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JUNE 2005 SOAPBOX ARCHIVES

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JUNE 15: A WORD ABOUT REDUCED TICKET PRICES.

Read a recent report in the St. Louis Post Dispatch about the Blues would be lowering ticket prices for next season.

According to the Blues, about 5,000 season tickets in the lower bowl at Savvis Center will be reduced to prices rivaling the 2000-01 prices, and the overall ticket price for the 2005-06 season will be less than the inaugural season at Savvis (1994-95). In addition, the team will continue to offer a no-interest payment plan over five months.

For example, Club season tickets drop to $79 a game from $83, and Plaza seats fall to $72 from $77. Less expensive seats, such as Plaza End and Mezzanine High End, are unchanged.

The average ticket price for a Blues game was $42.78 in 2003-04. The average price in 1994-95 was $42.21, although the cost of premium seating was also included in that total back then. So for argument's sake, let's whack about five bucks off that and say it's around $37 bucks.

Not a bad price, eh? But wait a minute, weren't ticket prices supposed to go down substantially under the new CBA? Isn't that what Blues fans and fans of other clubs were promised?

And correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't Blues fans, as well as hockey fans in other NHL cities, complaining about the cost of lower bowl tickets in their respective arenas back in 2000-01?

Oh, you expected a substantial slashing of those ticket prices, didn't you?

Surprise!

And just how long, Blues fans, do you expect those ticket prices to remain at that new, reduced rate?

One year? Two? Three? The life of the next CBA?

Only if the Blues suck so bad over that time that ownership has no choice but to keep prices low in hopes of attracting fans.

Otherwise, don't expect that reduced price to stay that way for long.

Yes, the article did say this was " the fourth consecutive year the Blues have frozen or lowered ticket prices", but again, if you look at what those prices were during that time frame, it's really not that much of a big deal.

Perhaps those who purchase season tickets are getting a better deal over the long run that those who simply walk up and buy tickets on game day, but still, those aren't what I'd consider massive reductions on ticket prices.

I wonder how much the price of concessions at Savvis will be? Will they be frozen too? Will they be reduced?

Because if they're not, whatever savings Blues fans might get could be gobbled up in concessions if those prices remain the same or increase.

Now don't think I'm picking on the Blues here. This article just happened to come up recently and I haven't read or heard much from other franchises as to their plans for tickets prices.

Like I said, folks, some or even most NHL teams may freeze or lower those prices for next season, as their way of thanking their long-suffering fans for their support throughout the lockout.

Those prices might even stay that way for another season.

But trust me on this, most of them won't stay that way for long. Your team's respective market will determine how much those ticket prices are, not the salaries of the players on the team.

That's why, in hockey mad markets like Toronto, Detroit, Montreal, Philadelphia, and Minnesota (yes, Minnesota, with the 9th highest prices in 2003-04 and the 7th highest attendance), the teams can pretty much charge whatever they want.

Meanwhile, teams like Florida, Carolina, Atlanta, and other cities where the NHL is struggling to build markets, or in a traditional hockey market like Buffalo where the team hasn't done so well in recent years, prices will be lower.

Even for those clubs, you're not going to see prices drop much below $29.76, which was the cost of the average ticket to watch the Panthers in 2003-04, if they even drop that far at all.

You thought the CBA was going to substantially bring down ticket prices if those dastardly players salaries were reduced at capped. That's what the NHL all but told you throughout the lockout when they spoke of making the game more affordable.

Try not to be too disappointed, hockey fans, when you realize you were sold a bill of goods.

JUNE 14:RANDOM THOUGHTS.

- So you think you're confused, dear hockey fan, wondering what might be the outcome of the next CBA? You think you're frustrated over the lack of real news as to what's being discussed?

You're not the only one. So too are players, general managers and yes, even pundits.

According to the National Post's Mark Spector (no relation and sorry, no link available) , it's been a tough slog these past several weeks:

Clearly this new, noiseless bargaining is more productive, but it does have a sportswriter longing for the days when leaders of the two sides would hold post-meeting press conferences to comically tear apart the other's offer as "a step back from what was offered on [fill in date here]."

Now it's the opposite, and the silence has become maddening. Somebody say something. We've got editors out here asking for stories, and we can only keep making them up for so long.

Yes, we've heard all about the NHLPA's supposed communication problems (real and imagined), but GMs and team presidents haven't been hearing very much themselves from their respective leaders.

Which should tell you all we need to know.

That being: real negotiation have been ongoing since early May, and neither side is going to tell their people what the outcome is going to be.

Oh, there may be a leak here or there, some legit, and some just to put nosy reporters off the scent, but ultimately, gang, we really don't know for the most part what's going to be in the new CBA.

And many folks on both sides of this dispute won't know until it's put before them for ratification.

Only then will we get a good idea at how the NHL's future will be shaped.

Then, and only then, may we get some idea as to which side "lost" and which side "won".

Although, quite frankly, both sides are losers in my book for allowing this situation to drag on like it has.

- Blogger Steve Ovadia makes an interesting observation about a possible salary cap with a cap floor over $22 million and a cap ceiling at $36 million and how it would impact small market clubs.

So if they couldn't make money in the past with those salaries, what's going to change now? It seems to me this new cap will work out really well for the big market, money-raking teams. I'm not sure what will change for the Oilers, though. They couldn't make money with a $33 million payroll last season. Will that $33 million payroll suddenly become profitable somehow?

Good question, but one I've yet to hear pro-salary cap supporters sufficiently address.

- So "insiders" once claimed that a deal had to be struck by May 31st if the NHL season were to have enough time to market itself, to hold the entry draft, to rustle up a new US national TV contract, to placate old sponsors and replace others who may have departed, to sell season tickets and to allow teams time to re-stock their rosters.

Then we were told June 10th. Then June 15th. Then June 20th.

Now we're hearing that July 15th is the absolute outside deadline.

Which only tells me most of these "insiders" know about as much as you and I do!

- The president of Rogers Sportsnet seems to believe one way the NHL could recover quickly from the fallout of the lockout is to have NHL franchises in Europe.

In an interview last week with the Ottawa Sun's Rob Brodie, Doug Beeforth said:

"The real future of the league, I think, is to be less concerned with markets in the U.S. where at best, (the NHL team) is No. 4 when it comes to popularity," he said. "Let's put a team in Prague or Helsinki or Stockholm. There, they'd be no worse than the second-most popular sport (behind soccer).

"There's a built-in affinity for the sport in many European countries."

Beeforth talks with enthusiasm about the prospect of televising, say, "the Ottawa Senators vs. the Moscow Bears."

"It would be much more compelling than the Senators playing Nashville."

Setting up shop in Europe would make the NHL the most forward-thinking of professional leagues, he said -- an image boost it could badly use right now.

"What a legacy, to be the first professional league to truly go international," said Beeforth. "I think this needs to be a part (of the NHL's future). If they don't do this first, someone else will."

I used to believe that too, until I investigated the European scene, courtesy of Euro-Focus columnist Danny Pugsley and blogger Jes Golbez, for a couple of Foxsports articles.

Many of the current European teams have long histories in their respective countries and large, faithful followings. You simply can't just start up franchises from scratch over there, even if they're NHL ones, and expect those fans to just dump their long-time favourites for these upstarts, even if it's carrying the NHL brand name.

The only way I can see that work out is if you allowed current, popular clubs to become part of the National Hockey League, but even then, that may not be easy and may still not be a means of guaranteeing success.

In a recent article on the WHA's continued attempts at rebirth and the possibility of that league eventually starting up franchises in Europe, Golbez wrote:

"Not to bring back an old argument, but we've been over the topic of pro teams in Europe before. Fans aren't going to support the Frankfurt Hamburgers playing the Hartford Whalers when they can watch the Frankfurt DEL team play in a real rivalry against Kolner Haie."

Replace "Hartford Whalers" with any current NHL franchise and the effect would likely be the same.

JUNE 13: FEELING A DRAFT? (PART 2, ELECTRIC BOOGALOO).

For the past couple of weeks there's been some speculation that the NHL is planning to hold it's 2005 entry draft on June 25th. This was based on an unsubtantiated report that the league had booked a room in a posh New York hotel, and that there would be a press conference on June 15th supposedly announcing the new collective bargaining agreement and the June 25th draft.

Well, folks, June 15th is only two days away, and there's been nothing from either the league or the NHLPA to suggest a June 15th press conference is imminent.

