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Now then, on to today's topic...

When you read today's news, the majority of the columns regarding the NHL's counter-offer and the NHLPA's subsequent rejection of same will be predicting doom and gloom.

Both sides appear as far apart as ever. The league is insisting on tying salaries to revenues, while the players insist their salaries should be based on market value.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman claims his side won't entertain a payroll (luxury) tax, whilst NHLPA Director Bob Goodenow insists the players will never accept a cap on salaries.

Both sides say there are no further talks planned for the near future. So it seems that we should probably start preparing obituaries for 2004-05, the hockey season that never was.

There is little reason for optimism, yet as TSN hockey analyst Brian Burke noted last night, there is still a chance further negotiation might be possible. That's a feeling shared by Pierre Lebrun of Canadian Press, Scott Burnside of and Damien Cox of the Toronto Star.

I share their opinion that there may still be a chance, albeit a slim one, to get a deal in place to save the season, based on what was proposed by both sides with their recent offers.

Here's a condensed look at what the NHL is proposing:

- A salary range, based on last year's economics, between $34.6 million and $38.6 million (US);

- Restructuring the association's 24 percent proposed salary rollback so that those at the low end of the pay scale would contribute less and those at the high end contribute the most;

- No elimination of guaranteed contracts;

- Increasing the minimum annual player salary to $300,000, higher than the union's proposed increase of $250,000;

- Acceptance of the association's proposed changes to the entry level system, but also requesting that all bonuses be eliminated;

- Rejection of a payroll tax proposal;

- Elimination of salary arbitration;

- Request for further negotiation regarding qualifying offers; and

- Proposed lowering the age eligibility for unrestricted free agency.

And now, here's what the NHLPA offered that sparked the league's counter-offer:

- rolling back salaries by 24 percent over the life of existing contracts.

- scaling back the signings bonuses of non-NHL players.

- reduce the current cap on rookie salaries to $850,000, slash the annual signing bonus to $212, 500, and capping entry-level bonuses to $850K.

- reduce the multipliers used to determine qualifying offers for RFAs.

- the use of arbitration at the selection of the club.

- the use of rolled-back and new contracts as the only comparables for both salary arbitration and negotiating new contracts.

- A payroll tax of 20 cent tax on every dollar over $40 million, 50% over $50 million and 60% over $60 million, with the rates to increase by 5 percent over the next two season and an agreed-upon percentage after that.

Looking at both proposals, there are points here that can either be mutually agreed upon or used as bargaining chips by each side.

First, the easist part to address: changes to entry level salaries. Both sides agree on reducing the maximum base salary rate down to $850K. The league wants to eliminate bonuses from rookie contracts so that they can never again be exploited to drive those contracts far beyond their base salaries.

The PA would offer token resistence to this, but I think in the end they'll do just what they did in the last CBA talks in 1994-95: cut loose the rookies in order to win something else more substantial from the league.

Before you start feeling that the PA isn't doing right by rookie players, remember that there is a shared feeling amongst players and owners that rookies need to earn their spurs before they can start collecting the big bucks.

For every 18 year old sensation like Ilya Kovalchuk, there are dozens who take years to reach stardom, and hundreds more who never pan out. Hence the reason why both sides feel rookie players have to prove themselves worthy.This is a non-issue and certainly won't hold up talks.

Now the toughest point: salary cap versus payroll tax.

Both sides appear firmly entrenched, but it might be possible for a compromise to be reached.

With their latest offer, the league showed for the first time a bit of willingness to move off their draconian $33 million hard cap to offer one close to $39 million with their "payroll range". Granted, it's still a cap and not one palatable to the players, but it is progress.

It's unlikely the players will move off their "no-cap", stance, but one shouldn't rule out the possibility if the league were willing to be more flexible with their cap.

Perhaps if the union were to consider proposing a soft cap, like the NBA's or a flexible one like the NFL's, the league might be willing to increase that cap level to a more realistic $45 million.

There could be also be a proposal whereby a stipulation is put in to allow teams to go over that $38.6 million cap by five million if they're to re-sign a key player, or perhaps use prorated bonuses over the life of a contract of their best players akin to those in the NFL might be considered.

The association might also use the league's claim of not eliminating guaranteed contracts to their advantage. It was something the league wanted to either change or eliminate, as was revealed by Bettman's e-mail to Goodenow last summer, which was leaked to the NY Post last month.

The association will remain suspicious of the league's intentions in this matter, so to ensure that contracts remain guaranteed, the association might perhaps use that as a bargaining chip in considering acceptance of a form of cap.

Here's another enticement: the league is willing to negotiate lowering the eligibility age for unrestricted free agency. To get the league to consider a less stringent cap, perhaps the NHLPA might suggest lowering the UFA age limit to 29 or even 27.

Some owners might not like that, but a UFA in his late twenties is more valuable than one in his early thirties. That might be a better trade-off for the players.

There's no way the players are going to give up salary arbitration, and that might be something more important to them than a hard cap. They might propose accepting some form of cap provided they could retain salary arbitration with the amendments they made in their last offer.

Another way to entice the league into considering a more flexible cap system could be that 24% rollback. During his press conference slamming the league's latest offer, Goodenow was asked if that rollback was off the table but merely said the league rejected the PA's offer and the PA had rejected theirs.

In other words, the players might still consent to that rollback, provided the league shows some flexibility with their "payroll range".

Naturally this is all hypothetical on my part. Both sides would probably publicly dismiss such notions anyway. Perhaps neither side is truly willing to continue talks any further and the season is doomed after all.

But remember, the NHLPA denied for a month that they were going to make another proposal to the league, with Bob Goodenow and Ted Saskin demanding the league make the next move, yet they turned around and made a third offer anyway.

Gary Bettman and Bill Daly were smugly dismissive of what that offer might contain until they were blindsided by the 24 percent salary rollback proposal, so much so they were unconvincing in their attempts to paint it as merely a PR stunt.

There might still be a chance, but if it's going to happen, it'll have to happen soon. A deal will have to be in place by no later than New Year's Day if the league is to start up by no later than January 20th.

If we pass New Year's Day with no new deal in place, kiss the season goodbye.

So mull this over amongst yourselves, dear readers, until I get back later this weekend, and feel free to send in your thoughts.


Any faint hope of ending this lockout that may have been raised by the NHLPA's latest offer was dashed late yesterday when TSN released a copy of the NHL's memo to the 30 owners of its intentions to reject it.

One wonders if this memo was leaked to TSN by either a team with genuine concern about the league's intention, or one that is proud of the league's hard-line stance and couldn't wait for today when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman formally rejects the players latest offer.

Perhaps it's a plant by the NHL itself, a bit of misdirection to catch the PA and the media off-guard when they unveil their counter-proposal.

Regardless of how it got into TSN's hand, it makes very clear that the NHL isn't buying what the NHLPA is selling.

This doesn't come as a surprise as several commentators - myself included - and more than a few hockey fans who've followed these proceedings expected the league to reject the players latest offer.

The league want to put the fate of the season back into the hands of the players, so that if the season is cancelled, Bettman and his lieutenant Bill Daly can shrug their shoulders and claim they tried to negotiate but the players weren't on the same page.

This memo could be the true harbinger of the league's intentions all along - declare an impasse, hope to win their case with the respective labour courts of Canada and the United States , hire replacement players and ultimately bring the players association to its knees.

Here are some of the highlights - or lowlights - of the memo, as written by Daly:

"While the immediate 'rollback' of 24 per cent offered by the Union would materially improve League economics for the 2004-05 season, there is virtually nothing in the Union's proposal that would prevent the dollars 'saved' from being re-directed right back into the player compensation system, such that the League's overall financial losses would approach current levels in only a matter of a couple of years."

In other words, what Daly is really saying is that the owners and their management cannot be trusted to use the salary rollback to their advantage, that some or most of them would use the savings to engage in their usual bidding wars for unrestricted free agents, and like the previous CBA, would fail to utilyze the restraints proposed by the PA - taking players to arbitration, the capping of rookie salaries and bonuses - to their advantage.

"We believe the Union's offer was more about trying to unify the players and ensure player solidarity with what they would perceive as a very substantial proposal than it was about making a good faith effort to reach agreement us...The Union needed the 'rallying point' that it felt this offer would provide with the players to effectuate this strategy. Under this scenario, the Union will likely (and quickly) break off negotiations."

So in essence, it didn't matter what concessions the players made, how much they were willing to give back, unless they accepted one of the league's cost-certainty proposals, the league wasn't going to take any proposal from them seriously.

What's wrong with negotiating? Why won't the league negotiate? That's the most puzzling part. Granted, not everything the NHLPA has offered is perfect. Their luxury tax proposals have continued to lack substantial bite, and their suggested changes to qualifying restricted free agents still guarantee raises to almost half the players in the league.

But these are points that can be negotiated. There are also significant and substantials proposals in all three of the PA's offers worth considering, but the league seems content to merely dismiss them.

"...(while) the Union's offer in this regard was significant in the same approximate range of magnitude that will be necessary, we believe the 'rollback' should be structured among the players in a more equitable manner than the Union's current proposal envisions."

So what does that mean? Does the league want the higher salaried players to give back more and the lower-paid to give back less? I must admit I wouldn't be opposed to such a proposal, nor I think would a lot of the lower paid players.

Indeed, that might be where the league hopes to divide the PA: turn the lower-salaried against the higher-salaried. If the lower paid players say, hey, the league's right, we shouldn't have to give back 24%, the richer players should do that, and in fact, should give back more, that could create a serious split within the PA.

However, that's not going to happen. Ever wonder why we've heard no more grumbling from lower-paid fringe players since the November 3rd player rep meeting with Bob Goodenow? It's not, contrary to myth, because Goodenow browbeat those players into compliance, but rather, he showed them where the league's cost certainty will do the most damage - not to the average salary, but the median salary.

Under the average salary, the league's proposal to cut it back from $1.8 million to $1.3 million sounds far. But that figure is impacted by the minority of players who earn very high salaries.

The median salary - the true dividing line - is closer to $1 million. Under the league's proposal, the median salary gets slashed to less than $500K, or close to what it was before the 1994 lockout.

That means players like Pierre Dagenais and Brian Pothier, who were openly critical of the PA's stance, would not earn the $500K and $660K they're due to make this season.

Instead, fringe players like Dagenais and Pothier would find themselves earning half that amount if the league gets their way, or possibly even less than half.

No wonder we haven't heard more complaining from the lower paid ranks!

Hopefully we'll get some better insight into this when the league makes their counter-offer today.

"...we do not believe the Union's proposed changes to the Entry Level System go far enough...while the Union's proposed changes to the Entry Level System are positive and, in certain cases, might lead to cost savings, history has proven that because there is no absolute limit on the amount an Entry Level Player can earn in a given year, the Entry Level Salary Cap can (and will) still easily be circumvented."

This is the part where I sat gaping dumbfoundedly at my computer screen. They don't believe the Union's proposed changes to the Entry Level system go far enough? Sweet Jebus, what more do you want?

They've proposed lowering the cap ceiling to $830K, chopping the signing bonuses and capping them at just over $200K, plus capping other bonuses also at $830K. No rookie player would earn $2 million or more under this proposal.

Daly claims the Entry Level Salary cap "can and will still easily be circumvented". Uh, hello, Bill, that's where you and Bettman and the rest of your staff put in stipulations that ensures this never happens!

After all, by your own admission, you can't trust your owners and general managers to make wise decisions. You know that one of those smooth-talking player agents will find some way to circumvent that cap and one of those teams will lap it up, like the Boston Bruins did with Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov in 1997, thus setting the precedent used by all teams with their rookie players.

Remember, all NHL contracts have to be filed with league headquarters for verficiation and approval. If the league had shot down that Thornton deal back in 1997, there wouldn't have been problems with the entry-level cap system.

Here's a question I'd love to see posed to Bettman and Daly the next time they're out on the stump preaching to the converted about cost certainty: "Given that, by your own admission, an entry-level cap system can and will be easily circumvented, what measures will you put in place under cost certainty to ensure that no club easily circumvents your hard cap of $33 million?"

After all, if an entry-level cap can be easily circumvented, so too can a hard cap of $33 million.

On second thought, there's no sense in wasting breath posing that question to either man, since they've done very well at dodging hard questions about their beloved cost certainty.

"We do not believe the proposed changes to the level of required Qualifying Offers are meaningful, and certainly would not result in the savings of the magnitude projected by the Union."

Now this I agree with. Under the NHLPA's proposal, players earning less than or equal to $600K in salary would get a 10 percent raise, those earnings between $600K - $1 million would get five percent and those earning over $1 million would only have their salary matched from the previous season.

Basically, this sytem still rewards a player, even if he had a bad season or has failed to play as hoped. There should be a formula in place, based on performance, whereby a qualifying offer that matches the original salary is given to those players who earned it, and a reduced offer of 75% for those who didn't.

"We believe these changes would have very limited impact (if any) on a Club's or League-wide economics...We intend to reiterate our proposal to eliminate salary arbitration in our next offer to the Union."

It's bad enough the league is attempting to impose a questionable hard system upon the players, but taking away salary arbitration? Excuse my language, but that's like pissing in someone's coffee after you've dumped their meal over their head.

