Seems my comments in recent days have generated a higher than normal response from some of you, of which there were some that are worth a public response.
Again, this isn't for me to "get in the last word" but rather to address some of these comments in a public forum and hopefully encourage more feedback, either by the original authors or from other readers.
Be advised, those who responded respectfully I responded to in kind. Those who were snotty, well, let's just say I'm not in the mood to be civil today.
Again, space may prohibit me from posting the full comments here but there will be in full in my "Fans Speak Out" section.
First up, Eugene Van Aalst, Canadian living in New Zealand.
I'm telling you this because every time I read your article on The Sporting News it appears that you are firmly on the player's side, and against the owners. You should be firmly on Hockey's side.
I am on hockey's side, and as I told Eugene, that's why I have serious doubts about the league's cost certainty scheme and the accuracy of its claimed losses. I fear the majority of hockey fans will be very disappointed by cost certainty's outcome, that it won't be the saving grace the league is making it out to be. Check out my articles here and on Foxsports for the reasons why as I don't wanna re-hash them here again.
You refer to how hockey
won't be viable in the US if they lose the
Never suggested they didn't.
However, the owners own
a "business", and just like people who work at aplant,
or a grocery store etc... There are expectations for salaries,
You cannot compare owning a business like a plant or a grocery store to that of running a sports league. There's a significant difference, particularly when your employees are your product, and you have a monopoly over such things as where they can work and eligibility criteria regarding their wages.
If they don't like it,
they can choose to work elsewhere. This is what I
Wrong. NHL players are limited where they can work because from the time they're drafted until they're eligible for unrestricted free agency, they're the property of a team, who owns their rights until they either trade them, buy out their contracts or decline to re-sign them. A player can therefore belong to the same team from the time he's drafted at 18 until the age of 31, a period of 13 years. No other professional sports league has that kind of power over its players. As I noted before, the NHL has a monopoly on the best hockey players in the world, thus those players are limited as to where they can ply their trade.
I don't care about the NHL anymore, and I have been a fan of the NHL since my dad and I watched ourBoston Bruins of the Bobby Orr era together.
That's a testimony to the problems created by those running the league, not those of the players. Remember, they're the employees, who have little control over the running of the league. What they get paid is usually based on the whims of the team management and ownership. The player and his agent can demand a certain salary, but if the team doesn't want to pay it, they don't have to. If the player is a restricted free agent, he cannot play anywhere else unless the team trades him or cuts him.
Hockey needs to go global,
this will create excitement and help the
Don't bet on it. The NHL is blind to the potential of the European market, and even to the potential future threat a rival league from Europe could pose to their monopoly. Don't expect to see the NHL in Europe within the next twenty years.
I love the game, and my
love for the game stays fresh because I am far
I too love the game and I'm close enough to it to see its problems. The worst we can accuse the players of as a whole is greed, but that's surpassed by that of the owners and the incompetent manner they run pro hockey.
There are kids on my teams
who have never even watched an NHL game on TV, let alone know
who all the players are, and they love the SPORT of
When it's played well, it surely is. Sadly, it hasn't been that way in the NHL for almost ten years now, and I don't see significant improvement coming from the NHL in the near future. Remember, the folks promising to make changes are the same ones who created and perpetuated the mess in the first place.
Next, John Noble
I don't know what you have been putting in your PEI potatoes but something is terribly wrong with your thought process.
I put a little margarine on my 'taters, occasionally some sour cream, gravy only at Christmas and Thanksgiving. Neither came with a warning that it could hamper thought processes, although they don't do my cholesterol any good.
Now I realize that you may simply be taking positions to be controversial, to "stir the pot" so to speak. But nonetheless you seem unable to grasp the basic issue involved in this dispute.
I get a kick out of folks who write in and question my sanity for favoring the players side in this labour dispute, or believe I'm doing so to bring in more readership.
I go to great lengths to substantiate my opinions, posting links on this site within my articles or citing sources for my Foxsports columns, yet some folks believe I've either gone crazy or succumbed to tabloid fever.
And considering that the majority of hockey fans are on the owners' side, taking a contrary position solely to "stir the pot" wouldn't do wonders for my readership.
The owners as a group need an economic system that allows the possibility of making a reasonable profit on their investment.
And as we see in this link, Forbes Magazine estimates that some owners have made reasonable profits for their investment, and some haven't. There are many variables as to why, the least of which is player salaries. I'd post the NHL's numbers on this, but sadly there isn't such a breakdown on their website.
The current system needs to be fixed.
I agree, as does the NHLPA, who have made three offers to the leagues addressing that need.
Enough with the tired argument that the owners are to blame for their own predicament blah, blah, blah. It's irrelevant at this point.
Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It's not irrelevant at all. Considering how owners past and present over the past ten years contributed to this mess, how can we trust them to get it right this time? They're the ones who circumvented the hard cap on entry-level salaries, remember? What guarantees do we have from Bettman or the owners that under the next CBA, that won't happen again? Or won't happen to an across-the-board hard cap? There hasn't been any because Bettman says he won't talk of hypotheticals, but if you're going to demand the first true hard cap in sports history, you'd better be prepared to address hypotheticals so we don't see the same nonsense happen again.
The owners recognize they signed a bad deal before and they are determined not to make the same mistake again.
Their only regret is getting their butts kicked in 1992 and 1994 by Bob Goodenow. When the last CBA was signed the league and those who were team owners back then believed they had a good deal in place that would control player salaries. It was they, not the players, who screwed it up. The last CBA had leverage for the owners if they were willing to use it. Most didn't.
And if that last CBA was so lousy, why did the owners agree to extend it, not once, but twice?
Yet you continue to criticize them for being steadfast in their resolve to negotiate a system that makes sense.
I criticize them for not negotiating or making concessions. It's been the NHLPA, not the league and the owners, who've at least attempted to negotiate and shown a willingness to make concessions. The league has yet to make concessions or engage in real negotiations since locking out the players last September.
Of course the players don't want any system that limits their compensation potential regardless of the harm that the continuation of such a system would do to communities ( loss of the franchise ) or to fans ( higher ticket prices, loss of popular players ) or to the game itself.
That's simply not true. The players have shown a willingness to make concessions and negotiate a new deal. If they truly didn't want change, they'd insist the new CBA be a close copy of the previous one.
Loss of a franchise has little impact financially on a community - Winnipeg, Quebec City and Hartford did not suffer financially from losing their franchises - and when franchises move it's not because player salaries weren't affordable. In Winnipeg and Quebec City, it was the unwillingness of those cities and their provinces to build new arenas for those franchises. The players didn't force them into it. The purpose was to generate more revenues, a small portion of which would go on salaries, but the prime reason was to put more money into the owners' pockets and increase their franchise values.
Unrestricted free agency is a betrayal of fan support when a popular player opts to "test the market", particularly those who got a fair raises from teams but opted instead for even bigger bucks elsewhere, but there is no correlation between high ticket prices and player salaries. That's determined by what each market will bear.
It is pure greed on the part of the PA and the players.
Greed plays its part for both sides, no question, but the NHL is seeking to abolish some of the rights the players gained in the 1992 strike and 1994 lockout, rather than working out a new deal with them.
And please don't try to equate the self interest of the owners in trying to simply make a reasonable profit or at least avoid major losses for their teams with the self interest of the players in trying to maximize their incomes regardless of the consequences.
So it's okay then for teams to under-report revenues but claim heavy losses? It's okay for teams to charge high ticket prices based on each market but unfairly lay the blame on the players? It's okay for them to avoid negotiation for months at a time, only to spurred into action by offers from the players? It's okay for them to avoid a truly independent audit of their revenues and instead hire someone to do a mere review in a lame attempt to substantiate their claims?
And please don't refer to the 25% salary reduction offer from the players. They know full well that in two to three years the inflationary effect of arbitration awards and free agent signings by wealthy franchises would boost salaries back to at least current levels.
Who pays the salaries? Who ultimately has the control over player salaries? That's the owners. They decide what their players will get.
The only answer is for the players to accept the general concept of a salary cap. Then negotiate the best possible terms of the cap. Then help build the popularity of the game so that more revenue can be generated. Then demand a fair share of the bigger pie.
The only way I can see the players accepting a cap is for the league to make some concessions of their own, such as adopting the association's proposals regarding arbitration, entry-level salaries and possibly even a lowering of the UFA eligibility age.
Regardless of that, the league's salary cap won't help small market clubs the way a strong luxury tax system would, not something as proposed by the players but by Brian Burke, whereby we'd see something close to dollar for dollar.
Since the current plan is going NOWHERE, may I offer the following -
All income (tickets, parking, merchandise, refreshments, and what have you) gets put into a 'central treasury account' managed by a central finance committee. Arena expenses are paid via a voucher system from an authorized member of each team's management. The Player's union controls all player contracts and pays salaries, taxes, and retirement contributions via the same voucher system. Each side is limited to just 50 percent of the 'financial pot' - this would remove the current player vs. management bickering.
I don't see either side willing to agree to that kind of system. The owners would rather die than allow the players control over contracts and salaries.
Next up, Frank Vucci, who had his daily recommended dose of snark yesterday.
As a casual fan as of late, I have to say you really don't have any clue.
With a fan like this, who needs enemies?
Sports is a business.
No need. Sports is a business,
SO SHOUTING IS SUPPOSED TO
MAKE ME UNDERSTAND THEM BETTER?
Unless you're a backwoodsman,
a hermit or belong to one of those isolated tribes in Africa,
South America and Indonesia, in which case, you don't eat what
you can't catch, kill or grow. Money doesn't enter the equation
Regardless of whether the
NHL lost $220 million last season as they claim or $97 million
as Forbes claims, nobody will mistake anyone of those
owners as starving, or the players for that matter.
*Sigh* Here I spend all this
time substantiating my comments, and yet some folks still think
I'm pulling this stuff out of my butt. I like to think most of
you appreciate my substantiation even if you disagree with me.
See you there, then?
As Marge Simpson once said, "well, duh."
Next up, Jerry D.
How much is the NHLPA paying you for your one-sided commentary?
This is my most favourite accusation of all, folks accusing me of being on the take from the NHLPA. Geez, if only, then I could quit my day job and do this full time. Ah, to have the life of a shill...of course I'd have to compromise my principles, and I don't think I could face myself at that point.
Bottom line is how can owners continue to pay rapidly rising salaries while all the facts suggest the game's popularity is declining.
A better question would be, why were the owners continuing to pay rapidly rising salaries during the period the game's popularity was declining?
The decline is reflected in the low tv ratings which causes the league/owners to be compromised in their revenues.
So why was the only reason for the decline of their free-spending ways last season was because the CBA was coming to an end?
Until such time as the league solves other longer-term problems the players should be glad to make a proposed $1.3 million per year and stay employed.
Not when it comes at the expense of losing their rights to salary arbitration and for rookies who are deserving of bonuses to be denied them, and not when they're the only ones attempting to negotiate and making concessions. Talk to me when the league starts showing a willingness to do the same.
If not the league should contract a few teams in markets that never should have been opened (granted league a little greedy there, ok maybe more than a little greedy). Contraction will result in less jobs for union members, which one would think the union would want to avoid.
According to Gary Bettman, the league isn't going to contract. Personally, I believe he's only denying the inevitable, because that's going to happen within the next ten years, cost certainty or not. A hard salary cap isn't going to bring out fans in non-hockey markets like Atlanta, Nashville, Anaheim and Carolina.
As for contraction, I spoke with NHLPA VP Ted Saskin about that topic last summer and he says they'll deal with that if they come to it. In other words, the NHL claims there won't be contraction so there's no need for the NHLPA to worry about it now.
Next, Johnny Serbekian
The consumer is not getting the most bang for his buck because the product he is paying for is sub-par. My point is, THE LEAGUE IS WATERED DOWN. Too many fringe players with "healthy" contracts are skating on NHL teams and really do not deserve to be up in the big leagues. There are too many roster spots to fill overall. There are far too many teams and there is not enough talent to go along.
I agree, the wild, ill-conceived expansion of the 1990s harmed the NHL, for exactly the reasons you noted.
I hope that as a result of this lockout, the NHL loses at least 25 to 30 percent of the teams in the league. The sooner the better. That would weed out the scrubs and bring the talent level up throughout the league which in turn would put a better product on the ice which could bring back the fans and fill the arenas once again.
As I noted earlier, Bettman claims that's not an option, but I believe it could happen regardless of cost certainty, though perhaps not as many might fold as you suggest.
I personally would not mind paying escalated ticket prices to see an improved talent level on the ice. I realize that some individuals may feel this notion is far-fetched, but I can't be the only one who has this opinion. Expansion was not necessary and has contributed to the problems of the NHL. I would love to see a 20 to 22 team league where EVERY team has more than just one solid line on the roster. The state of the league would be healthier and we wouldn't have to worry about implementing some stupid shootout tie-breaker rule to generate interest. Changing the rules won't spur fan interest, putting a better product on the ice just might. Hopefully this lockout will lead to a better product overall.
I'm not actively advocating folding some clubs, but as I noted before I believe it's an eventuality. Like you, John, I just hope the lockout leads to a better product. I doubt, however, that's going to happen, given that those who've run the league into the ground are the ones telling us to trust them to make it all better.
Next up, Craig Daniger, who
suggests I'm unfairly dumping on all the owners.
Oh, really? Who forced the Phoenix Coyotes to sign a fading Tony Amonte to a $6 million per season salary? Who forced the NY Islanders to overpay Alexei Yashin and Micheal Peca? Who forced the Anaheim Mighty Ducks to overpay Paul Kariya? Who forced them to sign UFAs like Sergei Fedorov and Vaclav Prospal to hefty salaries? Who forced the Carolina Hurricanes to make an insane offer sheet to Fedorov in 1998? Who forced the Montreal Canadiens to re-sign Jose Theodore to $5.5 mil per season? Who forced the San Jose Sharks to overpay Owen Nolan to a contract thatalso guarantees him a salary even during the lockout?
These "8 teams"(I presume you mean the Rangers, Red Wings, Maple Leafs, Flyers, Avalanche, Stars, Capitals and Blues) you refer to had no bearing on those signings, none whatsoever. There was simply no need for those teams to make those deals and they weren't pressured by other clubs into making them.
When teams don't pay, such as Chicago or Boston, they are labeled as "cheap".
Yet they too can lose their minds and make crazy deals, like the Blackhawks' offer sheet to Keith Tkachuk in 1995, or the Bruins signing Martin Lapointe to a five year, $25 million deal.
The 'Hawks and Bruins are being cheap and for the most part getting away with it at the expense of their fans. Nobody would accuse the Ottawa Senators or, until 2001, the New Jersey Devils of cheapness, because they were able to ice successful teams while operating within a set budget. The Blackhawks and Bruins too often unnecessarily played hardball with their best players in a way that would make Lou Lamoriello cry uncle.
And you can even argue about the word "forced". When a player sits out and then is eventually traded to a team that will pay him, he is forcing the issue, isn't he?
That, however, rarely happened. If you look at each year and how many players were restricted free agents in those years, you'll find the overwhelming majority were re-signed with scarcely a complaint from their teams. A very small percentage staged holdouts of any length, and even fewer forced trades.
Then that salary becomes the new negotiating point for other contracts. We read about greedy owners, but what of the players who have left teams like Edmonton to the greener pastures of St. Louis or Dallas? Are they not greedy too?
Yes, they are, never suggested they weren't. That being said, a strengthening Canadian dollar should make it easier for the Oilers to retain their best players. They'll need it, because if the league implements its revenue-sharing scheme, there won't be much money there to benefit clubs like the Oilers.
Finally, Tom Daniel, whose comments I've had to cut because he'd raised points I've already addressed earlier in this column today.
Hockey players ( like all other athletes') are over paid and prissy.
Overpaid? Some are, some aren't. They're in the entertainment business where, like actors, directors, and muscians, they're the product, and since there is such a limited supply of talent, entitled to compensation one wouldn't see in the "normal" business world. Funny how we don't hear people bitching about how much actors and muscians are making.
As for hockey players being "prissy", well, let's just say I'll have a lot of respect for you, Tom, if you walked up to one of them and said it right to his face.
The feelings of most of the people who still follow sports to some extent has been iced over by gluttonous players associations. These players associations remove true competitiveness from the sport and produce a just show up and pick up your check attitude among most of the athletes.
Some athletes have that attitude, no question. Most don't, especially hockey players, many of whom will play through injuries that would sideline athletes in other pro sports, and they do so out of competitiveness.
These associations , or unions, have been the worst curse for all sports. Hockey players should be paid again according to the profit they bring to the team, not by the fact that they sometimes add two skates to the ice surface.
So you're suggesting the Minnesota Wild, who had one of the lowest payrolls in the NHL but were among the league leaders in attendance, ticket prices, and operating income, should better compensate their players?
- So, was Carolina Hurricanes owner Pete Karmanos truly voicing his "gut feeling" that the 2004-05 season will be cancelled? Or did he drop this merely a pressure tactic to entice further negotiation?
Tough to say, really. Karmanos is one of the hard-liners seeking a hard cap, and is also a member of the league's executive committee dealing with the lockout, so for him to state something so definitive certainly doesn't seem like a gambit to force the NHLPA back to the table.
It would certainly be bad judgement on his part, given his position.
I'm more interested in finding out if Karmanos got fined by Gary Bettman for making those comments.
Remember, Bettman said owners and GMs could voice their opinions provided they were only discussing their respective clubs. Here's his response to a fan's question about the league's "gag order":
Teams are allowed to talk about their own situation. They can talk about their own economics. They can talk about their particular need in their market to have a new system and why they're having trouble under the existing system. What they can't talk about is what exactly it is we need to get in collective bargaining, how long a potential work stoppage can be, and what League-wide economics are because we don't want some team talking about the economics of another team.
