Once again it's time to take a little break from the endlessly depressing NHL lockout news and have a bit of fun with some of the topics raised in The Hockey News' "Great Debates" issue.
Today, I'll be looking at "What if Tretiak had played in the NHL?"
As most hockey fans know, Vladislav Tretiak backstopped the Soviet Union's vaunted Red Army and Olympic teams throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. But he made a name for himself in North America during the 1972 Summit Series, Super Series '76, the 1981 Canada Cup and in various other international competitions pitting the USSR's best players against the top NHL talent.
Tretiak's play in those tournaments and in other international competitions earned him a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame, the first Soviet player ever to be so honoured.
Yet Ken Campbell, a reporter for the Toronto Star, contends in the "Great Debates" issue that Tretiak would've been a huge disappointment had he played in the National Hockey League.
Campbell believes that, "like the 1972 Summit Series itself, Tretiak is dreadfully overrated", calling him a "decent, but not great, goalie" who gained his reputation "based on his play in one exhibition series".
To back up his claim, Campbell cites Tretiak's performance in the latter four games of the Summit Series, where as NHL players got better, Tretiak's performance suffered compared to the first four games of the series. He cites Tretiak's .905 save percentage in the first four games and his .858 save percentage in the last four as proof.
Campbell brushes off Tretiak's stellar play against the Montreal Canadiens in the now-legendary New Year's Eve 1975 game from Super Series '76 to claim he "wilted" under pressure from the Philadelphia Flyers later in that series.
The reporter also casually dismisses Tretiak's "stoning" of Team Canada in the deciding game of the 1981 Canada Cup to point out the netminder was also pulled after the first period against Team USA in the "Miracle on Ice" in 1980.
Campbell believes Tretiak wouldn't have been able to handle the rigours of a full NHL season, that he "wasn't built and programmed to be an NHL goalie" because he played too deeply in his net and was a reflex goalie who relied "more on athleticism than technique".
Finally, Campbell quotes Bobby Clarke, who believed Tretiak was "an average goalie playing for an unbelieveably great team," and feels Tretiak's success was based more on the Olympics and World Championships where the competition was inferior most of the time.
First of all, this isn't the first time that Mr. Campbell had dismissed the importance of the 1972 Summit Series, so it's not surprising to read his disparaging article on Tretiak.
Second, in terms of recogizing average goalies playing for strong teams, Clarke should be an expert, considering the state of his Philadelphia Flyers during his latest tenure as their general manager.
Where Tretiak is concerned, however, Clarke is off the mark. Methinks his lingering hatred toward his Soviet opponents still clouds his judgement.
There is no denying that the calibre of competition for the Soviet Union in the Olympics and World Championships was inferior throughout the 1970s. That, however, should speak volumes as to how Tretiak was able to step up his game against NHL professionals.
I agree with Campbell's contention that Tretiak would've been a disappointment in the NHL...had he been allowed to play in the 1983-84 season. The Montreal Canadiens had drafted Tretiak in 1983, but as Campbell correctly noted, Tretiak was 31 by then and his career was winding down. He undoubtedly would've found it difficult to adjust his game by that point.
But that's as far as I agree with Campbell. If Tretiak could've been drafted in the 1970s and allowed to play in the NHL in his prime, I believe he would've shone.
Sure, he still would've needed to adjust to the NHL style, but as we saw in many of the games he played against the top NHL talent, Tretiak had the natual ability to play well in the NHL.
To suggest he wouldn't have been able to adapt to the NHL game or to withstand the rigours of a full NHL season is insulting to both the man's intelligence, competitive desire and his devotion to conditioning.
Tretiak was a student of the game, who took the time to study his opponents and to take advice from other goaltenders, most notably from the great Jacques Plante. Had he been allowed to play in the NHL, you can bet he wouldn't have abandoned his off-season conditioning like so many NHL'ers did back then.
As for Campbell's critique of Tretiak in the Summit Series, he overlooks the fact that Team Canada's goalies, Ken Dryden and Tony Esposito, also didn't play that well.
"Tony O's" save percentage was only .882, while Tretiak's was .884 for the series. Are we to assume that, based solely on those Summit Series figures, Esposito wasn't a great goalie?
Campbell is quick to point out Tretiak's giving up weak goals in the final three games of the series and blowing leads. He forgets to point out Esposito blew a 4-2 lead in Game Three and a 4-1 lead in Game Five.
Or how about Dryden's performance? He blew an early 2-0 lead in Game One, losing 7-3, and was awful in Game Four, losing 5-3. And while his performance improved in Game Six, he still gave up five goals and nearly blew the series in Game Eight. Dryden's save percentage for the series was a woeful .838.
So by citing only Summit Series stats, Dryden wasn't a great goalie either?
Campbell and Clarke both noted Tretiak being applauded for his role in that series yet say if Dryden had lost that critical Game Eight he would never have been allowed to live it down.
Naturally, the two overlook one very simple point: Tretiak was celebrated for his play in the Summit Series because the Soviets weren't supposed to be that good. Dryden, Clarke and their Team Canada teammates were supposed to win that series in 8 straight or at worst 7 games to 1.
Remember, the scouting report on the Soviets claimed they were good but not much of a challenge for NHL'ers, while Tretiak was so poorly considered that one of the scouts claimed "he couldn't stop a beach ball".
The Soviets were dismissed before the series as having no chance against the NHL's best. The fact they came to within a goal of winning that series is why Tretiak was lauded for his play and he and his teammates gained respect.
His strong play in Super Series '76 further bears out Tretiak's talent. Against the NY Rangers, he stopped 38 of 41 shots as CSKA won 7-3. Against Don Cherry's Boston Bruins, he blocked 38 of 40 enroute to a 5-2 victory. And against the Habs in that classic New Year's Eve game, he rebounded from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits, stopping 35 of 38 shots enroute to a 3-3 tie.
Even against the Flyers, whose goon performance in that game is never one for the highlight reels, Tretiak stopped 45 of 49 shots in a 4-1 defeat.
So much for Campbell's contention that Tretiak's style wouldn't work well against NHL teams. If anything, the stats from that series showed that CSKA's defensive game wasn't that great. If not for Tretiak, they would've been blown out of every one of those games.
As for his being replaced after the first period in the "Miracle on Ice" game, Tretiak and his teammates were puzzled by coach Victor Tikhonov's decision. When asked why Tikhonov did it, Russian defenceman Slava Fetisov only shook his head and said, "Coach crazy".
Tretiak by his own admission didn't have a strong first period, but he was confident he would rebound. The game was tied 2-2 at that point. Tikhonov's only explanation was that he felt the goaltending change would shake up his players and make them perform better. Shades of Mike Keenan?
Yet Tretiak would rebound to backstop the Soviets to the 1981 Canada Cup finals, where they would defeat the heavily favoured Canadians 8-1 in one of the most humiliating losses in Team Canada history.
Tretiak's stats for that series: five wins, one loss, and a sparkling 1.33 goals against average.
Perhaps the greatest tribute to Tretiak's ability comes from the fact that he was a goaltending coach for many years with the Chicago Blackhawks, working with Ed Belfour, Jeff Hackett and Jocelyn Thibault.
Belfour wears number 20 in honour of Tretiak, crediting the Russian great for improving his game and conditioning. Hackett had his best NHL seasons in Chicago when on most nights he was the best Blackhawk on the ice. Thibault's development has been hampered by injuries, but when healthy he's one of the better netminders in the league, which he attributes to Tretiak.
The hockey world is still buzzing over yesterday's news report that Forbes Magazine, the respected business publication, found via their own research that, while the NHL is losing money, they're not losing as much as the league claims to be.
This is the major sticking point in the labour talks between the league and the players association. The NHL claims their losses are so huge that they must tie players salaries to revenues in order to achieve cost certainty. The NHLPA counters that cannot be done since the NHL teams haven't accurately reported their revenues.
What this lockout is based on is the accuracy of the league Unified Report of Operations, or UROs.
The league claims all clubs reported hockey-related revenues, yet it's hard to believe that when Forbes discovers the NY Islanders only reported half of their cable TV contract for last season and the Chicago Blackhawks never reported the revenues generated from their luxury boxes. Nor, according to the Toronto Star, did the 'Hawks claim revenues from parking.
Meanwhile the NHLPA claims in a seperate audit of four teams that they discovered nearly $52 million in unreported revenues. Assuming then that the average club was under-reporting revenues by $13 million, multipying that by 30 would give us an average of $390 million, which would effectively wipe out the $224 million in losses the league claimed from last season and still have enough left over the the league to turn a profit.
Even if you reduced the average under-reportage of each team in half - to $7.5 million - that would equate to $225 million, which would mean the NHL broke even for last season.
The NHL is quick to denounce Forbes' findings, with Bill Daly all but accusing the magazine of "irresponsible journalism".
Daly claims Forbes had no access to information from the teams, therefore the numbers cannot be accurate. The article author, Michael Ozanian, confirms he didn't get information from the 30 clubs, but that's because the league refused to speak to him.
Neither, for that matter, would Arthur Levitt, author of the report bearing his name, which the NHL trumpets as proof of their losses, why the players rising salaries are to blame, and why they must put cost certainty into place.
The Levitt Report claimed that that 19 of 30 NHL clubs were losing money, while the league's losses were set at a staggering $273 million for the 2002-03 season. He claimed the league was in such bad shape that if he were an investment banker he would never approve a loan for anyone seeking to purchase an NHL franchise. His report backed up the league's contention that player salaries were too high.
But, as noted by Dubi Silverstein of Ranger Fan Central and summarized in my recent Foxsports article, Levitt noted in his report that not every team's finances were audited, and that team audits were not likely to match the UROs. Silverstein found that Levitt cited unexplained "deficiencies" Levitt had to correct in the 2001-02 UROs before sending them out to the teams, then having to make further unexplained "modifications" with the 2002-03 UROs.
That leads Silverstein to the conclusion that Levitt did what he was hired to do, back up the league's contention of huge losses tied to rising player salaries.
If the NHL made full disclosure of their financial records to a respected publication like Forbes, wouldn't it stand to reason they would arrive at the same conclusion as Levitt? And why wouldn't Levitt speak to Forbes? Why wouldn't the NHL speak to the magazine?
After all, if a respected business magazine such as Forbes reached the same conclusion as the NHL and Levitt, it would be more ammunition to use against the NHLPA .