Of course, it's still entirely possible that this entry draft could still go off on June 25th "as planned". A new CBA could be signed and ratified on June 24th and they could still hold the entry draft the following day, since it's apparently all being done this year via conference call without all the pomp and ceremony we normally see with previous entry drafts.

It possible, but unlikely. Right now, there's a narrow window here for a draft to go off on June 25th. The longer it takes for a deal to be implemented, the narrower that window becomes.

Furthermore, it would be odd for the NHL to stage their entry draft on June 25th in New York, since the Yankees and Mets will be playing each other that day and it would attract far more media coverage. For the NHL to actually start selling itself again, a draft held in New York City would have to be done on a different weekend in order to garner some kind of media attention.

If the CBA is signed and ratified this month, I'd expect the entry draft to occur sometime in mid-July, since you don't also don't want to have it occur during the Canada Day/Independence Day long weekend, when nobody's paying attention.

Of more interest is the speculation of a potential dispersal draft once the new CBA is implemented.

According to the Toronto Star's Ken Campbell, the NHLPA is trying to ensure that last season's contracts are honoured by the league as "a transitional rule" in the new CBA.

Naturally the league doesn't want to entertain that notion, but Campbell cites Alexei Yashin as a precedent, noting that Yashin held out on the Ottawa Senators in 1999-2000 in hopes of breaking his contract with the club and getting a new deal with them or another club, but was then forced to return to the Sens to play out the final year of his contract.

Here's where things get interesting. Campbell writes:

"Should the NHLPA succeed in having last year's contracts included in a new deal, it would almost certainly include a one-time provision that would allow teams to buy out two players on the roster and not have the buyouts count against the salary cap.

The team would then be able to re-sign the players at a reduced rate and only that salary would count against the cap, or they could simply allow the player to become an unrestricted free agent.

There's also talk of a dispersal draft that would allow teams such as the Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers, who already have far more committed in salaries than would be allowed under any salary cap scenario. The teams would be able to make enough players available to get them under the cap and teams that need to reach the cap floor would then have the opportunity to select players made available. There is also talk that if that happened, perhaps only half of their salaries would count against the cap.

One player rep agrees that something will have to be done to accommodate the big-market teams with high payrolls.

"These guys just missed out on a year of revenues to help out the Nashvilles and Carolinas, so the league is going to have to throw them a bone," the player said.

"They can't do that, then just expect them to dismantle their teams."

This is what I've said several times over the course of this lockout. Something was going to have to be done to prevent the hard salary cap from gutting the rosters of the successful big market teams. The owners of those clubs simply won't stand for their rosters to be torn asunder under a new CBA.

A dispersal draft would certainly be one way of allowing big market clubs to jettison some players currently under contract to give them the room to get under a hard cap, yet at the same time, allow them the room to re-sign key players or to even go shopping in the UFA marketplace to fill other gaps in their rosters.

This isn't something new. Larry Brooks of the New York Post claimed several times last year that the NHL was envisioning holding such a draft, although if memory serves me correctly Brooks was suggesting that all 30 teams would release all their players into a dispersal draft.

That's something I simply don't see happening. For every John Leclair or Alexei Yashin that a team would love to ditch, there's a Joni Pitkanen or Jason Blake they'd love to retain.

Anyway, there will have to be some sort of system implemented over the short term so that the big market clubs aren't adversely affected. If a dispersal draft isn't the way to go, there will have to be some sort of grandfather clause that, for the first season or two of the new deal, allows those big market clubs to carry those players with heavy contracts and not have them count against the cap.

- TSN has a list of players presently under contract with their respective NHL clubs for the 2005-06 season. I'll be placing this link on my trade rumours page to allow readers to use it as a reference whenever the new CBA is signed, since it would mean a very busy summer for free agent signings and potential trades as teams seek to pare down payroll to make room to get under the cap or to make room to sign other, more desirable players.

My thanks to The Puck Stops Here.

JUNE 12: NEWS N' NOTES.

- NHLPA BLEW IT? That's the opinion of the Toronto Sun's Mike Ulmer, who feels the NHLPA and its membership made three big mistakes that will eventually lead them to "the biggest backtrack in sports history.

First, the NHLPA tied itself into a suicidal tactical position: no cap. The union's insistence on a non-regulated, free market economy was staggeringly stupid. No hockey player has ever been able to explain to anyone's satisfaction why Michael Jordan would play in a league with a salary cap but Matt Stajan wouldn't.

There was nothing stupid about it. The players were merely pointing out that it's the owners, not the players and agents, who ultimately set the market value. Had the owners and their hired help used the last CBA to their advantage, salaries wouldn't have exploded as they did.

Players and agents can ask for a set amount, and the player can withhold his services or demand a trade if he doesn't get what he wants, but as the Ottawa Senators proved with Alexei Yashin, you don't have to allow yourself to be "held hostage" to those demands.

The problem was there weren't a lot of well-run teams out there, and things just got out of hand.

As for the salary cap itself, Ulmer's example of the NBA is a poor one. That league has a soft cap, using a luxury tax system and a franchise player exemption to allow teams to overspend if they wish. The NHLPA was offering a luxury tax system, something they rejected in the previous CBA negotiations (and the NHL adamantly sought), which is of course a soft cap.

The PA was trying to avoid getting a hard cap, believing the league owners would cave rather than risk losing an entire season. They lost that game of chicken so they switched tactics, seeking to work a cap and linkage to their advantage. That's why negotiations have been going on so long since April and why both sides are meeting with such frequency.

The players informed the owners that the reason they were going broke was that they handed out stupid contracts, never admitting to the collusionary nature of the relationship in which each of the NHL's 30 teams was fighting not one agent or player, but all of them.

Irrelevant. At the end of the day, it's still up to the owners and general managers to decide if they'll pay those salaries or not.

Nobody put a gun to Jeremy Jacobs and Harry Sinden's temples when they decided to blow apart the entry level salary cap to sign Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov.

Nobody pushed Bill Wirtz to make that offer sheet to Keith Tkachuk. He did it because he thought he could take advantage of a struggling small market club and pluck away one of its best players before it relocated.

The Rangers weren't under pressure to make an offer sheet to Joe Sakic. They tried it because they wanted a replacement for the departed Mark Messier, with visions of Sakic combining with Wayne Gretzky to become the league's star offensive attraction.

Carolina's bid for Sergei Fedorov had more to do with a personality conflict between the owners of the Red Wings and Hurricanes.

Only one team - the Bruins - exercised their walkaway rights to arbitrations awards, and that had little long term affect on the Bruins.

Nobody forced Ted Leonsis to overpay for Jaromir Jagr. He did it because he wanted his club to step up amongst the "big boys" in the NHL, but he did so without taking into account Jagr's personality and the potential long-term effect that salary would have upon his payroll.

Charles Wang happily ponied up millions to Alexei Yashin at the cost of an eventual Norris candidate (Zdeno Chara) and a promising centre (Jason Spezza) all on the advice of his general manager, Mike Milbury.

These were just the most noteworthy examples of many that occured. The PA was absolutely right in pointing out the flaws in the system were of the owners doing.

The owners could've stood unified and the previous CBA would've backed them up, and there wouldn't have been a thing the players could've done.

As for owners "going broke", that doesn't explain why a dozen NHL teams have changed hands since 2000. If owning a hockey team were really such a bad investment, if it were really such a money-losing proposition, new owners would be scarcer than hen's teeth and we'd have seen those clubs fold.

Mistake number two was the players' distrust of the owners' numbers.

As a business, the NHL is closer to the National Lacrosse League than the National Football League, and yet it was working with a higher average salary for NHL players than their NFL brethren.

Yet the players rolled their eyes at the Levitt Report.

There were, the players said, holes you could sail Bill Wirtz's yacht through.

Say Levitt missed the boat. Say he was off by 50%. You were still talking about an industry with losses of $135 million.

Honestly, who cares if Wirtz didn't declare his luxury boxes? They're friggin' empty anyway.

The league stated for years it wanted cost certainty, tying salaries to a percentage of revenues. The PA wanted to know how that revenue could be accurately defined since each team determined and reported that revenue differently.

There were legitimate reasons for the eyerolling over the Levitt Report. It's not that Mr. Levitt did anything illegal because he didn't. What he did, however, was merely review the teams UROs, rather than conduct a true audit, going team by team, to determine if in fact the teams were determining and reporting revenues differently, as the players insisted.