To date there's been no word of Karmanos being fined for his comments about the season being lost, which were outside the guidelines specified by Bettman.
Draw your own conclusions.
- One day, Mike Modano tells a National Post reporter that he has doubts about the resolved of the NHLPA, and the next day, he's claiming the Post reporter got it wrong and that the resolve of the union is strong.
I've been a supporter of the players throughout this lockout, but even I admit it looks fishy whenever a player says something and almost immediately ends up retracting his statements.
Undoubtedly somebody at NHLPA headquarters got on the phone to Modano to get him to "clarify his statements".
Unlike the NHL, the NHLPA doesn't have a gag order and players are free to speak their minds, but the quickness of the retractions suggests they want to stamp on any sign of discontent.
That's not to suggest the media doesn't get it wrong. I wouldn't be surprised that sometimes a player is misquoted or misunderstands a question.
Still, Modano should've know that his comments would be cause a stir.
He's also the guy who said that playing in the minors for $400 bucks a week during the lockout was a waste of time because that kind of money wouldn't feed his dog.
In other words, he's had a knack of engaging his mouth before his brain during this lockout.
- So is the players' resolve wavering?
Reliable sources I've spoken with insist the players want the league to make the next step, that they have no further offers in store and are prepared to lose the season if the league won't step up with a better offer.
That being said, I'd be stupid to believe that everyone in the association is willing to do that. Of their 700+ NHL player membership in the association, I wouldn't be surprised if between 10-20% of the players are willing to play under a cap system, or at least want Bob Goodenow to make one more offer before the season is lost.
That being said, less than 20% is a distinct minority. If over three-quarters of the membership is insistent on holding the line, then it's not a sign of "wavering" if less than 20% believe otherwise.
Heck, even if that number is as high as 30-40%, that's still not a majority and doesn't mean "resolve is wavering".
It's like me saying 20 or 30% of the owners wanting to make a deal represents wavering on the league's part. It would be a ridiculous comment to make, particularly given that Bettman needs only 8 dissenting owners to maintain this lockout.
- Speaking of which, yes, I think there are some owners who either liked the players last offer and believe it's a workable framework to build upon, or who want Bettman to come forward soon with a new offer that contains some larger concessions for the players to sink their teeth into.
Even so, it's questionable if they're a considerable and influential number to force Bettman into doing so. All we have is speculation, and the only way we'll know for certain is if the league announces within the next seven-to-ten days that they have a new offer for the players to consider.
If we don't see or hear anything by then, the season is truly over.
- Yep, that's right, I peg next Sunday, January 23rd, as the true "D-Day" for getting a new deal in place, at least in principle, if there's to be a 2004-05 season in any form.
I don't really think anything less than 40 games would make a worthwhile season, but it might be possible to have a 35-game season provided a deal could be in place in time to start up by mid-February at the absolute latest. That would mean the season stretching into late April and the playoffs ending sometime toward late June, and potentially pushing the entry draft into July, and yes, pushing ahead the March trade deadline to the end of the month, but it could be done.
But I just can't see any new season in any form taking place if a new deal isn't in place by January 23rd. Players need to get back to their teams and there needs to be at least a two-week mini-camp to allow all NHL players back into something resembling game-shape.
- If we do see a compacted season, expect lots of back-to-back games on the schedule with little rest for the players.
Thus it wouldn't surprise me if they went to an intra-conference schedule to cut down on travel and wear and tear.
Still, it would suck for Western Conference clubs who have the most distance to travel. Eastern Conference clubs, because of the lesser travel distances, would have it easier.
Then again, it could favour the Western Conference champion in the Stanley Cup final.
- A friend of mine recently asked what my reaction would be if the players were to give in, agree to a salary cap and return to action for a shortened '04-'05 season.
I would be thrilled to have the league back in action, if for nothing else than to get back to my regular routine of covering trade and free agent rumours and doing four articles per week instead of the ten I've been trying to squeeze in whilst doing my day job.
I would be somewhat surprised if the players agreed to a hard cap, and who knows, maybe that's how this'll turn out, but it wouldn't upset me. They may reach a point where it simply becomes too difficult - be it for financial reasons or whatever - to out-wait the owners this time around.
Still, depending on what the new CBA contains, I may not be very optimistic about the future. I feel that the league is pulling a very convincing snow job on a lot of hockey fans and some members of the press, and I don't believe that if it get most of what it wants under "cost certainty" that it's going to really change very much.
I hope to Buddha I'm wrong, man, would I love for Gary Bettman and the owners to prove me wrong. I'd like nothing more than to see an NHL where obstructionism is eliminated and offence is significantly bolstered, where the gap between big and small markets is considerably narrowed, where it becomes more affordable for working-class people like myself can regularly afford to watch the games, and where the product's popularity improves dramatically in the United States.
If all these things are the outcome of cost certainty, I will publicly apologize to Bettman and the owners for doubting them.
But as I've posted here and in my Foxsports.com columns, there are too many questions that in my opinion have gone unanswered. No, I'm not gonna post them all up here again. Go check out the archives link below or my Foxsports columns. I'm won't chew my cabbage twice. Regular readers know where I stand.
I have doubts, folks, considerable doubts, and I honestly believe the league won't be much better off than it is now when the next CBA expires in five or six years time. I think we'll be right back into the midst of the same mess again with little having been resolved from this one, and the owners will still try to make the players the scapegoats.
And I think there's going to be a lot of disappointed hockey fans, particularly those of small market clubs, who'll find cost certainty didn't save their franchises at all.
- It seems we can tell the level of frustration over these stalled CBA talks by either the number of proposals offered up in the media or insistance on talks going forward.
Brian Burke offered an revised version for TSN of the previous one he made on CBC last September, while Hall of Fame journalist Russ Conway sent his proposal, based on consultations with 36 players, managers, coaches and other hockey men, to both the NHL and NHLPA last week.
Meanwhile, the former president of the Atlanta Thrashers, Stan Kasten, sent off a letter to both sides beseeching Goodenow and Bettman to make their pitches directly to their opponents.
Heck, even the city council of my hometown of Charlottetown sent a letter to the NHL and NHLPA requesting they end this lockout and get back to playing hockey. Unfortunately the link to that story no longer works, but it just goes to show how far the frustration has spread, as well as how hockey-mad Prince Edward Islanders are.
Unfortunately, all these proposals and requests will have no impact on other side. They're keeping their own councils and made it very clear they don't want suggestions from the outside world, thank you very much.
Too bad, because there's been a lot of common-sense proposals coming from the media and from some hockey fans.
-The NHL insists they're still willing to return to the bargaining table with the players. NHL VP Bill Daly denied suggestions that the league wasn't willing to compromise:
"If there are particular aspects of our December 14 proposal that are problematic to the players, let's identify them and get back to the bargaining table to talk about them. "
Uhhh, Bill, the NHLPA did identify the problems with your last proposal, in fact, they did so the very day you made it:
First, the League spent most of its time showing us projections that they claimed "proved" that our proposal would not "work". Their projections were wildly unreliable, using an assortment of mostly made-up numbers from a variety of different time periods. These projections are completely useless and phoney.
Second, the NHL spent very little time on their proposal. They offered a Club-by-Club cap just like the one they described in July. Then, the League proposed to eliminate salary arbitration, impose additional cut-backs on Entry Level players, and even were so bold as to restructure the players rollback. Finally, the league continues to resist real revenue-sharing among the Clubs.
In short, the League took elements they liked from our proposal, changed others in their favour, added new mechanisms skewed against the players and then slapped a salary cap on top of everything. The League continues to demand a system in which owners and general managers take no responsibility for properly running their clubs.
Seems pretty obvious to me what the players found "problematic" in the NHL's last proposal.
Your move, Gary and Bill.
- And finally, kudos to TSN's Bob McKenzie for posting up last night what every hockey fan is thinking.
It's been a while since I've responded to commentaries sent in by readers regarding my take on the lockout, so the time seems right to have another go. Please remember that my responses aren't meant to "get in the last word" but to address some of these commentaries in a public domain. I encourage all feedback (except for the profane - that gets dumped and those who send it get blocked). Space requirements mean I won't be able to post up some of the readers comments in full, but they can be read here.
Original comments are in italics and mine in bold.
I'm sad to say that you can not be described as objective. Your comments are slowly becoming like the tabloids that "report" the news. Innuendo is not "reporting", information out of context is not "reporting", single sided responses are not "reporting". You may garner some readership but it will be polarised, reactionary and if you are comfortable with that, it also says something. The average hockey community recognises the connotation and will discredit the source.
I dashed off a quick e-mail to Colin about his comments last weekend, and he assures me he'll send in a more detailed report to substantiate his claims. I will, however, take this time to respond further.
I've never willfully engaged in innuendo or posted information out of context, and if at any time it was pointed out to me that I had, I immediately corrected it. As for "single-sided responses", I'm not a reporter, but rather a commentator so I'm free to voice my opinion. I don't tailor it to any particular audience so f you agree with me, fine, and if not, that's fine too.
With respect to the financial clarity of sports franchises, you are woefully inadequate in your understanding of the most fundamental accounting concepts. Currently, in Canada, the organisation that oversees the cannons of accounting is the CICA. It does not at any point determine how a company "must" report is financial statements. Ask any 2 Canadian recognised accounting professionals (RIA CA, CGA) an opinion and you will get 2 different interpretations. (By the way a CPA is an American designation and it's roughly the same as a senior book keeper, you may have noticed an American law that is supposed to clarify reporting for public companies in the US, Sarbanes-Oxley, currently it is still undefined in its granularity, surprise!)
I appreciate the clarification. Since there is no determination of how a company must report its financial statements, then it becomes difficult to tie salaries to revenues when there is no certain way of determining those revenues. which is the underlying problem sustaining this lockout.
I may not be an accountant, but that shouldn't stop me from questioning the findings of the Levitt Report. It would appear I'm in good company in that regard as we can see here, here, here, here and here. All of these individuals understand sports economics far better than I or most hockey commentators, reporters or fans, so I'll hazard a guess they know what they're talking about and thus are worth basing an opinion upon.
Until a scoping document is prepared for inclusive revenues and expenses an audit is irrelevant. You need to have something to audit, you can't audit blue. Check with NFL on this...
And that's what is at the heart of this dispute. Each NHL team has their own methods for determining and reporting their revenues. There must be an across-the-board method that accomplishes this, otherwise the NHL will always face accusations of fuzzy math.
One last small point that seems to be religiously ignored. There are only 2players that have any significant part of an NHL franchise, arguable the two greatest players in hockey history. And they have minority stakes. The owners of sports franchises are disturbingly rich. They have invested in the business for a myriad of reasons. When Forbes and BW report on a industrial sector ( entertainment is an industrial sector) there is a reason they make those reports. If the current owners decided that there was no utility an their further involvement in this sector who would support the huge sums necessary to underwrite a hockey league? (See AHL... )
The wealth of the current NHL owners has never been in dispute by me or anyone else. That's why I get suspicious over their claims of huge losses over the past ten years. With NHL losses supposedly at over $1 billion over the past ten years, why would any billionaire or multi-millionaire want to invest in professional hockey if the purpose is to make money?
Using a money-losing franchises as a tax write-off only works for a while and the ego stoke of owning a struggling hockey franchise can be a tiresome drain over time. It's the franchise value, rather than the amount of money it makes per season, that is the true motivation toward owning an NHL team.
The discussion here is
about disposable income and discretionary income.
A sports league is different from other businesses, in that their employees are their product, and thus entitled to their fair share. They may not be business people but they've got some very smart people running their player association and their own financial affairs, given the advances they've made over the past dozen years. More than a few of them are well-versed on the intricacies of sports law and economics.
Agree to the Cap (or in simple terms stakeholder revenue share), define and match revenues and expenditures, allocate extra standard revenues up to XX % to subsidy pool, rationalise subsidies and agree to audit scope and set up arbitration for quarterly review (i.e. put disputed revenues in escrow).
Good ideas. So why hasn't the NHL come up with any of those other than their demand for a hard salary cap? I've yet to hear them mention any of those things in their two offers.
Anyone with a relatively
simple understanding of budgeting, statistics
If we take at face value that player salaries determine the cost of tickets, there are some clubs (Los Angeles, Ottawa, Buffalo, Pittsburgh) one could point to and make the case for the link between ticket prices and salaries.
But then why did the Wild, who were ranked 27th in payroll last season, charge the 9th highest ticket prices? When one considers the Wild had the 7th highest attendance in the league last season, it certainly appears that it's the local market, not the Wild's player salaries, that are determining their ticket prices.
Why did Chicago, ranked 25th in payroll and 27th in attendance, have the 8th highest ticket prices in the NHL? It doesn't appear to be rising salaries driving up their ticket prices or for that matter the attendance figures, so what was the reason for having prices that high?
The Boston Bruins were 21st in attendance but 12th in payroll and charged the fifth highest prices. How to explain what appears to be a discrepancy between their payroll and prices when their attendance is in the bottom third of the league ratings?
Why did the Rangers, with the second highest payroll last season before their late-season purge, ranked 9th in attendance, charge the 12th highest prices? Surely with the second highest payroll, their ticket prices would be in the top ten. So was salary driving their prices, or could it be they could afford to set those tickets near the middle of the pack because of the influx of cash from Cablevision?
Why was Nashville charging the 15th highest ticket prices when their attendance and payroll were amongst the lowest in the league? Shouldn't their salaries be close to the middle third than the bottom?
The New Jersey Devils were 11th in payroll last season and 23rd in attendance, yet they charged the fourth highest ticket prices. One could point to the payroll and attendance figures and suggest that's why the prices were so high, but to be fourth highest in the league seems a tad high, doesn't it?
The Montreal Canadiens lead the league in attendance. When the Molson/Bell Centre was opened, the Habs assured their fans that such a monstrous venue was needed to keep their club competitive. So why were they 20th in ticket prices and 17th in payroll last season?
Given the fact Montreal perrenially leads the league in attendance, is there something else driving ticket prices in Montreal besides player salaries?
Some of the highest ticket prices are charged by teams with some of the highest payrolls (Detroit, Philadelphia, Toronto), but they're also among the top ten in attendance. The Wings only raised prices by less than one percent, the Flyers maintained their prices from the previous year and the Leafs raised theirs by over 8%, yet the Wings payroll jumped by $10 million from the previous season, the Flyers by $3 million and the Leafs cut their by almost three million. What gives?
The Colorado Avalanche are among the top ten in attendance (10th) and payroll (5th) but only 16th in ticket prices, below the league average. How can that be if player salaries drive ticket prices? Shouldn't their prices be closer to the top five than to the bottom third, considering their high attendance?
Dallas was third in payroll and eighth in attendance but their ticket prices were 22nd overall. How can they possibly afford those hefty salaries with such low ticket prices? Shouldn't their prices be in the top five?
The Vancouver Canucks are fifth in attendance and seventh in ticket prices, but 13th in payroll. How is that possible?
St. Louis was sixth in attendance and seventh in payroll but 14th in ticket prices. What's the reason for that?
Next up, "oldnslo", whose name describes my own on-ice performance!
The owners control the
Gold that is generated by the players playing the
Since the players are the product, they should be entitled to more than "half the gold", though I'll agree not as high as 75% and Forbes disputes that figure, believing it falls more around 65% of revenues go toward salaries. A figure between 57%-62% sounds reasonable to me.
When Wayne Gretzky publicly states that his team is losing less money by not playing than they would have had the played out the schedule then the wheel is off the wagon and it has to be repaired.
Any team that claims it'll lose less money by not playing probably shouldn't be in operation. That's one reason why I'm convinced cost certainty will fail, because no matter how much you slash and cap salaries, that's not going to improve the on-ice product, or improve attendance at the turnstiles if you're in a traditionally non-hockey market like Phoenix. And the league's proposed revenue-sharing scheme isn't going to be enough to make a club like the Coyotes more competitive, especially if they should make the playoffs.
It is time the players accepted that they have to save the game and make the best deal they can in order to insure they will be able to partner with the owners in dividing up the revenue generated by the game. Before the game is irreparably damaged.
So the owners should be let off the hook for creating and perpetuating this mess, is that it? They shouldn't be held accountable for it? I can't understand why folks think it's okay for the players to give up their rights to arbitration, put themselves at their GM's mercy from the time they sign a rookie contract until age 30, and for the rank and file to have their salaries slashed by almost half (follow the median salary, not the average salary), knowing full well if they gave those up they'll never get them back again.
I'm not suggesting that player salaries haven't gotten too high, they have, and I'm not suggesting the NHL should give the players everything they want, but if the league wants cost certainty, it has to show a willingness to compromise and be more realistic with their demands, which they have yet to do.
I had a thought the other day that perhaps the problems with the NHLPA accepting a salary cap have more to do with ego than we would think. Gene Upshaw of the NFLPA and Billy Hunter of the NBAPA have virtually disappeared from the public view since negotiating their deals with their respective leagues. These partnership agreements have forged a robust and healthy environment in the NFL and the salary cap rises each season. In the NBA the cap has leveled off but that is due to the problems brought on by the participants not labor unrest. The NFLPA and NBAPA are reduced to auditors that insure the league reports the proper income as defined in the agreements and handles various merchandising situations for the players. Could it be that Bob Goodenow is afraid of losing the power he currently wields? Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Don't look now, but things aren't as rosy in the NFL and NBA as you make them out to be. Check out these remarks from Upshaw here, here, and here, and Hunter's remarks on a possible NBA lockout here and here and reports of uneasiness between himself and NBA Commissioner David Stern.