The players acknowledged the previous arbitration system was tilted in their favour and made two significant changes to the arbitration system. First,they're willing to discuss a high-low system whereby an arbiter must choose between the player's demand and the team's offer, and second, giving teams the right to take a player to arbitration.

If the league believes they can get the players to concede to elimination of salary arbitration, they're nuts. If you thought the players were digging in their heels against a hard cap, wait'll you see their reaction to abolishing salary arbitration.

"...the Union's actual proposal on Thursday demonstrated its continuing objective to avoid at all costs placing meaningful restraints on a Club's ability to spend excessively on player salaries...we remain firmly opposed to any new economic system that is premused on salary restraints encouraged by a luxury tax...The League's economic problems are too significant, and the future success of this sport too important, to accept a system based on projections and guesswork, particularly when we believe that the underlying dynamics of operating af team will not have been addressed."

I agree that the PA's luxury tax proposals have lacked substantial bite, but that's something that could be negotiated. Bettman and Daly keep saying a luxury tax system won't work, that it's unpredictable and unworkable, yet they've continually ducked the question, "why?" Why is is unworkable and unpredictable? And how is your cost certainty plans so much better?

Will cost certainty guarantee ticket prices go down? Nope, because as Bettman said himself to Maple Leafs season ticket holders last week, that's determined by each market...which is what I and other commentators have been saying for months now. Hey, I used to believe high salaries equaled high ticket prices, but doing the research into this changed my mind.

What guarantees does the league have that no team will circumvent a hard cap on salaries? We've heard nothing -nada, zippo, zilch - from the league on that. You raise that point, they ignore it and talk about something else.

How exactly will it save the so-called struggling franchises? Is this about saving franchises, or is it, as Damien Cox and Bruce Dowbiggin pointed out, all about increasing franchise equity?

If the league imposes cost certainty at once, how will they address the fact that nearly half the teams in the league will be forced to gut their rosters overnight?

Once those clubs pare down payroll to under $33 million, how will those teams then fill the gaps in their rosters when they won't be able to re-sign new players?

What will they do about the glut of unrestricted free agents that'll have no team to sign with because all will be maxed out at $33 million?

Why, oh why, won't anyone in the media directly ask Bettman and Daly those questions? I've tried by sending e-mails to, but to date I've yet to get a response.

"we envision a revenue sharing pool that will be funded primarily by a portion of revenues generated in the Stanley Cup playoffs," as opposed to revenue sharing on the basis of regular-season revenues.

Give a shout-out to David Shoalts of the Toronto Globe and Mail. He called this one last Friday, when he wrote, "that money might come from playoff revenues rather than simply having the rich clubs cut cheques." When he asked Daly directly about this, Shoalts reported the NHL's chief negotiator "sidestepped the question", instead prattling on about how "(I)t may come out of a variety of sources of revenue."

So much for variety, eh, Mr. Daly. Shoalts caught you dead to rights on that one, but as we've been used to from both sides of this lockout, Daly went into spin mode.

Shoalts also raised some interesting questions regarding revenue sharing from a portion of playoff revenue: "But how would clubs that have both high revenue and consistent playoff finishes feel about laggards in both instances, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins? Another question that comes up with the hard cap is competitive balance. The Oilers have a modest collection of talent for their $29-million payroll. They missed the playoffs last season. Despite the presence of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flames in the Stanley Cup final last June, it is still a general rule in the NHL that success goes to the big spenders, such as the Red Wings and Avalanche. It is hard to believe that fans, or even the owners, in Detroit and Denver would be happy with a likely drop in quality as the payroll is slashed after years of success."

And just how much of that "portion of revenues" generated in the Stanley Cup playoffs is the NHL proposing? Half? A Quarter? Ten percent?

One of the myths flying around about this lockout is the owners want revenue sharing but the players don't. The truth is, the players first proposed a revenue sharing system that would've been worth over $200 million, but the league - and most likely, the big market owners - balked at this and wanted a more scaled back version. This the NHLPA gave them in their latest proposal, but that's still not good enough for the NHL.

Fact is, the NHL's big market clubs are adamantly against revenue sharing, but in order to appease their small market peers, they're willing to grudgingly give up some of their playoff revenue, as long as their more lucrative regular season revenues aren't touched.

Of course, if you're a big market team like the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks, who haven't made the playoffs very much in recent years, they're not going to have to kick in anything if they miss the playoffs again. Given the new-look Rangers and Bill Wirtz's tight-fisted ways with the Blackhawks, it's quite likely both clubs could miss the playoffs for the next couple of years.

And if the NHL is proposing those revenues comes from playoff teams, then that also means small-market clubs like the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators could face the possibility of sharing their revenue with the Florida Panthers and Atlanta Thrashers if such a scheme were in place last season.

Better yet, how would Flames fans like the fact that part of their team's playoff revenues would've gone to subsidize their hated rivals in Edmonton last spring? That would've given Oilers fans incentive to chant, "Go Flames Go" throughout the playoffs!

With this memo, the NHL has clearly put their cards on the table. They'll accept the 24% rollback offer but want it redistributed amongst the players, probably by having the higher-paid players contribute more. They want the NHLPA to give up more regarding entry-level salaries. They don't like the PA's proposed changes to qualifying offers. They don't believe in sharing regular season revenues. They want to eliminate salary arbitration and are against any luxury tax proposal.

Given the hard line stance in Daly's memo, it's difficult to believe Gary Bettman will make a concilliatory counter-proposal that the NHLPA will accept.

The players want to play, and they've made all the concessions thus far. They've also made the attempts to negotiate and compromise, something the league, as evident by the tone in the Daly memo, have no intention of doing.

It's not impossible that the player will accept the league's latest offer, but if it's written in the harsh language of the Daly memo, it's hard to believe they'll accept it.

And should the NHLPA reject it, as it's expected they will, then the league will put on a sad face and tell the fans, "hey we tried, but the players aren't speaking the same language as we are."

That'll bring about the cancellation of the 2004-05 season, and send both sides toward a future date with the labour courts.


Time once again to highlight media points about this lockout and offer my counterpoint.

This week I'm giving Stan Fischler a break, focussing instead on the latest media reports supporting the league, which are posted on the NHL's CBA website.

Besides, after reading his latest take on this situation, all I can say is that he's starting to sound like Grampa Simpson rather than the seasoned professional I grew up admiring in the 1970's.

I have no problem with Fischler supporting the owners, but it's obvious that he's allowing his dislike of NHLPA honcho Bob Goodenow to cloud his viewpoints. You can feel the bile whenever he mentions Goodenow's name.

Anyway, on with the show, with my comments in bold and the source in italics.

First off, this editorial from the December 6th edition of the Montreal Gazette:

The (union's) offer is likely to be a better-dressed version of the proposal rejected by the NHL in September - salary rollbacks of 10 per cent rather than 5 per cent, and a redistributive luxury tax on teams with payrolls of $50 million or more. The league, for its part, wants salaries controlled as a percentage of revenues, so that smaller-market teams are not forced out of business.

Where's the proof that small market teams are being forced out of business? The Levitt Report? Good luck finding a detailed breakdown of each club's finances in that! As Dubi Silverstein of Blueshirt Bulletin observed in his analysis of the report, there is only a summary of overall league losses, with no detailed breakdowns. Silverstein also points out that Levitt admits that "not every team's finances were audited and that team audits are not likely to match the UROs, and is clear in his overall philosophy that auditors tend not to be as independent as they are supposed to be in order to ensure their future employment."

Then we've got the Forbes Magazine analysis, which noted that supposedly struggling small market teams like the Predators, Oilers, Flames, and Thrashers actually made more money last season than big market spenders like the Stars, Avalanche, Rangers and Red Wings. And in the case of the Oilers and Flames, the rising Canadian dollar played a significant part in their improved finances.

True, the Florida Panthers still lost $3.7 million last season, but don't forget they're still paying off the debt incurred by their previous ownership, as are the Ottawa Senators, hence the main reason for their $5 million in losses, which had more to do with the building of their arena and other off-ice issues than anything to do with player salaries.

The woes of the Buffalo Sabres had more to do with their previous owner, who ended up carted off to prison for fraud and other financial crimes, than player salaries. The NY Islanders are still trying to shrug off years of bungling by previous ownership, plus they're saddled with a crumbling arena.

That leaves only the Carolina Hurricanes as a true struggling small market club, and more than one critic has blamed their problems on their market rather than player salaries. Even if the league gets it's cost certainty, it won't do much to improve the 'Canes unless they can somehow translate that into an improved on-ice product.

Most fans agree. They see high salaries in the inflated prices they pay for tickets. NHL hockey is a gate-driven industry, with less television revenue than other major sports.

Yes, it is, but the high salaries have nothing to do with ticket prices. That's why teams like Nashville, Minnesota and Chicago, with some of the lowest payrolls in the league, charge some of the highest ticket prices, while high-salaried clubs like the NY Rangers, Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars have ticket prices roughly in the middle of the pack.

It's each market, not the players salaries, that determines what ticket prices will be. That's why Pierre Boivin, president of the Montreal Canadiens, told Stan Fischler back in September than his team won't be lowering their ticket prices under cost certainty. The Habs pay the most taxes out of any team in the NHL, more than all the US based franchises combined. That has nothing to do with salaries.

That's also why, according to a recent report in The Hockey News, that 26 other NHL franchises won't commit to lowering ticket prices under cost certainty.

Next up, Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun:

The soft NBA salary cap that the NHL Players' Association has convinced its sheep-like membership it must fight against, pays the average NBA player just over $4 million US a year. And only a handful of 30 NBA teams spend at or below the cap figure of almost $44 million, in fact, half of the teams in the NBA, including the Raptors, spend at least $10 million more than this year's cap figure and some are over the cap by more than $50 million.

Now, explain in 50 words or less, exactly what the NHLPA is fighting against, or in the words of vice-president Bill Guerin "every player in the NBA hates the cap."

The NHLPA put their foot in it when they made that claim about the NFL, but I'm willing to bet that if the league proposed going to a NBA-style cap tomorrow the PA would happily accept it because of two words: soft cap.

If anything, it would be the NHL that would be against the NBA system. Indeed, I'm surprised the NHL posted this to their CBA website. Are they advocating a soft-cap system? Everything in their "six proposals" and in their rhetoric suggest otherwise.

Next up, this report from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reporter Chris Snow:

Conversations this week with two NHL players, Colorado's Antti Laaksonen and the Wild's Wes Walz, suggest that the NHL Players Association is giving its membership misleading information regarding the labor models proposed by the NHL....NHL officials say this is completely inaccurate.

So either league negotiators never mentioned this no-guaranteed-contracts caveat to the media, or NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow is not telling his guys the facts as they stand.

"Totally the latter," NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly said by e-mail Wednesday. "We have heard that the union has been telling its players that. We have never even discussed the issue of guaranteed contracts with the union.

"Nonguaranteed contracts are a product of history in the NFL and long predated the introduction of the [NFL] salary cap (1993). And the NBA's salary cap has had no impact on that league's ability to employ guaranteed contracts.

"It's all baloney."

I'm not dissing Snow, since all he did was report what both sides told him, but the NY Post subsequently received copies of e-mails sent by Gary Bettman to Bob Goodenow last summer that indicates the league wanted to either change or eliminate guaranteed contracts. You'll notice the league has been silent on that issue ever since the Post broke that story.

Next, Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal -Constitution:

Hockey players are tough guys. But the best thing Goodenow can do now is rent 750 copies of "Norma Rae," because this is the softest bunch of protesters I've ever seen. At last count, 245 players have signed to play in Europe during the lockout.

Now, I suppose if Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers had the means to pack up and move to Bordeaux, France, to pick grapes, they might have done so. But there's something about one-third of your work force touring Switzerland, Italy and assorted sidewalk cafes that screams, "Wake me when it's over." At least NFL players carried picket signs ...

First of all, the players are legally within their rights to seek employment elsewhere when they've been lockout out. Second, they're not on strike yet because there has been no impasse declared by the league. As long as negotiations remain ongoing, there's no requirement for them to go on strike. Third, where sports leagues are concerned, we've only seen players on a picket line the NFL. I didn't see too many baseball and football players carrying picket signs either. Why? Because the NFL hired replacement players, that's why. The NHL hasn't done that yet so there's no reason for the players to go on strike.

A cap is inevitable. The players can lose as much as they want, but it's not going to change how this thing ends.

I'm curious as to how a hard cap is bring to change the way the NHL operates. For starters, we've heard nothing from the league on how it'll be implemented, but if it's all at once, we've heard nothing from them on how half the teams won't be able to sign any players after the other half has gutted their rosters to get down to $33 million. We've also heard no assurances on how the league will ensure teams won't find creative measures around a hard cap, plus most teams won't commit to lowering ticket costs.

As for "how this thing ends", that's anybody's guess right now. It'll be up to Bettman which route the league takes when he makes his counter-proposal tomorrow.

Next up, Bucky Gleason of the Buffalo News:

Players should consider themselves fortunate if this labor dispute costs them only one season because it could cost many more jobs if teams teetering near bankruptcy close their doors for good.