Yes, the players didn't get their cap and yes, they're now going to accept some sort of linkage system. But they've been spending weeks sitting down with the league and analyzing the revenues of each club in order to determine a set method of reporting. That's important, despite Ulmer's blithe dismissal, for it could determine that players will get more than if they'd taken the Levitt Report at face value.

And don't forget, it's widely believed now that the salary cap will be allowed to rise should revenues increase, which they inevitably over the course of the new CBA, which could again translate into more money for the players.

Third, the players underestimated their opponent.

You can't blame them, really. All that Gary Bettman has managed in more than a decade in power was a CBA with more holes than a bathtub mat and some lame rule changes.

But in retrospect, the small-market composition of Bettman's inner cabinet, the scarce number of votes needed to get a deal, the new wealth of the current ownership (Tom Golisano in Buffalo, Eugene Melnyk in Ottawa for example), all these things should have told the players this was a fight they could not win.

The players were so sure Bettman and the owners would cave that they missed any genuine opportunity to advance talks.

They certainly did misjudge their resolve this time around, and the owners and Gary Bettman are to be commended.

That being said, it's premature to assume total victory for the NHL. We don't know for certain what's in the new CBA, and given the amount of negotiations that have been ongoing since April, it's obvious that if the players are going to accept a cap system and linkage, they're going to try to work it to their advantage as best they can.

Again, it's going to be up to those owners to make the CBA work. They'll determine if it works to their advantage or not.

One must also remember that it was the league, not the NHLPA, that was unwilling to negotiate throughout this lockout. The PA made its first offer to the NHL in June 2003, yet it was summarily rejected within a half hour. The league waited thirteen months before making formal proposals to the NHLPA, which weren't proposals at all but demands.

The PA offered points that could've been negotiated, but the league stubbornly stuck to its position, swatting aside every offer made by the players.

Negotiation is a two-way street, and it was only until the threat of losing season ticket and sponsor money, combined with the loss of a national cable television contract, that changed the league's stance to one of concilliation.

The NHLPA's only real mistake was in misjudging the owners resolve this time around, but we won't know for certain if they "blew it" until we're several years into the new CBA.

- MOGILNY DESIRE FOR A PAY CUT A SIGN O' THE TIMES? That's what Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons believes.

He writes that Alexander Mogilny, who made $5.5 million in 2003-04, is willing to take a $3 million pay cut next season to return to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Furthermore, Simmons believes this may be indicative of what the future could hold for NHL players under the new CBA, that most of them could look out for themselves by signing whatever they get offered, rather than holding out for bigger deals and thus raising the market value for comparable players.

That may well happen, but as Tom Benjamin notes, Mogilny -nor any older veteran players for that matter - isn't a good example to use to expound this theory.

Mogilny would have to take a pay cut anyway, given his age (36), declining skills and injury history.

Instead, Benjamin observes it'll be the contracts of younger stars, such as Jarome Iginla, Marion Hossa, Vinnie Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Ilya Kovalchuk and Dany Heatley that'll be better indicators of what salaries will look like under the new CBA.

- DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME? The Boston Globe's Kevin Paul Dupont believes it's a waste of time playing the guessing game as to what might be part of the new CBA and how it'll affect the future of the NHL.

Some words of caution, capologists, before you begin spinning that gold-plated propeller on your beanie: Until all the issues beyond dollar amounts (both ceiling and floor) and how they relate to linkage are settled, trying to pin the tail on the CBA is a waste of time for anyone not at the negotiating table (and maybe for some of them, too).

He's right, of course, it does seem rather pointless to be debating all this when we don't know for certain what that CBA is going to contain.

But then again, we hockey fans have had to suffer through a year of both sides sniping at each other, shooting down proposals, and putting the NHL into the realm of fringe sports with this stupid, endless labour dispute.

Now, there finally appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Negotiations are moving forward, and folks on both sides are seemingly growing either more optimistic or resigned (depending on their position) that a deal could be done very soon.

All this speculation and debate about what may be part of the new CBA is a good thing, as it's getting jaded hockey fans talking about the sport again. It's developing interest in a sports league that's been dormant for nearly a year.

That can never be a waste of breath or time.

JUNE 11: CAN AN NHL HARD CAP BE BEATEN?

In the latest "Fans Speak Out" update, reader "Butch" claims than teams cannot beat a salary cap unless there are specific rules in place to cheat in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

He observes that, in the NFL, it is possible for teams to spend over the salary cap for a year or two, but eventually over the long terms those caps dollars have to be repaid, and teams must get under the cap.

He also noted the NBA has a soft cap policy "such as if you are over the cap, you can sign any player to a minimum wage contract and go over the cap. Also they have thy 5 million salary a year exemption for one player per year that can take you over the cap."

He points out the NBA has a dollar for dollar luxury tax so few teams won't use those loopholes.

In other words, Butch claims that unless there is specific soft cap rules within the CBA there is no way around a hard cap.

Point? If the players hope is that the owners "simply turn on each other and find a magical way to avoid the salary cap" well, that is not a good plan. There IS no long term way around a hard cap, even with the signing bonus trick the NFL plays.

Point 2? The owners will make money and there will be no loophole preventing this.

These are of course very good points. Right now, we have no idea what will be contained in the next CBA, just hints and speculations over what is being negotiated.

I doubt the NHLPA is hoping the owners turn on each other and find a "magical way" to avoid the cap. Once it's in, it's in, regardless of what form it takes.

What the PA is seeking to do, however, is create conditions whereby the cap doesn't adversely affect salaries, particularly those of the rank and file.

The entire point of the cap for NHL teams is to supposedly keep salaries under control, particularly of the top players in the league. It's believed that a cap system will also allow smaller market clubs to be more competitive, levelling the playing surface between then and the big markets.

Should the NHL adopt an NFL-style hard cap, then yes, teams that overspend will eventually have to pay the piper as Butch claims.

But that doesn't mean that teams won't overspend, even if they can only do it for a short period of time.

Under the NFL system, teams can go longer than "a season or two" as Butch claims, sometimes going as many as four seasons before their cap bills come due, based upon how they manage their payroll before that time comes.

If the point was to bring down salaries, or at least keep them under control, or to prevent big market teams from overspending, that may not be quite as cut and dried as Butch suggests.

Because the NHL lacks the kind of revenue the NFL brings in, they don't have the lucrative kind of revenue sharing that the NFL has. Thus, small market clubs won't be pulling in the kind of big bucks under an NHL revenue sharing plan that can allow them to compete with the big boys.

Sure, any monies generated by an NHL revenue sharing plan will benefit small markets that receive it, particularly if it comes out of a luxury tax as suggested in a recent Globe and Mail report. At the very least, it'll ensure that teams have the money to spend over their cap floor, which will mean more money spent on player salaries.

Still, it's a pretty good assumption that those small markets aren't likely to spend over a cap limit. It'll probably be the traditional big markets that'll do so.

Let's say the average payroll is around $33 million under the new system, as it was back in 2000-01, but likely spread around more because of the cap minimum.

The superstars and fringe players will of course make their money, so it'll be the rank and file players whose salaries will face the biggest impact, and that's where the PA is trying to ensure that the impact won't become as huge a shock as it could be.

A hard cap isn't likely to stop some teams from pouring big bucks upon the top players. Indeed, back in 2000-01, the salaries of the top 25 players ranged between $5 million - $10 million, most of those spent on players belonging to big market clubs.

The days of the $10 million salary might be over, but the best will still likely command between $5 million - $7 million.

Many of those big market teams were previously paying out over $50 million in payroll - sometimes well in excess of that number.

They'll be making more revenue under a hard cap system, which may encourage them to find creative ways to spend that extra wealth on the players they want.

It must be remembered that the entry level cap was exploded under the last CBA because of bonuses. The NHL is obviously going to try to put wording into the new CBA to prevent this sort of thing from happening with a widespread hard cap.

But not every system is foolproof, and what loopholes couldn't be found under the NFL's system could be found under an NHL one.

Even with a hard cap, and possibility of paying out a luxury tax for spending up to that amount if such a tax is brought in between $29 million - $32 million, it's still possible that those traditional free spenders will find room in their payrolls for prorated bonuses to land the players they want.

The most commonly used methods employed in the NFL to circumvent a hard cap include prorated signing and performance bonuses, usually either spread out over the life of a contract, or paid up front (front-loading) or at the end of a contract (back-loading).

According to the NFLPA, proration of bonuses is one of the reasons why the NFL's cap system works. Other reasons include UFA status at 24, the right to renegotiate contracts and of course revenue sharing.