But the collective refusal of the league and Levitt to speak to the magazine now casts the league in a negative light and the Levitt report into doubt. It raises the question: what are they hiding?
It makes it appear that the league is up to it's old shell game again when dealing with a labour dispute with it's players: cry poverty and blame the players.
Again, the issue here isn't whether or not the league is losing money. Forbes backs up that contention although they claim the number of teams losing money is actually 17 instead of 19 claimed by the league. The issue here is just how much they're losing and whether that justifies tying player salaries to revenues and slashing them by over twenty percent.
The magazine also listed the teams in order of revenues, which made for an interesting ranking. Before proceeding, we must take into account that Forbes rankings were done before taxes, interest, depreciation and amortization.
The Toronto Maple Leafs topped the list, which isn't surprising. What was surprising, however, was that there were five Canadian teams, including the Leafs, who were among the money-makers last year. They included Montreal (ranked 5th), Edmonton (7th), Calgary (9th) and Vancouver (11th). Only the Senators finished in the red to the tune of $5 million US.
When one takes into account the high taxes paid by Canadian teams, that would likely drop them further down the list. The improvement in the Canadian dollar also likely played a part in the ranking of these teams.
Other surprises was the fact that the Leafs were one of only three "big market" club (the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks being the others) to show a profit. The Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, LA Kings, Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues all posted losses, with the Wings showing the fourth highest losses ($16.4 million) and the Blues the most ($28.8 million).
Meanwhile, teams such as the Minnesota Wild, Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville Predators, San Jose Sharks, Columbus Blue Jackets and Atlanta Thrashers were among those who were in the black.
It's interesting to note there were teams with huge payrolls, that for the most part were considered playoff clubs or even Stanley Cup contenders, losing money while teams with smaller payrolls who often weren't considered playoff teams made money.
That certainly seems to suggest that it's not enough for those big market clubs to make the post-season, they must also go deep in order to make money.
It also seems to suggest that many of the big market clubs are not only responsible for the sharp rise in player salaries, they're also responsible for their own losses.
As Forbes also notes, these teams are an integral part of their respective owners' business empires. For example, the Rangers and Flyers are owned by Cablevision and Comcast respectively, and even though they posted hockey-related losses, Forbes discovered they actually made money for their respective owners.
Bill Daly maintains Forbes' findings are "just plain wrong", claiming they're "blatantly inaccurate" and claiming Michael Ozanian was "nothing short of irresponsible".
But if the league had given Ozanian access to its financial records, then his results wouldn't have upset Daly, right?
As for Ozanian, he says he got his information from "bankers, valuation experts, media companies and league sources" and said he'd put his findings up against the league's anyday.
Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau and former NHL player and coach Terry Crips recently weighed into the lockout debate, chastising the players for their unwillingness to accept a salary cap.
Beliveau claimed he usually sided with the players in the past but this time he's in the owners camp, believing the players were making a "terrible mistake" for not making enough concessions to end the standoff.
Beliveau made the following comments to the Montreal Gazette: "'Some players say they want to give back to those who will follow them. ''I can speak for players of my generation, who really had the game in mind. When we left hockey, it was in great shape. Those who follow today's players will face a very serious situation because the game will be in very bad shape, financially and otherwise.''
I have the utmost respect for Mr. Beliveau, the epitome of class in a sport usually absent of that quality. Regarding his comments, however, I think he's off the mark.
The sport was in good shape on the ice when Beliveau and his peers left it, of that there is no dispute. Financially, however, the players were screwed...big time.
Beliveau played most of his career during the "Original Six" period , a time when the owners, general managers and coaches ruled the players with an iron fist, when the traditional rule of motivation was fear, threatening players with demotion to the minors. Once banished from the NHL, it was almost impossible for those players to get back into the league again.
Worse, labour relations between the owners and players was one-sided. The team told the players what they'd get paid, and if they didn't like it, tough. Salaries were kept so low that most players had to take summer jobs to supplement their income. It was an era when there was no such thing as salary disclosure. Thus the best player of the day, Gordie Howe, was paid no where near his true value, and players of lesser talent actually made more than he did.
The front office took advantage of most of the players, who were too naive and uneducated to know better. Beliveau was one of the few exceptions, using his star power in 1951 as a minor league sensation to gain a contract with the Montreal Canadiens that was considered lucrative for it's time.
Sadly, Beliveau's voice was absent when his teammate, Doug Harvey, and other NHL players tried to form a union to get better wages and health benefits. Without the support of the majority of players, the attempt to organize was crushed by the owners.
In the latter years of Beliveau's career, the NHLPA was in it's infancy, and run by Alan Eagleson, who had the trust of most of the players, and then proceeded to exploit that trust for his and the owners personal gain.
NHLPA Senior Director Ted Saskin took some of the power out of Beliveau's words with the following statement: "We also know that for over 30 years Mr. Beliveau has worked for the Montreal Canadiens in various capacities so his support for his employer is not surprising.
"Further, with respect to the suggestion from Mr. Beliveau that he has 'always sided with the players in the past,' it is interesting to note Red Fisher's article on Oct. 21, 1994, where Beliveau was quoted as saying, 'I've always been in favour of an athlete getting the best contract he can ... but I have to admit that in the last month or so I've changed my support to the owners.'
"It is clear from Mr. Beliveau's comments during the 1994 owners' lockout that he has not always sided with the players in the past, as evidenced by the comments he gave to the Montreal Gazette 10 years ago."
The players have made concessions. Now granted, they could probably be better, but at least they've made them, and they've stated they're negotiatable. Why is it so many people are expecting the players to make all the concessions but not the owners? To date, the league has made no concessions, zero, zip, nada. When will the league start making some concessions, and shows a willingness to negotiate.
Some of my readers have taken me to task for lack of objectivity for taking the players side in this dispute. To that I reply, when the owners start making some concessions and start negotiating, then I'll be wiling to write of them in a favourable light.
The players aren't perfect, and I too want them to get back to the negotiating table, but it takes two to tango, and the owners thus far aren't willing to dance.
As for Crisp's comments, he was blunter during a recent interview with Toronto Sports Radio 590 The Fan.
The former Flames and Lightning coach made a valid point regarding salaries. "if (a player is) making $7 million and he's going to have to settle for $5 million or $4.5 million, is that so terrible, is that so wrong, is that so bad?"
Regarding comments from the union that the players are not just thinking of themselves but of those who'll follow them, Crisp said, "That's the biggest crock I've ever heard said in my life. When I played, when I signed my contract and the guys I played with, you know who you do it for, you do it to make a living for you and your family and for your kids, and you push as hard as you can because you know that's your career. You think that I was worried about the guys in junior coming behind me? I didn't even know the guys."
No, it would not be so terrible for highly paid players to settle for less. Salaries have gotten out of hand in many cases, and the NHLPA has acknowledged that. But remember, it's the owners who, as Vincent Damphousse stated, set the budgets and pay the salaries.
The owners pay whatever they feel they can comfortably afford. They do so for a variety of reasons, be it competitive, financial or whatever. But each team decides what they can comfortably afford to spend. The players can seek what they want, but it's ultimately up to the teams to decide how much they're willing to pay.
Yes, that's led to a disparity between big market teams and small market clubs, but that's not the fault of the players.
Many of the owners are very wealthy men, with roughly half of them, according to an article in last month's Toronto Star, in the "billionaires club", whose hockey clubs are merely part of their overall business empires. So the question is, if they're smart enough to make plenty of money in business, why are they apparently so lousy at managing the finances of their hockey teams? Are hockey players and agents really that much smarter than captains of business?
As for Crisp's derision regarding the players coming behind those currently playing in the NHL, it would seem like "a crock"...if it weren't for the fact that the actions of those who went on strike in 1992 and stared down the owners in 1994 have benefitted those who weren't playing in the NHL back then.
Time again for another look at points raised in the media which I disagree with. As always, my responses are in italics.
This week, it's Stan Fischler of MSG Network:
Can the campaign be saved? The last, best hope is the upcoming meeting between player agents and Bob Goodenow on November 17 in Chicago. We're told that at least three reps - Don Meehan, Rick Curran, Pat Morris -- have the independence to stand up to the NHL boss. Our source tells us that several players - and reps - have been devastated by the Lockout. "They're dying," the man insists. The loss of livelihoods and careers could push agents to demand Goodenow movement. Our bet: It won't happen!
Come on now, which players out there have been left destitute barely a month into what would've been the 2004-05 season? The players have missed, what, three paycheques as of this writing? Most won't feel the financial pinch for quite some time.
Granted, there are probably some of the lower paid players who might be finding things a bit tight, but all the players had nearly two years to prepare for this, courtesy of NHLPA honcho Bob Goodenow, who forewarned them that a lengthy lockout was coming and to save their money. Sure, some players likely aren't happy over the lack of action, but I doubt very much that most are running to their agents in a panic, demanding that they push Goodenow into accepting whatever the league gives them.
As for the agents, if any of them have been "devastated" by this lockout, they simply haven't been handling their money very well. They too knew what was coming, and guys like Meehan, Curran and Morris have done quite well for themselves over the years. Most of them have also been critical of the way the NHL has run its business.
Interesting how the NHLPA can pretend that it has unity on the Cap issue yet players continue to speak out. Nolan Baumgartner is the latest to go against union grain. "If a Cap is what it takes," says the Vancouver defenseman, "obviously we want to get back playing. And that looks like what it's going to take."
So far, it's only been a handful - less than a dozen - players who've spoken out, and almost all of them were lower paid, marginal players with limited time remaining in their NHL careers to cash in on lucrative six-figure salaries. Baumgartner is no exception. I appreciate his concern, but he's basing his desire to get back playing not on the overall picture but on how this lockout impacts him personally.
Until we start seeing a continuous flood of players, from all the salary levels, speaking out against the union's stance, the occasional mutterings of a few marginal players doesn't spell revolt in the union ranks.
A hockey club-owner tells us that no pressure group exists to force the NHL and NHLPA back to the table. "Neither the fans, advertisers nor TV moguls have enough clout to demand that a deal be cut," the owner says. "Without such pressure, the nothing-is-happening status quo will remain in place." Notice, he didn't mention agents.
The fans do have the ultimate clout, but they blew it by feverously watching as much hockey as they could, rather than organizing and showing their displeasure to both the owners and players by boycotting playoff games and the World Cup. Trust me, both sides would've hammered out a deal by September 15th if there'd been half-empty arenas for those events! To date, we've seen no large-scale protests by the fans.