So, are we to assume Upshaw and Hunter are as power-hungry as you claim Goodenow to be? Sure, ego has a big part to do with this, but not just for Goodenow. Gary Bettman may be a short man but his ego would suit a 7 footer.
Goodenow should already be lining up the talent necessary to define what is the revenue generated by the NHL and their players and constructing a system that accurately and concisely reports that revenue. He should be asking the league for a list of their hockey club expenses to understand what margins he has to work with. We all know about Wirtz' hiding concession revenue under a dummy corporation. The secret to any negotiation is to know the other side's position better than they do. In light of the current situation I cannot believe that the NHLPA has a clear and accurate picture of what they are facing.
Now you're assuming that Goodenow and the NHLPA hierarchy are stupid. They were given access to the books of four clubs two year ago (Boston, Los Angeles, Montreal and Buffalo) and determined those four clubs had unreported revenues in excess of $50 million, indicating there were too many clubs who were under-reporting revenues, a finding subsequently substantiated by Forbes Magazine. The problem is the league has not been forthright in reporting their revenues, which makes it difficult for the players to accept tying their salaries to them. The league claims huge losses, while the PA and Forbes determined otherwise.
I am really interested in your take on how to fix the sport that we both love and to set it on a course to insure this idiocy never happens again.
I would adopt a proposal similar to that of Brian Burke's as I believe it makes the most sense out of all those I've seen. There are some factors within it that could be tweaked but overall I feel it could work.
Next up, "Paul"
There is an air of mistrust
amongst the players toward the owners and for good reason, considering
what has gone on before. Given the league's recent dubious claims
of heavy losses and the under-reportage of revenues, most owners
have done little to dispel the bad blood to gain the players
Who paid the players those
raises? The owners did. The players didn't force them to do it.
They cried poor but that didn't stop many of them from continually
paying out big bucks, rather than employing self-restraint. When
do the owners finally face up to their responsibility for creating
The Penguins may be crumbling but the Senators aren't in that boat any longer. As for restoring a workable balance, how do we know they'll honour a hard salary cap? They're the ones who made a mockery of the entry-level cap in the last CBA, so how do we know they won't do the same thing under a new CBA? How is their proposed revenue-sharing scheme which is to come from playoff revenue supposed to help small market clubs remain competitive, especially if those teams make the playoffs and end up paying into that pool themselves?
The deal the NHLPA presented merely acknowledged the scope of the problem. If the players are unilaterally willing to give up 24%, what should that tell you?
That the NHLPA has never disputed the league was losing money, only how much. They've acknowledged changes needed to be made as far back as June 2003 when they made their first CBA offer to the league.
You can argue about the exact figures, but the bottom line is that the league financial situation is unhealthy.
Yes, it is, and if the league would be forthright with their reporting, there would be no dispute from the NHLPA and thus no dispute over tying salaries to revenues.
An owner should make money, a good deal more than any player.
And they do.
If I were an owner I wouldn't put up with a situation to the contrary. But it's doubtful that many teams even clear a profit of that size, even if the constant reports of most teams being money losers are viewed with skepticism (my own opinion is that the teams that do constantly lose money may have tax benefits for certain owners when financially merged with other enterprises run by the owner, but that doesn't detract from the fact that a healthy business should still produce a healthy profit).
If the NHL is such a money-loser, why would any wealthy owner worth his salt want to invest in it? Surely there are better places to invest than in a second-tier sports league?
If you want to know the estimated
amount of each team's revenues and what they made or lost, check
link, as well as the franchise values. What's eye-opening
is how many big-market clubs are apparently losing money and
how many small market ones are seemingly doing quite well. There
are of course many variables that determines each team's operating
income, but most clubs cannot point to player salaries as the
culprit for their losses.
Maybe not, but a team like the former Nordiques is less likely to move if it is at least making some money instead of losing it. That's what the cap system is meant to accomplish. Just ask Quebecers what that team meant to them. I think it preferable that every team be out of the red before squabbling about how much cash better off teams should fork over. And Calgary certainly proved you don't need the highest payroll to be competitive.
The Nordiques leaving Quebec had nothing to do with player salaries and everything to do with that province's unwillingness to construct a larger stadium for the club, which led to Marcel Aubut's selling the team. And I'm sorry to tell you but not every team will be out of the red. Some have bled red ink for years for a variety of years, again something that has little to do with players salaries.
As for the Flames, if they
can build a competitive roster with a responsible budget without
cost certainty, why can't other clubs do the same? Don't forget,
all Canadian teams made more money last season thanks to the
rise in the Canadian dollar, and they could make even more this
season if they weren't lockout out their players.
I side with the players because
I've examined the facts and found that thus far they favour the
players. I have not mistaken this for the "Carl Brewer"
era. There is nothing in the NHL's cost certainty plan that will
guarantee small markets become profitable (or more profitable
than some already are). What I see is something that won't much
change the status quo, other than to ensure big market clubs
will make a helluva lot more money than they do know. I see no
guarantees that a hard cap will be adhered to. I see nothing
in their revenue-sharing scheme that will make small market clubs
more competitive, and most importantly, I see nothing that'll
make the game more affordable to working-class fans.
I thought that was their plan too, but US labor laws makes that much more difficult that I previously believed. And if as a last gasp measure the union decertified, that would make every NHL player a free agent, creating a potentially nightmarish situation for the league, as well as facing the prospect of anti-trust suits.
I believe now the owners want to force the players into accepting cost certainty and in their best case scenario dumping Bob Goodenow in favour of someone more affable. The former could well happen but not with out a fight, and the latter isn't going to happen if they do lose out this time around.
I hope they start a new league with salaries cut to something like 20% of current rates and ticket prices cut at least by half.
That would give the owners a good buffer to make up some of the money they've bled over the years and also a chance to put into place a sustainable salary structure (if the owners want to show good faith they could also make the free agency rules more player friendly).
Do you really believe the owners would make free agency more "player friendly"? That's their complaint about the last CBA, so I doubt very much they'd want anything that made free agency more "player friendly".
That's what I would do. What I expect is that if the owners break the union, they won't reduce ticket prices because they'll probably start off with salaries that are too high to allow for it (but at least they'll have cost certainty). That's when I'll side against both owners and players. That's when I'll side with the fed-up fan who no longer wants to watch this mess, if I haven't already.
Why not avoid the rush and start siding against both now? That's where it appears headed....
Next up, "bob":
On your soapbox articles
there seems to be a decided pro-player stance
Again, because I feel the players have made the best case.
I question why you have not examined things that the players association could add to the CBA to solve many problems that you rise with a salary cap system. Things such as joint auditing, escroe, revenue sharing and more lenient free agency could all solve problems you have raised.
I have raised points about revenue sharing and more lenient free agency in several articles on Foxsports and here in the Soapbox. Joint auditing and escroe I've barely touched on, but that's because they appear to be issues neither side wants to discuss.
Another benefit to a CBA proposal including a salary cap in some form or another, is that it would block or at least hamper the NHL with the american labor board.
I'd appreciate an explanation on that if you wouldn't mind.
Finally, from Mike Lasko:
Q) Will the NHL have better
parity between teams under a luxury tax or salary cap system?
No need to dare me, in fact I've had several readers over the past months make the case for both.
They report. I respond. You decide.
Stan Fischler, MSG Network:
The NHLPA figured it had brainwashed-intimidated Pierre Dagenais out of thinking a Salary Cap is good for the NHL. Here's the latest from gutsy Pierre. "Guys have started to talk in the last three weeks," says Dagenais. "It could open Bob Goodenow's eyes. I'd be curious to see if they took a poll of the players on a Cap." They may be surprised to see how many players in my situation would vote in favor of a Cap." And that's precisely why Goodenow wouldn't dare allow such a secret ballot. He knows he'll lose.
Actually, the "gutsy" Dagenais made that quote last October, about a week prior to the NHLPA player reps meeting with Bob Goodenow. His last public statement regarding a salary cap was on November 2nd, after he attended that meeting. Here's what he said, "I said what I said last week, but it was nice to come here and learn a lot about the issues," Dagenais told reporters after the meeting. "Now I know that the union is not trying to negotiate a deal for the high-end guys, but they are doing it for everyone."
Mr. Fischler implied Dagenais recently made those comments which as the links proof is not true.
"If the season is dead," says Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press, "the players lose most of all." Is that why they're keeping Goodenow as their boss?
One could ask the same of the owners and Gary Bettman. Yes, franchise values have increased under Bettman's watch, but NHL popularity has waned in the US, the on-ice product is duller than dishwater and if the league is to be believed they're bleeding red ink.
The most telling point about cancellation of Friday's NHL Owners' meeting is that the gathering was killed primarily to deflate an NHLPA ploy. For a week, "union" spin-doctors had been planting stories that Gary Bettman would have a new proposal at the governors'get-together. Goodenow is aware that players and agents are getting antsy. By telling them that a new league offer was forthcoming, the Association boss thought he could buy another week's time for his uneasy constituency. Bettman deked him by dumping the meeting!
Why would Bettman announce back on December 22nd that he'd be meeting with the NHL Board of Governors on January 14th to "bring them up to date" on the lockout situation, only to cancel it on January 6th as a way of "deking out" Goodenow? It doesn't make sense and smacks of a lousy spin job on Fischler's part.
Media consensus suggests Bettman's annoucement of the meeting last month was an attempt to pressure the NHLPA into making a new proposal, but when it was obvious no new deal from the PA was forthcoming, Bettman was forced to cancel the meeting.
So far, The Commish has kept his governors in line. They remain committed to a Hard Cap (Cost Certainty) but will sweeten certain aspects of the most recent offer.
Perhaps they are still toeing Bettman's line, but there are a few reports suggesting some owners may be cracking. All we can do is speculate because neither owners or players are making public comments about it, but it's a safe bet both sides are feeling the frustration.
The only way I can see the players considering a hard cap is if the league accepts the PA's proposals for a "high-low" arbitration system, capped rookie bonuses, lowering the UFA eligibility age to under 30 and increases the cap level and make it more flexible.
The intimidation of agents by the NHLPA was a simple matter. Since the "union" had the power to disbar reps, it therefore held great influence over them. "I couldn't afford to say anything against Bob Goodenow," one small agency attorney tells us, "because if he drops me, I'm done." Up until now, it was a way to keep reps tied to the Association's policies. But it won't be the case under a new CBA. We're told that the league will take the certification-decertification power away from the "union."
And just how will they do that without getting themselves into legal trouble, or without protests from the majority of agents who'd rather be certified by the NHLPA rather than the NHL? Fischler makes it sound as though the NHL can take that away from the NHLPA as though a parent would take away a toy from a spoiled child, but that's simply not the case. Whoever told Fischler that is full of crap.
The more money NHL players earn, the less happy they seem to be. Ex-NHL goalie, Denis Herron, has a theory. "There's a difference between what we had then," says the ex-Hab-Penguin-Kansas City Scout, "and what's going on now. We played because we loved it and wanted to play."
And you had Alan Eagleson as your NHLPA director, plundering your pension and disability funds for his own gains. Ah yes, the good old days when players were easily manipulated. I'll bet Jeremy Jacobs and Bill Wirtz still pine for those times.
The "union's" decision to rob Rob Ray of his Lockout pay just because he doesn't agree with the NHLPA is causing The Association p.r. pain. Several media types have gone after it including The Sporting News' Kara Yorio. "This looks like a power play by the NHLPA to keep its membership in line," says Yorio. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Dave Molinari adds that the NHLPA "comes across as petty and vindictive."
According to my NHLPA sources, Ray was excluded because he was considered retired, not because of anything he had to say. My source says Ray falls in the same category as Adam Oates and Joe Juneau. Still, even I admit it does make the PA look bad.
Dany Heatley is yet another example of why European hockey is a stupid gamble for NHLers. The Atlanta ace was only "a couple of millimeters" from losing an eye. And there's a question about whether he'll recover full vision.
Yeah, stupid European hockey. Why, no player has ever suffered a serious eye injury in the NHL...oh wait, there was Steve Yzerman last year...and Bryan Berard nearly lost his eye five years ago...and Al MacInnis's career is likely over due to eye injuries...hmmm, think you'd better rethink your rant, Stan, because it makes NO DAMN SENSE!
A player risks injury every time he laces 'em up, regardless of where he's playing. By Stan's logic, player participation in training camp, pre-season games or international tournaments such as the annual World Hockey Championships aren't a good idea since they could get seriously injured and jeopardize their NHL season or career.
The latest word on Heatley's eye injury came a month ago, where it's reported he didn't suffer damage to the retina but there is some tissue damage. The report sounded good so I don't think there's any cause for alarm.
An absolute must for Bettman, Inc. will be finding a hockey-minded marketing guru to get the NHL back on track once the labor dispute is settled.
Agreed. The NHL's image was already tarnished before this lockout and the damage is worsened since, especially in the United States.
Writing in the New England Hockey Journal, Hall of Famer Kevin Dupont indicts the NHLPA better than anyone. "Too much good still in place. Too much opportunity to be had. Too much money to make, even if it's wrapped in the ugly-colored bow of "Cost Certainty." All their posturing and pouting aside, the players understand that. If they don't, the loss of this great game will be most attributable to them and no one else."
Anyone who thinks the NHL's "cost certainty" is going to improve the game is barking up the wrong tree. Ticket prices won't be slashed over the long term, big market clubs will continue make a lot of money while small markets get by, the NHL's ineffective revenue-sharing proposals (worth between $64 million - $90 million) won't narrow the competitive gap, and there's nothing in the league's cost certainty to ensure that big market teams won't find legal loopholes to circumvent a hard cap.
I'm not suggesting the NHLPA's offers are perfect and should be accepted without question, but at least they make it possible to small market clubs to benefit from potential overspending from big market teams, plus they were proposing a more lucrative revenue-sharing scheme from regular season revenues, not playoff teams.
If the NHL achieves all or most of its cost certainty goals, there are going to be a lot of disappointed fans and reporters in five years time.
Yes, NHL players are talking to their owners - on the q.t., of course. After one such confab, the owner tells a friend that seventy percent of his players would cross the line next September, if camps open.
That's not likely tohappen because it appears the NHL's case for declaring an impasse is not that strong thus there won't be any need for players to be in strike mode. The union also has several mechanisms under US labor laws (see the above link) that would throw a monkey wrench into those plans.
And if the union decides to decertify then things could take a whole new twist.
Mike Brophy, The Hockey News:
But with the possibility of losing two years of salary and then losing the war anyway, it makes one wonder why they (the players) aren't trying to negotiate something -&SHY; anything &SHY;- while they still can.
Uhhh, Mike, they have been trying to negotiate. The problem is, the NHL doesn't want to. The NHLPA made their first offer back in June 2003, which was rejected within a half-hour by the league. The league waited over thirteen months before making a counter-offer of six proposals all tied to capping salaries. The league ignored the PA's second offer, made just prior to the imposition of the lockout, then sat on its ass for three months before being spurred into action by the PA's third offer of a 24 percent rollback, which prompted their second-counteroffer. To date, the PA has been proactive in these negotations, the league reactive.
What should scare players more than anything is the owners' resolve. To not acknowledge it could prove foolhardy.
If you listen or read any of the players comments over the past month, it's clear they understand the owners' resolve. That, however, isn't going to dent their own. In fact, it'll only make the players dig in just as hard.
In the 1994-95 lockout that lasted 103 days, there was always an underlying feeling the owners would ultimately collapse and that's exactly what happened. The league had new teams and new owners and could not afford to shut down for the entire season. That is no longer the case. These are Bettman's owners and he has vowed to get them cost certainty.
Even at the expense of the league's future. Given the declining popularity of the NHL in the US, this is the wrong fight at the wrong time for the NHL. They should be working with the players, not against them. That's not to suggest the NHL should give in or that the PA's offers were perfect, but the players have shown willingness to make concession and to negotiate. The league, on the other hand, has not, and even if they get what they want from this dispute, it's going to cost them down the road.
Bettman may not have convinced all the players yet, but he has me believing he'll go to the wall on this one.
I'm convinced of that, too, and that's why I'm despairing over his unwillingness to negotiate or make even simple concessions. If he achieves cost certainty, it will be a pyrrhic victory, one that hurts the league more than it helps.
Some players are starting to believe they are fighting a war they cannot win. As one told me, "We can dig in all we want, but at the end of the day it's the owners' league and they can do what they damn well please. They're the ones paying the bills."
Yes, they are, but they should also be accountable for the bills they incur. By making their antagonistic hard-line demands, they're essentially trying to pin the blame for their excesses on the players. It's not enough they admit they've made mistakes, but their efforts to "correct " them won't do the league any good in the long run. Cooperation, not confrontation, is needed.
The owners had it good for a lot of years while the players have had the scales tipped in their favor for the past decade. None of that matters now. The only thing that matters is the future.
Indeed, but again, as Brophy noted, it's the owners' league and they can do what they damn well please. And what seems to please a lot of them right now is running their league into the ground.
If there is no NHL hockey for a year or two, what was once a $2-billion-plus industry could be whittled down to under $1 billion. A smaller pie means smaller slices for everyone involved.
All the more reason why the owners should be negotiating with their players rather than trying to crush them. All they're doing is sustaining the mistrust and anger the players have felt toward them for years. If you think this labour dispute was bad, wait'll you see what's in store the next time these two sides tangle. The PA won't forget.