Which teams are those? Which ones are "teetering near bankruptcy"? And how do we know they'll "close their doors for good"? After all, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman did an outstanding job in finding new ownership for the bankrupt Senators and Sabres, who were put in that position by the follies of their previous owners, not by anything their players did.

What about the Pittsburgh Penguins? If they get a new arena and revenue from state-legislated gambling, their fortunes will improve noticeably and they'll stay in business. If not, and owner Mario Lemieux is forced to sell and move the team, you can bet Bettman will do everything in his power to find Mario a buyer. I can hear the rumblings from Winnipeg already.

Goodenow wants a free market in which teams could enforce their own salary cap by adhering to their budgets. It sounds sensible on the surface, but it's hardly realistic. Teams need to be competitive to fill their arenas. Good players are more expensive, which leads to escalating salaries.

Yes it does, but only if owners are willing to be responsible with what they spend, and if they hire management able to build a competitive franchise without spending wildly to do so. That's how the Tampa Bay Lightning rose from laughingstock to Stanley Cup champion in four short years. That's how the Ottawa Senators have remained competitive since 1996-97. That how the Vancouver Canucks rose from free-spending losers in the late 90s to fiscally responsible contenders since 2002.

Players and their agents have contributed to the sharp rise in salaries in recent years, no question, but they wouldn't have gotten away with making outrageous salary demands if it weren't for the willingness of many owners to pay them.

You could ignore the perception of greed and admire the players' solidarity, but even that's not the case. The players' association wants it both ways. One day its members are emphasizing the sanctity of their jobs, the next they're stealing work from European players who need the money more. Their position has not been a unified matter of principle, but individual matters of convenience.

"Stealing jobs from European players who need the money more", eh? Yeah, just like a lot of those washed-up NHL'ers and career minor leaguers did the same thing for years leading up to the lockout. And who hired the current NHL'ers? Why , that would be the owners of those European clubs, who saw an opportunity to make money at the expense of the NHL and put that ahead of loyalty to the players already on their rosters. Proving that owners are the same on both sides of the Atlantic. Hurrah. If those European owners felt any loyalty to those European players, they would've politely told the agents of those current NHL'ers , "thanks, but no thanks". And most of those NHL players now in Europe are there to stay in shape and keep themselves busy, not to make themselves money.

For years, players have grumbled about Goodenow's commitment to star players who have earned more than $10 million while two-thirds pocketed less than the NHL average salary of $1.8 million. The median salary is $990,000, meaning half the players make less than that.No wonder it seems every other day someone from the bottom of the pay scale questions Goodenow's tactics or wonders why he hasn't been more aggressive in negotiations with Bettman. Some have had the audacity to consider the possibility of salary caps that have worked in other leagues. Goodenow shoves them aside.

Goodenow has failed to see that players who are making the least money are often making the most sense. They understand that good money is available in a game in which both sides win.

And if the league gets their way, that median salary would be slashed down to $465, 000, roughly what it was ten years ago. No wonder we haven't heard any more grumbling from fringe NHL players since November 3rd. Once that was explained to them, they realized what they stood to lose. Guys like Mike Commodore, Pierre Dagenais and Brian Pothier now understand that, if Bettman gets his cost certainty, they'll be earning less than $465K, not more, which is what Dagenais ($500 k) and Pothier($625 k) both stood to earn this season.

Goodenow is very much a middle-man guy, and that's where he gets the bulk of his support - not from the fringe or star players, but from the middle of the pack, which is where the largest group of players fall.

Good money is available in a game where both sides win, but that requires compromise on both sides. Thus far, the players have shown the willingness to do that with their three proposals. The NHL, with their hard-line tactics and evasive answers to questions about their cost certainty plans, have not.

Next up, Nashville Scene columnist Randy Horick:

The fans, of course, don't get a seat at the bargaining table. If they did, and if they invited me to park in one of those seats, here's what I would say to the players when my turn came to talk.

"Under the circumstances, maybe you should take a cold, hard look at whether a league whose teams lost north of $250 million last year can really keep paying the average hockey player more than the average NFL player makes (and that's even before you factor in your dental coverage).

The NHL claims they've lost that amount, but they've yet to put out a detailed explanation of those losses, referring instead to the summarized version presented in the Levitt Report.

Forbes Magazine, on the other hand, suggests the league's losses last season were much less than the league reported, less than $100 million. The league blustered that Forbes was guilty of "shoddy journalism", yet they declined to take up the challenge of author Michael K. Ozanian to compare findings.

There's no question the league is losing money, but there's more to those losses than just blaming the players salaries. Icing a boring product that has turned off many fans, particularly in the United States markets, is perhaps the biggest reason.

"The economics of the NHL are more screwed up than Britney Spears' head. If things go on like this, some of the teams around the league won't survive -- and ours in Nashville will be one of them.

Care to explain how the Predators how the Predators turned a $6.2 million profit last season? That ranked them sixth overall in league moneymakers. That wouldn't have anything to do with having with having the league's lowest payroll but charging the fifteenth highest ticket prices, would it? Not bad for a team with the third lowest attendance in the NHL.

"Some of us would be more sympathetic if only we could be paid much more than the market determines to be our value. And it doesn't help that you guys have suggested that maybe contraction -- the euphemism for folding a few teams -- might not be a bad thing."

A view that's shared by a lot of hockey fans and even a few hockey reporters over the years. The NHL's expansion in the 1990s was not based on common sense, but rather on which city had a suitable venue with a potential buyer willing to pay the $80 million US expansion fee.


The word from many reporters following the announcement of the NHLPA's latest offer was "cautious optimism",but not every one was feeling the same way.

Detroit Free Press reporter Nicholas J. Cotsonika warned his readers not to get excited over the proposal, citing comments from Red Wings senior VP Jimmy Devallano that the NHLPA's proposal was a short term fix that failed to provide a long-term solution to the league's problems. Costonika also noted that even if Wings owner Mike Illitch accepted the proposal there are more money-losing owners around who wouldn't.

TSN's Bob McKenzie claims the "off the record" word from the owners is they're not impressed with the players latest offer, for the same reason cited by Cotsonika: a short-term fix for perceived long-term problems.

Boston Globe columnist Kevin Paul Dupont, writing for the New England Hockey Journal, is convinced a hard salary cap is coming, in part because the owners see the money made by NFL owners under their cap system and want the same thing.

And Toronto Globe and Mail Stephen Brunt fully expects the league to either fully reject the NHLPA's proposal or to offer a counter-proposal with a cap system they know the PA will reject. The owners are unwavering in their demand for a hard cap while the players, having justifiably believed they've made all the concessions in this lockout, are equally unwavering in their resistance to such a cap.

It would be easy to write off the opinions of these reporters to pessimism, but they may be more right than we know.

If an influential big market team like the Wings, who lost money over the past two seasons only because they spent large for a Stanley Cup contender that came up short, isn't willing to bite for the 24% savings and other goodies laid on in the players latest offer, the rest of the league might also pass.

With Bettman needing the support of only 8 owners to reject any proposal made by the NHLPA, not having a team like the Red Wings on-side doesn't bode well.

If McKenzie's sources are accurate, the opinion of the players offer as a short-term fix casts further foreboding on what the league's counter-proposal might be.

And the league must make a counter-proposal this time around. If this lockout should eventually go before the labour courts for settlement, the NHL's position will be a weak one without some attempt at genuine negotiation on their part.

If the NHL owners are basing their desire for a hard cap on what the NFL has, they're truly idiotic.

As noted several times by myself, the success of the NFL's system has little to do with their cap. Indeed, their cap system isn't a true hard cap at all, allowing flexibility for teams to spend beyond it thanks to pro-rated contracts.

More importantly for the NFL, they have lucrative revenue streams and a generous revenue sharing plan, which levels the financial playing field for all clubs to be competitive. That's what makes the NFL so successful.

The NHL owners can only dream of such revenue streams, so I doubt very much they're basing their position on their NFL peers.

So what would be the rationale for the league to maintain it's hard line approach?

According to David Shoalts of the Toronto Globe and Mail (who's offered up the most insightful coverage of this lockout), "(T)here is still no indication they will want any part of the luxury tax and revenue-sharing proposal offered by the union. "

If the league succeeds in getting it's cost certainty plan implemented, it would chop the median salary by over half.

Shoalts explains the median salary "is the point where half of the league's players make more than that number and half make less. It has a far greater impact on payroll size than the average salary, which is often drawn higher by one or two players who make $7-million and more."

That would mean the current median of $1.05 million would be reduced to between $465,000 and $495,000 putting it back to almost where it was 10 years ago.

Shoalts also points out that this cap would not be as beneficial to small market clubs like the Edmonton Oilers as fans of those teams believe it would be.

He explains that under a hard cap, the high-spending clubs would bring down their payrolls, thus lowering their expenses and raising their profits.

"If you are the Oilers, whom Forbes said had only $55-million in revenue in 2003-04, how do you feel about seeing the profits of the Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars suddenly skyrocket?" asks Shoalts. "To get the same windfall, the Oilers would have to cut their payroll by half, too."

Ouch! So much for allowing small market clubs to be more competitive.

Shoalts also explains the league would insist on a minimum payroll, which "would be higher than some of the clubs at the bottom end of the scale are spending now. "

So how would the league's cost-certainty system, which seeks a hard cap and offers little in terms of revenue-sharing, work for the lower-revenue clubs?

Shoalts concludes "the rich guys told the Pittsburghs, Floridas and Nashvilles of the league not to worry, that some money would be
coming their way. As mentioned, that money might come from playoff revenues rather than simply having the rich clubs cut cheques."

Shoalts also touched on a point I've raised several times both on this site and on, and that's the question of how teams will be able to maintain their current rosters under cost certainty.

As I've noted several times in recent months, nearly half the teams in the NHL presently have payrolls sitting over $33 million, the figure the league would be seeking to cap payrolls at. If they implement it at once, it would force many teams to gut their rosters to pare themselves down to that level.

Shoalts quotes player agent Pat Morris, who observed that "Fans should know that if the $33.4-million cap is in place when the 2005-06 season starts, there will be 14 teams in the NHL that couldn't sign another
player. The Toronto Maple Leafs, for the '05-06 season, would have $36-million committed and would have to dump players and then they would only have nine players."

Maintaining the hard line approach also serves no purpose for the NHL in terms of their television contracts. While their recent deals with NBC and ESPN are much lower than what they previously had with ABC, they at least assure the NHL remains visible in the United States sports market, particularly the NBC deal which keeps the league on a major network.

If the league's hard-line stance should force the cancellation of this season, it would also cost the NHL the first year of its two-year deal with NBC, which could also in turn put the league's future on the network in jeopardy.

As I've noted many times, the league's evasiveness over direct questioning of their cost certainty plan raises more questions about its impact than it answers.

Conversely, with a luxury tax system, we have a much better how that would work and what impact it would have upon the league, particularly one with significant "teeth" in it, as proposed by former NHL general manager Brian Burke.

A system as proposed by Burke would provide a significant drag on salaries thanks to the harsh penalties imposed on teams who overspend. That wouldn't fully restrict teams from overspending, but it would keep them from the heights reached by many big-market freespenders under the previous CBA. It would still enable teams to maintain the bulk of their present rosters if they so desired.

Best of all, it would guarantee that the taxes from those free-spending teams would benefit the lower revenue teams, something that would be more beneficial than the league's toothless revenue-sharing ideas.

No system is perfect and any luxury tax system, even that proposed by Burke, is bound to have some unforeseen problems arise, but at least such a system makes more sense than the questionable cost certainty pursued by the owners.

That's why perhaps the only way out of this stalemate if both the immediate and long-term future of the league is to be salvaged would be a luxury tax system that is tied to league revenues.

The league, however, has consistently rejected a luxury tax system, and that's why there is foreboding amongst some hockey writers that Bettman's response on Tuesday will prolong, not end, the lockout.

We'll find out soon enough if they're right.


Hey, hey, folks, I'm back!

Before I begin with my take on the NHLPA's latest proposal, I just wanna let you all know that my colonscopy went well yesterday. The prep work for it was worse than the actual procedure, thanks to the painkiller Demerol and the sedative that put me under for the entire 20 minute procedure.

Best of all, I've got a clean bill of health. No cancer polyps or anything life-threatening. My doctor will talk with me later on in the week about the full findings but he assures me there's nothing to worry about.

I'd also like to say thank you to everyone who e-mailed me with their best wishes. I really appreciated it.

And so, with the colonoscopy behind me (sorry, I couldn't resist the pun, even though it's a groaner!), it's now time to look at the NHLPA's latest offer.

I gave a breakdown of the main details of the proposal in my article yesterday for, and Pierre Lebrun offers up a detailed analysis that is worth a look.

First, what must be remembered in all this is that the NHLPA's proposal is simply that: a proposal. In my opinion it is not carved in stone and I'm certain this one is negotiable, same as the previous two.

Some critics still dismiss the PA's latest offer as further window-dressing, that it was designed to score points for the players in the PR war with the league.

A proposal this detailed, offering the concessions that it does, is not mere window-dressing or done for PR purposes. Anyone who dismisses it that blithely simply didn't take the time to read it.