Depending on the wording of the next CBA, proration of bonuses will likely be used by NHL teams to remain on paper under the cap if they wish to either retain their best players or successfully bid for the services of the top UFA players.

The end result is that a hard cap system like the NFL's essentially becomes a credit card system - buy now, pay later. And teams that overspend for a lengthy period would eventually have to pare down their payrolls to get back under the cap or face the loss of draft picks and heavy fines from the league.

Yet the NFL system can work if a team manages their payrolls wisely.

That's where the true test will come in for the NHL under an NFL-style cap. If the traditional free-spenders can change their spending habits and adhere to the rules of the cap, then the system may work.

Even if they don't and they're forced to pare down payroll or pay fines and lose draft picks, that system might still work.

But suppose that, once having overpaid for a couple of years and then chopped payroll, that those clubs might not try it again down the road?

What if they bide their time in the early years of the CBA, which is believed to be for only six years, not ten as the previous one was, and then go on their spending sprees in its latter years?

That could mean a startling jump in salaries for players in the latter years of the CBA, even more so if the cap ceiling rises with increased revenues.

After all, those teams won't face a penalty unless the CBA or the hard cap system is extended.

If small markets continue to struggle along or have difficulty retaining their best players, there could be calls to re-do the CBA yet again in six years, by which time we could see the same thing as we saw this time around: teams spending whatever they wanted in the dying years of the CBA, then dumping contracts in preparation of a new system coming into place and fighting to get remaining contracts reduced.

As for the NBA system, we've heard some rumours of the NHL considering a "franchise player exemption" rule to allow teams to spend up to $5 million over the cap on one player, but that's all they've been up to this point, rumours.

Everything we've heard about thus far seems to point to a hard cap rather than an NBA soft cap system. Even the luxury tax is apparently set within a certain range between the cap floor and ceiling, rather than beyond the ceiling itself.

Butch is right about the fact that it'll be the wording of the CBA that'll determine what methods teams might use to circumvent a hard cap, and for how long they can do so.

And that's what's going to make the next CBA so interesting.

JUNE 10: WE'VE HEARD THIS ALL BEFORE.

In the continuing analysis over the validity of Globe and Mail's Wednesday report of the NHL and NHLPA apparently agreeing on a salary cap system, some pundits and bloggers believe the players will be getting the short end of the deal if they've actually agreed to the numbers as laid out in that report.

"The players became scared -- legitimately -- about the future of the sport....They just wanted to get back to playing hockey, in
the NHL, at whatever price, and instructed their union leadership to make that happen. In the process, they violated one of the fundamental rules of any type of negotiation: never bargain against yourself. " - Stephen Brunt, Toronto Globe and Mail, June 9th, 2005.

"This will not be Bob's deal, and it is no longer his association, whatever
it may say on the masthead. He may hang around awhile, working on the wording of his departure -- "exploring new opportunities" is always good -- but if he's still working for the players a year from now, it can only be because it's cheaper to have him around straightening pictures and manning the paper-shredder than to buy him out of his long-term contract." - Cam Cole, Vancouver Sun, June 9th, 2005.

" The bottom line lately seems to indicate the meek have taken over the
players' world, and Gary Bettman's dream deal may be just around the corner." - Tony Gallagher, Vancouver Province, June 9th, 2005.

"While pundits such as Tom Benjamin(Canucks Corner) and Lyle Richardson(Spector) seem to think the PA will make up such losses as teams hire 'Capologists', these figures, at first glance, look to be a huge victory for Gary Bettman's wreteched vision of the game." - Jes Golbez, June 8th, 2005.

Hard criticism indeed. There's more:

"Bettman is so much more commissioner than hockey deserves it is a laugh. Some people have suggested that Bettman might get a pink slip when this is all over. He should get a medal...(Bob Goodenow was) a stubborn lightweight...out of his weight class...he was in over his head with Bettman from the start." - Mike Lupica, New York Daily News.

" (Goodenow) can proclaim a bloody victory. Then the players will look at what he gave away. Hockey players always know who lost the fight." - Al Strachan, Toronto Sun.

"The players lost, but there is no reason to bleed for them...It's not like they're going to have to run down a recipe book on 101 Things You Can Do With Kraft Dinner". - Jack Todd, Montreal Gazette.

Oh, wait, my mistake! Those last three quotes were printed back in 1995, in the fallout of the signing of the last Collective Bargaining Agreement.

So you see, folks, we've heard this kind of talk of the players getting hosed before. And we all know how that ultimately turned out.

I explained yesterday why any deal the players get today will be much better than if they'd capitulated to the league's earlier demands. While we still don't fully know how the next CBA will adversely impact their salaries until the deal is finalized, based on what's been leaked to the media thus far, that impact could be muted, perhaps considerably.

As always, regardless of what system is implemented, it will be up to the owners to ensure that they all adhere to it, rather than exploit loopholes to their own advantage as per the previous CBA.

Pundit Eric Duhatschek puts it best:

"All it takes is a handful of free-spending teams and all the contracts you couldn't comprehend before...will appear almost logical in two years".

He wrote that ten years ago in the Calgary Herald, and while he was referring to the players getting a deal without a cap or a luxury tax back then, he noted:

"The players effectively put the onus on owners to run their businesses efficiently. Some will try, but others will not be able to change the spending habits of a lifetime."

I believe that statement is as prescient today as it was when Duhatschek wrote those words ten years ago.

If the owners, especially the big market guys, can actually change their previous spending habits and stick to the framework of the next CBA, then they'll be able to have things their way. Salaries will remain under control and small markets might have a better opportunity to compete.

But having witnessed what those free-spenders have done in the recent past, it's hard for me to believe they'll actually, honestly stick to the system "for the good of the game".

These are businessmen who're competitive by nature and used to cutthroat tactics. They may be unified now but they'll turn on each other almost as soon as the ink is dry on the new CBA.

It was that competitiveness that made a mockery out of the entry level cap, salary arbitration and restricted free agency under the previous CBA.

Are they capable of changing their habits?

I'll believe it when I see it.

Until then, I'm not paying much attention to all this talk of the owners gaining the upper hand over the players.

After all, we've heard it all before.

JUNE 9:A SALARY CAP AT LAST?

The hockey world is still buzzing over yesterday's report in the Globe and Mail claiming a salary cap system had been agreed upon by the NHL and NHLPA.

As reported by TSN:

According to the Globe's league and player sources, a salary floor and cap will be based on a percentage of each NHL team's revenue. The paper adds that in the first year - based on revenue projections by both sides - the salary cap will range from $34 million to $36 million US, with the floor from $22 million to $24 million US.

The Globe also reports that the formula calls for a dollar-for-dollar luxury tax to kick in at the halfway mark between the floor and the cap. If the floor of the lowest team is $22 million US and the cap on the highest team is $36 million US, then the 'tax level' will be $29 million US.

I've read more than a few comments from fans and bloggers suggesting that, if this report is accurate, the players are getting spanked on this deal.

I disagree.

As I observed yesterday on Tom Benjamin's blog,

"Remember that cap ceiling is tied to revenue projections. In the first year, it's set at $34 - $36 million, because revenues will obviously be lower than what they were in the final season under the old CBA.

However, those revenues may not stay lower for long. Should those revenues increase each season, so too would the cap ceiling. Since it's believed the league wants a $10-$12 million gap between the salary ceiling and floor, the floor level also rises.

Thus, it's entirely possible, say, five or six years from now, for that cap ceiling to be $42.5 million and that cap floor to be $30.5 or $32.5 million.

As for that luxury tax, that's really not going to stop the free spenders from maxing out on their cap ceiling.

For example, the Detroit Red Wings spend $36 million, but get taxed on the $7 million they overspent. Dollar for dollar, that's $14 million bucks out of their pocket, one dollar in tax for each dollar spent on salary, for a grand total of $50 million."

Actually, I was having a bad math day when I made that calculation. That's actually $7 million out of pocket in taxes for the Wings, for a total of $43 million if they spend up to their cap limit ($36 million) and the luxury tax kicked in at $29 million.

If so, that would be the lowest the Wings have paid out in payroll since the 1999-2000 season, when their payroll was $43.4 million. Since then, their payrolls were 54.1 million ('00-'01), $64.4 million ('01-'02), $68 million ('02-'03) and $77.8 million ('03-'04).