The NHL Players' Association is banking on either the NHL not being able to secure its impasse in court, or, if an impasse is declared, no players crossing a picket line and going back to work. It sounds good on paper, but it is also very, very risky. All it will take is one high-profile player announcing he has had enough and he's going back to work. Then, stand back and watch the flood gates open wide.
True, but as noted earlier in this article, there are other methods by which the NHLPA could mess up those plans, and if they opt for decertification, that's only going to make the mess even worse, especially because then every player becomes a free agent, which is not what the league wants at all.
Having spoke with a number of players, I get a sense some are starting to soften on the "no cap" stance and as long as guaranteed contracts can be negotiated, they are ready to end the fight.
That said, they are afraid to stand up and say so for fear of being vilified by other players. And if the majority of players feel this way, it would be a shame to see the season &SHY;- and numerous careers &SHY;- go down the drain.
The same thing is also rumoured to be happening amongst the owners. For all the talk of solidarity, enforced by a gag order, it's become obvious in recent weeks that there is concern on their side. Some may have no problem losing this season, but other, further thinking owners are starting to have doubts.
Michael Rosenberg, Detroit Free Press:
The owners aren't going to fold. Commissioner Gary Bettman needs only eight votes among 30 owners to nix a deal. With at least half the teams losing money, by almost any calculation, Bettman can get those eight votes in less time than it takes him to twitch uncomfortably.
That being said, should most of those 22 votes be from the more influential teams, is it a stretch to suggest they'll put pressure on those who'd want to stick with the deal? Sure, it's speculation on my part, but it is possible.
In the last few months, many players have lashed out at Bettman. They point out that Bettman was the one who approved franchises in non-traditional markets; that Bettman is barely budging on his demands; that Bettman has been in office for 12 years and must take responsibility for the state of the game.
In many respects, they are correct. For much of the last decade, hockey owners cashed in on big expansion fees with little thought about how it would affect the game in the long term. That's a big reason hockey is where it is.
But this is no longer a question of right and wrong. It's a question of hockey or no hockey, and the sand is piling up at the bottom of the hourglass.
So cave, players, give in, let the owners off the hook for their errors, and accept cost certainty. It's for the common good, and who cares if the owners won't learn from these errors and little changes under their cost certainty plan.
Scott Burnside, ESPN.com
Forging a new Collective Bargaining Agreement now will give the players their last, best shot at ensuring a lucrative financial future. They likely could negotiate a higher salary cap and build in mechanisms to reap rewards in hand with the owners, should the health of the league improve. Players could insist on a sliding scale whereby if league revenues hit $2.5 billion, the players get a 57 percent share; if revenues increase to $3 billion, the players' take could grow to 60 percent, and so on, much like the deal their NBA brethren struck. The players also could have a hand in administering a revenue-sharing system that was absent from the owners' last proposal.
Nice suggestions, but the league isn't going to allow that to happen. They'll do the legally creative work necessary to keep revenues below those marks, and even if they keep it on the level, they're not going to agree on a sliding scale when they're determined to keep salaries around the 55% mark. And there's no way in hell the owners will allow the NHLPA to have a hand in determining where those revenue-sharing dollars go.
There is a persistent rumor that a rift exists among the 700-or-so players locked out since Sept. 16, and some vocal, highly paid players are pushing for a vote on accepting a salary cap, as well as the union's direction. The players' association, naturally, has hotly denied this. Rank and file players and agents contacted by ESPN.com also insist there remains solidarity throughout the membership.
Who are these "vocal players". After all, some of those rank and file players had no problem voicing their opinions in the first two months of the lockout. So what's stopping them now? Does anyone really think a guy with the attitude of a Jeremy Roenick or Brett Hull or Chris Chelios pushing their peers to accept a cap would give two farts in a windstorm what the PA hierarchy thinks? You couldn't keep their comments out of the papers, so I doubt there is anything to this rumour.
Owners, for the most part, have little deep-rooted connection to the game. Most of them made their money elsewhere and, should the league cease to exist, would continue to make millions doing something else. They are almost entirely responsible for their economic predicament and are determined to get out of it. Several high-profile decision makers on both sides of the issue have said the owners' goal isn't just to forge a new system, it's also to break the union and bring down NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow, whom they almost universally abhor. However, one of those power brokers thinks otherwise, saying the owners simply "want what they want," a new system.
So the owners get to continually screw up, continually overpay players, allow their GMs to work with player agents to find legally creative measures to skirt a hard cap on entry level salaries, propose a toothless system of revenue sharing, continue charging high ticket prices despite capped salaries, and not be held accountable? In the words of the Talking Heads, "same as it ever was, same as it ever was..."
Based on the elements of their last proposal, the players can no longer deny the league is in dire economic trouble. It's now time for them to make the ultimate "take one for the team" statement and agree to a salary cap.
Yeah, let the owners off the hook for ten years of mismanagement, guys, and just give in "for the good of the game". There is also no question the league has lost money, nor has the NHLPA denied it themselves, but as Forbes discovered, those losses are nowhere near what the league claims them to be, and that's where the problem lies if you wanna tie salaries to revenues.
The players by nature of their three offers have shown a willingness to address changes needed in the system. The league, on the other hand, has not, instead wanting the players to pay for its own mistakes.
During the last lockout a decade ago, they claimed they'd never accept a luxury tax. This time around, it's a major component of their proposals.
While the last time around, a luxury tax was a major component of the league's proposals, and now it claims it won't work. Rest assured, given their druthers the players would rather keep the previous CBA system, but they know that change is required, hence their willingness this time around to accept a luxury tax.
Another decade from now, if the game is thriving once again, no one will remember the players caved. In fact, they'll most likely be remembered for saving the game.
Read an interesting bit by Stephen Harris of the Boston Herald over the New Year's weekend that I felt was worth commenting on. Indeed, I was going to write about this last week but then the league cancelled the Board of Governors meeting and that set everyone off on a tangent for a while, myself included.
Anyway, the bit that caught my eye was the following:
In winning the Stanley Cup, the Lightning played an on-ice system far different from the smothering, cautious, overly defensive approach used by teams like the New Jersey Devils. The Lightning attacked, sent their defensemen up into the offense, took chances and relied on standout goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.
It has been noted that the on-ice styles of play tend to be cyclical. The New York Islanders dominated for years with a fairly defensive style, Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers came along with a wide-open, offensive plan, the Devils brought the trap to the forefront of NHL coaching technique, and now, maybe the Lightning will inspire a more exciting brand of hockey.
There's no question the Lightning were the most exciting team in the NHL last season. As Harris noted, their style of game was quite different from the plodding clutch-and-grab "defensive trap" that smothered offence and sucked the life out of the game over the past decade.
In a sense, the Lightning played a style somewhat similar to the "run-and-gun" of the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980's, although unlike those Oilers, they didn't abandon the defensive side of their game throughout the regular season and playoffs. To be fair, come playoff time the 80's Oilers did tighten up defensively, but the 2004 Lightning played a much better defensive game.
The Bolts aren't the only team to try to play a more offensive style. In recent years, the Vancouver Canucks under head coach Marc Crawford employed a similar free-wheeling style. Defencemen Ed Jovanovski, Matthias Ohlund and Brent Sopel aren't shy about joining the rush, and the recent development of the Sedin Twins helps take some pressure off Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison. Unfortunately, they lacked the goaltending to carry over their regular season success into the playoffs.
The Colorado Avalanche was perhaps the least reliant on trapping style hockey over the past ten years, thanks to the outstanding goaltending of Patrick Roy and a good two-way defence corps, but they didn't open up as much as the Lightning and Canucks. Given the retirement of Roy, the aging of key players like Joe Sakic, Rob Blake, Adam Foote and the uncertainty over Peter Forsberg's future, the Avs appear poised for a certain decline.
The Toronto Maple Leafs also tried to focus more on opening up offensively, but a lack of defensive depth and quality goaltending scuttled their chances of advancement against stronger defensive clubs over the years.
Even the NY Rangers under Glen Sather tried to resurrect the run-and-gun style but inattention to detail within their own blueline and an absence of quality netminding left them floundering.
What accounted for the Lightning's success was strong goaltending courtesy of Nikolai Khabibulin, an under-rated defence corps that was capable of playing well at both ends of the ice, and the fact their best offensive players in the regular season were also their best when it counted most - in the playoffs.
It should also be remembered that the team's core (as identified by Damian Cristodero of the St. Petersburg Times) - Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier, Ruslan Fedotenko, Pavel Kubina, Cory Sarich, Dan Boyle, and newly returned Lightning Vaclav Prospal - are all under thirty, with most of them in their mid-twenties.
Young legs makes it easier to play that up-tempo offensive style.
But is this a true cyclical change? Are the Lightning the only team that can overthrow ten years of the trap?
The Bolts are no fluke, that's for sure, and even if a hard salary cap goes into place, they'll be well-positioned to retain their core. They'll likely remain Cup contenders for some time.
So which teams might be positioning themselves to emulate the Lightning?
The aforementioned Canucks certainly have the horses, provided they can get Markus Naslund back for at least another season, but they've got to get quality playoff goaltending from Dan Cloutier to make it happen.
The Leafs are older and as the past two years have shown, lack what it takes to match the Lightning's efforts. The Avs are another club that has too many key players getting up in age and lacking wheels to sustain a more offensive style.
The Atlanta Thrashers certainly have two key components in Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk, Kari Lehtonen could give them the dominant goaltending they need and Braydon Coburn could emerge as their blueline anchor in a few years. Unfortunately, they're about where the Lightning were three years ago and still have gaps to fill in their roster.
The Buffalo Sabres raised eyebrows with their spirited stretch run that brought them to within one win from a playoff berth at one point before the NY Islanders pulled away. They're loaded with young talent (Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, Dmitri Kalinin, JP Dumont, Maxim Afinogenov, Jay McKee, Brian Campbell, Henrik Tallinder, Martin Biron) and have more on the way (Drew Stafford, Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller) but most of them are either still developing or inconsistent. Long-time head coach Lindy Ruff preaches trapping defensive hockey and as long as he's around the Sabres may not develop into a Lightning-like club.
The Calgary Flames were the biggest surprise of last season with their run to the Stanley Cup finals. They've got an apparent franchise goalie in Miikka Kiprusoff and obvious franchise player in Jarome Iginla, plus one of the deepest young bluelines in the league in Robyn Regehr, Jordan Leopold, Toni Lydman, Rhett Warrener and this year's WJC standout Dion Phaneuf. Their emphasis is on the defensive game although their speedy style is more exciting than the plodding style we've seen from too many other NHL clubs in the past. They are lacking in offensive depth after Iginla, as Steven Reinprecht and Marcus Nilson are their only real scoring threats.
The Chicago Blackhawks are chockful of promising young talent, spearheaded by Tuomo Ruutu, Kyler Calder, Mark Bell and Tyler Arnason. Their defence needs work, however, as prospects like Brent Seabrook, Cam Barker and Anton Babchuk have a way to go before they can step up. Goaltender Jocelyn Thibault, when healthy and confident, can be an outstanding goalie but he's got to improve in both areas.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are still building their roster nearly five years after joining the NHL. They've got some promising young talent in rising star Rick Nash, Nikolai Zherdev and Marc Denis, and they still have high hopes for defenceman Rostislav Klesla, but the Jackets are still a long way away from reaching their full potential.
The Florida Panthers are poised to bust out within the next couple of years. They're very deep in promising young talent at all levels and they've got a goalie in Roberto Luongo who's more than used to standing on his head when his club's defensive game breaks down, which happened a lot over the past two seasons. If GM Mike Keenan and coach Jacques Martin can bring out the best in these kids at both ends of the ice, they'll be challenging their state rivals from Tampa Bay for league supremacy.
The Montreal Canadiens spent several years in the wilderness but may be on the verge of a youth renaissance of their own. Goalie Jose Theodore, like Luongo, is used to facing a lot of rubber and usually plays his best in those situations. Their much-heralded prospect depth finally made some noise last season, with Mike Ribeiro, Michael Ryder, Andrei Markov, and Mike Komisarek emerging as core players. Should they continue to improve and prospects like Andrei Kostitsyn, Chris Higgins, Ron Hainsey and Corey Locke also develop as hoped, the Habs could also have a speedy offensive contender in a few years.
The Ottawa Senators played the defensive trap game for years, but they obviously have the wheels both defensively and offensively to adopt a more aggressive offensive game. Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, and Chris Phillips are more than capable of jumping up on the rush, while forwards Daniel Alfredsson, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat and Jason Spezza can provide plenty of offensive punch. Where the Sens are lacking, as always, is between the pipes. They need a dominant netminder who can carry them to the Stanley Cup, and a fading Dominik Hasek isn't going to do it. They also need a confidence boost after years of having their butts kicked in post-season competition by their hated provincial rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The San Jose Sharks surprised a lot of folks with their march to the Western Conference Finals last season, coming only a year after their failure to make the playoffs resulted in an overall of management and a rebuilding of their roster with youth. They're deep from the net out, with a strong goalie tandem (Evgeny Nabokov and Vesa Toskala), talented blueline corps (Brad Stuart, Scott Hannan, Kyle McLaren, and the "old man" Mike Rathje) and developing scorers up front (Patrick Marleau, Jonathan Cheechoo, Marco Sturm and Nils Ekman). If they can add more punch to their offensive attack they could become a serious powerhouse in the West.
Just because these clubs all appear to have the goods, however, doesn't mean the league is on the verge of a cyclical change toward offence.
For the NHL to regain its following whenever this labour dispute ends, and to attract much-needed new fans, it must see a return to a more exciting offensive style.
It'll take more than just a few promising clubs playing a more offensive game. For such real change to occur, there must be a committment at the league front office toward such a goal.
The obstructionist defensive trap has dominated the league mindset for nearly a decade, due in no small part to the NHL's unwillingness to make the real changes necessary to improve the product.
If the league continues to keep its head in the sand over the quality of their game, then it may be asking too much to expect a handful of clubs to bring about that change on their own.
Should we see a return to more defensive minded clubs dominating post-season play over the next several years, the Lightning's success in 2004 may be written off as a fluke, and nothing will really change in the way the NHL game is played.
The Hockey News recently published an article musing on the fates of players considered RFAs prior to the expiration of the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement. THN wonders what the outcome of their respective contract negotiations will be once a new CBA is in place.
So, to take a break from the continually depressing lockout news, I've decided to post up THN's list and comments (italicized) and add my own two cents. As always, I encourage your feedback, folks.
10. Aleksey Morozov, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins
2003-04 salary: $1.5 million -- The 27-year-old Russian failed to come to terms with the Penguins last off-season, and decided to play with the high-powered AK Bars Kazan club in the Russian Super League in 2004-05 (whether there would be an NHL season or not). Therefore, Morozov may become an even tougher player to sign for the small-budget Pens. However, Pittsburgh needs his offense.
What works against Morozov is his injury history and inconsistency. He's teased the Pens with his potential but has yet to put it all together into a complete season. If the new CBA generates a flood of young, affordable talent onto the UFA market, the Pens could pass on Morozov. If they do opt to re-sign him, it won't be for much more than his previous salary.
9. Roman Hamrlik, D, New York Islanders
2003-04 salary: $3.6 million -- A longtime member of the daily rumor mill in the NHL, Hamrlik has become too expensive for the Islanders to keep. In fact, the veteran Czech may have priced himself out of the league altogether. Unless he adds to his game, or accepts less money, Hamrlik will probably continue to be a financial conundrum on Long Island. Under a salary cap system, he'd have to take a cut.
I concur with this assessment. Hamrlik's been the topic of trade rumours for the past two years, and prior to the lockout the talk out of Long Island was of the Isles retaining Adrian Aucoin and Janne Niinimaa and dealing off Hamrlik, possibly to bring in a scoring winger to play on Alexei Yashin's line.
8. Olli Jokinen, C, Florida Panthers
2003-04 salary: $2 million -- Jokinen has blossomed into the leader of the up-and-coming Panthers roster. Therefore, he'll probably start making big money with his next contract. However, The Cats may need to save a little on Jokinen's next contract in order to maintain most of their young talent intact in the years ahead. But since the big Finnish center plays a total game, he's now holding all the cards.
Agreed. The Panthers will try to save as much money as they can on him, but ultimately they'll have to retain Jokinen, who if not for Roberto Luongo would be their franchise player. They can ill-afford to lose him. Besides, he blossomed playing under Mike Keenan and there's a mutual admiration between the two. Keenan will re-sign him and it'll likely be to a raise of $3 million plus.
7. Andrew Raycroft, G, Boston Bruins
2003-04 salary: $550,000 -- The Bruins are a notoriously frugal organization, so that doesn't figure to change when NHL play starts up again--regardless of the new economic system in place. Raycroft, coming off a Calder trophy performance, will certainly try to cash in on his outstanding 2003-04 campaign. However, with hotshot prospect Hannu Toivonen in the fold, Boston may play hardball with Raycroft.
Oh, you can count on the Bruins playing hardball. Their roster is so gutted right now that I think they've undoubtedly accepted the fact they're going to be an also-ran when the league returns to action. Toivonen gives them insurance, and let's not forget the possibility of signing a cheap, temporary replacement via free agency. Raycroft will get a raise whenever he does re-sign, but it's not going to be for big money.
6. Pavel Datsyuk, C, Detroit Red Wings
2003-04 salary: $1.5 million -- Datsyuk has slowly moved into the ranks of the NHL's elite at the center position in recent years, and figures to be at worst the No. 2 center (behind veteran Robert Lang) in Detroit when NHL hockey resumes. Since the Wings like to add veteran talent to the roster, they often try to keep the salaries of restricted free agents down. With Datsyuk, they may not be able to do so.