Besides, it must be remembered that the NHLPA decided a long time ago not to waste time with a PR war with the league, for no matter what they said or did, they were never going to win points with the fans, most of whom either aren't aware or don't care about the issues involved.

Besides, it's the labour courts, not the court of public opinion, that matters most.

This is an offer that works on two levels for the PA. First, it is one the NHL has no choice but to address, and two, it'll further buttess their case if this standoff ends up going before the respective labour boards of the United States and Canada.

Offering to rollback 24% in salaries isn't something that can be ignored by the league. You can bet your ass, gag order aside, there are owners who sat up and took notice. You can bet your other ass that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has been talking with many of them about that part of the offer.

If there were any tweaking I'd like to see, it's for that handful of players earning more than $6 million per season having to give back more, say, 30%, and I'd like to see players at the low end of the scale give back less, but that's just quibbling on my part.

The fact is, the more money you're making, the more you're having to give back under this proposal.

The only serious flaw is that, with almost half the season gone already, this isn't going to have the impact on salaries this season as it would if the league played the full 82 game schedule.

If I were an owner, I'd want an extra year tacked onto that proposal, or even push for it to remain in place during the six-year period proposed by the NHLPA.

At the very least, I'd want it in place for the first year of any new contracts signed after the 2006-07 season, or keep any contract extensions signed before that season under that give-back proposal until 2006-07.

There are other noteworthy concessions made, such as lowering the hard cap on base salaries and signing bonuses in entry-level salaries, as well as capping most bonus clauses in those salaries, and offering teams the right to take players to arbitration without having to qualify them.

The changes to the entry-level contracts should meet with approval from the league. That's one area where both sides can easily reach common ground.

Allowing teams the right to take players to arbitration is also something that should meet with the owners approval, and the PA is also willing to negotiate a better arrangement whereby arbitration doesn't work solely for the players benefit. A "high-low" system is bound to meet with approval on both sides.

The changes to qualifying offers for restricted free agents comes up a bit short, but that's something that could be negotiated upon. I think the league would rather see a plan whereby teams only have to make qualifying offers of 75% of the previous contract to retain a players rights.

One of the myths of this lockout is the owners wanted revenue sharing but the players didn't. That simply isn't true. As Lebrun noted in his analysis and the PA put forth in their proposal, the players original proposal offered up $270 million in revenue-sharing, but that was too much for the league, so the association lowered it to $65 million to comply, as Lebrun observed, "with the league's demand".

In other words, the league wants revenue sharing but they're not willing to be as generous as the players. As Lebrun writes, "Revenue sharing isn't a big sell among NHL owners."

Another myth is the players don't care about small market clubs, yet their latest proposal (and their previous ones, I might add) would have the top ten high revenue teams share revenue with the bottom ten-twelve clubs.

But because those high revenue teams don't want to shell out very much, the return to those small markets isn't that large. Still, under the associations proposed luxury tax, those lower revenue teams would get much more in return.

Unfortunately, their latest proposal still lacks sufficient bite, although if the league were to agree to a luxury tax but with much stiffer penalties, the players would no doubt agree.

However, the league has continually rejected the implementation of a luxury tax, stubbornly clinging to their demands for cost certainty.

Gary Bettman and his right-hand man, Bill Daly, continue to be evasive over their reasons for dismissing a luxury tax, but regardless of their reasons, they aren't going to accept one, no matter how tough it might be.

So now the ball is back in Bettman's court.

Words like "cautious optimism" have been floated since the association's proposal, and judging by Bettman's reaction, he was caught by surprise as much as the rest of us were by the players proposal.

He now has no choice. He must move off his sole proposal of last summer (which contained six offers) for "cost certainty", which everyone knows means some form of a hard salary cap, and offer the players something worth keeping negotiations going.

If Bettman comes back with another proposal that's still tied to the hard cap of 53% of revenues, that'll be all she wrote for saving the season, and saving the league.

Rest assured, there's a lot of talk going on behind the scenes right now between Bettman and the owners. What they're discussing can only be speculated upon.

Undoubtedly there are some teams, many of them the big market clubs, who are pushing for Bettman to accept most of the players proposals. A big rollback in salaries is something too juicy to ignore.

A few columnists have pointed out this proposal is only a short-term fix, that there's nothing there to keep salaries under control. Granted, the luxury tax still lacks bite, but if the league were willing to accept such a tax, albeit one with much stiffer penalties for free-spending clubs, it would put more of a drag on salaries.

There are some who believe the real reason for Bettman's hard stance was to extract as many concessions from the players as possible before getting down to serious negotiations.

If that's the case, he won't get much more from them than he's already gotten. That being said, he's been talking about cost certainty for years now, and I don't believe he's going to abandon it now. I don't believe that it was all for show and that he's going to sit down now and start talking luxury tax with NHLPA honcho Bob Goodenow.

Another school of thought suggests Bettman and the owners might try to extract even more from the players, that they feel the players are so desperate to get back to playing that they've got them right where they want them, willing to concede to a hard cap.

Don't believe it. The league will have badly misjudged their opponent if they believe the players are caving. A lot of the players were in shock over the 24% rollback, and some of them were angry about it.

If the league comes back with an offer that's no better than their last one, the players reaction will be one massive "Eff you!"

If the league is thinking of having this settled via the labour courts by filing for an impasse, their case isn't going to be very strong if they fail to show a willingness to negotiate and compromise.

That's what this offer from the NHLPA has done, highlight the willingness of the players to negotiate and the league's unwillingness thus far to do so.

If the league's next offer is another hard cap offer ultimatum like the previous one was, their hopes of winning an impasse with the labour boards are slim at best.

But there's more at stake here for the league than just losing a season or a labour board case. Their new TV contract with NBC, as miniscule as it is compared to their previous deal with ABC, would be in jeopardy. NBC isn't likely to renew their deal if they lose one year out of its two year deal, which means no visibility for the league on a major US TV network.

That visibility in the US market was already slumping badly, but losing the entire season would have the game fall off the radar of most American sports fans entirely.

And it'll have an impact in Canada, where the sport is wildly popular. Already, polls taken by newspapers in the respective NHL cities found many hockey fans are turning to other interests. Worse, some are saying they'll never come back to the NHL, preferring their hockey fix via minor league teams "where people actually care about the game", in the words of one fan.

So far, the league has kept mum on what their plans are. Minnesota Wild GM Doug Risebrough and Detroit Red Wings senior VP Jimmy Devellano dismissed the players offer as a "bandaid", that it didn't address the league's long-term problems.

Since neither man didn't get fined for their statements, they likely still reflect the overall mindset of the league.

Both men are right: it is a short-term fix, but it's one that can form the framework of either building a long-term deal, or at least an interim one that would allow the league to stay active and keep negotiations ongoing toward a long-term deal.

If Bettman is to save the season and save the league, he must come up with an alternative that will address most of his cost-certainty needs but still gives the players something other than a draconian hard cap to consider.

I'm not certain how Bettman would do this, but one scenario was offered by Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, who suggested Bettman attempt to tie the players luxury tax proposal to league revenues.

"For example, the owners could say that the luxury-tax threshold would be fluid based on the amount of revenue taken in", writes Kovacevic. "Some years, that will make the threshold higher than what the players propose, some years lower."

True, the players might still reject that, but it would be hypocritical of them if they did. After all, NHLPA VP Ted Saskin told me in an interview last July that the players understand the market fluctuates and they accept that their salaries would be determined by that.

This would certainly be a unique way for Bettman to settle this stalemate. The union gets their luxury tax and the owners get their cost certainty.

Perhaps another possibility is a cap system that would allow teams to spend over it by a certain percentage to retain their best players, like the NBA, and a system allowing teams to accumulate "cap credits" to allow them to spend over the cap by a certain percentage, like the NFL. At the same time, there would be something in there to assure an increase in revenue sharing toward small market clubs to allow them to remain competitive.

Whatever Bettman comes back with, it has to be something that shows the league is willing to negotiate, unless their "take it or leave it" ultimatum attached to their summer proposal.

The fate of the season and the future of the NHL now rests with the man most hated by hockey fans.

The hockey world will be waiting for Tuesday with bated breath.



As much as I'd love to be commenting on the fallout of yesterday's meeting between the NHL and NHLPA, I'm afraid I won't be up to doing that today.

I'm actually writing this one day prior (that would be Thursday, or yesterday) because I'm preparing for a colonscopy. For those of you unaware with the procedure, following this link for the gory details.

The reason for this is preventative, as this past spring I discovered blood in a place you're not supposed to see the toilet after a bowel movement.

Lovely stuff, eh? Suffice to say, I handled this well...ok, I freaked a little. I am used to seeing my own blood, after all, I played a lot of contact sports in my youth, with the scars to prove it. But there's something about seeing blood in the toilet that just isn't right. For a moment I felt like a character in a Stephen King novel.

Anyway, after a thorough, and I mean thorough examination, it appears that my problem has more to do with hemmoroids than with cancerous polyps. Indeed, since first diagonsed several months ago, I've changed my diet, staying more hydrated and cutting out soda pop and coffee, and have seen no more horrors in my bowl...well, no more than usual.

But my doctor wants to make absolutely certain, hence the colonscopy.

So in preparation, I've spent the past couple of days purging my system and basically living off broth, juice, tea and jello. Lemme tell ya, for a guy like me who loves to eat, this diet sucks!

And to help cleanse my system I've had to drink a bottle per day of Citro-mag, whose slogan should be "feel the rush!" Fortunately, that's given me time to catch up on some of my light reading whilst awaiting the effects to pass.

Thus, I'll be spending the early part of this afternoon on a doctor's table, which won't be so bad as I'll be hooked up to a demerol drip. Having experienced that wonder drug in the aftermath of the serious leg and ankle injury that finished my erstwhile hockey playing days, I can tell you that'll be the best part of the procedure.

But then I'll be sent home to recuperate, which should only take about a day or two at the most, and best of all, I'll be able to eat solid food again, although I'll have to take it slowly at first so I don't give myself painful cramps from overeating.

Of course there is always a possibility that the procedure could uncover something nasty, like cancer, but I'll deal with that if it happens. Needless to say, I like my odds and if anything untoward is discovered, I'll have caught it early before it becomes a real problem

So why am I sharing this with you? It's not to garner sympathy. I'm not dying, or at least I'm pretty damn certain that I'm not.

I think the more you know about colon and prostate cancer, especially if you're a male over 40 as I am, the better your chances of early detection and prevention.

I realize this isn't something most people, especially men, are comfortable dealing with, but when it comes to colon and prostate cancer, this isn't the time to be squeamish, guys.

Besides, when you consider what women have to go through when they make their regular visits with a gynocologist, our "finger-wave" checkup isn't so bad. And while having a colonscopy isn't exactly a comfortable experience, compare that to the labours of childbirth your wife or girlfriend goes through to bring life into the world and you'll be able to keep this in the proper perspective.

Anyway, folks, that's why there won't be a hockey article here today. I'm hopeful that at some point on Saturday I'll feel well enough to share my thoughts on the latest lockout news with you. If not, you'll definitely hear from me on Sunday.

I'll also have an article up on Foxsports later today (which was also written yesterday) which examines the key components of the players offfer.

And remember, it's never too late to get yourself checked. Look after yourselves, gang. You owe it to yourself and the ones you love.


I usually take the time to scan the comments sections of TSN's website regarding a particular story of interest regarding the lockout to read the fans' take on the subject.

As you can imagine, most of those comments pitch blame at the players for being greedy and spoiled, some will level blame at the owners and others will slam both sides.

There are, interestingly, some comments from fans actually hoping the 2003-04 season is lost. These fans are obviously frustrated with this labour dispute, and in venting that frustration believe that, if the season is lost, it'll teach the players, owners or both sides a lesson.

Here's a small sampling:

"I hope there is no season. In fact how about we miss the next 5 seasons until the players come crawling back. I don't need them and I sure as heck don't like listening to Shane Doan sulk. It is a shame that the bottom 2/3 of the players will suffer while the top 1/3 prospers. But you got to do what you got to do to make the game better and it is through a hard CAP."

"Hockey belongs in Canada and the US doesn't have a clue what the game means in Canada. Watch the world juniors and the ratings they will get over Christmas. That will indicate how much hockey is being missed in Canada. I'll be watching the Juniors and it will be the only good hockey I will see all year."

"I hope there is no hockey and they start next year with new players, then we will see plyers coming out of the wood work. Who cares? I hope the owners go bankrupt and the players end up flipping burgers at a fast food joint, because outside of hockey, that's about all they're qualified to do. Losers!! I hope all the players lose their homes and have to get a real job where they have to use their brains. Oh Yea, I forgot, none of them have much of a brain to use."

" I also hope they cancel the season, it might wake up both parties. But cancelling the season, is that such a bad thing? And don't get me wrong I am a huge hockey fan, but this is a chance for everyone in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver to give Canada's national sport a chance.... Lacrosse. Yes I admit it really sucks on TV. The score and sports net have horrible coverage, to really appreciate the game you have to watch it live. The game is much faster then hockey, the players are not a bunch of babies and whiners. The top payed player makes around 21000.00 Yes not an average of over 1 million, and this is passion for these players because they love the sport, it is not about collecting a pay check every 2 weeks. The season gets underway January 1st so if there is still no hockey and/or you are looking for something to do think about it."