Does anyone really think Wings owner Mike Illich would blink at having to pay $43 million, with $36 million of it in actual payroll and $7 million in tax? I doubt it.

"Even paying out a luxury tax of $7 million for the $7 million they overspent, they're still going to spend much less than they have in recent seasons.

And then there's also the possibility of them employing a capologist to help them find legal loopholes around the hard cap. They won't get tagged on any tax on that.

It'll also help to ensure that small markets, who'll be the obvious recipients of the tax, will have the money needed for them to spend beyond the cap floor. That may be where the increased revenue sharing comes in which the PA was seeking."

So much for the players getting spanked.

2005 HHOF INDUCTEES.

- The Hockey Hall of Fame made its announcements for the 2005 inductees, and I must say that I'm pleased with the selections.

Former Boston Bruins power forward Cam Neely, former Soviet Union star forward Valeri Kharlamov and Murray Costello,former president of the Canadian Amateur Association made the cut.

Neely's stats may not seem impressive at first glance, but in the high-scoring era of his prime (late 80s and early 90s), only Gretzky and Lemieux were more lethal goalscorers. Had his career not been cut short by injuries, he would've gone on to pad those numbers by a huge margin.

I was fortunate enough to have watched Kharlamov in his prime, during the '72 Summit Series, the '74 series against Team WHA, and Super Series '76. Of all the Soviet forwards, Khalamov was the most eye-catching, and next to goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, the most popular amongst Canadian fans.

Costello didn't have the spotlight cast upon him like Neely and Kharlamov but he was notable for his organizational work with Hockey Canada from 1979 to 1998.

I feel sorry for Dino Ciccarelli, but here's hoping he gets his due next year, although he'll be dwarfed by the induction of goaltending great Patrick Roy, who is eligible for induction next year on his first year of eligibility. Figure the odds of "St. Patrick" not making it!

JUNE 8: NEWS N' NOTES.

- Awwww, how nice, the NHL held a three-day "research and development camp" using overage junior players to test various ideas on how to improve their product.

And what do we get out of it?

Smaller goalie equipment is coming, as is a shootout to eliminate tie games after regulation and four on four overtime, and the tag-up offside rule.

Which, of course, those of us who've been following what little hockey news there's been throughout the course of this lockout already knew was coming since it was reported upon last winter.

As for the more radical changes experimented with, they're not expected to fly since most GMs aren't thrilled by them.

Whoop-de-doo.

OK, look, smaller goalie equipment is a good thing. If the goaltenders of today are so much better conditioned than in years past, they shouldn't have to rely on outsized gear to get their job done. That's a positive, and long overdue, improvement

Tag-up offsides are a tweak. Real change should include hurry-up faceoffs, no touch icings and elimination of the centre red line.

As for the shootout, as I've said before in this column, it's not going to add much excitement if the quality of the product over the preceeding three periods and four-on-four overtime period remains as dull as it's been over the past ten years.

If there's no significant improvement on the entire course of the game, then a shootout is merely a cherry garnishing a s**t sandwich.

- According to 640 Radio in Toronto, there's a rumour afoot that the NHL plans to hold the entry level lottery draft on June 25th.

Some New York reporters don't understand why the NHL would hold the draft in New York that weekend because the Yankees and Mets are playing each other and there will be minimal press coverage for the draft.

The obvious conclusion? The rights to the first overall pick, which will undoubtedly be Sidney Crosby, have already been awarded, or will be awarded, to the NY Rangers.

Nice conspiracy theory, but dontcha y'all think it would be best to wait until the CBA is actually in place before wild rumours about Crosby start flying around?

I think I'll wait until that CBA is signed and get an official announcement on the entry draft date before I start worrying about imagined skullduggery bringing Crosby to the Big Apple.

- One year ago yesterday (June 7), the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Calgary Flames in Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final to capture their first ever NHL championship.

It's going to be interesting to see what impact the new CBA, whenever it is finally implemented, will have on the rosters of those two clubs, both over the short and long term.

-The Edmonton Sun's Terry Jones has an interesting piece on the demise of the Edmonton Oilers farmclub, the Edmonton Roadrunners.

Basically, the Runners were only brought to Edmonton from Hamilton in order to ensure the parent club - the Oilers - would generate some hockey revenue throughout the lockout, since most fans going to watch the Runners would be Oilers fans.

Now that the NHL lockout is seemingly coming to a close, the Oilers no longer want the Runners underfoot.

At least you can perhaps take that as a sign, as Jones did, that there will be NHL hockey starting in October.

- Blogger Mike Chen is predicting an announcement of the signing of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will come during the week of June 20-24th.

Aha! Yet more proof that "Loto Crosby" will be held in New York on June 25th! Conspiracy everywhere! Grab yer tinfoil hats and hold on tight!

No, I'm not mocking Mike, just the conspiracy nuts. I think Mike's prediction is perhaps the most logical, as both sides apparently still need some time to sort through "minor issues".

JUNE 7: CROSBY AND THE CANADIENS.

- If there is no NHL 2005-06 season, it's believed the Toronto Maple Leafs are jockeying to make an offer to Junior phenom Sidney Crosby to play for their farm club, the resurrected Toronto Marlies.

Unfortunately for the Leafs, their desire to have Crosby be a one-year attraction for the Marlies may founder upon his heart's desire: playing for the Montreal Canadiens:

However, the Crosby camp was recently quoted as being less than enthusiastic about that possibility: "When you like Montreal, the one team you don't like is the blue and white...He'd go to Toronto, but I can tell you, he wouldn't be happy about it." -- Troy Crosby, Sidney's father and a former Montreal Canadiens draft pick (240th overall in 1984) told Slam Sports in an interview.

Crosby's dream, according to Steve Simmons, is to be selected in the 2005 entry draft by the Habs.

Of course, his fate will be determined by a lottery, not by placement since there was obviously no 2004-05 season to determine that.

It's been a long time since the Habs had the first overall pick in the entry draft. Indeed, it's been 25 years, in 1980, when the Canadiens, thanks to one of the last deals spun by their great general manager Sam Pollock, had the first overall pick.

Unfortunately for the Canadiens, by 1980 "Sad Sam" was no longer at the controls, Irving Grundman was, and it was he who selected Doug Wickenheiser.

"Wick" was a big forward from the Regina Pats whom the Habs had big plans for. Unfortunately they rushed the kid too quickly, and that may have stunted his development as an NHL player. There was a lot of pressure upon Wickenheiser, and while he was a kind, decent guy, he didn't have the mental toughness to deal with intense pressure playing in the Montreal fishbowl.

The Habs also passed up the opportunity that year to draft such talent as Denis Savard, Larry Murphy, and Paul Coffey.

One has to wonder what changes, if any, the Canadiens history since 1980 may have taken had they gone with Savard, Murphy or Coffey over Wickenheiser.

The thought of Crosby landing in Montreal would be too good to be true for Habs fans. Since the club's 24th and last Stanley Cup championship in 1993, the NHL's most prestigous franchise has seen its stock fall - thanks to mismanagement - from perennial Cup favourite and league power to one that wallowed through the late 90s and the turn of the century, missing the playoffs an unheard-of four times in five years.

During that time, their long-time rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs, established themselves as the self-proclaimed "Canada's Team", spending big bucks on big stars and incurring more regular season and playoff success than the Canadiens.

The Canadiens seemingly turned the corner in recent years, thanks to improvements in the front office and behind the bench. Saku Koivu emerged as a gritty heart-and soul leader, and Jose Theodore has established himself among the better netminders in the league.

Habs fans drool over the development of promising youngsters such as Michael Ryder and Mike Komisarek.

Yet the Canadiens have been missing a superstar since Patrick Roy was dealt away almost ten years ago. They haven't had a superstar forward since Guy Lafleur's heyday 25 years ago.

If the bouncing bingo balls were to land in the Habs favour and they could secure Crosby, the prayers of Canadiens fans would be answered. The majority of Habs fans would be delirious if the supposed "Next One" were to drop into their laps via lottery, giving them a player they otherwise wouldn't have a shot at.

Some might question if Crosby would have that mental toughness to playing for the demanding crowds in Montreal, but it must be remembered that he's used to playing under the spotlight since he was fourteen.

The heat from that spotlight grew even hotter last year when Wayne Gretzky all but proclaimed him "The Next One", yet that added pressure did nothing to hurt Crosby's game or affect his attitude.

Were he to be selected by the Habs, he would have little problem adjusting to playing in Montreal.