The Wings have too many veterans who will be moving on soon, and if the rules regarding salaries change, they'll have to retain as much talented youth as possible. They won't cut Datysuk loose because he'll represent part of the club's core of youth upon which their hopes of rebuilding back into a Cup contender rests.
5. Peter Forsberg, C, Colorado Avalanche
2003-04 salary: $11 million -- Will he or won't he retire? One of the unresolved issues facing the NHL once a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is reached with the NHLPA will be Forsberg's NHL status. He was expected to retire from the NHL to wind up his playing days at home with MoDo Hockey in the Swedish Elitserien. While he is playing for his hometown club right now, will he remain there?
Forsberg is a wild card for the Avs right now. If the league succeeds in getting their hard cap, they won't be able to re-sign him to $11 million again, so he'd have to take a significant pay cut. He's also believed to have grown disgusted with the current NHL product so retirement remains a possibility.
4. Dany Heatley, RW, Atlanta Thrashers
2003-04 salary: $1.075 million -- Heatley is one of the brightest lights for the future of the NHL, so his next contract will be under a microscope. Throw in the fact he's coming off a serious eye injury from playing in Europe, as well as a vehicular manslaughter court case, and you see why Heatley's contract status is somewhat in the air right now. Atlanta will certainly pay top dollar for him, but is he damaged goods?
No, he's not. Look at his play when he returned from injury last season, in last year's World Hockey championships (where he led all scorers) and his contributions to Team Canada's 2004 World Cup of Hockey championship. His eye injury didn't cause permanent damage and he's recuperated well from his knee injury. Along with Ilya Kovalchuk he forms the foundation upon which the Thrashers hope to build themselves into a contender. He'll be re-signed.
3. Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, Atlanta Thrashers
2003-04 salary: $1.130 million -- Like teammate Heatley, Kovalchuk is one of the best up-and-coming talents in the NHL and will certainly be in line for a hefty raise upon the signature of a new CBA. However, the 21-year-old Russian has superstar appeal in his homeland, and may receive comparable offers to remain overseas in 2005-06. On the other hand, the NHL can ill-afford to lose Kovalchuk, either.
Kovalchuk and Heatley will likely be re-signed to deals somewhere between $5 million - $6 million each, and yes, that's taking into account the possibility of a salary cap. The Thrashers are fortunate to have two franchise players on their roster and they're not about to let them get away.
2. Jarome Iginla, RW, Calgary Flames
2003-04 salary: $7.5 million -- The Iginla contract situation will be monitored at all hockey levels, from league management, to the players' association, to virtually every GM in the league. One of the first questions that the new CBA will need to answer is, "Can the Flames be able to afford Iginla going forward?" If the answer is no, there will be a lot of anger throughout the league--as well as one happy GM.
Iggy wants to stay and the Flames want to retain him. Prior to the lockout both sides were expressing optimism about getting a deal in place even if it had to wait until after a new CBA was in place. Honestly, I can't see the Flames cutting him loose, even if they have to pay top dollar to retain him.
1. Martin St. Louis, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning
2003-04 salary: $1.5 million -- The explosive St. Louis was arguably the biggest bargain of the 2003-04 campaign, as he won the Art Ross and Hart trophies for the eventual Stanley Cup champions. Now comes the hard part: Re-signing the 29-year-old right-winger to a long-term contract. With many great players in the fold, especially Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards, keeping St. Louis will be tough.
In the wake of the recent cancellation of an NHL Board of Governors meeting with Commissioner Gary Bettman, the media began to inquire into the rationale of first announcing a BoG meeting nearly a month in advance, only to cancel it a week before it was to be held.
Media consensus is the league was attempting to put pressure on the NHLPA to come forward with either another proposal or to initiate further discussion based on the NHL's counter-offer to the association's December 9th offer.
This led to several comments from NHL VP Bill Daly, ostensibly to address media criticism, but also to attempt to lay blame for the current situation solely upon the NHLPA.
Below are Daly's comments (italicized) with my responses.
"Let's be clear on where the responsibility lies for where we find ourselves today: it lies exclusively at the feet of union leadership who, despite numerous and repeated approaches by the league over many years, utterly ignored - and, in some cases, knowingly exacerbated - the financial distress the league was experiencing."
The problems with the previous CBA were obvious long before Gary Bettman first started harping about them back in 1999. The average salary climbed from $733K in 1994 to $1.073 million by 1997, two year before Bettman started to complain about problems within the CBA. Indeed, on their CBA website, the league claimed that prior to 1999 the CBA was working as it was intended. Interestingly, that link is no longer there.
Anyone with eyes could tell salaries were significantly on the rise by 1997, but that didn't stop the league from extending the expiration date of the previous CBA from 2000 to 2004. The league claims that was done to ensure "labor peace", but won't tell you why.
The reason was there were four new clubs scheduled to join the NHL between 1998 and 2000, each one paying up $80 million US apiece for a grand total of $320 million in expansion fees. The owners of those clubs were leery about joining a league that could shut down before they'd had a chance to build up their fanbase. To ensure it would get those clubs, the league had to ensure labor peace.
So when there was expansion money to be had, the league had no problem with the CBA, but once that well dried up, then it had a problem.
Bettman loves to claim that he's tried for years to get the NHLPA to return to the table to renegotiate the CBA, but as noted yesterday by the Hockey Rodent, the NHLPA was totally within their rights to stick with the CBA. It was a contract between the league and the players, and the players opted to stay with it.
Does anyone believe if the roles were reversed and the NHLPA was demanding to renegotiate a CBA that was tilted in the league's favour that the NHL would graciously acquiesce? I think we all know what the response would be!
Daly claims the NHL "utterly ignored - even exacerbated " the league's "financial distress".
That's true to a certain degree. Player agents found loopholes in the CBA that could be legally exploited to the benefit of the clients (ie - bonuses to circumvent the hard cap on entry-level salaries). There were some players who staged lengthy holdouts to demand salaries they clearly weren't worthy of, even one notable occasion when a player (Alexei Yashin) held out in a vain attempt to break an existing contract. All of this was done with the PA's blessing.
The lopsidedness of the arbitration system in the players' favour under the previous CBA was definitely a problem that drove up salaries, but the NHLPA cannot be held responsible for that.
The one inescapable fact is that, time and again, it was the teams who paid out those salaries. It was the teams who paid out substantial raises to RFA players, often without a fight. It was the teams who gave in to players who staged holdouts in the misguided perception that one player was greater than the team. It was big market teams - and on occasion, mid-and-small market teams - who ponied up hefty UFA salaries to fading players.
Nobody forced them to do this. They did it willingly and repeatedly.
If the NHL was in such dire financial straits by 1999, then why did the average salary jump from $1.194 million to $1.8 million by 2004? Why did the median salary rise from $750 k in 1999 to nearly $1 million by 2004?
Surely a league in financial trouble wouldn't have seen such dramatic increases in both average and median salaries within a five year period... unless perhaps it's not in as much trouble as it claim to be.
And where was the league to put the brakes on any of this? Remember, all contracts have to be approved by NHL headquarters, so why didn't Bettman use his clout as commissioner to reject such blatantly stupid contracts as Martin Lapointe's four-year, $25 million deal with the Boston Bruins or Alexei Yashin's insane seven year $70 million plus deal with the NY Islanders?
He can't, of course, because he really doesn't run the show, the owners do, and he enforces their agenda. He can make recommendations, he can complain (as he did with the Yashin signing), but in the end, owners will do exactly what they want, commissioner be damned.
"Then, as if to suggest it is the league who must agree to negotiate only on its terms, the union proceeds to hold the game and its fans hostage over its complete and absolute refusal to negotiate any system that is premised on a negotiated - not arbitrary, but negotiated - and rational relationship between player costs and league-wide revenues.
First of all, the NHLPA isn't holding anyone "hostage". It was the league who locked out the players, not the players walking out and going on strike.
Second, it was the NHLPA who made the first offer back in June 2003, where they proposed a luxury tax starting at $40 million, a tougher cap on entry-level salaries and elimination of bonus loophole on those salaries, a five percent salary rollback and proposed revenue sharing.
It wasn't a perfect offer, but it was a start, and showed the NHLPA was willing to address the changes needed in the system. The players could've said, "no thanks, we love the system the way it is and therefore don't believe change is necessary", but they didn't. The PA was proactive by taking the first step.
The league waited over a YEAR (July 2004) before making its "counter-offer" of six proposals, all of which sought to cap payrolls at 53% of their claimed revenues, which worked out to be roughly $33 million. When the PA made another offer, the league didn't even bother to make a counter-offer. In fact, it barely addressed it.
Had the union not made a third offer last month, you can bet the farm the league would still be sitting around waiting for the NHLPA to come forward. It was the PA's substantial offer that forced the league into its counter-offer.
Now, rather than seize the initiative to make a proposal without having to be spurred by the NHLPA, the league continues to sit back and offer nothing. The association has shown willingness, time and again, to make concessions, but it has reached the point, and rightfully so, where its membership isn't willing to concede anything else, at least not until the league shows a willingness to make some of their own.
"I can only hope that the players understand and appreciate the union's chosen strategy in this process: ignore the economic problems, delay in offering meaningful relief, and refuse to negotiate over an economic system that will ensure that the problems will not be repeated."
I love these slurs by the league and their media sycophants that suggest the players are a bunch of well-meaning but stunned jocks who are being led by the nose by Bob Goodenow and have no idea as to the business side of the league.
Sadly, it's the same tactic the league has used since the 1950s - try to prey on the players naivete and their love of the game in hopes of breaking their resolve. It used to work in the '50s and '60s, and almost worked in 1992 and 1994.
Only problem is, this bunch of players are far more business-savvy than their predecessors, whether due to education, agents, the experience of older players who went through the last lockout or a combination of all three.
It's been two months since we last heard a complaint from a player over the course the PA has taken with negotiations. Back in October as many as a dozen fringe players were openly criticizing the NHLPA hierarchy in the media, but there hasn't been a peep since.
The reason for that was clear: Goodenow showed them how the league's cost certainty plans would cut the median salary back to 1994 levels, which would in turn dramatically impact the salaries of the lowest paid players. Ever since, the grumbling has vanished.
Daly's comment is also meant to deflect criticism away from the league, who created and perpetuated this mess but now want to make the players the scapegoat of their supposed "problems".
Indeed, one could aim that paragraph back at Daly's NHL. It ignored the economic problems in the late-'90s when it was painfully obvious that salaries were rising, that teams were prepared to make offer sheets to key RFA players, that other RFAs were willing to threaten or stage holdouts, that unrestricted free agency was contributing to rising salaries, and that arbitration was not a level playing field in salary negotiations.
Delay in offering meaningful relief - like waiting over a year after the NHLPA made its first offer before making your first counteroffer, ignoring the PA's second offer, and then hunkering down for over three months with no intention of moving off your July offer until the PA blindsided you with a 24% rollback offer finally spurred you into responding.
Refuse to negotiate - see above.
"Ted's(Saskin, NHLPA VP) suggestion that the league did not put forth a meaningful proposal on Dec. 14 is delusional. The union should look in the mirror. We've been at this process for the better part of six years and it took the union until Dec. 9, 2004 - three months into a work stoppage - to make its first and only bona-fide collective bargaining proposal."
Whoop! Whoop! BS alert! BS Alert! Break out the shovels, it getting piled high!
As I've made quite clear in this article, the league has done little in actual negotiating. It claims it wanted to negotiate for six years, but when the PA makes their initial offer, a full FIFTEEN MONTHS before the end of the CBA, the league hummed and hawed and bad-mouthed the union and sunk a million bucks into a smokescreen report in an attempt to portray themselves as hemorrhaging money before finally making a half-assed offer of six proposals all tied to a 53% hard cap on payrolls. Then it ignored the PA's second offer and then sat around for three months making no attempt to negotiate until the PA's December 9th proposal caught them off guard and forced it into a response.
When has the league made a proactive step forward in negotiating? When have they seized the initiative? When have they shown a real willingness to compromise or to make concessions? That's what negotiating is about, not ignoring the other side except to make blunt dismissals of their offers while countering with a "take it or else" response.
Some of you might consider my opinion one-sided, but the facts are there to support it. If the roles were reversed and it was the PA refusing to negotiate and the league making all the concessions, I would be on the NHL's side.
That's simply not the case here. The league has demonstrated an unwillingness to negotiate in good faith. It wants the players to make all the concessions.
"(The NHLPA's last offer) did not even come close to addressing the many significant systemic flaws that have repeatedly been identified and exposed under the current CBA.
Actually, it would go a long way to addressing those systemic flaws, provided the owners could be trusted to run their teams responsibly. They can't, of course, and Bettman is powerless to stop them. Granted, the PA's last offer wasn't perfect, particularly their luxury tax proposal, but it did contain a framework for negotiation. It was something that could be built upon. At the very least, it was something worth discussing, rather than blunt dismissal.
"Everyone who is even the least bit knowledgeable about our CBA and how it operates saw right through the proposal almost immediately for exactly what it was: a union offer designed to `buy' continued salary inflation at unsustainable levels, and the maintenance of an economic system that necessarily fosters financial and competitive disparities among clubs."
Yes, because they saw that the owners wouldn't be able to restrain themselves and the league would be powerless to stop them. It wasn't perfect, but it was a good start, something that could've been built upon. The league's counter-proposal did contain some parts that could also have formed the basis for continued negotiation, but it also contained some serious flaws too.
Nearly a month ago, the league was careful to lavish praise on the NHLPA's 24 percent rollback, probably because they took this as a sign the players resolve was cracking.
Now, a month later, with the players more unified than ever and quite upset over the league's almost casual dismissal of their efforts and the league's failed attempt to pressure them with a bogus BoG meeting in mid-January, it seems the league is letting their own frustrations get the better of them.
It may play well to the fans who support the league, but remember, public opinion means nothing in this dispute.
Ever since I first read the article by Forbes magazine which questioned the validity of the NHL's self-declared losses of almost $500 million over the past two years, (Forbes estimates it's less than half that amount), I've been troubled by the list of estimated profit makers and losers.
For years we've been told that small market teams were struggling, that they were losing money and if something wasn't done to change the present system, those losses would compound to the point where some of these teams would have to relocate or possibly fold.
Meanwhile, the big-market teams were supposedly just raking in the dough, acquiring expensive marquee talent via trades or unrestricted free agency, laughing all the way to the bank.
Looking at the estimated operating income of the 30 NHL franchises, one would expect to see the big market clubs dominating the list of money makers.
Surprisingly, of the free-spending teams, only the Toronto Maple Leafs are in that list, in fact, topping it. The Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins are there, big market teams in every sense except for how much they'll actually sink into their rosters.
It's debatable if Montreal or Vancouver could be considered big market, but even if you call them "mid-market" they did well, with the Habs making $7.5 million and the Canucks $1.3 million by Forbes' estimates.
Interestingly , the Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues and Philadelphia Flyers are nowhere to be found.
In fact, they all show up among the estimated money losers. In order, the Stars lost $300K, the Avalanche $1.1 million, the Rangers $3.3 million, the Flyers $4.1 million, the Red Wings $16.4 million and the Blues $28.8 million.
Conversely, the majority of teams on the plus side of the ledger were considered small or mid-market clubs.
The Minnesota Wild made the second-most money last season (an estimated $11.5 million), followed by the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Nashville Predators, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, San Jose Sharks, Columbus Blue Jackets and Atlanta Thrashers.
There were the expected small market clubs among the money losers, but even then their losses weren't as great as expected. According to Forbes, the Pittsburgh Penguins lost $600K, the Florida Panthers $3.7 million and the Ottawa Senators $5 million.
These weren't just anomalies attributable to this season.
When one looks at this compilation (courtesy of Andrew's Dallas Stars Page, which contains lots of great info on the lockout) since 1997-98, we find some of these teams have been perennial money makers or losers.
The Atlanta Thrashers made over $25 million since coming into existance with only one season where they were in the loss category. Columbus, Edmonton, Minnesota, Nashville and Pittsburgh, supposedly losing money or struggling to get by, instead actually made money over the long term.
Meanwhile, some of the most supposedly successful franchises, such as the Avalanche, Stars, Red Wings and Blues, either made little money or rang up huge losses.
Now one could sit back and say, well, Spector, it's no coincidence that a lot of the small market made money and most of the big markets didn't, just look at how much they've spent on payroll over the years.
That, however, doesn't quite jibe.
For example, the Detroit Red Wings have stated for some time that they must have a lengthy playoff run to "break even" while carrying a high-salaried roster.
Yet, during their 2002 Cup run, they lost over $3 million US. When they won the Cup in 1998, they lost nearly $2 million. And in 2000, when they were eliminated in the second round by the Avalanche, they actually made $2 million with the fourth highest payroll in the league (over $43 million).
The New York Rangers, meanwhile, have usually been either the highest salaried team or very close to it since 1997-98. Given they didn't make the playoffs during that time, one would expect their losses to be staggering, yet over that seven-year period Forbes estimates their losses to be a grand total of $5.5 million.
Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers, who've certainly never been shy about paying top dollar for their players, had only two Conference Finals appearance each, yet made $94.3 million and 22.7 million respectively by Forbes' estimation.
And what of the supposedly struggling small market franchises?
We can safely rule the Wild out of that category, given their eye-popping $54.8 million estimated profit since their inception only four seasons ago.
Yes, the Wild showed a spike during their playoff run in 2003, but have averaged over $11 million in estimated profit per season. Not bad for such a young team.
Every year we're told the Edmonton Oilers are in such dire straits that they could be moved or contracted, yet the Oilers made an estimated $13.5 million over the past seven seasons.