" Good news I would like to see the whole season cancelled.We have been held ransom for 1 time too many.I would like to say that I am an avid hockey fan, but am considering boycotting the game even for next year.It's time that we the Fan's take charge of this game and put those selfish players and owners in their right places.I will not watch a nhl game if they come back this season. Looking for support, let's show them who the real boss's are."

"Cancel the season already!!! Give the NHLPA a good 10 months to rethink their position...then cancel next year too!!! Bring back hockey the RIGHT WAY, or NOT AT ALL."

Again, I understand the basis for these comments. These fans are genuinely upset, frustrated by the seeming unwillingness on both sides to compromise and work out a new deal.

That being said, cancelling the season isn't going to force players into flipping burgers. The bottom 2/3'rds of NHL'ers aren't "suffering" considering most of them drew six and seven figure incomes last season. Most of these players are quite intelligent, after all, they were smart enough to parlay their ability to play a game into a lucrative lifestyle most of us can only dream about.

Hockey may not be as big in the US as it is in Canada but that doesn't mean Americans "don't know what to do with the game". That problem rest with the NHL hierarchy, among which are many "hockey men" who supposedly know better.

Ratings for the World Juniors will be higher than normal, but they're always high anyway so that's not really going to be a strong indicator as to how much hockey is "missed" in Canada.

Lacrosse is a fun game, and is actually Canada's official sport, but it's not going to take the place of hockey in the country's heart, regardless of a lengthy lockout.

And if you're "considering" a boycott of the next NHL season if this season is lost, what the heck are you "considering?" Either do it or don't. It's all well and good to suggest the fans should "take back the game", but if this lockout has accomplished anything, it's to dispel the myth that hockey fans have power over the NHL. If we truly had "the power", we wouldn't find ourselves in this situation.

Where were the boycotts of the Stanley Cup playoffs? Where were the boycotts of the World Cup of Hockey? Where was mass protest on any scale in any of the NHL cities?

Perhaps one day hockey fans will be able to use their "power", but until that day comes, our few efforts thus far have done nothing to sway either side.

So what would be the fallout if the 2003-04 season is cancelled?

It'll cost the NHL one year of it's two-year network deal with NBC, and could further jeopardize any possibility of that network picking up the option years in their contract. That in turn will cost the NHL network visibility in the United States. It'll also cost them their current one-year contract with ESPN, who aren't likely to drop the league, but could dramatically reduce broadcasts of future NHL games.

That will drastically impact the league's already-fading visibility in the US sports market, which will bite even further into their revenue streams.

If the league actually succeeds in bringing in replacement players for next season, fans will rebel against continuing to pay NHL prices for AHL calibre games. Remember, of the 30 NHL teams, only 3 have actively committed to reducing ticket prices, two of them - the Buffalo Sabres and Washington Capitals - implemented that plan long before the lockout took place.

Fans will come out to the games once the NHL players return to action, but if an entire season is lost, there won't be quite as many as before, and that includes in Canada. There won't be a mass exodus from the game, but the numbers will be down.

A loss of the season will be a blow to the fringe players, who were counting on finally making six figure salaries this season, some after years of bouncing between the AHL and NHL.

Both sides, owners and players, will have lost millions of dollars, money that neither side will be able to get back. This is especially true for Canadian franchises, who are presently missing an opportunity to cash in now that the Canadian dollar is trading at over .81 cents US.

Most importantly, the damage to the NHL's already batter reputation could be irreparable. It'll be a pyhrric victory for whichever sides "wins" in this labour dispute.

If we're going to hope for anything, it's that both sides show the common sense to pull back from the abyss.


Welcome to another edition of Lockout Point/Counterpoint, where once again, I look at comments made by MSG Network hockey analyst and my fellow contributor, Stan Fischler.

Before proceeding with this week's frolics, a follow-up on yesterday's bit regarding the possibility of Sidney Crosby avoiding the NHL draft and signing as an unrestricted free agent.

I've yet to hear back from the AHL, but one of my readers brought to my attention that players signed by the AHL as free agents apparently must be no younger than 20 years of age.

I'm still attempting to glean more information on this, and if any of you can provide me with links or further substantiation, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Some of you have wondered why Mr. Fischler appears so prominently in my weekly counterpoints. The answer is simply that Mr. Fischler is the most prominant "pro-league" writer out there, providing his take on the lockout every week, while other pro-league writers have posted sporadically.

I hope to use the NHL's CBA website to compile some comments from pro-league reporters in order to address their statements as well. I don't want anything thinking I'm picking on Stan, although I'm sure if he's aware of my little jabs, he probably could care less what I think.

Hey, if I were to even achieve half the success he's had over the years, I probably wouldn't give a damn what some no-name struggling free lancer had to say about my comments either, so what the hell....

This time around, Stan's points are in italics and mine are in bold, just to see if you're all still paying attention. The game is afoot...

What are the odds on a CBA deal emerging from the new meetings? Answer: it depends on your source. One of the highest NHL types simply says, "Anything can happen."

Like I said, hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Gary Bettman won't be over impressed by the reported proposal, believed to be a tax of 75 cents on the dollar on payrolls of $40 million. The reason: there are twenty NHL teams that can't survive on $40 million payrolls.

Oh, really? According to Forbes Magazine, 13 NHL clubs made money last season, of which ten had payrolls under $40 million (in some cases, well under). Meanwhile, of the 17 clubs that lost money, 11 would be considered big market in terms of ownership, location and how much they spent on payrolls. Does anyone really believe teams like the Rangers, Flyers, Red Wings, Avalanche, Stars, and Blues can't survive on $40 million payrolls?

Seems to me that those who spend wisely and show restraint are quite capable of surviving on $40 million payrolls. One of them is the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lighting, and the other the Cup finalist Calgary Flames, both teams who until recently would've been considered "struggling small market franchises". Yeah, I know, the Flames payroll currently isn't at $40 million...but it will be once they re-sign Jarome Iginla. And they will re-sign him, rest assured of that.

However, if the league can push the NHLPA back to $30 million or thereabouts AND a tax of about $1.50 on the dollar, something could come of the talks.

According to Bettman, a luxury tax is "unworkable" and "unpredictable", so if we take him at his word, he won't be interested. But Mr. Fischler makes an interesting suggestion: what if the union offered, say, a $33 million luxury tax ceiling and a tax of over a dollar for every dollar spent? Would Bettman bite? And might NHLPA honcho Bob Goodenow be prepared to make that sort of compromise if the league were to make that their counterproposal, as unlikely as it sounds?

One thing is certain, if there's a tax, it must be a LOT more punitive than the one being offered.

I agree, hit them at least dollar for dollar or don't waste time proposing it.

One informed source tells us that the NHLPA offer provides for no revenue-sharing. This would please a power-broker like the Bruins' boss Jeremy Jacobs.

That's not what their last two proposals contained, and what I've read and heard the association is still apparently willing to discuss it. Bettman has claimed several times that the league is willing to discuss revenue sharing, as has league negotiatior Bill Daly, although they cryptically claim they want to develop this in partnership with the players. Does that mean they'll take the savings from a hard cap system and distribute it accordingly to struggling franchises? Nobody knows for sure since the league hasn't taken the time to explain this.

As for absence of revenue sharing in the NHLPA's upcoming offer pleasing Jeremy Jacobs, it would undoubtedly please other big-market owners like the NY Rangers James Dolan, the Detroit Red Wings Mike Illich and the Philadelphia Flyers Ed Snider. Talk of revenue sharing around them is akin to suggesting communism is a good idea.

Another insider tells us, "I'd be shocked if there isn't at least the nucleus of an NHL-NHLPA deal by next weekend."

I sure hope your insider is right, Stan, I really do. I'm getting tired of this lockout crap, as are most hockey fans. Regardless of where we stand on the issues, I think all hockey fans want this thing resolved soon.

It won't be a quick meeting . There should be lots of talking at the very least. Should a pact be formulated, no more than fifteen days would be required to launch the 2004-2005 season. This means a deal would have to be in place just after the New Year.

Don't bet on it. As Chris Snow of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune pointed out in a recent article, there are many variables this time around, compared to the last lockout, that could take up to a month to resolve before the league is open for business again. That's why if there is to be a resolution, it'll have to be before January 1, 2005.

Players won't mind a quick turnaround because, as one former NHL team president tells us, "The players desperately want the money!"

And what does this former NHL team president base that assumption on? It's not like the rtickle of grumbling from fringe players two months ago has turned into a torrent. If anything, the criticisms have dried up since the meeting between Goodenow and the player reps.

It's not as though the lack of money is decreasing the number of NHL'ers heading to Europe even though the majority will make far less than they're used to. It's not as though they're all openly complaining about the slowness of getting their lockout pay.

Hey, I'm sure there are probably some players who "desperately want the money", but the majority aren't close to reaching that stage yet.

Those who've claimed all along that there would be a season include Brian Burke and Ken Hitchcock.

Both very smart hockey men whom I have a lot of respect for. I sincerely hope they're right, but I wouldn't be singling them out for their prognostic abilities just yet.

Interestingly, no general managers with whom we've talked since their meeting last Thursday see any chance of a resolution.

No surprise there, especially when one considers most of them have apparently been kept out of negotiations this time around.

At the recent Major League Baseball meeting, Bud Selig noted that the player-salary-to-revenues ratio is now 55-45 in favor of ballplayers. "The key," says Selig, "is that we've brought it down from what it was a few years ago - 67-33 in favor of the players." However, the NHL wants NO part of a baseball-style deal.

Be sure that hockey owners and Gary Bettman are aware of that, especially with the hockey ratio an absurd 70-30 or so in favor of the NHLPA!

That's the league's claims, but I've also heard various figures indicating it may already be closer to 60-40. Still a tad high I'll grant you, but remember, the NHL agreed to the last CBA which created that situation in the first place. And don't forget, during the 1992 players strike, the NHL cried poor then, too, claiming the players got the majority of revenues. We'll never know the true amount unless the league comes clean.

About a dozen different publications have produced a "solution" to the CBA impasse. None have come remotely close, to meeting the NHL's "Cost Certainty" needs.

Well, if we knew what the NHL's true losses were, perhaps we could all come up with a solution to meeting those needs. No one's arguing the league lost money, where the dispute lies is in how much they've really lost. If the figures are closer to the findings of Forbes Magazine, then the various luxury tax scenarios and other proposed solutions stand a good chance of working.

Best of the bunch came from The Hockey News.

Which suggested a luxury tax as well as a hard cap, which was also what formed the heart of the "TSN Solution".

"A Luxury Tax won't work," asserts Gary Bettman. "And it will create potential for future disaster in the NHL. It's guesswork." After the commissioner made such comments before Edmonton's Chamber of Commerce, he won a standing ovation.

Bettman has yet to spell out how a luxury tax would be so disastrous for the NHL, or how it's "guesswork". As for the standing "O" he got in Edmonton, that should've gone to the rising Canadian dollar, which is now sitting at around .85 cent US, which has helped boost the Edmonton Oilers into the black over the last two seasons, and also makes it possible for the Oilers to retain their best players, something they weren't capable of when the "loonie" was trading at a measly .62 cents several years ago.

One reason the NHLPA kept - despite reports to the contrary - denying it had a new CBA offer ready to present is that the union has been kept off-balance. It continued hoping for a Bettman "drop-dead" date for ending the season but the league wouldn't make such an announcement. NHLPA strategy always is to reveal its "best-offer" just days before the "Drop-dead" date. Without one this time, the "union" was forced to make its move sooner than usual.

Common sense and a calendar dictated that an undeclared drop-dead date would be December 15th. The NHL has been cancelling its games 45 days in advance, and presently they've cancelled the schedule up to the middle of January 2005. After December 15th, they'd cancel games to the end of January, which would effectively wipe out the season. The NHLPA didn't need to await the announcement of a "drop-dead" date.

There was speculation since the player reps meeting with Goodenow back in early November that a new proposal was coming from the union for early December, so this hardly comes as making their move sooner than expected. If anything, they're right on time, launching their proposal less than a week before the league would be forced to cancel the remainder of the January games and thus effectively cancelling the season.

A key outcome of the general managers' meeting was widespread approval of the "Tag-up Rule," which is sure to be a part of the New NHL. Limitations on goalies is drawing mixed reviews. On one side is John Muckler who opines, "Goalies belong in the nets." Teams with solid-stickhandling netminders disagree. This will be a tough one for Bettman, Inc. to adjudicate.

The GMs may not like it but a streamlined "Shootout" is virtually guaranteed as part of the revised NHL rules. As one league official tells us, "Coaches and general managers may not like it but they don't pay for their tickets. The fans love it and they're our customers."

As I've said in the past, if this season were truly lost, why would the NHL be in talks with NBC over ways to improve the product for television broadcast?

Maybe it's just for show, maybe they're just working on it anyway just in case things work out...or perhaps the league doesn't want to risk losing half of their two-year contract with NBC? As they say in TV lingo, "stay tuned"....