A New York area daily hockey reporter offers this off-the-record analysis of the NHLPA-NHL war: "Goodenow knows he's going to lose but he's determined to bleed the league as much as possible before he goes down."
Yeah, I'm sure that a "New York area daily hockey reporter" has such a keen insight into the inner workings of Goodenow's mind. If the past history of the NHLPA honcho is anything to go by, which is all most so-called "experts" have, it's that Goodenow is determined to represent the players and get the best deal possible for them and won't back down from intimidation or pressure to achieve it. That makes him a bad guy in the eyes of some reporters, I guess, who'd rather return to the merry days when Alan Eagleson kept the players subservient while robbing them of their pension money and keeping their salaries artificially low. Goodenow might possibly lose out this time around, but you can bet even in that event he'll fight to get the best deal he can for the players .
A top NHL team exec tells us that when the league opens training camps next September, he expects "eighty-five percent of NHLPA members" will return under a Cap system. Our figure is closer to sixty percent. Another fifteen percent will graduate from the AHL while the remaining will be comprised of collegians and newly-signed Europeans.
Sounds like wishful thinking to me. Sure, there will be NHLPA members who'll cross, but I think the most you'll see is one-quarter of their membership doing so. I doubt very much over half the NHLPA will cross.
Are the NHL Players' Association leaders afraid of having a secret ballot? You bet they are! The question for members would be: Would you accept an NHL Salary Cap that would deliver a $1.3 million average salary and guaranteed contracts? We'll bet that more than half would vote "Yes."
I'll bet more than half won't. And how do we know there hasn't been a secret ballot already? Remember, the NHLPA canvassed their membership throughout last season and this past summer to determine the level of support for withstanding a lengthy lockout.
How come no one ever mentions that courageous Pierre Dagenais - despite having to face NHLPA membership last week - never recanted on his statement in favor of a Salary Cap, despite the obvious exec committee pressure.
I mentioned it, both here and here , as did TSN. So too did the Canadian Press, and MSNBC via Associated Press. I know for a fact it was mentioned by papers in Canada's Sun media chain, too. So what's your point, Stan? Dagenais probably still feels a cap is a good idea, since he'll likely never earn more than $1.3 mil per season if he's lucky, but that only applies to him and his fellow marginal players.
Despite "unity" propaganda emanating from the NHLPA, we're told that last week's meeting produced intense heat from the players on union leadership to cut a deal. Make no mistake, Bob Goodenow is under pressure. One reason is media reaction. Buffalo News columnist Bucky Gleason rips union members who've crossed the ocean as "236 hypocrites playing overseas." He adds, "It means that nearly one-third of the NHL workforce would rather play for pennies elsewhere than make millions here." Gleason's conclusion: "Misguided they (union) stand, and misguided they'll fall."
Yeah, I bet Goodenow's just shaking over Gleason's critique. The Buffalo reporter, like so many other reporters, is missing the point regarding those playing in Europe. It's not about opting to play in Europe for less money than to stay in the NHL and make millions, but rather about finding a place to play hockey and remain in game shape while the lockout is on. Remember, the owners locked out the players, it wasn't the players who decided they wouldn't play.
Hey, there's no doubt the NHLPA bossman is feeling pressure, but so too is Gary Bettman. We just don't hear about that because of Bettman's gag orders on his ownership. Internally, however, there is undoubtedly pressure coming from moderate owners for Bettman to get back to the bargaining table.
One of the NHLPA scare tactics is telling members that a Cap pact would result in loss of guaranteed contracts, which is totally wrong. Another erroneous line is that current contracts would be worthless. No wonder there's "unity."
On this point, I agree with Fischler. At no point did the league say they were pursuing non-guaranteed contracts in the next CBA. If the union is telling it's membership this, they should stop doing so and clarify the issue.
Admitting that he's "a union guy," Toronto Sun columnist Mike Ulmer rips the NHLPA. "The union under Bob Goodenow has got too big, too bloated, too self-important." That, adds Ulmer, "is the central dynamic of the lockout. It's a union that spoils for conflict." How right he is!
Yeah, why doesn't Goodenow know his role and shut his mouth! Doesn't he know that he's supposed to accept everything the NHL offers him with only token resistance? How dare he fight for the players to get the best deal he can!
Who does Ottawa defenseman Brian Pothier have in mind when he says, "The guys making decisions for the union are making big money. They can take three, four, five years or the rest of their lives off and they don't have to work again." Let's see, Senators' teammate Dan Alfredsson is on the union exec board, along with Bill Guerin and Trevor Linden, each of whom is in the high-salary bracket.
And let's see, the NHLPA president,Trevor Linden, made $2 million last season. Sure, he made good money throughout his career, but Linden was never among in the "high salary bracket".
Then there's exec member Bob Boughner, who made $2.3 million last season. Good money, but nowhere near the "high salary bracket". Then there's Trent Klatt, who made $1.1 million last season.
Sure, guys like Guerin, Vincent Damphousse, and Alfredsson make very good money, but those who are on the executive aren't there because they make the highest salaries or are in the "high bracketts".
Pothier is one of those marginal players I mentioned earlier. He's in his late twenties and understands he doesn't have many NHL seasons ahead of him to draw those lucrative annual six-figure salaries.
Whether NHL conservatives like it or not, The AHL Shootout experiment has gone over so well with those who count - THE FANS - that it's a good bet Bettman, Inc. will adopt it when big-league hockey returns. Also, the push for wider nets is gaining momentum.
I have no problem with the shootout, as long as it's never used in the playoffs. As for net size, why widen them when you can reduce the size of the goaltender's equipment?
Question from Ron Spence in Vancouver: "If the NHL eventually hires replacement players, can the NHLPA in good conscience call them scabs; considering that the NHLers are regularly taking jobs (scabbing) from Europeans? Answer: NO!
The American Heritage Dictionary defines a "scab" as such:
1. A worker
who refuses membership in a labor union.
Thus, the NHL players who go to Europe to play might be taking jobs from other players, but they aren't "scabs" since they're not crossing any union picket lines or replacing striking workers. In fact, The Toronto Star last week had an interview with a couple of labor lawyers who claim NHL players are completely within their rights to seek employment elsewhere when they're locked out.
Thus, if the NHL hires replacement players, those players will be scab labour since the league will have obtained a legal impasse from the labour courts, thus forcing the union into strike action.
And remember, it's not as though NHL players are barging into the offices of the owners of the European teams and demanding work. The owners of those teams are happily signing up those players, keen to make money at the expense of the NHL lockout.
Funny how nobody except me is pointing that out!
It was good of Robert Esche to apologize to the Commissioner for his "madman" slap at Gary Bettman. Too bad Esche had to do the "sorry" through his boss, Bob Clarke.
Clarke said he asked Esche to apologize but didn't order him to. Take that for what it's worth. I agree, however, that Esche was out of line to make things personal by calling Bettman a "madman". Despite your personal feelings for someone in a labour dispute, you don't voice them publicly.
One of our wiser informants says the eventual-whenever CBA will have "a fortyish-million dollar Cap." Too bad it'll take a year to happen.
From time to time, to alleviate the sometimes tedious coverage and commentary of the NHL lockout, I'll be touching on several of the "Great Debates" raised by The Hockey News' issue of the same name, to add my own two cents worth to the questions and "what if..?" topics raised in that magazine.
I've already touched on the first "What If...?" that being how Eric Lindros' career and the history of the Quebec Nordiques franchise might've been different if Lindros had agreed to play in Quebec City. Today, I'll look at "What if Mario Tremblay had pulled Patrick Roy"?
It's by now an infamous piece of Montreal Canadiens history. A simmering behind-the-scenes feud between then-Habs head coach Mario Tremblay and goaltender Roy exploded on the night of December 2nd, 1995 in a home game against the Detroit Red Wings.
The struggling Canadiens were blown out 11-1, with Roy kept in goal for 9 of those goals. Furious with Tremblay's refusal to pull him and with the razzing of the hometown fans burning in his ears, Roy blew his stack when he was finally yanked from the game, stomping past Tremblay to tell then-Habs president Ronald Corey he'd played his final game for the Canadiens.
But what if Tremblay had pulled Roy earlier in the game? What if they worked out their differences? What if the Canadiens fired Tremblay rather than trade Roy?
Would Canadiens history have been different? After all, most point to the Roy trade as the moment when the Canadiens seven year decline into also-ran status began, initiating one of the darkest periods in the Habs long, illustrious history.
Denver Post hockey columnist Adrian Dater does a fine job in pointing out that there was "too much friction" between Roy and the team's front office for him to remain with the club for much longer.
Those tensions began in 1993, when a poll in a Montreal newspaper showed a majority of Habs fans felt it was time for Roy to move on. This of course came months before Roy carried the Canadiens to their 24th Stanley Cup, and he used that poll as motivation to prove his critics wrong.
Dater also noted that "there were tensions between Roy and some teammates, who viewed him as too much of a dressing-room lawyer and selfish". Speculation of those tensions flew for months before Roy had his memorable blow-up on national television.
Roy dislike of Tremblay also added more fuel to the fire, as Dater correctly noted, the netminder considered Tremblay as "too young and inexperienced " to coach the club. Coincidentally, Tremblay roomed with Roy during the netminder's rookie season.
There are other reasons why Roy wouldn't have remained with the Canadiens.
For one thing, according to a report several years ago in the Montreal Gazette, then-Habs GM Serge Savard was working on a deal that would've dealt Roy to the Chicago Blackhawks before he was fired and replaced with Rejean Houle.
According to the Gazette, the plan was to trade Roy to Chicago for Eddie Belfour, whom the 'Hawks apparently had no intention of re-signing when his contract expired following the 1996-97 season. Houle is believed to have killed that deal when he took over as GM.
That would raise interesting speculation as to how the careers of Roy and Belfour would've been different had that deal gone through.
But suppose Tremblay had pulled Roy earlier in the game? Well, Roy wouldn't have lost his temper, but you can bet that tensions between the two would've grown, eventually forcing GM Houle to choose between his talented but tempermental netminder and his coach.
Given that Houle chose Tremblay over Roy in 1995, it's a good bet he would've done the same thing later on.
Even if Roy had outlasted Tremblay, two things would've ensured that he wouldn't have remained in Montreal much longer: the decline of the Habs and rising player salaries.