One could claim that came at the cost of maintaining a strict payroll, yet it's interesting to note the Oilers payroll has steadily increased from $21.9 million in 1998-99 to $30 million in 2003-04.
Wouldn't it therefore stand to reason that the Oilers should be losing more money? With their payroll at just over $30 million last season, they made an estimated $3.3 million, without even making the playoffs.
Some might argue the Heritage Classic had a lot to do with that, but it's doubtful that one-time event would've pushed them that far into the black.
Of course, the high taxes the Oilers have to pay will contribute to reducing that profit figure, but not to the point where the club should be considered a candidate for collapse.
Speaking of Canadian taxes, that was one of the main problems bedevilling the Montreal Canadiens, who pay more in one year in muncipal taxes than all American teams combined.
Also working against the Habs was the cost of paying off their new arena, the low Canadian dollar for much of the past seven years, and one of the most woeful on-ice periods in team history.
Yet for all that, the Canadiens made an estimated $47.5 million since 1997-98 before deductions for taxes.
If we look at Forbes' revenue list for last season, we find the Rangers topping it with $118 million, yet they're declaring a loss of $3.3 million.
Right behind the Rangers were the Maple Leafs with $117 million, who also showed a profit of $14.1 million.
That begs the question: why are the Leafs, whose revenues are in Canadian dollars and are subject to higher taxes, running up the tailpipe of the Rangers, a team that pays less taxes, earns revenues in US dollars, and plays in the largest sports market in North America?
Looking at the rest of the list, we find the teams we'd expect to find at the top of that list: Philadelphia, Dallas, Colorado, and Detroit. But we also find Boston, Montreal, and Tampa Bay.
We also find the LA Kings, playing in one of the largest markets in North America, behind the Bruins, Habs and Lightning.
We also find the Minnesota Wild, a club that didn't make the playoffs last season and would not be considered "big market" earning more in estimated revenue last season than the supposedly big market St. Louis Blues, the 2003 Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils, and the 2004 Cup finalist Calgary Flames.
So why are we seeing so many big market teams losing money despite huge revenues and small market clubs actually making money despite less revenues?
I'm not suggesting that the big market teams are in big trouble financially or that small market clubs don't need help. The Leafs, for example, have made tremendous profits over the past seven years, and the Carolina Hurricanes have been bleeding money during the same time period.
It's obvious by examining these figures that each club has a unique set of factors that affects their revenues and operating incomes.
And that, folks, is why there've been so many questions regarding the Levitt Report and the league's declarations of losses. That's why the NHLPA is loath to tie player salaries to revenues, since there are too many unanswered questions regarding what gets reported for revenue.
As Forbes noted in their article on the NHL last November, these supposedly money-losing big market clubs actually make money in other ways for their owners, be it in real estate development around their arenas or building cable properties.
There are also ways that teams can turn profit into losses. In an article for the economic magazine Dollars and Sense, D. Stanley Eitzen noted almost five years ago that professional sports was "an especially blatant case of corporate welfare."
Among one of the variables Eitzen noted was how teams will use "tricky accounting techniques" to make their financial lot appear worse than it really is, citing losses which aren't really losses.
One example is deducting a portion of players' salaries as tax losses. Another is an owner will receive a large salary from the team, which is then counted as a business expense cutting into profits.
Eitzen cites former Toronto Blue Jays president Paul Beeston who said, "Under generally accepted accounting principles, I can turn a $4 million profit into a $2 million loss, and I can get every nations accounting firm to agree with me."
Beeston may have worked in Major League Baseball, but only a naive individual would believe that sort of practice doesn't occur in the NHL.
Despite some big market clubs showing heavy losses, they are in most cases doing far better as part of their owners' respective business empires.
For all the pleas for survival from some small market owners, their franchises are actually doing better than we've been led to believe.
Since the imposition of this lockout by the NHL back on September 15th, there've been several proposals made in the media offering solutions on how to settle this labour dispute.
Former Canucks GM- turned commentator Brian Burke was first out of the gate last fall, with his proposal for CBC television that centered around a payroll tax.
Then came "The TSN Solution" which also suggested a payroll tax but also a hard cap on individual salaries. Even The Hockey News weighed in with their proposal which was almost a combination of Burke's and TSN's proposals.
Even several of you readers out there have offered solutions which were dutifully posted in "The Fans Speak Out", some of which may still be seen in the archives, although for space reasons I can only keep up about a month's worth of posts from fans.
Now comes a proposal from Lawrence, Mass Eagle Tribune Associate Editor Russ Conway, based on "consultation with an informal panel of 36 recruited from the ranks of the game's most experienced people. They include top pro hockey executives who have been in the business 10 years or more, players and former players, union officials, longtime sports agents, coaches, lawyers and veteran hockey analysts in the media."
He believes that, if both sides are willing to compromise, his proposal could lay the groundwork for a season-saving deal.
Conway sent copies of his proposal to both NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Director Bob Goodenow earlier this week. Full details of the proposal can be found here.
Now some of you out there may be asking, "Who's Russ Conway?" How much weight could a proposal by the associate editor of a small US-based paper have with Bettman and Goodenow?
For the uninformed, Conway is a Hockey Hall of Fame journalist who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for his investigative work in uncovering corruption at the highest levels of the National Hockey League. He later published his works in a best-selling book, "Game Misconduct". His efforts spurred a joint RCMP-FBI investigation that led to the imprisonment of former NHLPA director Alan Eagleson on fraud charges.
For the past week, Conway and the Eagle Tribune have published several pieces on the lockout (which was excerpted by Bruce Dowbiggin of the Calgary Herald), questioning the validity of the Levitt Report, pointing out the unfairness of the arbitration system, the legacy of mistrust the players feel toward ownership, and the risks to their future the NHL is placing itself in if the lockout continues.
It's apparent Conway carries considerable influence in the hockey world, but it remains to be seen if his proposal will have any affect on ending the current stalemate between the two sides.
So what's in Conway's proposal that could settle this dispute?
Below are the highlights of Conway's proposal (italicized) and my comments on each point:
- A "tier system," under which clubs sign players in six pay categories.
Conway writes that his tier system would be "unique" in pro sports.
"Teams would sign a roster of 28 players, with one marquee star as a "franchise player" and 27 others in five different categories, each with its own pay scale.
As many as seven players per team could earn $3 million a season and up to four premier players could make $5 million. That's more than most teams had under the old agreement.
Conversely, club owners could save almost $1.5 billion over the five-year life of the contract if the NHL resumed play in February for a shortened 36-game regular season, plus playoffs....."
Unfortunately, given the NHLPA's desire that salaries should be determined on market value, I doubt they'll buy into this as it would be seen as effectively capping salaries, and we know the PA's opinion of any suggestion that even remotely caps individual salaries, let alone payrolls.
It also sounds a lot like the NHL's proposal of a "Salary slotting System", which their CBA website described as "each team being assigned a series of "salary slots" at various levels, each of which would be allocated among each team's players pursuant to individual player-team negotiation."
Yes, I realize compromise would be required for the PA to accept this, but that just doesn't appear likely. And the NHL will likely dismiss this, claiming they'd already made such an offer but the players rejected it so it's off the table.
- Maximum two-year contracts for players based on performance.
Again, this sounds like another of the league's proposals from last summer, that of a "Performance-based Salary System", described as "in which a player's individual compensation would be based, in part, on negotiated objective criteria and, in part, on individual and team performance."
The idea of performance-base salaries makes sense to me and I'm sure a lot of you out there, but the PA will be suspicious of that system because they wouldn't trust management to ensure the players were being fairly compensated. That system could be open to abuse by a stingy owner or emotional GM with an axe to grind. Because the league proposed such a system last summer and the PA rejected it, expect the league to dismiss this too.
- Pay scales ranging from a minimum $400,000 per season to unlimited amounts for one "franchise player" per team.
That minimum salary rate won't be a problem for either side, but the unlimited amount for franchise players will be.
The franchise players would love that unlimited amount, but they're in the minority in the NHLPA and most of the players aren't likely to accept their salaries being capped while the best get to earn whatever they want. Small market teams aren't going to be thrilled by that notion either, as it would probably guarantee they'd lose their "franchise player" to free agency or be forced to trade them.
- Elimination of the players' salary arbitration system.
- Outright free agency for players after 500 career NHL games or at age 28 -- three years earlier than under the previous player-owner contract.
This is something I've foreseen being the outcome of the next CBA. The owners wanna dump arbitration but the only way I can see the PA considering this is if the eligibility age for UFA status is lowered to 27 or 28. In my opinion you can't have one without the other.
- Formation of a "Competition Review" committee to make changes beneficial to the appeal of NHL hockey in North America.
As long as the league adheres to the recommendations of such a committee, it would be a great idea. There've been far too many meetings and conference over the past dozen years on the state of the game, with little outcome from them.
- Creation of a "Partnership Alliance" between owners and players that would standardize a method for determining all of the "hockey-related" revenue to be shared by the two sides.
Agreed. The NHLPA would probably leap at that, but I doubt very much you'll find the owners willing to do so, given their unwillingess to make full disclosure and the smokescreen of the Levitt Report.
- Establishing a "Revenue Share" fund among team owners based on team payrolls.
Something else the NHLPA would fully agree on but the NHL will balk at. Big market clubs simply don't want to share their regular season revenues, preferring instead a scheme where it would come from a pool of playoff revenue. Tapping into regular season revenues will be a non-starter for big market clubs.
- Club payroll taxes that include escalating forfeitures of high draft picks for excessive spending.
The league has completely ruled out any form of payroll tax. By now Gary Bettman has probably switched off reading the remainder of this proposal. The PA will love it, the league will hate it, and there is no compromise to be had on this.
- A better pension program for retired players and league and club employees.
This is something that receives little attention but should be addressed. There is a perception amongst hockey fans that today's players don't need to worry about their pensions because the salaries they earn as players should carry them through the rest of their lives. That's certainly true in many cases but not all, and an improved scheme is a good idea. There should also be a better program for officials and club employees.
-A duration of five years for the new contract between the NHL and the players union.
On that, both sides will likely agree. I doubt very much we'll ever see another ten year CBA deal.
In the final analysis, Conway has made some very fine proposals...just like Brian Burke, TSN, The Hockey News and others before him. The problem, as you can see, is there are points in it that neither side will be willing to compromise on, and neither side is willing to listen to suggestions from fans or reporters.
In the end, Conway's proposal will end up in what the military calls: "File 13".
- The 2005 World Junior Hockey Championships are now history, with Canada snapping an eight-year drought by winning the gold medal. It was a thoroughly dominating performance by the Canadians, who never lost a game throughout the tournament, easily handling the Finns, Swedes, Czechs and Russians enroute to the championship.
Many analysts are calling Team Canada 2005 the most dominant in World Junior history, and given their overall performance, it's easy to see why. They outscored their opposition 41-7, never trailed in any of their six games, and only gave up three even-strength goals.
This was a club that had no weaknesses. They were overpowering on offence, smothering on defence and received timely goaltending when needed. They were too strong, too fast, and too skilled. Best of all, they weren't goaded into retaliatory penalties, keeping their cool and focussing on the job at hand. For that, head coach Brent Sutter deserves credit.
For me, Canada's 2005 Junior team was the WJC equivilant of the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens. They were that powerful.
-With all the attention going into this tournament focussed on Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Malkin and Al Montoya, not many folks east of Western Canada knew very much about Red Deer Rebel defenceman Dion Phaneuf, other that his last name sounded like a sneeze.
It's a good bet everyone who followed this year's WJC knows who he is now. For me, he was Canada's standout player, which is saying something considering the talent on this year's roster.
Phaneuf was the rock of Canada's blueline, playing 30 minutes or more per game, chipping in offensively and extracting a physical price from every opponent who crossed his path.
The kid played like a Scott Stevens clone, which will make the Calgary Flames, who drafted Phaneuf 9th overall in the 2003 entry draft, very happy indeed.
As Pierre Maguire of TSN pointed out repeatedly in this tournament, Phaneuf and current NHL'er Robyn Regehr will give the Flames a dominant blueline tandem for at least a decade.
Here's betting whenever the lockout ends, Phaneuf won't be spending much more time in Red Deer.
- Hard to believe, but some hockey fans came away from this tournament disappointed in the play of Canada's Sidney Crosby.
While Ovechkin and Malkin, the first and second overall picks in the 2004 draft, shone as expected and Patrice Bergeron played like someone who'd had a very strong NHL rookie season, Crosby didn't dominate the tournament as many hockey fans believed he would.
"Hey, I thought he's supposed to be the best junior player in the world," wrote one of my readers. "So why isn't he dominating the tournament. He's supposed to be the next Gretzky so why isn't he playing like 99?"
If you go by the stats, Crosby didn't dominate, potting 9 point in six games and finishing seventh in scoring behind Bergeron, Ryan Getzlaf, Ovechkin, Jeff Carter, Rostislav Olesz and Malkin.
But he did have a strong tournament, playing very well at both ends of the ice and creating offensive opportunities every time he was on the ice.
What folks have to realize is Crosby is only 17, while those who finished ahead of him were older by a year or two and in some cases, like Carter and Malkin, have been playing professionally in Europe.
That's not to make excuses but merely to point out that the other had the advantage of age and experience on their side.
One also shouldn't make too much of the fact that Crosby didn't lead the WJC in scoring. Many's the player who topped tournament or team scoring at the WJC who were never able to carry over that touch into the NHL while those who finished further down the scoring list went on to become offensive stars in the NHL.
It may well be that the hype of Crosby as "the Next One" has reached such a fever pitch that fans desperate for someone to finally come along and pick up Gretzky's mantle may have unrealistic expectations.
Could Crosby one day break some of Gretzky's records? The Great One himself seems to believe he can, but Crosby has never stated that to be his intention. Perhaps he will, but it's obvious he's not going to allow the hype of expectation to affect him or his game.
One thing is certain, Crosby is destined to become an NHL superstar. How bright a star remains to be seen.
- Some members of Team Russia had tears in their eyes following their humiliation at the hands of Team Canada in the Gold Medal game. Even Ovechkin was seen sobbing after receiving his award as the top offensive player in the tournament.
I would've been touched by their emotion, if it weren't for the fact they were the most despised team in the tournament.
Make no mistake, the Russian team had plenty of talent on their roster this year. Ovechin and Malkin were their offensive leaders and impressed many with their dazzling skills. Enver Lisin and Sergei Shirokov also put on an offensive show in this tournament.
Overall the Russians had speed to burn and impressive playmaking skills, which is what got them to the Gold Medal game against Canada.
But enroute, the Russians garnered a reputation for their stickwork and unsportsmanlike conduct.
They were continually careless with their sticks, laying on the lumber seemingly at every opportunity. They were also known for diving every chance they could get in hopes of drawing penalties. At times during their games the ice was seemingly littered with Russian players nursing apparent injuries, only to see them hop up and play their next shift with no lingering affects.
But what got under everyone's skin was their taunting of opponents after scoring goals. It's one thing to be exuberant after scoring a big goal in a tournament such as this, but the Russians took it too far, cupping a hand to their ear to listen for imaginary cheers and taunting their opponent's bench.
They reached a new low in their easy victory over a disheartened Team USA in the semi-finals, taking it upon themselves to not only taunt the US team but also the American fans. Even the supposedly personable Ovechkin got into the act, yelling at fans and pointing to the back of his sweater as if to say, "hey, remember my name and number! I'm the guy who helped bury your team!"
That was a classless display by the Russians which tarnished their efforts and pushed their otherwise admirable play out of the spotlight. All everyone was talking about as the series progressed was the antics of the Russians, not the strong play that got them to the Gold Medal game.
They would pay a heavy price against Team Canada, who took note of the Russians trashtalking and showboating against other clubs and made each Russian pay a physical price. None suffered as much as the hot-dogging Ovechkin, who was battered out of the game as he was singled out by the Canadians.
Ovechkin and those of his teammates who appear headed to the NHL (Malkin, Shirokov and Linsin) one day should learn from this. They acted without class, were disrespectful toward their opponents, and paid the price.
If you show up your opponents in the NHL, people will be taking names and number to make you pay for it. It's a hard lesson they should remember when they finally do make it to the bigs.
- As for the hosts, what a difference a year makes.
Team USA looked disorganized throughout the tournament, with some analysts claiming they were a divided club since training camp. That was apparent as they never gelled as a team this year.
They were talented enough to provide some thrills, particularly their opening series 5-4 on Christmas Day against the Russians. After dropping an easy game against a weak Belarus squad, however, it was obvious Team USA would be hard-pressed to repeat as champions.
That's not to suggest there weren't some individual standouts for the Americans. Forwards Phil Kessel and Drew Stafford had strong tournaments thanks to their outstanding offensive talents. Patrick O'Sullivan continues to look like he's destined for a long career as a gritty two-way forward. Rob Schremp gave tantalizing glimpses of what he's capable of when focussed, and prior to being lost to a knee injury, forward Chris Bourque (son of NHL Hall of Famer Ray Bourque) showed a lot of promise.
Unfortunately, the Americans failed to play a strong defensive game, while the hero of last year's tournament, goaltender Al Montoya, struggled with his consistency throughout, allowing soft goals in every game he played. The most obvious was the overtime goal that trickled past him to give the Czech Republic the bronze medal.
Montoya was the talk of the WJC last year. He was this year, too, but for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps the pressure of being a highly touted draft pick got to him this year. Here's hoping he regains his focus and learns from this experience.
- Speaking of Belarus, it was a hoot watching this underdog win their first-ever WJC game. It wasn't enough to get them into the medal rounds, but it was a major step in the right direction for this country's hockey program.