The NHLPA's suspension of highly-respected agent Bryant McBride may be illegal. At least that's the opinion of a New York lawyer familiar with the practice. "First of all," the attorney tells us, "you don't need credentials to be an agent. Secondly, who is Bob Goodenow to certify which agent is 'legitimate' or 'illegitimate'? His practice of 'certification' may have no legal basis in a court of law."

We'll find out soon enough as McBride intends to clear his name. As for McBride, he's not suggesting taking the NHLPA to court over the matter. "It has come to my attention that over the past month an ex-employee (of mine) shared confidential NHLPA information with a member of the media," McBride told TSN. "I understand and respect the NHLPA's position on this matter and we are working closely with the NHLPA to resolve the matter quickly."

Coaching in Dusseldorf, Butch Goring tells us that for many NHLers, playing in Europe is no fun. "On several teams," says Goring, "North Americans are the only English-speakers on their teams. They're all by themselves, and a lot of them are playing for little money."

Which NHL'ers is Goring referring to? How many of them "aren't having any fun"? I'm sure there probably are some North American NHL'ers who aren't enjoying themselves in Europe, but you can counter that with numerous articles on just how much fun others are having.

If playing in Europe isn't any fun, why are their numbers growing? And don't tell me they're doing it for the money because that's a farce. Those North Americans are willing to risk injury and culture shock to continue playing competitive hockey. If it were all about the money, most of them wouldn't be there.

Darcy Regier says he's in Kevin Lowe's boat in terms of a new CBA. "Like Kevin," Regier tells us, "I wouldn't want another four years (of negotiating) the way we had. After the bankruptcy (of the Sabres) we've been through, Buffalo needs an agreement that'll enable us to compete."

No, what Buffalo needs is an owner who isn't a crook, like previous owner John Rigas, who was the reason why the Sabres went bankrupt. Under new owner Tom Golisano, their future should be brighter than their past, with or without "cost certainty".

Interesting comment from the Toronto Star's Ken Campbell after watching an AHL game: "One commodity that could make replacement players a lot more fun to watch than the best players in the world is mistakes."

Oh, yeah, that'll be a blast, especially at an average of almost $44 bucks a pop! And don't try to tell me NHL franchises will significantly lower their ticket prices if they hired replacement players. I've shot that argument full of enough holes already. If you wanna watch mistake-filled games, go watch pee-wee hockey. Those kids are still learning the game and come by their mistakes honestly, which makes it endearingly entertaining, and best of all, it's free!

Without a 2004-2005 season, Pat Quinn's contract runs out. Some in the Toronto press corps believe that John Ferguson, Jr. will opt for a younger head coach. Personally, we'd keep Quinn!

And he's won what exactly as Maple Leafs head coach? Quinn's been there seven years but he's hasn't come close to ending the Leafs Cup drought.

NHL Fans' Association prexy Jim Boone says his group's study reveals that "Nine out of ten of our fans support some sort of Salary Cap." Careful, Jim, or Bob Goodenow will de-certify you!!

Ah,yes, another week, another gratuitous swipe at Goodenow. I know you don't like the guy, Stan, but you're letting it interfere with your professionalism.

As for Jim's study, here's the link to the results which clearly finds that " Eighty nine percent (89%) of our Members clearly support a salary cap or strict luxury tax for NHL teams' players' salaries." That's salary cap OR strict luxury tax, Stan. And "some form of salary cap" would also mean a luxury tax, since a luxury tax is also consider a cap on salaries.

By the way, if any of you wanna ensure that we don't end up facing yet another return to a lengthy lockout somewhere in the future after the current one is settled, then sign up with the NHLFA. They need 75,000 members in order to merit attention from the league in any labour talks, so go sign up now! We couldn't prevent this lockout, but hopefully we can have a hand in preventing another one.

Howard Baldwin's hot film, "Ray," could win an Oscar. His next hit flick will be "Sahara." His next team could be Anaheim.

If that's true, that'll make the Mighty Ducks the 13th team to change ownership since 2000. But remember, nobody is interested in buying an NHL franchise...


One question on the minds of hockey fans lately is, what will become of the June 2005 entry draft if the NHL lockout should drag on that long?

Some believe, or hope, the NHL will conduct the draft regardless, and either use the same draft order as last season, or conduct a lottery of the lowest-placed clubs to determine who would get the coveted number one pick.

And that pick would be highly valuable, perhaps the most valuable since Eric Lindros in 1991. For whoever gets that pick would have the rights to draft Quebec Major Junior League sensation Sidney Crosby, ranked by all scouts as not only the best prospect in the world, but also the best since Lindros.

Crosby isn't the same style of player as Lindros was at eighteen. At 5' 11 and 180 lbs, Crosby is considerable smaller. He doesn't play the same physical style as Lindros did.

What Crosby lacks in size, however, he makes up for in offensive wizardry, drawing favourable comparisons to none other than the Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky.

Indeed, Gretzky is so smitten with young Crosby he believes the Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native will one day break some of his NHL records.

To have that kind of endorsement from the greatest offensive player the NHL has ever seen ratchets up Crosby's value. Essentially, Gretzky has all but tabbed Crosby as his heir apparent, the true "Next One" to take up the mantle from 99 that was bobbled and dropped by Lindros and Jaromir Jagr.

So we can understand why some hockey fans are curious as to what will happen with the June 2005. Whoever lands the first overall pick will have their hands on a rare gem, a true franchise player like Orr, Potvin, Gretzky and Lemieux, around which one day a Cup champion can be built around.

Unfortunately, according to NHL rules, there cannot be an entry draft without a collective bargaining agreement in place. Should the lockout still be in effect by next June, or if it's progressed to an impasse to be settled in the labour courts, or if the players have moved into strike position, there won't be an entry draft.

It would stand to reason, therefore, that Crosby and the other junior and college players would have to wait until June 2006 before they could become eligible to be drafted. It's also possible that, if the labour dispute were settled between June 2005 and June 2006, that some form of "quickie draft" would be held, possibly one lasting only three or four rounds, thus ensuring the very best prospects were selected.

There is, however, another possibility: free agency.

As noted in a recent TSN report, if there is no entry draft in June 2005, Crosby and many of his fellow prospects could become unrestricted free agents, available to the highest bidder.

That doesn't mean NHL teams will be able to bid for his services, considering they're restricted from signing players as long as there is no CBA in place. But that doesn't mean their AHL farmteams couldn't get into the bidding.

There's also the possibility of Crosby getting snapped up by a wealthy European league club, say, Davos or MoDo or several of the Russian Elite League clubs.

As noted by Crosby's agents, their client won't sign with an NHL franchise if it were to start up next season with replacement players. If NHL regulars aren't playing in the NHL, then neither will Crosby.

If Crosby does opt for free agency, signing with an AHL club would be his quickest ticket to the NHL once it starts up for real. However, if the NHL is using replacements, that would leave him open to being called up, and since he has no desire to play in an NHL without its regulars, that could put him in an awkward situation.

If the lockout is still in effect, Europe would be the more logical choice. He'll earn a nice, big contract and would face off against genuine NHL talent. The ranks of the European leagues have swelled during this lockout, with almost 300 NHL'ers currently playing there. Those numbers could increase significantly if this NHL labour stoppage drags on into next season.

But consider the AHL option. Players on AHL contracts are on what's known as "two-way" contracts, in that their salaries will jump past the NHL minimum (which was $325,000 under the previous CBA), but they'll earn considerably less if they're sent down to the AHL, in many cases much less than $100,000 per season.

While NHL teams currently cannot sign new players, their affiliates can. And there's bound to be some creative stipulations that could be worked out between Crosby's agents and whichever AHL affiliate he signs with that could ensure the young phenom is handsomely compensated beyond the standard pay of an AHL player.

Would Crosby then become the exclusive property of that AHL's teams NHL affiliate? Currently I'm awaiting word from the AHL head office on that, but if he does, that could make for an interesting bidding war between NHL teams as to which AHL affliate Crosby might sign with.

Remember, the AHL is essentially a development league for prospects drafted by National Hockey League teams, and all their franchises are affiliated with NHL franchises.

I'm still developing this story and hopefully I'll have a full update later today, which will shed light one way or the other on how this could play out.


OK, I know what the obvious gift is, that the NHL and NHLPA reach an agreement in time to save the season and give us our game back. But really, that's not something your loved ones can give you, hockey fans, so make your lists more realistic.

Since the Christmas season is upon, and I'm not in the mood today to write yet another depressing article on how both sides are entrenched and refusing to budge and how the upcoming meetings won't solve anything, I've decided instead today to post up Christmas gift suggestions for hockey fans.

First off, for kids there's Number Four, Bobby Orr, a story about a young hockey fan who injures his leg and gets a visit in the hospital from his hero, none other than Orr himself.

There's also the timeless classic "The Sweater", about author Roch Carrier's boyhood in the 1950s spent cheering for the Montreal Canadiens and it's captain, the great Maurice "Rocket" Richard.

For those interested in where the heart of hockey lies in the United States, check out "Frozen Memories: celebrating a century of Minnesota Hockey" by Ross Bernstein.

Another Bernstein title worth a look is "Remembering Herbie", a recollection of the life and times of legendary USA Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks. Speaking of coaches, "Roger's World: the Life and Unusual Times of Roger Nielson" by Wayne Scanlan about the well-travelled NHL coach is worth a read.

If, like me, you grew up watching the game in the 1970s, you can indulge your nostalgia with "Hockey in the Seventies: The Game We Knew", by Mike Leonetti, who also wrote "Number Four, Bobby Orr". It's a terrific look back at a unique age in pro hockey, with recollections by many players who were a part of it.

For the goaltender on your list, check out "Without Fear: Hockey's 50 Greatest Goaltenders". For the Mark Messier fan, there's his biography, "Messier", written by Jeff Z. Klein.

For those of you still wondering how the NHL wound up embroiled in the current nasty labour dispute with its players, I heartily recommend "Money Players", by Bruce Dowbiggin.

Another book that gets my high recommendation is Ken Dryden's "The Game" now updated to include Dryden's thoughts on the evolution of the NHL since he played for the Montreal Canadiens in the 1970s.

If the hockey nut in your family isn't into books, perhaps he or she would prefer a DVD?

For a unique look at the biggest names in the game's history, check out "Legends of Hockey: the First Season" and "Legends of Hockey: the Second Season". For a detailed history of the Stanley Cup, there's "Lord Stanley's Cup", although it only goes as far as the 2000 Finals.

To relive the classic Summit Series of 1972, there's "Canada's Team of the Century: The Best of '72", with all eight games in their entirety. Another terrific bit of hockey history worth revisiting on video is that of the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team's "Miracle on Ice", presented as the HBO documentary "Do You Believe in Miracles?"

Perhaps you'd like to reminisce about recent hockey history? Then why not check out "NHL Heritage Classic: A November to Remember", featuring both games between the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens oldtimers and the 2003-04 version, played before over 50,000 fans in sub-zero temperatures at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. Hockey as it was meant to be played: outdoors in the cold!

Finally, no hockey DVD collection is complete without a tribute to Wayne Gretzky, and "Ultimate Gretzky" is just that: the ultimate tribute to hockey's greatest player.

For more great hockey gift ideas, check out or your local book and video retail stores. If any of you can think of any other cool gifts for hockey fans you'd like to share, drop me an e-mail and I'll post it in my "Fans Speak Out" section.


Since this lockout began we've been bombarded by claims the NHL, sustaining huge losses, must establish a cost certainty system tying player salaries to revenues.

Whether you believe the NHL's claims ($497 million over the past two years) or Forbes Magazine (just over $200 million over the same period), it's apparent the owners concerns over losses are genuine.

Or is it?

According to Damien Cox of the Toronto Star and Bruce Dowbiggin of the Calgary Herald, the owners aren't as concerned about their losses so much as they're concerned about the value of their franchises.

Regardless of what fans or media feel toward NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, one thing everyone can agree on is that franchise values under his tenure have increased significantly during his tenure.

According to the website HockeyZonePlus:

- The average value of an NHL franchise in 1999 was 2.7 times what it was in 1991.

- The value of the Washington Capitals more than quadrupled (4.5) between 1991 and 1998, while it more that tripled for the Rangers (3.1), Flyers (3.7), Blues (3.9), Devils (3) and Stars (3.5).

- Los Angeles, Calgary, Edmonton, and Carolina are the 4 franchises that increased their value by the smallest margin (less than doubled) between 1991 and 1998.

Forbes Magazine reports the average NHL franchise is now worth $163 million, "up 3% from last year and 31% higher than when we first valued them six years ago."

Forbes also noted that the last four teams to join the NHL - the Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild and Atlanta Thrashers - are now worth an average of $130 million, a significant increase from the $80 million each club paid in expansion fees.

The San Jose Sharks, who paid $50 million to join the league in 1990, were sold by the Gund brothers for $147 million. The Phoenix Coyotes, purchased by Steven Ellman for $127 million, are expected to be worth $155 million by 2005.

In 2002, the Detroit Red Wings saw their value jump 18% to $266 million, while the Carolina Hurricanes, who lost to the Wings in the Stanley Cup finals, saw their value increase that year by 23% to 128 million.

There's been claims that NHL franchises are "plummeting" in value in recent years, but this report by Forbes indicates 19 of thirty clubs actually increased in value last season.