Of course, the odds are long in Montreal's favour to land the rights to draft Crosby.

The Canadiens made the playoffs two of the last three seasons, giving them only a marginal advantage over the powerhouses like Detroit, Colorado, New Jersey, Philadelphia and their hated rivals from Toronto.

The more woeful, like Florida, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Chicago and New York, would have better odds.

Yet it's a safe bet that, come draft day 2005, whenever that day is, many Canadiens fans will be praying to the old Forum ghosts to work their magic one last time.

And perhaps Sidney Crosby will be doing the same.

JUNE 6: SEED OF DOUBT?

Over the past several weeks, I've addressed the numerous media reports claiming NHLPA Director Bob Goodenow's job might not be safe.

Pundits with "league sources" have claimed Goodenow either no longer runs the show at the PA, or has had his power curtailed by the Player Executive, or may be in danger of losing his job once this lockout is over and a new CBA is in place.

I haven't put much stock into those claims, considering the sources. Most came from avowed Goodenow-bashers or those with close ties to the league. None came from anyone with serious connections to the PA itself.

I've always said that if Al Strachan of the Toronto Sun or Larry Brooks of the New York Post wrote that Goodenow's job may not be safe, then it may be worth more serious consideration.

This past Sunday, Brooks wrote the following:

Goodenow may not be a hero here. He may not keep his job once this settled; might choose not to, in fact.

The intent of Brooks's entire article regarding Goodenow was to insist he's gotten a bad rap, and he's right, the NHLPA Executive Director has been unfairly, often baselessly bashed for his handling of negotiations.

But I found Brooks's comments about Goodenow's retaining his job interesting.

For the first time, a seed of doubt regarding his future has come from a media source that has been pro-NHLPA throughout this labour dispute. If Brooks is starting to wonder about Goodenow's future, there might indeed be something to the speculation after all.

Still, we really don't know what's going on within the inner workings of the NHLPA, particularly its hierarchy. I turned to a reliable source who told me that Goodenow remains firmly in charge, and that all we're hearing from the critics are information fed to them by league media spinmeisters hired to create confusion and unrest within the PA, using the media as their weapon.

I'm of the opinion that I'll believe it when I see it. I do believe there are those within the PA who are disgruntled with Goodenow and would like to see him replaced, but I also know with certainty that he does have the support of the rank and file, who make up the majority of the PA membership.

If there is a movement afoot to oust Goodenow, it won't come until after the next CBA is implemented, if at all.

Supposing for a moment that Goodenow is replaced, it would be folly for anyone on the league side to believe they'll have an easier go with his replacement.

Ted Saskin is an able negotiator, but he would be no less determined to get a fair deal for the players as Goodenow. Same goes for NHLPA president Trevor Linden and former president and consultant Mike Gartner.

Had the league made the same demands to the aforementioned if they were the PA's Executive Director, they would've found them just as stubborn as Goodenow.

Perhaps Goodenow may be replaced one day. Perhaps he'll someday step down.

One thing is certain, and that's the fact that it won't happen as long as these negotiations are ongoing.

JUNE 5: GREAT EXPECTATIONS.

Sometime in the next month, it's very likely the NHL and its Players Association will come to a new collective bargaining agreement.

A season will almost certainly be played in 2005-'06, and it looks like the NHL will be much, much better off than it was a year ago.

There will be a strong drag on salaries, significantly lower payrolls and quite possibly positive rule changes that improve the flow of an increasingly-boring game. It will be an affordable league, the kind of financially-responsible loop people hoped for a decade ago when the Winnipeg Jets were getting set to fly south.

So, tell us again why the lockout was a bad thing? - Ted Wyman, Winnipeg Sun, June 5.

If only what Mr. Wyman wrote could come true, why yes, the lockout wouldn't have been such a bad thing. The NHL would truly be a much better league than it was under the previous CBA.

"A strong drag on salaries"? That depends on the will of the owners, just as it did under the previous CBA.

Critics of the NHLPA love to trot out the misguided opinion that it was the greedy players who contributed to the explosion of salaries under the last CBA.

To a small degree, they're right. Players like Alexei Yashin were only concerned about their bank accounts when they tried to hold their clubs hostage for bigger salaries.

If you're seeking to pin blame on the NHLPA side, the players agents would be the best place to look, since they're the ones who negotiate the deals on their clients behalf and thus can find the loopholes necessary to get the best return for them.

But at the end of the day, it's the team owners who decide how much they'll spend on payroll, how much they'll spend on key players and for how long they'll spend that amount.

They're the ones who hire the front office staff to do the negotiating with the players and their agents, and it's that staff who works out the contracts.

And it's that front office staff, working on behalf of the owner, who'll decide if a player is worth what his agent is asking for or if they'll tell him to get stuffed.

As with the last agreement, all it'll take is a few free-spending clubs to find some legal loopholes to exploit to their advantage, and suddenly that hard cap which was supposed to be the saviour of small market clubs disappears.

Some argue that if that's the case, why has the PA fought so hard throughout this current lockout against most of the league's demands? If owners truly can't help themselves, then why not sign off on whatever deal they offer since it'll ultimately work to the players advantage?

That's because those running the NHLPA, contrary to their critics opinion, aren't stupid.

They weren't simply going to accept a $33 million cap ceiling with no minimum level, tying salaries to a percentage of disputed revenues with no opportunity for those salaries to rise as revenues rise, the abolishment of salary arbitration and entry-level bonuses, the slashing of qualifying offers by 25% and minimal increases to revenue sharing that would be phased out over the life of the next CBA.

They're still going to negotiate the best deal they can.

The last CBA had many drags on player salaries. Restricted free agency tying players to their clubs throughout the prime of their careers. Eligibility for unrestricted free agency at 32 (later lowered to 31) after a player was past his prime, thus limiting his value on the open market. A cap on entry level salaries with no rights for players under those contracts to free agency or arbitration, and the right to walk away from three arbitration decisions within a two year period.

Yet a CBA which was heralded as a victory for the owners turned into a defeat.

The owners can demand all the salary drags they want. Ultimately it's up to them to decide if they'll be effective or not.

In 1999-2000, when the average payroll was just over $31 million, the top 25 players earned between $5 million (Ziggy Palffy, Ron Francis, Mark Recchi, Mike Richter and Pierre Turgeon) to over $10 million (Jaromir Jagr and Paul Kariya).

It's likely the days of the $10 million salaries are over, but it's no stretch to see that salaries of $7 million or $8 million for the best players will be paid under the next CBA. And if a creative means of prorating signing or performances bonuses gets factored in, the very best players could still make over $10 million.

"Significantly lower payrolls"? It's possible - remote, but possible - that the free-spending owners will stick to the rules over the life of the next CBA thus bringing about the drag on salaries Wyman foresees.

But if the first few seasons of the next CBA see a cap ceiling of $38 million and a cap floor of $28 million, don't expect those payrolls to drop substantially.

The big market clubs will spend up to the cap ceiling because they can, and they'll be delighted to do that since it'll be significantly lower than what they were spending in the past.

The small markets will be forced to spend $28 million or face penalties from the league. If there's either a luxury tax or significant increases to revenue sharing, they'll face the same penalties.

At the turn of the century (1999-2000, but I just like saying "turn of the century"), the average payroll was $31.6 million. Ten teams that season - a third of the NHL clubs - spent under (in some cases well under) $28 million in payroll.

Five clubs, meanwhile, spent well over $38 million. Just for fun, let's says we take what they they overspent and spread it to those who spent under $28 million to bring them within that range expected to come out of the next CBA.

Compared to the final year of the last CBA, when 15 teams spent over $38 million on payroll and the average was $44 million, it's a significant reduction.

But remember, there were significant complaints from small market owners and league officials back in 2000 that salaries were out of control.

There were cries of concerns about the potential relocation south of the border of clubs like the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Ottawa Senators.

There were grumblings from the owners of small market US clubs that they were struggling to make a go of it, that they might be forced to sell or relocate if the situation didn't improve.

When the Winnipeg Jets were getting set to fly south as Wyman writes, the average payroll was $20 million.

The payrolls will reduce in the early years of the next CBA, but they'll still be significantly higher than they were a decade ago. In fact, they'll be where they were four-five years ago, when the concerns about salary escalation became a cacophony of complaints.

Let's say the next CBA ties salaries to a percentage of revenues but with the stipulation they could increase should revenues do the same, that reduction in payroll could be a mirage.