By 1998-99, the Canadiens were in free-fall, as several years of bad trades, a rash of serious injuries and a lack of quality roster depth would send the Habs into a three-year spiral, missing the playoffs for an unprecedented three consecutive seasons.
Given Roy's competitive nature, it's highly unlikely he would've wanted to stick around while the Habs were engaging in a major rebuilding process. He would've wanted to play for a legitimate contender, so it's safe to assume he would've demanded to be traded.
Even if the Habs resisted the notion of trading him, it's highly unlikely they would've afforded the high cost of paying his salary. By 2000, Roy was pulling in $7.5 million per season with the Colorado Avalanche. The Habs had consistently made Roy one of the highest paid netminders in the game, but even St. Patrick's asking price would've likely been out of their range by the turn of the century.
The 2004 Hockey Hall of Fame inductions will be held tonight, November 8th, and there can be no disputing or debating the worthiness of the four who are about to be inducted.
Defencemen Raymond Bourque, Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy were three of the greatest blueliners of the post-expansion era, while executive Cliff Fletcher, the one-time general manager of the Atlanta/Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs, was one of the savviest team builders of his time.
- We'll start with Fletcher, who began his NHL career in the mid-1950's working in the Montreal Canadiens system, apprenticing under the great Sam Pollack. He later moved to the St. Louis Blues where he helped build that expansion club in the late-1960s as a scout and assistant general manager.
He then moved on to Atlanta in 1972 and built the expansion Flames as their first general manager. When the Flames moved to Calgary, Fletcher went with them, and that's where he had his greatest success as a general manager.
In the mid-to-late 1980s, only the Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers were more powerful than Fletcher's Flames, which won two President's trophies, went to the Stanley Cup Finals twice, and captured the Cup in 1989 in a thrilling six-game series against the vaunted Canadiens.
It can even be argued that, if it weren't for the Oilers, the Flames would've been the most powerful team in the NHL during the late 80s.
The man responsible for that was Fletcher, whose draft record for the Flames during the 1980s was outstanding. During his tenure in Calgary, from 1980 to 1991, Fletcher drafted Al MacInnis, Mike Vernon, Gary Roberts, Gary Suter, Joe Nieuwendyk, Theoren Fleury, Jim Peplinski and Hakan Loob. All would become key components in the Flames rise to Cup champions.
Other notables drafted by Fletcher included Brett Hull, Stu Grimson, Stephane Matteau, Sergei Makarov, Paul Ranheim, and Trevor Kidd, who all went on to careers of varying success in the NHL.
Fletcher also made shrewd trades to bring in the missing pieces needed to make the Flames a contender. During his tenure, he acquired Lanny McDonald, Joe Mullen, and Doug Gilmour, who helped lead the Flames on the road to the Cup.
Moving to Toronto in 1991, Fletcher set about rebuilding a moribund Maple Leafs franchise that had suffered through the abusive reign of former owner Harold Ballard for two decades.
Fletcher set about immediately to improve the Leafs, obtaining Gilmour and defensive stalwart Jamie Macoun from the Flames in one of the most lopsided deals in NHL history. Gilmour would be the franchise player for the next five years around which Fletcher rebuilt the Leafs.
Through a series of trades, Fletcher brought in veterans like Dave Andreychuk, Glenn Anderson, Bill Berg, and Sylvain Lefebvre, and within two years of taking over the Leafs, Fletcher's club came within one goal of making it to the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals.
His wheeling-and-dealing never stopped there, as Fletcher would make the heartbreaking decision to trade popular Leaf captain Wendal Clark to Quebec for Mats Sundin, a deal that in the long term would provide the club with another franchise player to build around and give them a consistent scoring star for years.
Fletcher wasn't able to draft as well with the Leafs as he did with the Flames, and he was unable to duplicate the success he had in Calgary, but he continued to stock the club with veteran talent that kept the Leafs competitive and respected.
Mike Gartner, Kirk Muller, Larry Murphy, Mathieu Schneider, Steve Sullivan, Jason Smith, Dave Gagner, Randy Wood, Benoit Hogue, Tie Domi, and Warren Rychel were among his acquisitions.
He also took steps to undo the damage made by Ballard by recognizing former Leafs of the past and hanging 11 Stanley Cup banners from the rafters of Maple Leafs Gardens to honour the club's past glories. He was unable to bring the Stanley Cup back to Toronto, but he gave the club back it's pride.
After leaving the Leafs in 1997, Fletcher spent some time with the Tampa Bay Lightning before moving on to the Phoenix Coyotes front office in 2001 as it's senior VP of hockey operations, a role he continues to fill to this day.
- Larry Murphy was perhaps one of the most unheralded great blueliners of the modern era. He wasn't a standout like Bourque or Coffey when it came to individual skills, and was never singled out for individual acclaim as those two were, but his hockey smarts and high pain threshold put him among the very best.
The statistics speak for themselves. In 21 years, Murphy played 1615 regular season games, ranking him second overall for career games by a defenceman and fourth overall in career games for a player. As one newspaper noted, he played less than 75 games per season only once, not counting the 1994-95 lockout season.
He scored 287 goals, very respectable for a defenceman of his longevity. More notably, he potted 929 assists, ranking him fourth overall for career assists for defencemen and 13th overall for NHL players. His 1,216 points rank fifth overall for blueliners and 35th overall for NHL players.
Murphy played for six NHL teams during his career, starting with the Los Angeles Kings, then moving on to the Washington Capitals, Minnesota North Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Toronto Maple Leafs before finishing his long career with the Detroit Red Wings.
He helped two of those clubs, the Penguins and Red Wings, win Stanley Cups, and he was a member of Team Canada during their memorable 1987 Canada Cup series against the Soviet Union.
What is unusual is that a player of Murphy's long success would bounce around as much as he did before the era of free agency made this commonplace In two cities, Washington and Toronto, he was unfairly made the scapegoat by restless fans for the respective problems of those two clubs.
As ESPN's Scott Burnside noted, that was due to Murphy's "playing against type". A big defenceman at 6'2 and 210 lbs in an era before the hulking blueliners of today, Murphy didn't play an overly physical game and that sometimes left fans wanting more, particularly during his tenures in Washington and Toronto.
But for fans in Pittsburgh and Detroit, Murphy will always be fondly remembered for his Stanley Cup contributions, especially in Pittsburgh, where Murphy would become the Penguins top blueliner and enjoy his best seasons.
After struggling through an injury filled 2000-01 season with the Red Wings, the club opted not to re-sign him, and Murphy decided to bring his long career to a close. He now lived in Detroit with his family.
- Whenever I think of Paul Coffey, I picture him during his days with the Edmonton Oilers, steaking out of his zone on a long rush, and either bearing down on the goaltender for a dazzling scoring play or threading one of his seeing eye passes to any one of his high-scoring teammates.
Coffey wasn't the best overall defenceman in NHL history. Indeed, some have argued that his defensive skills were barely adequate compared to his offensive prowess, but there can be no denying that his scoring talents served him very well throughout a long NHL career.
In his 21 year NHL career, Coffey netted 396 goals, 1135 assists for 1531 points, all placing him second overall for career marks for a defenceman. He also broke Bobby Orr's single season record for defencemen for goals with 48 and came second to Orr's single season record for points with 138. He's also tied with Tom Bladen for most points in a game for defencemen with 8.
His post-season records for defencemen are more impressive, as he holds the records for most goals in a playoff year (12), most assists (25), and points (37). He also holds the post-season record for most points in a game by a defenceman with 5.
It was with the Oilers in the 1980s that Coffey would achieve his greatest success, quarterbacking their lethal powerplay and using his smooth skating style and deft scoring skills to help make the 1980s Oilers the most feared offensive machine in NHL history.
In his prime, he could shred an opposing team's blueline with his speed and passing as no one else had since Orr. He'd not only start the Oilers offensive rushes, but joined in at every opportunity. Whenever an opposing club would think they'd stymied the main rush, Coffey would be streaking in from the point to capitalize.
If you checked him too closely, Coffey would dance away with a burst of speed and a nifty move. If you gave him a wide berth, he'd make the most of it to lead the rush or headman the puck to an open forward. Checking Coffey in his prime with the Oilers was often like checking a ghost.
Although some may not think highly of his overall defensive skills, that didn't prevent Coffey from winning the Norris Trophy three times as the league's top defenceman. He also was named to the First All-Star team four times and the Second Team four times.
Coffey played on three Stanley Cup winners with the Oilers and one with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was also a member of Team Canada on four occasions, helping them win three Canada Cup titles.
Like his Oilers counterparts, Coffey was very much a free-spirited player full of self-confidence. When he didn't like the contract offer he received from the Oilers in the summer of 1987, Coffey held out thus forcing the club to trade him to the Penguins. It can be argued that the decline of the Oilers dynasty began with the loss of Coffey.
He'd go on to enjoy considerable success with the Penguins, but would be dealt to the LA Kings mid-way through the 1991-92 season, reuniting with his old Oilers teammate and buddy Wayne Gretzky. That reunion, however, was shortlived as Coffey was then dealt to the Detroit Red Wings.
He became a better defensive player during his tenure with the Wings, winning his last Norris trophy in 1994-95, but it was becoming obvious at that point that his game has slowed and his once-feared offensive skills were starting to deteriorate. He also found himself at odds with Wings head coach Scotty Bowman, and wound up traded to the Hartford Whalers partway through the 1996-97 season before finally landing with the Philadelphia Flyers.
It was the start of a long decline for Coffey at that point. He played only two seasons in Philadelphia, then bounced to Chicago and Carolina before finishing his career in Boston, a shadow of his once-great self.
Coffey may have made the mistake of lingering too long after his career was obviously finished, but that was the only mistake he made. His final, woeful seasons aren't what fans will remember, and isn't what is being commemorated.
We'll always remember the fleet-footed defenceman in Oiler blue who helped to anchor one of the greatest teams of all time and made the game exciting.
- Finally, saving the best for last, the most deserving inductee in this year's ceremony: Raymond Bourque.
For 22 years, Bourque dominated the post-Bobby Orr era as the best defenceman in the game, and for twenty years, he was the symbol and the franchise player of the Boston Bruins.
His 410 goals, 1169 assists and 1579 points are the top career totals for NHL defencemen. He won the Norris trophy as top defenceman six times, the third highest behind Orr and Montreal Canadiens great Doug Harvey. He also won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie in 1980.
