.

If many of these small markets are presently sitting under $33 million, they're not the ones who need to be prevented from overspending.

And if revenue sharing is to come from a pool of playoff revenues, there probably isn't going to be much there to help those teams out. What happens when small market clubs make the playoffs? Are they to also contribute to this pool of playoff revenue? And would they get anything back from it?

The result would be a widening of the gulf between large and small market clubs, and as Hickey noted, there's no guarantee that the red ink would disappear for those struggling small market teams.

It could also result in not much of a change in the way business is done today. Big market clubs would continue to sign whoever they wanted, while small market teams would have to be more frugal with their budgets and would again be unable to bid competitively for unrestricted free agents. It also raises the possibility that these small market clubs would continue to have difficulty retaining their best players.

Small market owners and their fans could feel betrayed by the league. It also means the league would not be able to put the blame on the players the next time CBA talks roll around.

It might also bring about the one thing the league adamantly insists would never happen under cost certainty: contraction.

Without meaningful revenue sharing, it's difficult to imagine just how cost certainty is going to improve life for small market clubs.

If these problems as I've noted should come to pass for the NHL under cost certainty, it would mean a much tougher fight for the league the next time they have to negotiate a new CBA with the NHLPA. They'll also have a tougher time convincing the fans of small market clubs that they're on their side.

Bettman and his lieutenants are treading a fine line here. If cost certainty works, they'll be heralded as heroes, but if it fails, and the potential is there for this to happen, it could only perpetuate the problems under the previous CBA.



Yes, folks, I'm back after my short sabbatical, which has given me some time to mull over a few thoughts and points raised since the NHLPA's rejection of the NHL's latest offer. I'll be elaborating more on some of these in the near future.

- First off, ignore the current war of words between the two sides and look at what's on the table.

As noted by Eric Duhatschek of the Toronto Globe and Mail, Rich Hoffman of the Philadelphia Daily News and Damien Cox of the Toronto Star (yes, I did keep in touch with some of the news while I was away!), there are points in both the league's and the union's latest offers that could form the basis of a new CBA if both sides are willing to use the next two or three weeks to engage in further negotiations.

Remember, Bob Goodenow may have rejected Gary Bettman's latest offer, but he didn't say that his latest one was off the table. Nor for that matter did Bettman say he was pulling his latest one away.

For all the gloomy news of the loss of the season, I still believe, as do those aforementioned reporters, that there is still time for both sides to have further talks.

Indeed, just because we're seeing nothing official doesn't mean there hasn't been some discussions behind the scenes. If this lockout has taught me anything about NHL labour talks, it's that it's very much like a duck on the water: on the surface it appears as though nothing's happening, but under the surface, there's a lot going on.

- One point Duhatschek noted in a recent column is that, unlike the last lockout, Gary Bettman has the full support of the big market teams.

Last time around, several big market owners rebelled and forced Bettman back to the bargaining table. This time around, they're apparently fully backing him.

The reasons, of course, are purely selfish. Many big market clubs made money over the past ten years without cost certainty, and saw their franchise values rise noticeably.

If Bettman gets cost certainty, the big market clubs will be in a dream situation: they'll have a salary cap, but they won't have to engage in meaningful revenue sharing with their small market peers.

Meaning for some teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, who cleared on average close to $1 million per month during an NHL season, it'll be like "a license to print money" in the words of Duhatschek.

Their profits will rise, meaning they'll be making more money under cost certainty than they did without. And the league's toothless revenue sharing scheme, whereby the money would come from playoff revenues, means their more lucrative regular season revenues won't be touched.

With the influential big market teams on his side, it's no wonder Bettman has looked and sounded confident throughout this lockout.

- Oh and another thing: the union's 24 percent rollback is NOT indicative that the PA is acknowledging the "accuracy" of the findings of the Levitt Report.

I don't blame Goodenow for being upset over those comments from Bettman. Nobody in the NHLPA, not Goodenow, not Ted Saskin, not the PA staff nor any of the players have said they believe the Levitt Report, for reasons you can find by going here.

The NHLPA has also never questioned that the NHL is losing money. What they've questioned is the figures presented by the league and the teams respective methods of arriving at those figures, which Forbes Magazine poked holes in with their November article on the league's finances.

The 24% rollback was done for three reasons. First, to attempt to get a new deal in place to save the season. Second, because it was based on the NHLPA's findings of NHL losses, where they found, as Forbes Magazine did, that teams have under-reported revenues.

Finally, because Goodenow knows that there are owners who simply can't help themselves, that even though the rollback "resets the dial", within three years, as Bettman correctly pointed out, that rollback will have disappeared as some owners would've used the savings to jack salaries back up again. That rollback would've been short-term pain for the players, but within three years they would've recouped that loss.