What's interesting is that the top three clubs to show the most improvement in that ranking were Canadian teams - Calgary, Vancouver and Montreal. Three other clubs to show improvement last season were the Tampa Bay Lightning, San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators.

Notice a common link? All but the Canucks made significant improvement on the ice last season, with two of those clubs reaching the Stanley Cup finals.

But even teams that failed to make the playoffs, such as the Phoenix Coyotes, Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers and LA Kings, gained in value last season.

Interestingly, of the 11 clubs that decreased in value, three were playoff clubs, two of them "big market" teams - the Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues and the New Jersey Devils, the latter having lost the most value, down 14 percent.

As Damien Cox noted in his piece for ESPN, if we believe the NHL's claims of enormous losses, why is Bettman still running the NHL?

The answer, of course, is because of the rise in franchise values under Bettman's tenure. As Cox puts it, "How you make money in the NHL is still mostly about how much you paid for your team and how much you can sell it for."

Cox makes a convincing argument that the real reason for this lockout isn't about profit and loss, but rather solidifying and bolstering the value of the teams. Owners are apparently willing to accept losses as long as their teams' value increases.

That explains why, in the midst of this nasty labour dispute between players and owners, fifty percent of the Vancouver Canucks was sold to a Vancouver businessman.

If the NHL, or the Canucks, were doing poorly, it would make no sense for anyone to buy half of a team, and certainly not during a lengthy work stoppage.

Not only were the Canucks able to find a buyer for 50% of the franchise, they also had other parties interested prior to the sale to Francesco Aquilini.

So what does this have to do with the lockout? Cox quotes University of Illinois sports law professor Stephen Ross for the answer.

"If the Vancouver Canucks can make money in an environment where there is no cost certainty, then they can make even more money in an environment where there is cost certainly,"said Ross.

In other words, the owners could make more money if they had a hard cap on player salaries.

As for Bettman's comments that Canadian teams like the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames have no future without cost certainty, Cox argues that "the truth is the Canadian teams are faring far better than many of their U.S. counterparts these days, helped by the enormous improvement of the Canadian dollar in recent months. Clearly, you'd rather own the Oilers or Canucks than the Mighty Ducks."

To summarize, the owners are more concerned about the equity of their franchises than with profit and loss. Their desire to control player salaries isn't to reduce their losses as much as it's to make more money to bolster frachise values. And thanks to the rising Canadian dollar (now worth .85 cents US), Canadian franchises are in much better shape than they were four years ago, when the dollar was trading at .63 cents US.

If the league achieves cost certainty, any reduction in ticket prices will be minimal at best. Supposedly "struggling" franchises are actually worth more today than they were when they joined the league. In most cases, a franchise value is tied to either their market or their on-ice success. Most telling, the real reason for the decline in Canadian franchises in the late 90s and the turn of the century was tied to the decline in the Canadian dollar.

Going by these facts, it's obvious this lockout isn't being done by the owners "for the good of the game", but rather, for the good of their respective franchise equity.


...because quite frankly, I'm getting tired of this lockout crap.

Oh, I knew going into this that it would be a lengthy one, that we'd lose at least half the season, possibly the entire season, possibly more than that.

I also knew it wasn't going to be easy at times to provide daily coverage, but it would be necessary both to keep my website up and to keep me busy while both Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow slung mud at each other.

I also knew it would impact the number of hockey fans who came to this site for their daily dose of trade rumours, commentary from other fans, and of course my own weekly take on the latest hockey news.

For those of you who've stuck it out with me and kept returning to this site, even if you didn't agree with me, I thank you.

I also know that my coverage of this lockout has probably cost me some readers who, once the league finally starts back up again, aren't likely to return. But hey, that's the price of writing what I believe, instead of going against my feelings to swim with the tide.

No, don't read into this that I'm about to shut down my site or stop covering the game. Even if I felt that way, I wouldn't give my critics the satisfaction.

It's just that, today, as I sat here and prepared to write, all I could think about was, "man, I'm getting pretty sick of writing about almost nothing else but the lockout".

It's not as though there aren't other things to write about. There's the growing number of players heading for Europe and how they're coping. There's also a few unaddressed topics from The Hockey News' "Great Debates" issue worth mulling over. My now-growing collection of classic hockey games, courtesy of TSN (don't worry, I don't plan on making copies for anyone else for fun and profit), inspires at least half-a-dozen articles wallowing in nostalgia.

But for today, I cannot bring myself to comment on any of that. All that dominates my thoughts today is how much I've grown to loath this lockout, and how much growing resentment I have toward both sides.

Again, I feel the players have presented the best proposals and have the facts on their side. Until the league makes full disclosure of their finances to prove they're in as bad shape as they claim to be, I'm not buying their arguments.

That doesn't mean, however, that I'm an enthusiastic supporter of the players side. Nor for that matter does it mean that I don't believe they can't give up more.

I should be cautiously optimistic about the December 9th meeting between both sides, the first in three months, and Buddha knows I am by nature optimistic.

But as I noted both here yesterday and in my latest article for, both sides have given us little to be optimistic about.

The league has said for weeks they won't entertain a luxury tax proposal. I know Bill Daly said he wouldn't automatically reject the players new proposal if, as widely expected, a luxury tax system is in it. Yet, earlier this week, TSN quoted both Daly and Bettman calling a luxury tax "unworkable", "guesswork" and "unpredictable".

For them to suddenly change their minds because a new proposed luxury tax has more "teeth" in it...well, let's just say leopards don't change their spots.

Oh, I'm sure the league will take their time looking this one over, rather than rejecting it within a day. I even believe they'll actually compliment the players for "getting serious" with negotiations. They might even find a few things worth implementing.

But they'll still consider a luxury tax "unworkable". The only difference is, this time, Daly will make a counter-proposal and put the ball back in the NHLPA's court.

What that counter-proposal contains will either be a face-saving system that the players still might not like but they might be willing to accept if, say, they could get a few concessions from the league on the issues they really want to address, like the lowering of the UFA eligibility age to 29, or it'll be yet another demand for a hard cap that the union will summarily reject.

The league will want to get the last word in this one. They knew the players would make at least one more pitch before the drop-dead date to save the season, if for nothing else than to gain some points in the nasty PR war between themselves and the league.

So what better way for the league to gain back some of the PR ground they've lost in recent weeks (thanks to the Forbes Magazine report and the league's unwillingness to commit to lowering ticket prices) than to put the fate of the season squarely in the hands of the players?

Oh, you thought there wasn't a drop-dead date to save the season?

Just because Bettman hasn't announced one doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Do the math, based on the league's 45-day cancellation schedule, and you'll find that, as of now, all games up to mid-January 2005 have been cancelled.

In order to save the season, a deal, or at least the framework of one, has to be in place before December 15th.

Otherwise, Bettman gives the order to cancel the remainder of the games for January, and the 2004-05 season is lost.

So really, the fate of the season rests on what happens between now and December 15th. Only 12 days.

Of course, this is how Goodenow like to negotiate. He's famous (or infamous, depending on your opinion of him) for his 11th-hour negotiating tactics, designed to put pressure on the league to get a deal in place to save the season. It worked in 1992 and 1995, so why not in 2004?

But Bettman is no slouch in negotiations either. The deal reached in 1995 to save the season was forced by too many owners worried about losing money, which had Bettman negotiating from a position of weakness. Still, given that he had to negotiate with one hand tied behind his back, Bettman proved to be Goodenow's equal.

So really, who can blame Bettman for both demanding the complete support of the owners this time around, even at the point of a gag order.

A few of my readers have taken me to task for blaming Bettman for that gag order, one even claiming the owners brought it up themselves and voted for it. Perhaps they did, although I haven't found anything on the internet that supports that claim. If any of you do have a link for this, send it my way.

Regardless, it's still Bettman enforcing the order. If the owners have to gag themselves, that only adds fuel to the belief these guys need to save themselves from each other.

Ultimately, I'm getting sick and tired of writing about this nonsense. I want this lockout to end. I'm fed up with both sides blaming each other instead of working together to find common ground.

The NHL is dying, folks. The on-ice product stinks, thanks to over-expansion and uncalled obstruction. Ticket prices are astronomical and prices middle-class fans out of the market. Most fans are sick of players demanding outrageous salaries and owners acquiesing to those demands. TV ratings in the United States are below those of poker, tractor pulls and bowling. Sorry, but the first two aren't sports and the last one, while I enjoy it, shouldn't be out-rating professional hockey.

It's time for both sides to reach an agreement that'll not only save this season but save themselves. The future of the NHL depends on it.

If the league doesn't want to contract clubs, then they'd better make real, positive changes to improve the quality of the product, instead of half-hearted notions that accomplish nothing. They must be willing to lower ticket prices. Players must be willing to accept some form of controls on their salaries. Owners must stop stabbing each other in the back and instead work with the players toward improving the overall health of the league.

While covering this lockout has, in my own humble opinion, made me a better commentator on the sport and broadened my knowledge of the business side of pro hockey, I'm fed up with it being the only issue to write about.

I wanna get back to covering the latest trade and free agent rumours. I wanna get back to just covering the biggest news on a twice-weekly basis. The contributors to my site wanna have something exciting to write about again.

And you, my readers, wanna have our game back.

They'd better bring it back, because I really don't know if I can handle six more months of covering this pissing contest.

Oh, I'll still do it...but I ain't gonna enjoy it.

Hey, maybe there's poker on TV tonight....


So here I was, tired of all the media sniping between the NHL and NHLPA, ready to fire off a nasty rant demanding both sides get their respective acts together and get their asses back to the bargaining table, when I received the following in my e-mail, courtesy of the NHLPA's media manager:

"The National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) confirms today that NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow sent a letter this morning to Gary Bettman inviting the League’s Negotiating Committee to attend a meeting in Toronto next week with the NHLPA Executive Committee and senior NHLPA officials.

The letter also confirms that the NHLPA is working on a new proposal which it believes should provide the basis for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and thus end the owners’ lockout.

“Almost three months have passed since the players made their last proposal and we have yet to receive a counter-offer from the league. We have been working hard at other creative solutions and believe our new proposal will provide a basis to end the owners’ lockout and resume NHL hockey,” Bob Goodenow, NHLPA executive director."

A couple of e-mails down, I saw the following, courtesy of NHL Public Relations:

"Bill Daly, NHL Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer, today released the following statement:

"We look forward to meeting with the NHL Players' Association nextweek. We are hopeful that the NHLPA's offer will be a meaningful effort toaddress the League's economic problems. When we receive the proposal, wewill evaluate it closely and respond appropriately."

So do we get excited that, at long last, both sides appear to have wearied of their media pissing contest and are ready to get down to real negotiations?

Or do we greet this with cautious optimism, considering the warning signs we've heard in the press over the past couple of weeks?

In case you're either a casual follower of this deranged soap opera known as "The NHL Lockout", or you've got a real life and don't get wrapped up into this crap like I have, you'll know that for the past two weeks the media forewarned us that the NHLPA, their public denials to the contrary, were preparing another proposal for the NHL's consideration.

You'll also know that it's believed the association will offer a ten percent one-time salary giveback, more proposed changes to the salary arbitraiton system, and a luxury tax with a lower ceiling and stiffer penalties worth .75 cents on the dollar.

If those are the main points in the NHLPA's offer, you'll understand this isn't anything to get excited about, not because the offer isn't an improvement over their last two, but because the NHL has flatly stated they won't consider any offer with a luxury tax as its centerpiece.

And we all know what that means: the league will reject it out of hand and once again accuse the players of unwillingness to conduct meaningful negotiations.

Bill Daly hinted he'd be willing to offer up a seventh proposal from the six the league offered last July if he had a good starting point. As I pointed out in my last article, the luxury tax proposal won't be that starting point.

Still, it's possible that, to both make themselves look good in the eyes of the public and to buttress an eventual attempt to bring in replacement players, the league may make that seventh proposal.

Let's be clear here: unless the union is prepared to concede to something that ties salaries to revenues, the league apparently is unwilling to listen.

And if the league is unwilling to consider some of the points in the association's proposals, the players will also be unwilling to listen.

So is this news of a meeting next week between the two sides a genuine attempt to save the season, for both sides to make concessions and finally hammer out a workable new CBA? Or is it just more posturing as we've seen over the past two and a half months?

It had better be for real, because this lockout is souring everyone.

I make no secret that I believe the NHLPA's case is stronger than the NHL's. I've posted here for months as to where I stand on this lockout and I'm not about to rehash it all over again. Check out the archives of the past year if you wanna re-read it.

Given all that, I believe the players still need to show a willingness to meet the owners halfway regarding a cap. They don't have to accept the all-encompassing $33 million, but surely they could accept a ceiling on individual salaries, or accept an overall cap set at a higher level.

Or perhaps they could propose something along the line of the NFL's system, which the league loves trotting out as an example of how a cap system can work.

I also believe that, failing that, the players should be willing to give up on guaranteed contracts, provided there are stipulations in place to ensure a team doesn't attempt to take advantage of it for reasons other than the player's performance.

Giving in to a less draconian cap or non-guaranteed salaries this time around doesn't mean the league stays with a harsh cap forever or the players won't get a chance to get back guaranteed contracts again the next time around.