Paul Coffey may have the single season records for points, but Bourque was the better all round defenceman. He anchored the Bruins powerplay for two decades, and was always on the ice in penalty killing situations. He played as well defensively as he did offensively, and while he's never thought of as a bruising blueliner, he never shyed away from the rough stuff or from the hard work along the boards or in front of the net.
His offensive consistency was what ultimately was made him one of the best. Nine times he scored twenty or more goals. Fifteen times he potted sixty or more points, four of those 90 plus point seasons, six of those 80 plus point seasons.
If not for Orr, Bourque would be considered the greatest defenceman of the modern era, possibly even of all time.
In the eyes of two generations of Bruins fans, particularly those who never got to see Orr in his prime, Bourque is the greatest defenceman of all time.
Most importantly, he was the Boston Bruins.
That's why it hurt both Bourque and the Bruins faithful when he asked to be dealt to a team that would give him the opportunity to achieve what he was never able to accomplish in Beantown: winning the Stanley Cup.
It certainly wasn't for lack of trying. four times during the playoffs - 1983, 1988, 1990 and 1991 - Bourque averaged a point per game. Game One of the 1990 Stanley Cup finals against the Edmonton Oilers, an overtime marathon, is considered perhaps his greatest game, as twice he scored to tie the game and keep his club alive, only to see them fall in overtime.
The Bruins acquiesed to his request in 2000, dealing to the Colorado Avalanche. The following season, the Avs would win the Stanley Cup in a tough seven-game series against the defending champion New Jersey Devils.
When it came time to hoist the Cup, Avs captain Joe Sakic called over Bourque to have the honour of being first to raise the trophy. He was no passenger on that team, potting 59 regular season points in 80 games and 10 points in 21 games. His poise, talent and experience were invaluable in the Avs Cup quest in 2001.
After finally achieving his dream of playing for a Cup winner, Bourque retired in 2001, adding the Stanley Cup to his individual awards, along with his three Canada Cup awards.
And when he brought the Cup home to Boston, the city turned out in a wave of emotional appreciation. Although Bourque had left them to pursue his dream, the Bruins faithful never left him. They never begrudged Bourque his desire to win a Cup, because after twenty long years of trying to win it for them, Bruins fans felt Bourque deserved to win it with somebody else. The way he was greeted that day, it was as if the Bruins themselves were winners.
Most players under similar circumstances would've been seen as nothing but opportunists, but not Bourque. If any player deserved to play on a Stanley Cup winner, it was he.
It's Sunday and my folks are over visiting from Nova Scotia today, so what better time to reply to some of the latest commentaries in "the Fans Speak Out".
I actually had time this past week to reply to everyone's contributions, so I thought I'd share some of those who wrote to reply to comments I made in my previous Soapboxes.
To save space, I'll post a synopsis of the fan's comments, and then my replies. You can read their full remarks by clicking here. As always, my responses are italicized for your protection. Enjoy!
First up, Brian Boguhn, who strongly disagreed with some of my comments about Corey Hirsch's anger at NHL players taking jobs away from those who were already playing in the European leagues, and the hypocrisy of those NHL players who rejected the league's salary cap but gone to play for less in Europe.
suggested the players were innocent, but at least the union has
tried to negotiate and have shown a willingness to make concessions.
Negotiation is all about give and take, but so far the league
wants the players to give while the owners do the taking. They're
not negotiating and refuse to even address the union's offers,
but they want the union to accept one of their cost certainty
proposals or else. That's not negotiating, and that's why I'm
on the players side in this.
Jim Sundra believes I've misintepreted the NFL salary cap. He also wonders why I'm against a system such as the NFL's, which allows all teams to compete on a financially level playing field.
Too many NHL fans believe the league should adopt the NFL's cap system, but they don't understand that it isn't a true hard cap system at all, and that that style of system wouldn't work for the NHL.
I'm not against a reasonable system to bring salaries under control, but the NHL's six hard cap proposals have too many unanswered questions. What measures will the league put into place to ensure all teams adhere to that system. Remember, most of the teams had no trouble making a mockery of the entry level hard cap in the last CBA. What assurances do we have from the NHL that it won't be abused in a similar manner? What means will the league employ regarding revenue sharing and can it guarantee that system will help small market clubs? How will they implement their system, all at once or allowing a phasing in period for teams who currently sit well over $40 million in payroll? If a luxury tax system is "unworkable", why won't they explain why? Can they guarantee that ticket prices will drop under this system, since they claim high ticket prices are the direct result of high salaries?
have complete support for the players, but rather I believe they've
shown the most willingness to make concessions and to negotiate.
The league, meanwhile, insists on the union accepting one of
their six proposals or nothing. No negotiation, just acceptance
or else. Considering the examination of the NHL's labour history
and the current situation reveals that it's the owners who created
this situation and misused the last CBA, it's difficult to have
much sympathy for most of them. When the league starts showing
a willingness to negotiate, I'll commend them for it.
Stuart Brodie finds it interesting that NHL players have no trouble taking jobs from European players but get upset at the mention of replacement players if the union is forced into strike action by the NHL. He believes it would be fair if those who lost their jobs in Europe to NHL players came over to the NHL next season as replacements.
with you to a point, but the difference here is the NHL players
aren't crossing a picket line in Europe to take away jobs, but
rather they're being offered to them by European owners anxious
to make a buck at the expense of the NHL lockout. I wouldn't
fault any non-union players signing up as replacement players,
although Pronger does have a point that those players would be
Finally, Richard Farish is clearly in the owners camp in this lockout, and takes the NHLPA to task for their unwillingess to aid the struggling NHL.
The league and the owners called the union's offers "unworkable", yet they decline to elaborate as to just why it's unworkable. They claim their six proposals will make for a better working league, yet they refuse to provide the proof, instead dancing around the issue whenever pressed and ultimately telling the fans to trust them. After all the years they spent making a mockery of the last CBA, how can we honestly trust them to get it right this time?
You claim the players would contribute nothing to the overall financial effort. That's also not true. First of all, they're the product. Without them, there would be no NHL. Second, the players give their all during the playoffs, with the only pay they receive being bonuses if they successfully complete a round. Third, they've made concessions in their offers, such as a salary give-back, a willingness to level the playing field in arbitration for the owners, and are also willing to close off the bonus loopholes in entry level contracts as well as lowering the hard cap on those salaries. The players offers weren't perfect, but they were and still are open to negotiation, unlike the owners offers. The players salary give back offer alone was worth over $70 million. So why didn't the league push harder for more? They still could, since the NHLPA said their offers remain open and are negotiable.
How does a luxury tax cost the owners and players a great deal while costing the players nothing? Isn't the whole point to bring salaries under control by reining in those teams who are responsible for jacking up salaries through irresponsible spending, whilst at the same time making it more fair for small market clubs to remain competitive? How does revenue sharing punish owners and fans?
The union with their proposals have addressed the point that there are teams struggling and losing money. The NHLPA never said they didn't believe there were teams losing money, but rather they question the high figure claimed by the league. Given the league's unwillingness to make full financial disclosure, that's not surprising.
Yes, the owners can be owners far longer than the players, and they might even gain their much-desired cost certainty. But I've got news for you, it's not going to change a damn thing. There will be teams who'll continue to struggle. Most clubs will still charge high ticket prices because as I've pointed out several times on my site, there is little or no correlation between high ticket prices and high player salaries, but rather they're borne out by what each market will bear. There will be big market teams who'll find creative measures to legally skirt any hard cap imposed by the league. And as Chris Pronger aptly noted, the top players will still get paid high salaries, it'll just be the lower paid guys who'll get paid less, because that's the way the owners will do their business, just as they've always done.
Here's a few points for you to ponder. If the NHL emerges the victor in this standoff with the players, will they impose their cost certainty all at once, thus forcing half the NHL teams to gut their rosters? Or will it be a phasing in period? What type of revenue sharing scheme will they impose? How can this be reasonably done when they're lacking a lucrative national TV contract in the US? What measures will they put in place to ensure no teams finds legal methods to spend over a hard salary cap? What guarantees will they make to the fans that ticket prices will become more affordable? And finally, does it make sense for a league to be struggling as the NHL has for the past several years to be going to war with it's players instead of working together with them to not only negotiate a workable deal for both sides but also to address the problems with the product that has resulted in it's drop in popularity in the United States?
One recurring theme that crops up in e-mails from my readers or in comments on hockey message boards is the belief from some fans that, if the National Hockey League emerges the "winner" in this labour standoff with the NHL Players Association, that the teams will lower their ticket prices.
This opinion, stoked by the NHL's stated desire to make ticket prices more affordable to the fans, is based on the belief that high ticket prices are the direct result of high player salaries.
Once cost certainty is achieved through a hard cap of $31 million on player salaries, ticket prices throughout the NHL are certain to drop.
To that I say, don't be suckers.
As I've stated numerous times on this site and backed up by the statistics I've researched, there is little or no correlation between high ticket prices and high player salaries.
Ticket prices are based on what each market will bear, not on how much each team pays out in payroll, based on factors unique to those markets.
That's why, for example, the Minnesota Wild charged the 9th highest ticket prices, yet were ranked 27th overall in payroll last season. One reason why they could charge that amount was the fact the club was ranked 7th overall in attendance.
If ticket prices were based primarily on salaries, the Wild's prices should've been among the lowest in the league, not among the highest.
Conversely, the NY Rangers, who began last season with the second highest payroll in the NHL and by season's end had the 9th highest attendance, charged only the 12th highest ticket prices.
Again, if we go by the premise that high ticket costs are due to high player salaries, the Rangers ticket prices should've been much higher.
There are numerous other examples which I've posted previously which you can check out by reading through my September or October Soapbox Archives. Some readers have also sent in their takes on the subject which you can read in the "Fans Speak Out" archives and the points some of them raised will be noted further on in this article.
That's not to suggest that salaries don't have any impact at all on ticket prices, and the argument could be made that for struggling small market clubs in Edmonton, Calgary and Pittsburgh, it may be more significant that in most NHL cities. The statistical information available makes clear to me that thatthe overall impact is minimal.
So if player salaries aren't directly responsible for high ticket prices, then what factors are?