The standout for Belarus was forward Andrei Kostitsyn, last year's first round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens (10th overall), who's been struggling thus far in his first year with the Habs AHL affiliate in Hamilton, but showed a lot of promise playing an international tournament with his fellow Belarussians. That should make Canadiens fans breathe a lot easier as Kostitsyn adapts to a new country, a new language and new cultures.
- The majority of Americans sports fans may not care much for hockey, but that wasn't the case in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Fan support for the tournament was very good overall and the Ralph Engelstad Arena has to be one of the best venues for college hockey anywhere in the world.
Hats off to the organizers in both Grand Forks and Thief River Falls, Minnesota for a job well done.
- Finally, here's my picks of the players I believe are destined for the National Hockey League:
TEAM CANADA: Sidney Crosby, Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Nigel Dawes, Anthony Stewart, Braydon Coburn. (Patrice Bergeron and Ryan Getzlaf have already made it to the bigs.)
TEAM RUSSIA: Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Enver Lisin, Sergei Shirokov.
TEAM USA: Phil Kessel, Patrick O'Sullivan, Drew Stafford, Ryan Suter, Al Montoya.
TEAM CZECH REPUBLIC: Rostislav Olesz.
Columnists write, I respond. And we're off...
First up. Terry Frei of the Denver Post:
I refuse to believe the NHL would try to break the union, impose a unilateral settlement and go with replacement players or union defectors.
I wouldn't put it past them, although it's becoming apparent that pursuing that route would be much tougher that it appears. There's a growing belief that Gary Bettman won't formally cancel the season because it could work against proving an impasse before the National Labor Relations Board.
Furthermore, there are several other legal hoops the NHL would have to jump through, and if you read further on in the above link, you'll find the NHLPA could throw a monkey wrench into the gears after implementation of an impasse.
If the (Colorado Avalanche's) sellout streak ends and attendance slips, of course, we'll hear from the parrot chorus that this never was a hockey town to start with.
Avs fans have been spoiled since 1995 by having a ready-made Stanley Cup contender move to their town , but I doubt their attendance would slip that badly if the Avs were to fall into the realm of merely playoff contenders or also-rans. Denver is a strong sports town, and that includes hockey. The Avs have had a long, successful run for nine seasons, which should translate into a fan base that will remain loyal when they do suffer an inevitable decline.
Beyond the fact that it's quibbling over semantics, it involves selective memory. As also happens in the NBA and MLB, attendance slips everywhere in the NHL except in Toronto and New York when the teams struggle - whether Boston, Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal, Edmonton or (fill in the blank).
It should be noted that attendance hasn't really "slipped" that much for those teams during their years of struggle. Indeed, Montreal has led the league in attendance every year since 1996-97, their first full season in the Molson/Bell Centre and through most of that time the Canadiens were going through one of the worst periods of futility in their long history.
What'll get tongues wagging about the Avs is if their attendance falls dramatically, as happened to the Penguins and Hurricanes, something I doubt will happen if the Avs should suffer a decline.
Hockey used to be the most invulnerable to the box-office toll, with fewer franchises and more "reasonable" ticket prices, but that has changed. Even in the traditional or otherwise successful markets, high ticket prices have softened the fan base's box office loyalty.
Regardless of whether the NHL gets its cost certainty or a watered-down version, ticket prices will remain expensive since they're determined by what each market will bear and not by the league. Gary Bettman said so last month to Toronto Maple Leafs season ticket holders.
It should also be noted, however, that hockey tickets aren't as expensive as those for other "winter" sports, football and basketball, and in fact, showed the lowest increase of the three sports over the past ten years, despite a lack of "cost certainty" during that time.
I also get a kick out of the parrots' view that nobody misses the NHL. Fact is, the numerous and passionate hockey fans do, including those in Colorado who are among those counted in the Avalanche television ratings - which have been higher than the Nuggets' and Rockies'. And those fans will come back to hockey, at least at first, whether they spread out their sports loyalties and interests or are of the hockey-first mentality.
That's in the individual markets. Nationwide in the United States, the average American sports fan doesn't miss the NHL and could care less if it ever returns. That's a proven fact and it threatens the future of the NHL in its present form.
Want more proof? How about the NHL's low television ratings and their meagre new contract with NBC? The game is merely a regional curiosity in the United States, and if it wants to grow, it must improve it's product to attract more fans nationwide, not just in the team's respective markets. That was the whole point behind the breakneck pace of expansion in the 1990s.
Around the U.S., hockey fans are not screaming about the NHL being gone. They looked at the calendar and, suddenly, it was January. Many of those fans have dived into hockey alternatives - at college, major junior or other levels.
But how many of them will come back? In Canada it's a given, but even at the regional level in the United States, there's no guarantee all those fans will return, especially in markets like Phoenix, Nashville and Carolina where they're trying to grow the game. The longer this labour dispute goes on, the more harm is being done to those struggling markets and the long-term health of the league .
Most seem to be forgetting that when other leagues were dark - including Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NFL - fans discovered the same things. Life went on. When the games returned, they returned. Nobody was jumping off bridges.
The NBA's labour woes never ran the risk of costing them an entire season and damaging their fan base. The last serious NFL work stoppage was in 1987 and again, never cost the league an entire season or did irreparable harm to their fan base.
MLB, on the other hand, went through so many work stoppages that when they cancelled the remainder of the 1994 season, including the World Series, that was the last straw for a good number of baseball fans. It took years before MLB was able to bring them back, and it took a memorable chase for the single-season home run record between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1999 to really boost fan interest in the sport again. Fan pressure was part of the reason why MLB avoided another work stoppage three years ago, as the league didn't want to risk causing serious harm to their fan support again.
Hockey will be back.
Yes it will, but in what form remains to be seen, as does the amount of fan support in the all important United States sports market.
Next, the reporter I must love to rebut, Stan Fischler of MSG Network:
Will the Friday (Jan. 14) NHL Governors' meeting signal the season's end? One insider tells us that it will not but, instead, simply result in an updating by Gary Bettman. We're told that February 1 is more likely to be the "Drop Dead" date!
I've had my doubts that we'll hear Bettman announce a drop-dead date because that could adversely affect any potential plans to declare an impasse. I doubt he'll ever officially cancel the season, but I think February 1 could be the "drop-dead" date in terms of having a deal hammered out that could give the league a chance to play any meaningful number of games in what remains of the 2004-05 season.
Public opinion won't be a factor in settling the CBA war, but it's apparent that fans - even in blue collar cities such as Buffalo - are totally on the NHL owners' side. "I'm still looking for someone out there who thinks NHL players are in the right," notes Buffalo News' columnist Bob Dicesare.
A concern of many neutral observers of the CBA war is the distinct possibility of lingering animosity on both sides once a deal finally is concluded. Some believe that a fallout of hate could be as damaging as the work stoppage itself.
Gee, d'ya think? If the next CBA ends up favouring the players again, the owners will be apoplectic and take an even harder line than they have this time around. If it favours the owners, the players will be determined to reject the status quo which the league will surely attempt to keep in place.
If you think this one is ugly, wait'll the next one comes around. Unless both sides finally realize their acrimonious labour negotiations are causing more harm than good and need to work together to improve the league's image, we can expect another contentious round of CBA talks, likely within five years of settling the current one.
Then there's this take from Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox: "Can you imagine that 700 hockey players will throw away in excess of $1 billion on points of principle and philosophy?"
In the very same article, here's what else Cox had to say:
"Does it make any sense either side will commit sporting suicide over such a small difference in dollars?
Moreover, that either side would try to claim a point of principle on any collective bargaining matter runs close to farce.
The owners say player salaries must be capped. But they maintain ticket prices should be set by market forces.
The owners argue salary inflation has ruined them. Yet they sign the contracts."
Cox was slamming BOTH sides, not just dumping on the players. I really wish Stan would stop being selective when quoting other columnists.
Another voice on this issue belongs to Detroit News' columnist Rob Parker who says, "It would be one thing if the players had a leg to stand on, but they don't."
Here's what else Parker had to say on the subject in the very same article:
"Only one group can save the NHL. The player."
"The owners can't do it. That's obvious. If they honestly could fix the problem, it would have been fixed already.
Fundamentally, Goodenow is right. There shouldn't be a salary cap. And this competitive-balance argument used by owners is silly. In every sport, with or without a cap, there are probably four or five teams that have a legitimate chance to win a championship every season.
The salary cap is in place simply to make sure owners don't go crazy and spend more money than they have -- or make.
That's what the NHL owners have done. Period.
They can't afford to do it anymore.
It would be one thing if the players had a leg to stand on, but they don't. TV ratings stink. That equals less revenue.
Attendance isn't as strong as it could be. That equals less revenue.
The league sells little merchandise. Again, less revenue.
For years, hockey was listed among the big four, joining Major League Baseball, the NBA and NFL.
In reality, the NHL isn't on a par with the other leagues. There isn't the same level of interest, and there clearly isn't the same level of revenue.
That's why the union must devise a way to give the owners a chance to make enough money to keep the business open. "
Kinda different when his quote isn't taken out of context, isn't it? Parker goes on to claim the NHL's financial numbers are grim and the NHLPA must bend. The PA has never doubted the league is losing money, only the amount, and that's why they're resisting the NHL's attempts to tie salaries to revenues.
In their offers to the league, the PA has for the most part addressed the league's problems, based on their findings, which were backed up by Forbes Magazine, and have questioned the league's claims of high losses, which were also questioned by Forbes, Blueshirt Bulletin's Editor and Publisher Dubi Silverstein and most recently, the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune's Russ Conway, a Hockey Hall of Fame reporter who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for his "investigative work into exposing corruption in the upper hierarchy of the National Hockey League", and Bruce Dowbiggin of the Calgary Herald.
Steve Yzerman, whose career could be snuffed out by the Lockout, is talking about staying with the Red Wings organization. On the other hand - considering some of his labor-management comments - it could be that he won't be that welcome.
I doubt that very much. Yzerman is an institution in Detroit. Despite his comments, both he and the Wings organization understand this lockout is business, not personal, and once it's behind them, the Wings will find a job for Yzerman in some capacity within the organization.
Nobody on the NHL side will publicly put down Brendan Shanahan's "make-hockey-better" campaign. Privately, however, league honchos would rather study the AHL experiments than get caught up in Shanny's unauthorized gabfest.
And then they'll hum and haw and introduce a few changes that'll do the least amount of good, just as they've done over the past ten years. The NHL is very resistant to change, dominated by traditionalists who "like the game the way it is" even if it costs them fan support.
Not everyone believes that a lost 2004-2005 season will be an NHL calamity. Some analysts argue that a year-long respite is necessary to rejuvenate the league. The Miami Herald thinks so. "Hockey will survive a year lost," the Herald insists, "and be better off for it; presuming an eventual solution to the impasse that has caused this mess."
Key phrase being the last one. Otherwise, a lost season will do this league no good at all. Besides, isn't the first rule of business, "stay in business"?
Just wondering: should the NHL win an "impasse" ruling from the National Labor Relations Board - and camps open in September - will Mario Lemieux cross the line and play? Answer: Yes. Will others follow? Impossible to tell but one possibility is that older skaters just might. Such as - Murray Baron, 37, Sean Burke, 37, Andrew Cassels, 36, Dallas Drake, 36, Rob DiMaio, 37, John LeClair, 36, and Luc Robitaille, 38, to name a few.
Fischler is merely speculating here. None of these guys have publicly stated they'd do such a thing. Sure, it's possible a few of the older guys on their last legs might jump in as replacements, but I doubt most will. They won't want to damage their reputations or risk being ostracized by the NHLPA...or be singled out for "special attention" by opponents during a game.
To those who insist that the NHL should contract - and Nashville's franchise should be eliminated - Predators' owner Craig Leipold retorts to Joe Lapointe of the New York Times: "I'm bullish on the game. Under the right economic system, yes, I'd do it again. Our team and market is ready to take off."
Leipold didn't do too badly under the previous economic system, as his club made over $48 million since it came into existance back in 1998, and in that time had only one money-losing season (2002-03). Perhaps Leipold's true concern is with the value of his franchise, which dropped from a high of $132 million in 2001-02 to $111 million in 2003-04. Still, it did bounce back from the low of $102 million in 2002-03.
With the Preds seemingly poised to become a perennial playoff contender, the value of Leipold's franchise will rise, as will the money he'll make on the team. The only reason why he was "the right economic system", like the hard salary cap the NHL is pursuing, is that'll ensure he'll make even more money.
One of these days Gary Bettman should reveal the key points of the "new" NHL, including the updated logo, new rules - Shoot-Out, etc. - and high-tech tv production tools to appear on NBC.
I agree, Bettman should start letting fans know what changes are in store to make it worthwhile to return to the game, although to be blunt I could care less about a new logo. Bring in changes to improve the overall quality of the game!
Not that Bob Goodenow is going bye-bye but should he ever be replaced, one potential candidate as NHLPA successor is Mike Gartner. The ex-NHL speedster, it's said, can get along with anyone.
Yes, and Gartner was also one of Goodenow's lieutenants during the 1992 players strike and the 1994 lockout. He may be easy-going but he's no shrinking violet.
It's taken a while but with hope rapidly running out on a season-saving settlement between the NHL and NHLPA, the game's greatest offensive player and most recognizable personality has finally spoken up about the lockout.
In a press conference at the World Junior Hockey Championships this past Sunday, Wayne Gretzky spoke at length about his concerns of a season-ending lockout possibly stretching into next season.
"If this is not decided in the next few days, I'm scared we could be looking at a year, a year and a half, two years, not just three months like a lot of people thought in September," Gretzky said.
He also added, "From April to October, the players don't get paid, so I can't see us coming to an agreement in August or September.
"If we don't find a way to make everyone who is part of this sort of happy and get a deal done, we could be looking at a long, long time before hockey is played in the NHL and that's very alarming too. I hope in the next couple weeks we can come to an agreement."
Gretzky isn't alone in his fears as a good many fans, commentators and reporters are also worried about the same thing.
There's justification for it. If the season is lost, whether the league announces it formally or not, there's little reason for the players to continue negotiating with the league throughout the spring and summer for the reasons noted by Gretzky.
Losing one season would be bad enough for the league's image, but the possibility of losing another could test the resolve on both sides, not to mention the majority of support for the league in this lockout from the fans.
At some point next fall, if the lockout is still going on, that support will evaporate as disgusted fans turn their blame toward both sides, which has already been indicative in some polls in recent weeks.
It would also be a serious blow to the game's already shrinking visibility in the United States, as well as to the league's advertising dollars. More about that later.
Gretzky did maintain the party line amongst NHL owners of full support for commissioner Gary Bettman.
"We want to play. We want to get back out there," Gretzky said. "But the other side of it is we back the commissioner 100 per cent, unequivocally, what he's doing and the process he's going through."
Fair enough, as Gretzky is now on the ownership side, but he opens himself to accusations of hypocrisy because, ten years ago, he was in the players camp, the highest paid player in the league at the time, and one key reason why salaries rose as they have over the last ten years.
Indeed, it's interesting to note that, in 1993-94, when he won his final Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer, Gretzky's salary was below that of Eric Lindros, Steve Yzerman and Mario Lemieux. The next season, his salary increased by 118 percent, from $3 million US per season to a whopping $6.54 million.
Gretzky would continue to earn on average over $6 million per season from 1994-95, with one exception (1996-97), until his retirement at the end of the 1998-99 season.
Gretzky did admit the lockout is hurting his Phoenix Coyotes.
"Amazingly, whether people believe it or not, we're losing less money this year not playing if that makes sense," he said. "But, saying that, we're also losing credibility in the city as far as the game goes. We're losing some fan support because people are disappointed and you lose corporate sponsorship."
Oh, I believe that the Coyotes are losing less money by not playing. As Forbes magazine indicated in November, the Coyotes were one of the league's money losers, to the tune of $7.8 million. Ditto teams like the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres, and Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
Still, if we go by Forbes list, we should also assume that money losing big market teams, like the Detroit Red Wings, Dallas Stars, NY Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and St. Louis Blues, are also losing less money by not playing. Nobody, however, considers them to be struggling.
Any team that justifies the lockout by claiming they're not losing as much as if they were playing probably shouldn't be in operation. Only teams like the Coyotes, Panthers, Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins have used that claim, while supposedly bigger money losers like the Wings, Stars, Rangers, Flyers, Devils and Blues wouldn't dare make that suggestion.
The reason is obvious: the big market teams may by themselves have lost money but they're part of the overall business empires of their owners and as such have contributed in other ways to making money for them, either as tax write-offs, part of their broadcasting networks, development around their arenas and so on.
Clubs who keep harping about losing less money under a lockout for the most part are either paying off a massive debtload incurred under previous ownership, have failed to land significant local broadcasting revenue streams, found local area development slow or non-existent, or may simply not be in a market strong enough to support them.
The more telling part of Gretzky's comment is the fact that the lockout is adversely affecting his Coyotes fan base. He has good reason to be concerned, after all, prior to their move last season to their new arena, attendance at Coyotes games was in a gradual but steady rate of decline.
Having jumped back over 15,000 in attendance for the first time since the 1998-99 season, the Coyotes want to build on that figure, not risk it slipping once again close to the 13,000 figure it had been nestled near in the two seasons prior to last season.
Worse, however, is the potential loss of corporate sponsership. The NHL may be predominantly gate-driven but it still relies on corporate advertising. A two-year absence will not only affect attendance but also local buy rates for advertising.
That's not just a local problem for the Coyotes, but one every NHL team at some level will face if this lockout lasts into next season.