Besides, as the old saying goes, you've gotta give a little to get a little.

It's entirely possible that this is another one of Goodenow's famous "11th hour" approaches, whereby he waits until time appears to be running out to get a deal in place and then he makes his real pitch and begins negotiating in earnest.

It may well be that his previous two proposals were so "over the top", that he deliberately shot for the moon in the first two, that he could scale this third one down to get what he really wants for the players.

Bettman and Daly might be playing the same game as well, claiming to be holding out for a hard cap in order to extract further concessions from the NHLPA.

Regardless, the league also has to be willing to give in order to get. Whether that means accepting some of the union's proposals to achieve a lesser version of the "cost certainty" they seek remains to be seen, but it appears to be the more logical course.

Perhaps what both sides could arrive at is some form of flexible cap system that would restrict overspending only to re-signing key free agents, something that's done in the NBA. Perhaps a team might accumulate "cap credits" over time to allow them to overspend to a certain amount for a short period of time, along the lines of the NFL's system. Or perhaps there will be acceptance of non-guaranteed, pro-rated contracts and a lowering of the UFA age limit.

Your guess is as good as theirs. Buddha knows there's been enough proposals made in the media by knowledgeable hockey people that contain enough ideas to cobble together a workable solution.

But if this is just another move in the grand chess game between Bettman and Goodenow that resolves nothing and costs the league the 2004-05 season, the consequences to the National Hockey League will shake it to its very foundations.

Poll after poll shows a growing majority of fans in the United States aren't missing the NHL. Worse, that number is also growing in Canada. If Canadians are getting turned off by this lockout nonsense, it spells trouble.

Indeed, polls in both the Montreal Gazette and Ottawa Citizen show fans in both cities are getting fed up with both sides. That number is likely reflective in the other major NHL cities in Canada.

It really doesn't matter if there are a larger percentage supporting the owners in part of a poll when the large majority of the poll blames both sides equally.

And that gets back to my original point, that I was going to launch into a rant today lashing out at both sides for not ending this nonsense and their seeming unwillingness to negotiate.

As I said, I believe the players have a stronger case than the owners, but if this lockout costs the 2004-05 season, the players will be just as much to blame as the owners for the fallout.

That means a substantial hit to the fanbase, both in Canada and the United States. That translates into fewers butts in seats, which means less revenue from the gate, which is what the NHL relies on for its survival.

That means the loss of the first year of the NHL's two-year contract with NBC, which could jeopardize the league's hopes of improving its ratings in order to remain on network television.

That means the loss of the 2004-05 contract with ESPN, which has already dropped the number of broadcasts of NHL games over the past several years. Even if ESPN were to re-up with the league for an option year in 2005-06, it's possible they could further reduce the number of NHL games they broadcast.

That means that, regardless of the outcome of the lockout, several teams could be well on the road to contraction.

That also means the NHL's European talent pool could take a hit, as emboldened European clubs might try to woo some of the better European players.

That also means there won't be as much money to pay the players as much as they expect to be paid.

Perhaps this is merely part of the game plan. Perhaps all the posturing of the past three months was just there for public consumption as both sides prepared for the real negotiations to take place in December in order to get a season-saving deal in place in time.

We'll find out soon enough.

Until then, do what I'm doing: hope for the best, prepare for the worst.


Welcome to another edition of Lockout Point/Counterpoint, where once again, I look at comments made by MSG Network hockey analyst and my fellow contributor, Stan Fischler. As always, Stan's points are in bold and mine are in italics. Let the games begin!

The general managers' meeting with Gary Bettman on Thursday (December 2) won't affect the labor-management deadlock a bit. To a man, GMs are behind The Commish, having recognized overspending errors of the past.

Yeah, that's why, in one of the NHL's six proposals to the NHLPA, they wanted to ensure those dopey GMs never make those overspending mistakes again by taking contract negotiations out of their hands and into those of the league front office. I'll bet some of the more savvier GMs, like Pierre Lacroix, Lou Lamoriello, and Bob Gainey are just thrilled about losing that measure of control. Dave Nonis and Kevin Lowe are probably just tickled about being lumped in with the more fiscally inept of their compadres. Of course we'll never know about that, given Bettman's gag order which makes a mockery of freedom of speech.

Any day now, the NHLPA can be expected to unveil its "final" offer. Its feature figures to be a ten percent across- the- board salary reduction, up five percent from the original made-for-the-media showpiece that's now a year old. Strictly for show, the players' bid won't come remotely close to the Cost Certainty ownership demand. Should the offer actually be made, a league response could be a new, seventh NHL offering to go with the six plans rejected by the NHLPA earlier in Autumn.

So, in Stan's world, when the NHLPA makes an offer, it's only for show, but when the NHL makes proposals, they're honest-to-goodness attempts to save the season and improve the league. If the association's proposals are "just for show", it ain't for the media's benefit or the fans, but rather to prove their case to the US National Labor Relations Boards and the four provincials boards that have jurisdiction over the six Canadian teams that the NHL hasn't been negotiating in good faith.

The Bob Goodenow game plan continues to be "wait-'em-out" on the assumption that ownership will cave as it did in 1995. If the "union" boss hasn't figured it out yet, owner solidarity remains at the 100 percent level - and will remain so until THE Cost Certainty deal is made.

Of course, it helps that that 100 percent level is maintained thanks to Bettman's gag order, which would level hefty fines on any owner who dares speak their minds on the subject. It's easy to maintain solidarity with threats, isn't it? Nothing like putting limits on free speech.

One of the most interesting comments on the current labor impasse comes from - you guessed it - the one and only Brett Hull. In a wonderful interview conducted by The Arizona Republic, the Golden One was asked, "If you could sit down with Bob Goodenow one-on-one for ten minutes, what would you say to him?" Brett said plenty, but best of all was this, "The players have to become a little more realistic about what is fair market value for themselves." Our translation: NHLPA, wise up!!!

Here's the rest of "The Golden Brett's" comments: "But I would also tell (NHLPA boss Bob Goodenow) to stand firm. I think they (union leaders) are doing a good job. I don't think (the owners) are ever going to get a salary cap from us, but if (NHL commissioner Gary Bettman) ever wanted to, I don't think the number he's starting at is very good."

My translation: I'm very disappointed in Mr. Fischler and have lost a little of the respect I had for him.

Nice job by New York Daily News columnist Sherry Ross, citing all the worthwhile charities which are suffering because of the work stoppage. Rangers, Devils and Islanders - along with 27 other NHL clubs - back innumerable charities. They continue to do so with team support, but absence of players severely limits contributions.

Yes, it's all the NHL players starring in "The 730 Grinches Who Stole Christmas". Of course those NHL'ers who've freely given of their time, without any prodding from their teams, continues to go unmentioned or under-reported. Hey, there's no question the lockout has affected the charities, but to paint the players as mean-spirited Scrooges is simply unfair, not to mention untrue.

When Gary Bettman asks the NHLPA to reduce the absurd 75 (for the players) percent-25 (for the owners) income equation to a more equitable 51-49 (or thereabouts) level, he has precedent on his side. "Delta Airlines pilots reduced their salaries by 30 percent and agreed to no raises for five years to save the company a billion dollars a year because they knew the airline wasn't healthy," says The Commish.

And from Larry Brooks of the New York Post, another comparison analogy regarding Delta Airlines: "In the next breath, however, the commissioner added this disclaimer: "Now, I'm not drawing a parallel between Delta Airlines' economics and ours. Don't think I'm suggesting that . . ." The commissioner, however, forgot to mention that on Apr. 3, 2003, Delta CEO Leo Mullen agreed to take a 25 percent salary cut while forfeiting his entire 2003 salary, plus bonuses and personal stock options. No wonder the commissioner didn't want parallels drawn."

Indeed! Not only is Bettman and his lieutenants continuing to draw full salary, but they had the nerve to lay off nearly 200 employees for the duration of the lockout, whilst allowing the $300 million "war chest" that the owners will never avail themselves of to collect interest. Nice. Real nice. If you become an NHL employee, you might wanna consider reading the fine print in your contract regarding job security.

There's a buzz among American Leaguers who are aware of the NHL's offer to the NHLPA. They realize that the new pact would result in an average NHL salary of $1.3 million. And so they ask the logical question: "WHAT'S WRONG WITH AN AVERAGE OF A MILLION AND THREE HUNDRED GRAND?" ANSWER: Nothing!

Courtesy of the NY Post, here's what one player agent had to say on the subject: "The league says that its proposed cap of $33.4M per team - that's what it amounts to under the percentage of the gross - would reduce the average salary from $1.8M to $1.3M, and has used that to portray the players as greedy for opposing that system. However, the median salary would be reduced from its current $1.05M to between $465-495,000; half the players would make under $500,000. Ten years ago, before the last lockout, the median was approximately $430,000."

And here's what agent Mike Gillis had to say, "Gary is trying to roll everything back to before the last CBA. The NHL won't tell you that. But the players know. That's why there's unity among the players and among the agents."

And don't forget, if the median salary is slashed in half, that also affects the salaries of AHL players when they finally get called up to the NHL, as they'll make less because the salary "floor" will be lower.

Another question: How come the NFLPA's boss, Gene Upshaw gets along with NFL execs so well? And Professional Hockey Players' Association exec director Larry Landon does likewise with AHL chief Dave Andrews? But when it comes to the NHLPA, hostility remains the order of the day, month, year and decade!

Good question, Stan. Perhaps you can ask Mr. Bettman, since you're obviously not on speaking terms with Mr. Goodenow.

Here's an item worth noting from The Boston Globe's Kevin Dupont: "With so many NHL players now skating in various European leagues, at least that many now unemployed Europeans would be emboldened to cross a picket line on this side of the Atlantic if the NHL ever did impose its contract. Messy boomerang, huh! But remember, the mercenary NHL players sure didn't have qualms about bumping their Euro brethren off the puck over there, which leaves them wide open to the retaliatory hit."

Refer to my article, "Debunking the Lockout Myths" on this one. Frankly, I'm tired of continually typing that NHL'ers aren't "mercenaries" or "scabs". Go read the article for the explanation why.

Question: When did you EVER hear of an NHLPA member even walking a picket line? EVER?

Answer: We NEVER have, because the last players strike in 1992 lasted less than two weeks and there was no time for picket lines to be set up. Your point?

Rob Valicevic, who skated for Dallas, L.A., Anaheim and Nashville, says he has "no qualms" about crossing an NHLPA picket line. In a Toronto Star piece, Valicevic says, "I'm going to do everything I can to take your job."

Wow, just what we need to see, an NHL filled with players of the calibre of Rob Valicevic. Hey, the guy made it to the NHL, which is more than I ever did, but I doubt very much the majority of NHL fans will plunk down the high ticket prices on a nightly basis to watch a league full of guys like him. Sure, 71 percent polled by the Hockey News claim they will, but it'll be a different story if it happens. And when the real NHL talent returns, well, let's just say Valicevic will be properly rewarded for his efforts when the GM terminates his contract to make room for his real players. Hey, it's cruel, but it's the truth, and you all know it.

It didn't get a big enough play, but a Hockey News' poll reports that 73 percent of the fans questioned would pay to see replacement players.

I gave it play, both here and on The actual number was 71 percent, but that's just quibbling. As I reported, that's not a victory for the NHL. It means nearly 30 percent of their fan base will be staying away, adversely affecting the gate and television ratings. Expect that number to rise once fans realize they'll be overcharged to watch third-rate talent slog through those mind-numbing trapping systems. we all know and loath.

Nobody at Bettman, Inc. is surprised by Bob Goodenow's strategy. So far, the NHLPA game plan has precisely followed predictions made by league honchos in September. The players are dipping into their Lockout fund and all the sheep have been well-herded by shepherd Goodenow.

Why do I get this image in my mind whenever I read the phrase, "Bettman, Inc"? So Bettman is an evil genius and Goodenow a well-meaning but dumb union head? And what's wrong with the association "dipping into their lockout fund"? And what's with comparing the NHL players to "sheep"? Sure, some of them are as sharp as a bag of wet mice, but most are smarter than Fischler gives them credit for. Once again, Fischler intense dislike of Bob Goodenow shines through.

Interesting question: what happens to a player such as Steve Sullivan who is signed through the end of 2004-2005? When the season is officially cancelled, Sully - so it would seem - would almost certainly become an Unrestricted Free Agent, as part of a new CBA. David Poile offered Sullivan a multi-year pact last Summer but the forward went to arbitration and settled for a one-year deal.

Well, I'm guessing he becomes an unrestricted free agent, and will get snapped up by some other club unless the Predators re-sign him., and he'll likely make as much or more than he would've had he signed a multi-year deal with the Preds, regardless of the outcome of this lockout. Actually, the question wasn't that interesting.

Brilliant Comment Dep't. "Something's gotta be done!" This from Professor Brett ("The Players Are Getting Too Much Money") Hull.

This would be the same Professor Hull who followed up those comments with "But I would also tell (NHLPA boss Bob Goodenow) to stand firm. I think they (union leaders) are doing a good job. I don't think (the owners) are ever going to get a salary cap from us, but if (NHL commissioner Gary Bettman) ever wanted to, I don't think the number
he's starting at is very good."