In the case of Canadian teams, loss on exchange is one significant factor. They make their revenues in Canadian dollars but must pay their players salaries in US dollars. When the "Loonie" spent much of the last ten years wallowing at well under 70 cents US, that put all the Canadian teams behind the eight-ball, except for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It'll be interesting, however, to see how much of an impact the rallying Canuck buck will have on those Canadian franchises once the NHL gets back to action. As of yesterday, the Canadian dollar was trading at over 83 cents US, the highest it's been in over 12 years. If the "Loonie" remains in the mid-80 cent range or goes even higher in the coming years, Canadian teams won't be able to use loss on exchange as a viable excuse. It could also affect what they get from the NHL to compensate for their exchange losses.
One factor that won't go away anytime soon for Canadian based teams is the high taxes, both at the municipal and provincial levels. Unlike many of their American counterparts who received tax breaks from their respective municipal and state governments, Canadian teams have to pay hefty tax bills. In 1999, for example, the Montreal Canadiens pay more in taxes than all the US-based teams combined.
For the American teams, there are several factors that drive their ticket prices. For some, like the Los Angeles Kings and Florida Panthers, they've spent years paying off the debts those clubs incurred from their previous ownership.
Local broadcasting contracts also come into play which have an effect on ticket prices. As one of my readers pointed out last month, some teams have more lucrative local boradcasting contracts than others, which means they don't have to charge as much for ticket prices.
The wealth of a team's ownership also comes into play. A team like the NY Rangers, which is owned by the Cablevision empire, doesn't need to rely as heavily on the gate for it's revenue as a struggling small market club would.
If a team's portion of the gate is shared with those who run their concessions, such as the NY Islanders, who also apparently don't get any part of those concession dollars, that also has an impact on ticket prices.
Usually, it's simple supply and demand that determines what the prices will be for tickets. The Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers and even Canada's Toronto Maple Leafs charged the highest ticket prices, but they'e also in the top four in attendance. Interest in hockey is very high in those three cities, hence the reason why ticket prices are so high to attend their games.
That's also noteable for teams like the Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks, who haven't had the same level of success as those aforementioned franchises but remain very popular in their respective cities.
Indeed, the success of a team also drives their ticket prices. The aforementioned Wings, Flyers and Maple Leafs can charge what they do because their clubs have been relatively successful, the Wings particularly so, given their three Stanley Cup championships since 1997.
So, given these factors, how can fans pin their hopes on a hard $31 million payroll cap to significantly lower their ticket prices?
The NHL has made no guarantees to their fans that ticket prices will be significantly lowered. They claim they want to make them affordable, but they've offered very little in terms of explaining how they'll achieve this goal.
Already there have been several media reports, significantly from the Toronto Globe and Mail and MSG Network, noting that while some teams might lower their prices, most teams won't. The president of the Montreal Canadiens is on record as saying he won't lower his teams prices. Given the factors unique to the Canadiens, it's not surprising that he made that statement.
Some hockey fans claims they're actually looking forward to the NHL starting up next season with replacement players, as they believe the league will charge cheaper prices for those games.
It's possible, of course, that some of the teams will charge cheaper prices, but if you're expecting AHL level prices, prepare yourself for a disappointment.
The factors noted above aren't going to disappear if the league is successful in getting a labour impasse declared in the respective labour courts in the United States and the four Canadian provinces. And remember, those teams will have been inactive for a year. They'll have losses to make up.
Some clubs will likely drop ticket prices initially to lure back the fans, but don't expect them to be as low as those in the American Hockey League. And once those teams determine that their gate isn't adversely affected, you can expect those prices to bounce back to where they were pre-lockout.
The next time someone tells you that your ticket prices will be lower if the NHL imposes it's hard cap cost certainty or if they hire replacement players for next season, remember the factors noted in this article.
This coming Monday, November 8th, the Hockey Hall of Fame will be inducting four new members into its ranks.
Blueline greats Raymond Bourque, Paul Coffey, and Larry Murphy, along with legendary executive Cliff Fletcher will be justifiably showered with accolades for their achievements over the years.
The three defencemen were among the best in the game, while Fletcher was the management genius behind the rise of the Calgary Flames as a powerhouse in the 1980s and the rebirth of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the early 1990s.
There remains, however, several players who in my mind should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. TSN recently had a bit where they made the case for defensive forward Guy Carbonneau, power forward Cam Neely and sniper Glenn Anderson.
However, there are several others who have been consistently and unjustly overlooked by the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Below is an article I wrote back in November 2002, on the eve of the induction ceremonies for Roger Nielson, Rod Langway, Clark Gillies and Bernie Federko, which I believe is still relevant in putting forward the case for those overlooked players.
As always, I look forward to comments from you, the readers, as to whether or not they agree with my take, and if there are other noteworthy players you believe should be in the Hall, please let me know and I'll post them in an upcoming "Fans Speak Out".
I'll begin this article by stating I have no problem with the respective inductions of Roger Nielson and Rod Langway into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
While Nielson was a much-travelled head coach, he was also an innovator whose influence on the game remains worthy of merit.
His use of video review to improve his team's performance, as well as for scouting opponents for strengths and weaknesses, is now used by coaches at all levels.
Furthermore, Nielson touched thousands of hockey lives with his long-time summer hockey camp, as well as his coaching at the minor and junior league levels.
Langway was perhaps the last pure defensive blueliner to win the Norris trophy, a feat he twice accomplished . An all-star numerous times, Langway was instrumental in turning the Washington Capitals from a moribund also-ran club into a perennial playoff team during the 1980s.
As an American-born player, he also helped raise interest in hockey in that country, and answered the call to represent the US in international tournaments like the Canada Cup.
Based on these accomplishments, there can be no doubt Nielson and Langway deserve to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
But Bernie Federko and Clark Gillies?
Come on, now, let's get serious!
I'm sure this will offend their fans, as well as those long-time supporters of their respective clubs, the St. Louis Blues and New York Islanders. But seriously, what accomplishments did these guys make to merit entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame?
Federko chalked up 10 seasons with 50 + assists. Nice, but what else did he do to merit entry into the Hall? He's among the top fifty scorers of all time? Sorry, but as one sportswriter pointed out, he's fast falling out of that category, having dropped to 43rd overall. Within the next five years, his name will disappear from that record.
He twice cracked the top ten scorers? Not bad, but other players with more accolades to their name, as we'll soon see, also turned that trick, as did players with roughly the same credentials as Federko who aren't getting HHOF recognition for their achievement.
Did Federko garner any individual awards? Was he a perennial contender for the scoring title? Did he lead the Blues to the Stanley Cup?
At least Federko supporters have those statistics as a basis for substantiation. I'm still trying to figure out what Gillies did to gain entry to the Hall.
Yes, he was a popular player, a grinder who was overshadowed by flashier, more skilled linemates such as Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy. Yes, he played tough but fair, and only dropped the gloves if an opponent was dumb enough to tangle with him.
But what great feats did Gillies accomplish to merit inclusions amongst hockey's greatest players?
He played on four Cup winners? So did Montreal's Doug Jarvis, who still holds the NHL's "Ironman" record of most consecutive games played with 964. Jarvis also won the Selke Trophy in 1984 as the league's best defensive forward. He was one of the best faceoff men and penalty-killers ever. Certainly that's more worthy of Hall-of-Fame inclusion than being "a prototypical power forward"?
I'm sorry if this sounds petty, and I'm sure I'll hear about this from irate Islanders fans. Clark Gillies had a good NHL career, but he did nothing to merit entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
There are other examples of former great players who are more worthy of being in the Hall, Doug Jarvis being only one.
How about former Boston Bruin forward Rick Middleton? Twice in the early 1980s - just like Bernie Federko - he was among the league's top ten scorers. He was an All-Star and a member of Team Canada in the 1984 Canada Cup. Middleton also won the Lady Byng as most gentlemanly player in 1984 and was runner-up for the Calder in 1973. He was also one of the most exciting and entertaining players the game has ever seen. Surely these accolades are worthy of acceptance in the Hall?
What about Carl Brewer of the Toronto Maple Leafs? He was a terrific defenceman in the early-1960s for the Leafs, playing for three Cup winners. As one sportswriter noted, he was also a four-time All-Star, a runner-up for the Norris, played for Canada's National team in the late-60s, and helped pioneer hockey in Finland.
Not worthy enough to gain entry into the Hall? If Clark Gillies and Bernie Federko can get in for less, why not Brewer?
Hell, I'd vote Brewer in as a builder, for it was thanks to his tireless fight on behalf of retired NHL players that fixed a huge injustice visited upon them through a miserly NHL pension scheme. His efforts were also instrumental in sending former NHLPA honcho Alan Eagleson to prison for defrauding those players he was supposed to represent, Brewer having been one of them.
That's probably why Brewer is overlooked when it comes time to consider players for selection into the Hall. He was seen as a "troublemaker" by the old guard of the NHL on and off the ice. Unfortunately, there's still a lot of them around and they have a say as to who gets into the Hall of Fame.
What of Clark Gillies former teammate, Butch Goring? I've always believed one of the biggest injustices in HHOF history is how often Goring gets passed over for inclusion.
He was one of the most complete players the game has ever seen. If you needed a timely goal, Goring could get it. If you wanted someone to kill a penalty, you sent out Goring. If Isles head coach Al Arbour looked for a player to check his opposition's best player, he went with Goring.
Most Islander historians will tell you it was the acquisition of Goring from the LA Kings in 1980 that was the final piece of the championship puzzle, which launched the Isles on a four-year Cup run.
Goring's play also garnered him two individual awards, the Lady Byng in 1978, and the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP in 1981.
How can the HHOF ignore a terrific all-round player like Goring year after year, yet grant entry to Federko or Gillies?
And what about European players? Sure, the number of Europeans selected to the Hall is bound to rise as years go on, given the increasing number of European stars in the NHL.
But what about former Soviet greats like Alexander Yakushev, Boris Mikhailov, or Valeri Kharlomov? Granted, they never played in the NHL, but they dominated international play, and earned rave reviews from their NHL opponents in the 1972 Summit Series. Aren't their accomplishments worthy of consideration?
How about those of Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg? Sure, they played in that lesser league known as the WHA with the Winnipeg Jets, but playing with Bobby Hull in the late 1970s, they formed one of the most exciting lines in hockey, one that also matched up well against NHL opposition during exhibition games.
These are but a few examples of players who, for whatever reason, are seemingly ignored for consideration by the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee.
And don't think I'm just picking on Gillies and Federko here. The HHOF has a long history of voting lesser lights into their exclusive club.