It's also possible that Gretzky's comments may shed some insight into the league's plans if this lockout should kill the 2004-05 season.
For some time now it's been widely speculated the NHL would attempt to declare a labour impasse and unilaterally impose their cost certainty plans. That would bring an automatic filing by the NHLPA against the league of an unfair labour practices claim with the NLRB in the United States and the labour boards in the four Canadian provinces where the six Canadian teams are located.
If the respective labour boards, most importantly, the NLRB in the US, should rule in favour of the league, that would be the greenlight for the NHL to commence hiring replacement players, which in turn would force the NHLPA into strike mode.
The problem for the league, however, is proving their case if they attempt to declare an impasse. As can be seen in this link (my thanks to Alex Alvaro for sending this in), the league would have to prove that they've attempted to negotiate in good faith and have made their final, best offer to the PA.
If the league were to declare an impasse tomorrow, their case would be shaky, regardless of the political leanings of those currently heading the NLRB.
Gretzky's comments could be construed as meaning the league may realize their case for an impasse isn't strong enough to win, and thus may be prepared to settle into a prolonged waiting game with the NHLPA in hopes the prospect of missing another season of wages might sway the majority of NHLPA members to force Bob Goodenow into accepting the league's terms.
The Great One has spoken, but will his comments have any affect on the process?
Doubtful, after all, Gretzky said he won't get involved in the negotiating process because he's not on the league's negotiating committee. He can voice his hope for a settlement and his unease over the prospect of two or more lost seasons, but he's handcuffed in what he can do to get both sides to reach an agreement.
On the one hand, he's now in the ownership camp, meaning his comments will have little affect on the players. On the other hand, if he tries to intervene amongst the owners, he risks the wrath of Bettman, the members of the Board of Governors who make up the negotiating committee, and salary cap "hawks" like Chicago's Bill Wirtz and Boston's Jeremy Jacobs.
If anything, Gretzky's words merely highlight how impotent he truly is regarding this lockout. Those who were hoping for the Great One to step forward and save the league from itself must now realize there are limits to Gretzky's influence.
That was the question asked by a contributing writer ("nordiques100") to Hockeytraderumors.com yesterday, and since covering this lockout crap on nearly a daily basis gets ocassionally boring, I've decided to use today's Soapbox to offer up my own rebuttal and analysis.
Bear in mind, of course, this is based on the players who are presently considered unrestricted free agents. That pool could widen if the NHL succeeds in forcing the NHLPA to accept a harsh salary cap which in turn could force several teams to cut players to get under such a cap.
Original comments in italics and mine are in regular type. Feel free, readers, to send in your comments on this topic.
Bondra, Peter - I could see him going out west to replace Palffy in LA, he would come cheaper. He could also return to the Caps.
I doubt the Kings will be interested in Bondra, who is clearly past his prime. A return to the Caps is possible, provided he's willing to accept less money. It's also possible the Senators might re-sign him for less.
Carter, Anson - Edmonton would be a nice fit. he liked it there and they liked him too. Boston would be nice too as they need depth up front. Toronto is also possible if the Leafs come into money due to rollbacks.
Carter's problem is inconsistency, hence the reason he bounced from Edmonton to New York to Washington to Los Angeles in one year. He won't return to Boston, given his acrimonious departure. I can't see the Oilers bringing him back. He's going to have trouble finding suitors.
Demitra, Pavol - Philly could grab him if they can't bring back Zhamnov. He would also be a nice fit playing behind Thornton in Boston.
I don't think Demitra is Bob Clarke's type of player, but then again, I didn't think he'd acquire Alexei Zhamnov either. The Bruins could also be interested as they'll have many hole to fill in their roster, but he'll have to accept a lot less money.
Kariya, Paul - The Leafs. With rollbacks, they will not hold back and will spend. I think Kariya wants to play in a hockey town. perhaps hockeytown USA too with the Wings.
Those could well be two potential destinations, and I wouldn't rule out the Avs bringing him back now that Joel Quenneville is their new head coach.
Kovalev, Alex - I think perhaps the Avs as Selanne, Forsberg and Kariya will not be back. the Habs remain an option too but i think Montreal will try to go cheaper.
Another possibility could be the Penguins, who can afford to bring him back if the asking price isn't too high.
Murray, Glen - The Wings. They are looking for that big forward to cause havoc in front and Murray fits the bill.
They were rumoured to be interested in Murray before the lockout.
Palffy, Zigmund - He will yearn to return home and thus play with the Isles again. he is exactly what they need to compliment Yashin.
Given the war of words between Isles GM Mike Milbury and Ziggy's agent several years ago, I doubt very much he returns to Long Island. Palffy is one of the best UFAs available so it wouldn't surprise me if all the top big-market clubs show an interest in him.
Rucinsky, Martin - I think he would fit in well with the Preds as he has great speed. He can also score some which that teams needs.
Rucinsky could well be a second-tier pickup by a small market club, but I also wouldn't rule out a return to Europe.
Selanne, Teemu - I think the Habs will sign Teemu over Kovalev because he will come cheaper. Him and Koivu will make a dynamite combo.
Forget about it. Bob Gainey won't have any interest in the fading Finnish Flash, nor I doubt will many other clubs. He'll be lucky to be playing in the NHL next season.
Allison, Jason - He would be a great bargain for the Oilers as he would initially come cheap due to his injury history. Also if there are rollbacks and revenue sharing, the Oilers will have a bit of funds to play with.
The Oilers were indeed very interested in Allison before the lockout, as were the Carolina Hurricanes. This lockout is helping Allison in his recovery from severe whiplash, and if he's fully healthy when the league returns to action, he could indeed be a cheap pickup for either club that could turn into gold.
Dowd, Jim- Any rebuilding team will likely take a look at dowd for experience. The Thrashers could use a decent defensive centre.
Given his age (36) it's also possible that he could be facing retirement.
Green, Travis - The Panthers need a good faceoff man and Green fits the bill.
Several clubs including the Panthers will have some interest in Green.
Lemieux, Mario - The Pens of course, however imagine the possibilities if he ever sold the team and was free to go anywhere?
That won't happen.
Lindros, Eric - The Oilers would be a good team for him as he could play with Laraque and have someone look out for him. The Wings would be a good team too as he could take a secondary role around all those veterans.
Lindros will be lucky to find takers out there, considering his injury history, but it is possible he could become a cheap pickup if someone is willing to take a chance on him. If the Oilers succeed in landing Allison, forget about their rumoured interest in Lindros.
Perreault, Yanic - He could be forced to go to Europe as he is not much of a defensive player despite his great faceoff skills and teams rather go younger and cheaper and probably get similar production. The Canucks could use his faceoff help.
His faceoff skills and 20-goal season ability still makes him valuable around the league so I doubt he'll be facing exile in Europe.
Stumpel, Jozef - He too could go to Europe but he could help some offensive challenged teams like the Blues or Pens.
Yes, that's possible but don't rule out a return to the Kings or even the Bruins.
Zhamnov, Alexei- A return to Philly would be good for him but he wants tons of money which frankly no team can give him. I think he could go to the devils too as they seek more offensive help.
The Devils have pretty much maxed out their salaries for now, so unless they can get Zhamnov at a bargain I can't see him going there. Philadelphia is still interested and if the price is right he could re-sign with them.
Osgood, Chris - There are no starting spots left around the league so he may have to wait for the first injury to strike.
Cruel but true.
Potvin, Felix- He can't be a starter so he would be better off going back to the Bruins... Or Leafs to be a good backup.
If the Cat wants to return to the NHL it'll be as a backup. He'll shop his services accordingly.
Snow, Garth - I think he will end up a Bruin to backup Raycroft.
Or more likely, return to back up Rick DiPietro on Long Island.
Baron, Murray - Atlanta could use a veteran blueliner for experience and leadership. Tampa could use a cheap replacement for Cullimore.
At 37 Baron is getting long in the tooth. The Thrashers already made their moves to shore up their blueline in the off-season so I doubt he'd go there. Tampa will likely look to younger, cheaper replacements for Cullimore, like the one below.
Bombardir, Brad - A cheap depth guy who will likely find himself on the Hawks or Bruins until the kids are ready to take over.
See above. Playing in Minnesota the past few years has given his stock value, and it's even possible he might return there or with the Predators. The Canadiens might also have some interest.
Klemm, Jon - He should sign with Anaheim as he would give the Ducks another solid stay at home blueliner to join Carney.
The Stars blueline depth was hurting last season so don't rule out a possible return to Dallas.
Malakhov, Vladimir - I see Vlady returning to the Islanders. He loves New York.
That depends on his asking price. The speculation on Long Island prior to the lockout was whether Roman Hamrlik or Janne Niinimaa got moved. It would make no sense to bring in an aging blueliner when they're debating over which younger defenceman they might be forced to trade. Still, we are talking about Mike Milbury here...
Marchment, Bryan - Would love to return to the Leafs but not likely. Could just be forced to retire.
And good riddance if he does.
McGillis, Dan - Carolina could use a guy like him as they are fairly soft on the backend.
Agreed, especially since losing Sean Hill. The Habs might also have some interest in him.
Numminen, Teppo - The Leafs will likely sign the veteran just like how they brought in Lumme and Johansson in previous years. The Preds would do well to get him too as they need experience back there. He played well in the world cup.
I doubt that. The Leafs have two promising young blueliners in White and Colaiacovo they're planning on bringing up, plus they've got Leetch, McCabe and Kaberle. The Coyotes, on the other hand, were rumoured to be interested in bringing back Teppo, and the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators also had interest.
Odelein, Lyle - The Habs should bring this guy back but he will probably find himself perhaps in Tampa for depth or the Blues.
He's another one getting long in the tooth. Besides, I think the Panthers are interested in re-signing him for another season.
Schneider, Mathieu - I think the Stars should take a run at this guy as he and Zubov would give them killer points on the PP.
Don't rule out a potential return to LA if the price is right.
Therien, Chris - Another veteran guy who would add size to any lineup.
And he'll likely come cheap, although if the UFA market becomes flooded with younger talent, Therien could find himself on the outside looking in.
York, Jason - Another guy who would be a good fit for the Caps to bridge the gap until the kids are ready.
Zhitnik, Alexei - The Leafs are a possibility but he would make a great replacement for Malakhov in philly. He just seems like a Hitch kind of player. The Hawks are looking for a defence upgrade and he would be a good guy to get too.
As hockey fans turn their calendars to 2005, they're wondering if the clock is winding down on the 2004-05 NHL season.
Most fans and reporters believe that, in order for the '04'-'05 season to go off, be it a 40-game, 36 or 32 game schedule, a new CBA will have to be in place by no later than mid-January 05.
That point is only a couple of weeks away now. Thus far there's been no indication from either side that they're moving closer to an agreement. Indeed, it seems at this point that the NHL and NHLPA are further apart than ever.
If that is the case, we can forget about a season-saving deal coming anytime this month.
It's the prospect of an impending season shutdown that is turning some to suggest that it's probably for the best.
Losing the entire season, so the theory goes, would force one or both sides into the realization at some point that, not only the game's economics, but also the game itself needs to be changed and improved.
That's possible but also unlikely.
If we look over the league's history since it first expanded back in 1967, we find that those who run it and participate in it have little idea on how to improve and sell the product.
If the 2004-05 season is lost, there isn't going to emerge a bright, shining and improved National Hockey League the following season.
Once the season is truly written off, both sides will then gear up for the labour showdown that will settle this dispute one way or the other.
It's believed the league will at some point declare an impasse and unilaterally implement cost certainty, which will of course result in the NHLPA filing an unfair labour practices suit against the league.
Should that occur, then at some point later this year, probably during the coming summer, the case will go before the US National Labor Relations Board as well as the respective labour boards in Canada.
As the majority of NHL franchises reside in the United States, it'll be the NLRB ruling that'll have the most impact.
Either it rules in favour of the NHLPA, which means the lockout continues and forces the league to once again attempt to negotiate a new CBA with the players, or in favour of the NHL, which would then force the players into strike mode.
If that should occur, the league will then attempt to entice as many NHLPA members as possible into crossing the picket line as replacements in hopes of crushing the association and forcing it into accepting league terms.
That might seem like a good thing for hockey fans who are either unaware or uninterested in NHL labour history or the details behind the current lockout, but it would not resolve anything.
The players would eventually return to action but there would be a seething, lingering bitterness toward the NHL. It's highly unlikely the majority of them would vote to oust Bob Goodenow, who was responsible for bringing them a dozen years of financial prosperity.
Instead, their frustration and anger toward ownership will only intensify, setting the stage for further contentious negotiations in the future. Rather than crushing the players union, it would only strengthen their resolve for the next time around.
But even if the NLRB sides with the players, it's not going to improve the situation in the long-term.
It would of course force the league to return to the bargaining table, and it would likely bring about a negotiated deal. After all, having lost one season, and with little season ticket money flowing in if the 2005-06 season is also in doubt, they would want to get the best deal in place as they could.
Commissioner Gary Bettman's job would be on the line at that point, for having promised a salary cap to the owners, he'd be in the biggest labour fight of his life to extract something that would please them.
But that too would only be postponing another nasty labour showdown in the future. The owners would not be pleased over what they would consider another loss to Goodenow, particularly the old-guard hawks. It's a safe bet they'd be plotting strategy immediately after the signing of a new CBA as to how best to attack the assocation the next time around.
Regardless of which direction the labour war takes, there are three certainties that seem clear when a new CBA is in place.
One, the cost of attending an NHL game is not going to go down.
Two, the on-ice product will not improve noticeably.
Three, the strong possibility of the NHL's disappearance from network television in the United States.
Ask the average NHL fan what to them is the biggest issue of this lockout, and they usually answer that it's the high salaries of the players driving away fans and forcing teams into bankruptcy.
At one time even I believed that, but subsequent research has proven me wrong and changed my opinion.
Should the NHL succeed in implementing their hard salary cap, fans will discover what critics like myself have been saying: it's the individual markets, not the players salaries, that determines what ticket prices will be.
As Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette wrote a few weeks ago, that's why the cost of attending a Buffalo Sabres game is much cheaper than attending a Toronto Maple Leafs game.
Some teams will likely lower prices at first, as their way of "thanking their loyal fans for their patience during the lockout". The rest will likely keep them the same price, again as a way of "thanking the fans".
Once a season or two has gone by and the lockout becomes a memory, ticket prices will rise again.
The NHL never actually claimed that player salaries drove ticket prices, but they did nothing to dispel that myth until recently, when too many reporters and commentators (like myself) kept pointing out the truth.
Turning to the on-ice product, we're hearing talk that the league, on the advice of NBC, whom the NHL has their current US television contract, will implement a shoot-out to settle tied games if the five-minute four-on-four period fails to do so.
The thought here is the shoot-out, like the five-minute overtime, will inject some much-needed excitement into the game.
Unfortunately, the NHL and NBC are overlooking one important fact: fans will still have to sit through three periods of the same old boring, trapping, obstructionist hockey.
You know, the kind that has sucked the life and fun out of the game over the past ten years.
Sorry, but the promise of a shoot-out after three periods of plodding defensive hockey and a marginally exciting four-on-four overtime isn't going to boost excitement in the overall product.
For years, the NHL has shown an unwillingness to bring about the kind of changes that would have a positive impact on the game. There are far too many "traditionalists" in the league hierarchy who resist changes to the product, claiming "we like our game the way it is".
They're the only ones who do. The declining US TV ratings, the harping of die-hard hockey fans and the high number of empty seats at too many arenas prove otherwise.
Since Gary Bettman became Commissioner in 1992, the league has held meetings and committees, even sometimes with the NHLPA, to address the problems with its product. Rarely, however, has anything come out of those meetings that would bring about much-needed change.
For all the attention given Brendan Shanahan's recent "summit" with players and management on improving the product and their recommendations to the league, you know that little if anything will come out of them. The league's history of self-denial by its influential traditionalists will see to that.
That leads to the inevitable, the loss of network exposure in the United States.
Canadian hockey fans won't care, but if the NHL is to improve and remain viable in its current 24 American cities, it needs to improve its visibility in the American sports market.
The majority of US sports fans simply don't know about the NHL lockout and could care less. To them, the NHL is a local curiosity, not a big league sport. In their eyes, they're right up there with American pro soccer and arena football.
Currently the NHL has a two-year revenue-sharing deal with NBC, which is nowhere near the five year, $600 million deal it had with ABC, which by comparison was a pittance compared to the television deals for baseball, basketball and football.
Under the current contract, NBC will carry only seven regular season afternoon games, the same number of playoff games, except for the Stanley Cup final, where they'll televise all games...except for the first two.
Meanwhile, under their new deal with ESPN, barely 40 regular season games will be televised, but on their secondary network ESPN2, not the main sports network. That's down from the high of 120 games five years ago, which were split between the two sports channels.
If there is a failure by the league to improve its product, that will result in a failure to increase ratings to the point where NBC will consider it worth their while to continue televising NHL games.
Once the NHL loses NBC, there's nowhere else to go. Fox and ABC already tried the NHL and found it lacking, while CBS, having seen the NHL fail on their competition, isn't likely to jump in.
That'll leave ESPN2 (known as "The Deuce") as the sole national television source for NHL hockey in the United States. Where, of course, it'll continue to be bumped around the schedule to make room for more "important" sports, like ten pin bowling, extreme sports and of course, professional poker.
The NHL's worth last season was $1.2 billion. A loss of this season and potentially part of next due to lockout, the continued unwillingness to address the on-ice problems and inability to improve its popularity in the US sports market will surely contribute to a drastic reduction in that amount.