- Bettman's talk of "inflationary measures" rendering the NHLPA's latest offer useless illustrates a simple reality: some owners cannot be trusted to play by the rules.

Not every NHL owner is guilty of jacking up salaries, but there are those, particularly big market owners, whose free-spending ways contribute significantly to the rise in salaries.

Goodenow is right when he says there were measures in the previous CBA that would've kept salaries in line, and he's right when he claims the 24% rollback would give the owners a fresh start.

Unfortunately, there were owners who made a mockery of the last CBA, and there would be ones who'd take those savings from the rollback and use it to stock their club with free agents or to pluck away expensive talent from small market clubs.

Bettman knows this. For all the slamming he's received from fans and media over the years, one thing the Commissioner understands only too well is the business side of the game, and the people he must deal with.

- Bettman's proposed redistribution of the PA's proposed 24% salary rollback was nothing more than a transparent attempt to split the union. It was also worth the attempt. Goodenow and the players may thunder angrily about it, but they understand that this is part of labour talks.

Indeed, if I were Bettman I would've proposed the same thing. At best, it might actually work and at worst, it scores PR points, making the league appear benevolent to its lower paid players.

- There was an interesting article in this past Thursday's Toronto Globe and Mail regarding the possibility of the NHL's labour woes going before the respective labours boards of the United States and Canada.

David Naylor suggests the NHL would have a better chance of unilaterally imposing cost certainty and hiring replacement players than Major League Baseball did a decade ago. That's because ten years ago, the head of the US National Labor Relations Board was a former union lawyer who was more sympathetic to unions than management.

This time around, the head of the NLRB is more conservative, who may be more sympathetic to ownership rather than unions.

As for Canada, Naylor claims the teams are "free to impose terms of the most recent offer and invite replacement players, even without an impasse being declared".

Furthermore, the NHLPA is not certified in the province of Quebec, meaning that the province's rules against hiring replacement workers wouldn't apply to the NHL. That means the Montreal Canadiens could hire replacements. Only British Columbia would be a problem for the league.

Still, none of this is a slam dunk for the NHL. They must still prove there's an impasse, and they must prove they've done everything they could to negotiate in good faith. Their latest counter-offer was a step in the right direction, but their hard-line tactics prior to that could work against them, regardless of the politics of the head of the NLRB.

- Speaking of hiring replacements, that's also not going to be as easy as many fans assume.

There's a perception that, should the NHL resort to replacement players, they'll be the cream of the AHL and ECHL, as well as disgruntled members of the NHLPA.

But remember, many of the good young players in the AHL and ECHL are on two-way contracts with their parent NHL teams. If those contracts extend through to next season, the league cannot merely call those players up and expect them to come play. They're also members of the NHLPA, and several of those players have already stated they wouldn't cross the picket line if the league went the replacement route.

Undoubtedly the league will find replacements amongst those AHL'ers and ECHL'ers who under normal circumstances wouldn't stand a chance of making it to the big league, but there may not be as many eager beavers as some think.

As for disgruntled PA members, if any do cross the line, it will probably be less than 20 percent of the association membership, and almost all of those would be fringe players, third and fourth line guys, fifth and sixth defencemen and backup goalies. None of the upper half of the NHLPA membership is going to do it.

Forget the myth of a replacement player NHL being better than the usual version. It'll be staffed with aging former NHL veterans on their way down, former NHL'ers who could no longer cut it and have played in Europe in recent years, life-long AHL and ECHL players who'd normally never get a chance to play in the NHL, and fringe NHL players.

And they'll all be playing for NHL coaches, most of whom preach the defensive trap system that sucks the life out of the game and makes it all but unwatchable.

If you thought the NHL product was lousy with its best players, wait'll you see how ugly it can be with talent of a lesser calibre.

- As poised as Gary Bettman appeared during his press conference announcing his counter-offer to the NHLPA, there were a couple of moments where he was knocked off balance by reporters' questions.

When a reporter asked him how teams presently with high payrolls would pare down their rosters under cost certainty without seriously weakening their depth, Bettman acknowledged that "adjustments" would have to be made, but claimed it was "an easy problem to solve".

Unfortunately, Bettman didn't elaborate as to what "adjustments" he had in mind and just how "easy" it would be to solve.

I'm glad a reporter finally cornered the Commissioner on that point, because it's been one I've been raising for months. Check back through my archives since September, it's all there.

He was also evasive regarding his claim that lower salaries would mean a better product on the ice. When Al Strachan of the Toronto Sun questioned Bettman as to how that would work, the Commish declined to elaborate and instead engage in a bit of a catfight with Strachan. It was obvious both men loath each other and their brief, terse exchange was perhaps the most entertaining part of Bettman's press conference.

If anyone out there can explain how lower paid players will equal a better on-ice product, I'd love to hear it. Send it along and I'll post it in my next "Fans Speak Out" update.