Should revenues increase, and eventually they will since everyone involved in the league wants to improve the product, that $38 million cap becomes $40 million or $42 million or possibly $44 million if this next deal lasts 10 seasons as the previous CBA did.

With the cap floor to increase along with the cap ceiling, small market clubs could be forced to spend $30 million, $32 million, or $34 million on their respective payrolls.

Figures they complained under the final years of the CBA were too much for them to carry over a significant period of time.

Of course, increased revenue sharing would help them spend up to the minimum amount, but Wyman's point was that payrolls would be significantly lower. That may not happen.

Even if those revenues don't increase significantly over the life of the next CBA and the cap system remains relatively unchanged over the same period, it's possible that free-spenders could still find ways to blow it out of the water.

Following the 2000-01 season, where only seven teams spent over $38 million and the average payroll climbed marginally to $33.3 million from $31.6 million, payrolls exploded dramatically, rising from $38 million in 2001-02 to $42.4 million in 2002-03 to $44 million in 2003-04, the final year of the last CBA.

The number of clubs that spent over $38 million on payrolls doubled to fifteen by the '03-'04 season.

The reason for that? The attitude amongst some owners was to spend what they could in hopes of building a championship club now, because the landscape was going to change once the new CBA expired.

It's not up to the players to set the salaries and the payrolls, it's up to the owners. They set the market values on the players.

Some suggest the NHL needs an "idiot-proof" CBA to prevent free-spenders from ruining things for the other owners, but one can't legislate against greed and stupidity. Most folks abide by rules, but some folks believe they're there to be broken.

About the only thing that could significantly improve is the quality of the on-ice product, primarily because the drop in television ratings and popularity of their product in the United States made this a necessity long before this lockout.

The absence of the NHL from the consciousness of the American sports fan this past season only further heightens the urgency to improve the product if the team owners and the league are to increase revenues.

But still, that'll be determined by the league and the owners, and one must remember that this is a bunch that over the past ten years have proven resistant to change.

The league tried several times under the last CBA to crack down on obstruction, but howls of complaints from players, coaches, general managers and owners always saw those crackdowns come to naught by season's end.

Claiming big changes are coming is one thing. Having the determination to see them through is another.

Of course the desire to improve their visibility and popularity in the United States sports market will be a stronger driving force than in years past, but it remains to be seen if the determination is there to make the real changes, rather than cosmetic ones, the league needs.

Mr. Wyman has great expectations for the NHL under the next CBA. I can only see one of them - improvement of the on-ice product - possibly coming to pass.

I don't expect much to change with payrolls and salaries over the long term.

FROM STEVE SIMMONS' COLUMN TODAY:

Just a thought: Would anything be better for a returning NHL than to have Gretzky running the Rangers and Sidney Crosby playing in the Big Apple?

Only if they win, Steve, and that means the Rangers have to have the will to build around a player like Crosby and resist the temptation for the quick fix which was the factor in their missing the postseason for seven straight years. Gretzky can build a dream team for Canada in international competition, but rebuilding a once-proud franchise like the NY Rangers is another matter.

JUNE 4: DOIN' IT BLOG STYLE.

- Yes, that's the way this column has been this past week. Again, busy-busy-busy at my day job, and odd jobs around the house (who knew grass go grow so high after only two weeks between cuts?) has limited my style of the past week to short n' sweet blog style commentary rather than my usual long-winded but highly insightful, witty manner you've all come to know and love.

- Ever notice that avowed Bob Goodenow bashers like Stan Fischler and Steve Simmons appear to contradict themselves whenever they engage in their favourite pastime?

For example, both have written over the past months columns claiming Goodenow has either lost control of the NHLPA or is in danger of being ousted as its director, yet in the very same columns they'll claim he's a manipulative bully who has seemingly cowed the players and agents and dodged every bullet fired his way.

One minute he's desperately clinging to power, the next he's a Svengali the players dare not oppose.

Much gets made over Goodenow not attending as many meetings between the two sides, yet NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has also had the same timetable and no one is suggesting Bill Daly or Harley Hotchkiss or Lou Lamoriello are out to usurp his power.

The fact the claims of "union unrest" comes from reporters with "league sources" should tell you something. The fact no player or agent has gone on the record voicing their dislike of Goodenow should tell you more.

-The intent of these stories appears to be to stoke unrest amongst the players and agents, but as Larry Brooks of the NY Post noted today, it appears to be creating more confusion than unrest.

A reporter with more direct access to the NHLPA than Fischler or Simmons, Brooks has previously written that the majority of the PA membership support their Director.

Thus, it was noteworthy when the following appeared today:

The critical question posed by many players - and their agents - concerns Goodenow's grip on the union, and just who is making the decisions for the PA during what appears to be the beginning of the end game of the lockout.

While there has been widespread reporting of a coup within the Executive Committee leaving Goodenow the boss in name only, that view is not universally accepted by the players.

It seems they're more concerned over whether there's any truth to these rumours, which the reports claim they're supposed to be playing a significant role in ousting their leader.

They're hearing these rumours themselves for the first time and are wondering about their validity. Doesn't that seem odd? After all, if there's a rising groundswell of anti-Goodenow, pro-deal forces as some pundits suggest, why are many players wondering if there's any truth to these stories and asking the PA hierarchy for clarification?

Doesn't sound like much of a revolt to me.

- As for real lockout news, Brooks reported today that sources from both sides claim the PA's desire to have last season's contracts honoured for next season isn't flying with the league.

Really, who can blame the owners for rejecting that notion. Even with the 24% rollback believed part of the deal, that still means a lot of players will be carrying hefty salaries under that old deal which could have significant impact on a team's respective salary cap.

It remains to be seen if that'll be a showstopper, but I suspect the PA may look to gain a concession elsewhere in order to drop this demand.

- Just for info, but once the new CBA is signed, there will be less than 300 players (the actual number is around 280) who'll have contracts already signed through the 2005-06 season.

Expect this therefore to be a very busy summer if the deal is signed prior to July. There are RFA players to be signed, numerous UFAs from last season still to be signed, plus possibly more players joining their ranks should the UFA qualification age drop to 30 starting this summer.

Teams have lots of holes to fill, some more than others, and while it's likely most players who belonged to teams prior to the lockout will be resigned by their respective clubs, the makeup of the rosters of those clubs will still change significantly before the start of the '05-'06 season.

- Dave Perkins of the Toronto Star believes it would be a great idea if Sidney Crosby played with the New York Rangers, feeling it would generate more interest in the Blueshirts which in turn would help generate more interest in the NHL in the United States.

As I've said before, Crosby going to the Rangers doesn't make them an automatic winner. The club would have to build around him, and if their front office fails to do so over the next several years, Crosby would simply be a good or great player on a lousy hockey team.

And that certainly isn't going to attract more fans to follow the Rangers or the NHL.

JUNE 3: WHY DID IT TAKE SO LONG FOR THE PA TO EXAMINE THE LEAGUE'S BOOKS?

In an article today slamming both sides for allowing this lockout to occur, the Toronto Star's Damien Cox claimed the PA was never interested in conducting a joint audit of the NHL's books and never had any interested in establishing revenue, and are only know doing so because the owners held firm throughout the lockout.

Yet according to NHLPA director Ted Saskin, in an interview I conducted with him last summer, prior to the lockout, the PA tried to establish league revenues several years ago.

The NHL agreed to allow the PA to examine the books of four clubs - Montreal, Boston, Buffalo and the LA Kings. The PA found that these four clubs had over $50 million in undeclared revenue.

Following that, the league refused to allow the PA to examine the books of the other teams.

Saskin also informed me the reason why the PA rejected the Levitt Report was because they knew that every team reported its revenues in different ways. The PA also knew that all it would do was verify what the teams were submitted in their Unified Report of Operations, and that there would be no real auditing of the finances.

And as Dubi Silverstein of Blueshirt Bulletin noted, Levitt in his own report noted he had to address discrepancies in previous UROs as well as the ones he was submitted for the year he was auditing.

Remember, the league announced they'd hired Arthur Levitt to conduct a review of UROs. The PA had no part of it. I don't ever recall the league offering to conduct a joint audit with the PA.

The PA has been interested in how league revenues are reported, and has been for some time, but were seemingly shut out of making any progress toward establishing true league revenues once they found discrepancies in the first four teams they examined.

That was probably the rationale behind their intial offer, in June 2003, seeking a luxury tax, revenue sharing, changes to arbitration and entry-level salaries and more. There was no point in seeking to determine revenues because the league and the teams apparently weren't willing to come clean, instead hoping to hide behind the whitewash of the Levitt Report.