For example, former Montreal Canadien Steve Shutt was the first left winger to score over 60 goals in a season, and played on four Cup winners. Good for him, but that doesn't warrant inclusion into the HHOF.
Bob Pulford? He's more notable as Bill Wirtz's yes-man in Chicago than for anything he ever did on the ice during his playing career. In fact, one is left to wonder if Wirtz and others of the old-boy network used their influence to get Pulford into the Hall.
And it's not just some players who have no business being in the Hall of Fame.
Why, in God's name, is Harold Ballard a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame? Since when did taking a beloved, respected franchise like the Toronto Maple Leafs and turning it into a laughing-stock become credentials for entry into the Hall? Let's not forget his stint in prison for fraud and tax evasion in the early 1970s. Yeah, there's a sterling guy to honour in the Hall!
Clarence Campbell? The man was a feeb! As several books on his tenure as NHL president have pointed out, Campbell was a lackey of the owners, who were the real power behind his throne.
John Ziegler? Another guy who was in the hip pocket of the team owners, as well as a close, personal friend of that well-known felon and defrauder of the NHL players pension, Alan Eagleson.
The whole point of my little rant here is to point out that, no matter how much the HHOF selection committee goes on about using stricter guidelines for selecting players and builders, it's apparent they still aren't good enough.
Federko and Gillies were good, talented players in their day. They had good careers and deserve to be saluted for them. If their teams wish to honour them, great, retire their numbers, have a night for them, offer them a job with the team for life, whatever.
However, there are other former players who accomplished much more during their careers than Federko and Gillies. It is unfair for them to be passed over because of personalities, nationalities or whatever. To pass over players like Middleton, Goring, Jarvis, Brewer, Yakushev, Hedberg and others who did so much to bolster the image of hockey in favour of lesser players is ridiculous.
It calls into question the integrity and the knowledge of the members of the selection committee.
Worse, it casts the Hockey Hall of Fame into a bad light, making it's hierarchy appear to be an old-boy network where recognition is passed down only to those they deem worthy of being HHOF material, while ignoring those who properly deserve it.
As one newspaper noted, it's not the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame. It's not the North American Hockey Hall of Fame, nor the NHL Hockey Hall of Fame.
It's very name - the Hockey Hall of Fame - is supposed to be a blanket one, by which it recognizes those in all the major hockey leagues and associations who have made signficant contributions to the sport.
While they have improved in recognizing those worthy of merit, it's apparent there are still problem areas that need to be addressed.
In the run-up to the lockout and in the weeks since it's imposition, I've received an average of three e-mails per week taking me to task for being "anti-owner". Some ask me to provide a more balanced opinion, to highlight the good parts of the league's proposals. Some accuse me of being too "pro-union", that I never point out the bad things about the union or give the players their share of the blame.
I'll be the first to admit, my commentaries have supported the union's stance, but that doesn't make me "pro-player" or "pro-union". I've never once suggested the players were hard done by, nor have I ever suggested that salaries didn't need to come under control. They obviously do.
The NHL is a small-fry league that tried and failed to play with the big boys. They over-estimated their appeal which led to the hasty and poorly planned expansion of the 1990's. As it is a gate-driven venue, the NHL lacks the lucrative revenue streams of the NFL, NBA and MLB, thus it's obvious many of their markets cannot continue to pay such hefty salaries.
And for the record, that's something Ted Saskin acknowledged when I interviewed him for Foxsports.com back in July. He said the union understood that salaries would rise and fall based on what the market would bear and the players were comfortable with that.
Whenever the union puts their foot in it, such as when they did with their ill-advised comments claiming NFL players didn't support their cap system, I've pointed that out both here and on my Foxsports columns. Not every word from the union is a pearl of wisdom.
And yes, the last luxury tax ceiling the union proposed was a joke, as it was too high and the penalties for teams spending over that amount were a trifle.
And I don't see where a hard salary cap would be a problem, provided of course the league was offering a fair deal, rather than the six proposals which all cap payrolls at a draconian $31 million.
If the NHL were to offer up an NFL-style cap system, which isn't actually a hard cap at all but allows teams to borrow from future caps or accumulate "cap credits" which they can apply to bolster their payrolls over the cap level, that might not be so bad for the union. The NFL cap is like a credit card, in that teams can spend over their payroll ceiling for a certain period, but once all their credit is gone, they have to cut their payrolls back under the limit.
The Ottawa Senators in 1999 and the Buffalo Sabres in 2001 deserve credit for not giving in to the contract demands of Alexei Yashin and Michael Peca respectively.
Sabres fans might disagree with that statement, particularly considering the return they got from the Islanders for him pales to what the Senators got from them the same draft weekend for Yashin. But both clubs took a stand and refused to give in to what they considered was outrageous salary demands, and deserve praise for doing so, which I gave them at the time.
Not all the owners are to blame for the explosion in player salaries over the past ten years. Chicago Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz, for example, refuses to get into the free spending frenzy of his fellow big market peers. Mind you, fans of the 'Hawks would call Wirtz "cheap" than "thrifty", and they're right, but it doesn't take away the fact that he cannot be included among those who jacked up salaries.
No one would ever accuse the owners of the Edmonton Oilers as being fiscally irresponsible, nor do the owners of the Calgary Flames fall under that category, Jarome Iginla notwithstanding.
When it comes to sympathy for owners, the Oilers and Flames get my support. They're small market Canadian clubs who do well at the gate, but barely scrape by due to loss on exchange and high municipal taxes.
The owner of the Minnesota Wild, Robert Naegele Jr, has also kept salaries under control, as has Craig Leipold, owner of the Nashville Predators, and John H. McConnell of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux deserves praise for his efforts to keep the club alive in Pittsburgh, regardless of the personal reasons for doing so.
Alan Cohen of the Florida Panthers has done a good job rebuilding the train wreck he took over several years ago. The Panthers are still swimming in red ink, but his hockey people have built a very promising club.
I realize the owners aren't all wearing devils horns and hoofs and carrying pitchforks. They're businessmen and their NHL clubs are only part of their overall business empires.
Unlike the NHLPA, I'm not completely dismissing the Levitt Report. I believe Mr. Levitt issued an honest report, based on the information that was made available to him. I don't doubt for a minute there are NHL teams losing money, although I doubt that the number is as high as 20, which we'll never know for sure since the NHL won't make full disclosure of their books. I also agree with Mr. Levitt that the NHL is on a "treadmill to nowhere" if they don't change their ways.
I've also given Gary Bettman props when he deserves it. Love him or hate him, the man did a lot to increase the league's profile and revenues over the past ten years. He's also a bulldog negotiator who's every bit the equal of Bob Goodenow. He's a very strong representative of the owners and no slouch at the PR campaign.
All these points I've touched on over the past weeks and months.
But by examining all the facts and evidence, both the league's labour history and the circumstances that brought about this lockout, I find that I simply cannot support the league and the owners position.
The facts speak for themselves, folks. The league and it's then-owners for years failed to take the union seriously, attempting in 1992 and 1994 to crush it, just as today's owners are attempting to do now.
The league accepted the last CBA, in which the owners achieved the most restrictive free agent system in North American sports. They had a hard cap on entry level salaries, and the right to walk away from up to three arbitration awards in two years. In fact, many of the then-owners believed they came out the winners with the last CBA.
The league had no trouble with the CBA back in 1997, when they agreed to extend the expiration of it from 2000 to 2004, because they wanted labour harmony in order to ensure they'd get the $320 million in expansion fees from Nashville, Minnesota, Columbus and Atlanta. They did this even though salaries had doubled from 1994 at that point. Yet a scant 18 months later, in early 1999, Bettman was claiming the CBA no longer worked and had to be changed, even though the increase in salaries at that point slowed considerably in comparison to the 1994-1997 period.
The league and the owners cried about rising salaries, yet most of the big market clubs and even a handful of small market teams engaged in wild free spending for several years prior to 2003, which contributed in jacking up salaries for unrestricted free agents.
They also accepted every arbitration award that came down the pipe, with only three exceptions. Most restricted free agents were re-signed to significant raises without staging holdouts and little or no protests from the teams. They made a mockery of the hard cap on rookie salaries thanks to bonus and incentive clauses.
Yes, the players and their agents played their part in those situations, but ultimately, it's the owners who decide if they're going to pay that kind of money. They're the ones who wanted to control player salaries, but when they couldn't, they tried to pin the blame on the players for their own fiscal irreponsibility.
Still, all of that would be a wash if the league was willing to negotiate and to compromise. The union is willing to accept a luxury tax system, elimination of bonus clauses in rookie contracts, levelling the playing field in arbitration, revenue sharing and a 5 % salary give back.
So why didn't the league jump on those proposals and use them to their advantage? Why not demand a lower luxury tax ceiling and stiffer penalties for overspending teams? Why not acknowledge the effort to improve arbitration and eliminate rookie bonuses? Why not demand a higher salary give back, say 15% or 20%? Or suggest a system whereby the lowest paid players pay back the least and the highest paid the most?
Or why not offer up a flexible NFL style cap system? Or why not offer up an NBA style luxury tax system, which Gary Bettman had a hand in drafting up?
Why not temper their six current proposals with a willingness to address the proposals made by the union? Hell, why not offer to work together with the union to find some way of marrying the two systems together, something which TSN suggested with their "solution"?
And why won't they tell us what kind of revenue sharing system they're interested in introducing? Why won't they tell us how they'll implement their cost certainty system? Why won't they tell us what measures they'll put in place to ensure teams won't circumvent their "hard" cap? Why won't they guarantee that ticket prices will drop under their system?
Most tellingly, why would a league, which is struggling in the United States sports market, with TV ratings so low they cannot outdraw the World Series of Poker and now lack a lucrative TV contract with an American network, further shoot themselves in the foot by going to war with their principal employees and threatening further damage to their visibility and reputation by losing a season?
Look, if the league turns around tomorrow and shows a willingness to make real concessions and to negotiate with the union, they'll earn my praise. If the union were to be the ones to play hardball at that point, the league would then earn my support.
My stance is based on the available facts, not by some misguided perception that the players can do no wrong and the owners are a bunch of coldhearted bastards.
Time once again to offer my rebuttals to some recent media reports. As always, original reports are in normal type while my comments are in italics.