It was the league that kept insisting on tying salaries to a percentage of revenues. The PA wanted to avoid that because they didn't trust the Levitt Report. They sought instead proposals based upon a luxury tax system , increased revenue sharing and of course a 24% salary rollback.

Now, the rules of the game have changed. The PA is acknowledging the league will not back down from their demand for salary linkage, but they aren't just going to accept the league's report sight unseen. That's why there's been so much effort over the past month or so toward establishing what those revenues are.

I agree with Cox that this lockout didn't have to happen. I agree that both sides deserve blame. But the NHLPA tried well before this lockout to get the NHL teams to come clean on their revenue determinations and reportage, but the league kept tossing up the Levitt Report as what NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman last fall claimed was a "super-audit", which of course it wasn't.

JUNE 2: NEWS N' NOTES.

- You might have noticed that I've been giving shorters synopses of the latest NHL happenings this week. That's for two reasons, one, because much of what's been going on of late has already been touched upon in greater detail by me in earlier columns, and two, I've had a heavy workload this week at my "day job."

- DEAL DONE? 640 Toronto sez yes. TSN's Bob McKenzie sez no.

I'm with Bob on this one. A deal is getting closer, but it's not on paper yet, and there's still lots to be done yet before that happens.

As he aptly notes:

...you would like to think we all would have learned our lessons from the last time out, that fateful Friday in February when The Hockey News jumped the gun and posted a website story that said the deal was done. It wasn't, as we all found out on what has become known as "Sad Saturday."

Evidently, someone at 640 Toronto forgot that lesson.

Patience, young Jedi. Don't succumb to haste for that is the path to the Dark Side.

- Speaking of McKenzie, he reported the International Management Group, which represents a number of NHL players, sent a letter to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman informing him that they consider unsigned NHL prospects as of June 1 to be unrestricted free agents.

They also warned Bettman that, if no CBA is in place by July 1, then those unsigned restricted NHL free agents will be considered as unrestricted free agents.

The league responded that "individual playing rights" would be resolved under the next CBA.

In other words, the unsigned prospects and RFAs would remain property of the NHL teams they belonged to.

But IMG cites the current labour situation "is not business as usual", meaning they could pursue legal action by this summer if the lockout remains unsettled by that time.

This isn't the first time we've heard of IMG's intentions, as the Calgary Herald forewarned of this last month. McKenzie's picking this up once IMG actually mailed their letter to the league.

Perhaps the league could fight off a legal challenge from IMG, but I have a feeling this is the agents way of putting pressure upon the league to get a deal in place before July 1st.

Because if IMG should successfully challenge the league on this, it could become a nightmare scenario for many teams.

Throw those players into what is already going to be a burgeoning free agent pool, and the frenzied bidding could tax the limits of the new CBA.

- Speaking of legal challenges, the NHLPA is seeking union certification in the province of Quebec, where the Montreal Canadiens make their home.

The league is arguing that the players on the Canadiens are salaried employees with the NHL, claiming that means the province has no jurisdiction because NHL labour relations are governed by American labour laws.

The PA and the players, naturally, see things differently, claiming the Canadiens players are employed by the team, not the NHL, thus meaning they fall under Quebec labour laws.

If the province rules in favour of the players, any attempt by the Habs to use replacements would be nullified, since that violates Quebec labour laws.

It looks increasingly unlikely that the NHL will go the replacement route, but this is something that could be used by the PA perhaps in future labour disputes with the league.

- Finally, the following by Toronto Sun columnist Ken Fidlin caught my eye:

There are 30 teams in the NHL, with 2004 payrolls ranging from $23.2 million (Nashville) to $77.8 million (Detroit).

Somehow, the teams like Detroit, the New York Rangers, the Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars and, yes, the Maple Leafs, will have to cut their payrolls about in half or pay what is expected to be a dollar-for-dollar penalty. That is, if you're $5 million over the cap, then you'll pay a tax of $5 million.

Now I recall talk of inclusion of a luxury tax system incorporated within a hard cap system in April's talks between the league and PA, but then it dropped out of sight.

Now Fidlin is suggesting a luxury tax will be part of the next CBA.

Does he know something Larry Brooks doesn't? Brooks recently listed what could likely appear in the next CBA, courtesy of his direct pipeline to the NHLPA head office, but there was no mention of a luxury tax then.

I've been wondering for some time now what measure the NHL could use to keep teams from finding creative measures to skirt a hard cap, and this might be one way of doing so.

After all, why use subterfuge to bring in the players you want when you can just overspend on the cap and be fully prepared to pay a stiff price for doing so?

The big market teams will spend whatever they want if they really want to bring in the best talent. Rather than engage in complicated capology, they could just, say, spend $10 million over the cap and then another $10 million in luxury tax, which would be divided amongst the small markets.

Meaning, of course, that payrolls of $50 -$60 million are still possible under the new CBA if such a system is in place.

JUNE 1: SNAP SHOTS.

- Toronto Sun columnist Mike Ulmer yesterday engaged in some wishful thinking, suggesting that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Director Bob Goodenow could lose their jobs soon after this labour dispute is settled.

Don't count on it, Mike, or at least, not in the short term.

If either man loses their jobs, I believe it'll happen around the mid-way point of the next collective bargaining agreement. By then we'll get a good picture of which side this CBA could favour, which in turn could determine if Bettman or Goodenow get axed.

I still feel that it would be Bettman who'd be the likeliest to go. The league's been in a downward spiral under his tenure, and another perceived loss to Goodenow at the negotiating table could provoke the Board of Governors into showing him the door.

Goodenow, on the other hand, won clear-cut victories for the players in the past. Even if this CBA results in a big loss for the players, I think they'd give him another chance because of his work for them in the past.

- TSN's Bob McKenzie suggested on Monday that there may be "factions" within the NHLPA along the lines of those who want a deal now and those who feel the aforementioned is rolling over.

I'll be touching on this in more detail in my Foxsports.com column later today.

As Mark Stepneski noted yesterday, it wouldn't be surprising. Given the PAs numbers, there may be differences in opinion amongst the players over the course of this lockout.

Don't think, however, that there isn't divisions amongst the owners over Bettman's handling of this lockout, something else I'll be touching on later today on Foxsports.com.

For example, remember how Jeremy Jacobs and Bob Goodenow got into what the media called a "heated exchange" during a mid-April meeting regarding linkage.

Jacobs essentially said that if the PA wasn't willing to accept the league's linkage demands that there was no further point in continuing negotiations.

Yet subsequent reports revealed that the league head office apparently contacted Jacobs following the meeting, basically telling the Bruins owners to "cool it".

-Read the following the other day over at Tom Benjamin's blog regarding "capology" :

So, we lost an entire season of hockey to get the GBHL (I like that name Tom) and on top of linkage and a salary cap with very little revenue sharing the players get to give up 24% of their pay. Wow, why didn't they just take the deal they were offered last year? Pretty crappy negotiating on Goodenow's part.

That prompted a quickly written response on my part, which I'll now share with the rest of you (I've cleaned up my typos from my original response, written while on coffee break at my day job):

Think back to the league's offers to the PA last season. All were tied to less than 54% of revenues, and those were Levitt Report revenues, which the PA disputed.

Also, the league was seeking a hard cap ceiling at between $31 - $33 million with no cap floor, meaning teams could go cheap, say, $16 million payrolls, without (fear of)breaking the CBA (rules).

Furthemore, the league wanted no significant revenue sharing, only something based on a vague concept of pooling a percentage of playoff revenues. The league also wanted to do away with salary arbitration, reduce QOs to as low as 75% and eliminate entry level bonuses. Its offers prior to the season cancellation will filled with "triggers" so tilted in the league's favour that the players would've lost their arbitration rights.

That's why they didn't take the league's (original) offer.

I'd say, considering the circumstances, Goodenow may be getting a better deal for the players than the one the owners sought for months.

As I've said before, folks, Bettman and the league are going to get the hard cap and linkage they've sought, but as Goodenow displayed back during the 1995 lockout, the issues he may have conceded upon could turn into victories for the players down the road.

The determining factor, as always, will be the owners themselves. If they all adhere to the next CBA, rather than find and exploit loopholes as many did under the previous one, then this will go their way.

But if not, and you can bet Goodenow is counting on this, this could all too easily go the players way.

Time will tell.