First up, Stan Fischler of the MSG Network:
Does the H in NHLPA stand for Hypocrites? Ex-Ranger netminder Corey Hirsch thinks so. The goalie rips so-called "union" members who've pushed him and more than a hundred others out of European jobs. Hirsch calls them "scabs." And that may be an understatement. "NHL players are bumping off, one by one, players who need the money," asserts Corey. "Every day I read another arrogant quote from someone coming to play in Europe for no other reason than to stay in shape."
So it was okay for Hirsch and other North American players who weren't good enough to have a lengthy NHL career to go over to Europe and take away jobs from European players, but now Hirsch loses his job in a similar circumstance and That's a bad thing? Who's the hypocrite here? And the NHL'ers going to play in Europe aren't "scabs", since they're not crossing a picket line.
If Hirsch has a beef, it should be with ownership, both the NHL owners who locked out the NHL players, and the European owners, who were only too happy to kick a washed-up NHL'er to the sidelines in favour of a genuine NHL talent, which is what happened to Hirsch when his team replaced him with Martin Gerber.
Meanwhile, there's this from our Calgary correspondent, Debbie Elicksen: "Brian Burke says it's a travesty that locked-out NHLPA members are taking European jobs. He figures if the NHL comes back with replacement players, that will come back to bite them. P.S. Rocky Thompson is ready to step up as a replacement player."
Yeah, I can see hockey fans pouring out in droves to plunk down big bucks for tickets to see talent like Rocky Thompson. Oh, you think the owners are going to drastically cut ticket prices if they hired replacement players? Prepare yourself for a shock, dear reader.
As for the "travesty" of NHL'ers playing in Europe, they wouldn't be there if the league hadn't locked them out and was willing to negotiate with the union. They could've avoided this months ago but they wanna play hardball, crush the union and then dictate terms. For a league struggling in the US sports market like NHL has been over the past several years, that's simply not a smart move.
The meeting last week between the NHLPA's Ted Saskin and the league's Bill Daly was initiated by the union. But nobody on the NHL side is taking it seriously. Within weeks, the Association is expected to produce an inadequate offer -- mostly for p.r. purposes. No meaningful movement will take place.
Some rich players just don't give a damn about the work stoppage. A well-known Flyers' vet tells this to a friend: "A year off will give me four more years in the NHL." Or this from a Stars' ace: "Me worry? I got two million bucks in the bank!"
I hate reading stuff about "unnamed players", because we don't know if there's truth to it or not. Regardless, it's undoubtedly true that some rich NHL players aren't concerned about the work stoppage, but who made them rich in the first place? Why, that would be teams like the Flyers and Stars, who happily paid out the kind of salaries that would make it easier for those players to ride out a work stoppage. In the end, it always comes back to the owners. They don't like it, but it's the truth.
Of the Players' Association executive council, only Trevor Linden and Dan Alfredsson are regarded by the NHL high command as thoughtful types worthy of serious dialogue. Clearly, strong leadership of the Mark Messier-Wayne Gretzky ilk is missing from the NHLPA upper crust. And it shows!
Just like their strong leadership in 1992 prevented a players strike? Or prevented the loss of half the 1994-95 season to a lockout? We know where Gretzky is and he's not about to rock the boat and risk being called a hypocrite. Where is Messier now? Where is Yzerman? Or Sakic? Or Nieuwendyk? Why, they're out supporting their union, just like they did in 1992 and 1994. Does that mean they're not strong leaders?
Three decades ago, reps Rich Winter, Ron Salcer and Dave Forbes combined to launch the campaign that dumped Al Eagleson as NHLPA head. Question: Which agents today have the guts to stand up to Bob Goodenow? A Toronto broadcaster tells us that he figures it should be Don Meehan based on the latter's large number of clients and that Meehan is almost exclusively - as opposed to other agents - in the hockey business.
Eagleson was a criminal and those guys knew it. Goodenow isn't, and that's the difference. Unlike Eagleson, Goodenow has improved the players lot under his tenure, so why would the agents want to "stand up to him"?
As for Meehan, he's in the hockey business all right - the business of getting his clients the best deals possible. If Meehan was truly against Goodenow, why hasn't he spoken up at any time leading up to the lockout or since then? What good would it do him to keep silent? And if he preferred to do his talking behind the scenes, don'tcha think he'd have done so long before the upcoming agents meeting?
NHL players miss their third paycheck this week. And to think they've rejected the chance to have an average salary of $1.3 million in favor of bringing down the league.
Yeah, why couldn't they have just accepted without argument one of the proposals from the league, make all the concessions, give up what they fought hard to achieve in 1992 and 1995 and just know their place? Oh, for the happy days of yore when the players were treated as chattel...
Arthur Levitt, appearing on Phoenix radio, notes that Bob Goodenow may have generally challenged his NHL fiscal report. But, the former Security & Exchanges Commission head, asserts that the NHLPA boss never has questioned any specific item in his study.
Levitt also scolded Goodenow and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman for the unwillingness on both sides to negotiate, but I guess that wasn't newsworthy enough for Mr. Fischler.
Scott Gomez playing for relative peanuts with the ECHL's Alaska Aces makes a good story but no sense considering that he could be making big NHL bucks even under a new capped CBA.
I'm very disappointed in Mr. Fischler for making this comment, as he's knowingly perpetuated a misconception, something as a respected, experienced reporter, he should know better. Gomez is playing in the ECHL for peanuts because the NHL lockout him and his fellow players out. It's not a question of why Gomez is playing in the ECHL for less money, because the lockout makes that reason clear. It's not as though he and his union brothers are refusing to play in the NHL.
A third-line NHLer, who's already lost $200,000 because of what he considers NHLPA intransigence tells his agent, "I'm just NOT being represented by the union. It's just for the name guys."
So why didn't he speak out and so? That didn't stop Mike Commodore, Rob Ray, Pierre Dagenais, Brian Pothier and Nolan Baumgartner from stepping up and speaking their minds. And as Brian Burke, whose name Fischler loves to trot out to make a point recently said, Goodenow's base of support comes from the middle ground, not from the higher paid, since they'll get their money no matter what happens, or from the lower paid. If a third liner lost $200 grand after only three paycheques, he must be doing very well, meaning he belongs to the middle ground.
The Florida Sun-Sentinel's Michael Russo has a beaut of a story making the NHLPA's anti-Cap stance debatable. Speaking to several Dolphins, Russo learns that the NFL Salary Cap "has been good to them and good to the game." (Bob Goodenow has his membership hypnotized that the Cap is a disaster.) NFLers such as David Bowens and Sam Madison swear by the Cap. "It's important to know that each team has a chance to be competitive," says Bowens. "The Cap allows that to happen." Or, Madison: "The Cap's been a good move." Or, as Guy Lafleur notes with remarkable understatement, "No one would starve under a Salary Cap."
not tell your readers the real reason why the NFL salary cap
works, Stan? According to the NFLPA's
"Economic Primer" from April 2002, the NFL salary cap
works for the players because "the Salary Cap does not create
a hard limit. And even though the cap may be the CBA's most recognized
component, behind the scenes, the current system is driven by
So the NFL cap isn't a hard cap at all, and there are other components that make the NFL cap work. As for Lafleur, he is correct in suggesting no one would starve under a salary cap, it's a safe bet that, were he 25 years younger and in his prime, he'd be supporting the union's position and singing a different tune.
Has anyone noticed how badly interim leagues have fared? The "new" WHA never got off the ground and the Original Stars League experiment is history.
Yep, I've noticed, and it's no surprise. Back in August I wrote that the WHA was doomed to failure. As for the OSHL, hockey fans were turned off of the notion of paying between $30-$60 bucks a ticket to watch second-tier NHL'ers play beer league hockey.
Has anyone also noticed that the exodus to Europe is growing, and that in a few years time, either a European superleague or the current collection of leagues will become a genuine threat to the NHL's dominance?
Anyone who believes that NHL ownership will settle for a Soft Cap is dreaming. The realistic Hard Cap figure is $35 million.
But what's wrong with a luxury tax system that has some real teeth in it? Why couldn't it work for the NHL? We keep hearing from the league that it's unworkable but they fail to adequately explain why.
Next, Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun, on the issue that were to be addressed at yesterday's NHLPA meeting:
- After the executive made rejection of a salary cap the basic tenet of its bargaining stance, some players have said they'll accept one if it means saving the season.
They actually said they'd accept a salary cap if it made sense for both sides. None of those players want the union to capitulate and meekly accept the league's proposals without argument, but rather they want both sides to start talking again.
- The rich
and famous are jetting off to play in Europe, leaving less
While there are currently 241 NHL players in Europe, a small percentage are the "rich and famous". Most of those players are "less skilled" NHL talent.
By my count, there are 31 players who could be considered among the "rich and famous". That group includes Peter Forsberg, Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Jaromir Jagr, Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk.
- The earliest
the league could bring in replacement players is next
Some, but how many? If we go by the number of players who've spoken out so far, that's less than ten. You've also got some on the low end who've said there's no way they'll cross the line. We won't know for sure until that eventuality happens...if it happens, because the league must first achieve a legal impasse from the US labor court as well as the courts in the four Canadian provinces where the six Canadian teams are located.
- Union boss Bob Goodenow has not spoken to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman since Sept. 9. Some players want Goodenow to take the initiative.
- What was supposed to be a routine meeting of the NHLPA executive and it's 30 player representatives later today could turn instead into a spirited debate between the reps, NHLPA honcho Bob Goodenow, and several lower paid players who believe they aren't being properly represented by the union.
Comments over the past week from Mike Commodore, Pierre Dagenais, Brian Pothier and Rob Ray, who suggested they and other lower paid players would be open to a salary cap, which the union claims to be dead-set against, will certainly be addressed during that meeting.
It's expected that, in addition to the thirty player reps, another 60 or 70 players will attend the meeting, likely to discuss the comments made by those aforementioned players and to add their voice to the discussion.
Does this mean the union's on the verge of breaking?
No, for as TSN's Bob McKenzie recently pointed out, the majority of players support the union's position. But it does mean the union head and the player reps are going to have to address the concerns of their lower paid players. They cannot allow their complaints to go unheeded, otherwise the grumbling could spread and cause real damage to union solidarity.
It'll be interesting to hear the fallout from that meeting. Most hockey analysts predict Goodenow and the reps will take the time to pump up the morale of the doubting few, but that may not be easy if the doubters feel they're being snowed.
- One can sympathize to a degree with those lower paid players. After all, it's easier for players who're regularly making over a million per season to ride out this lockout than for those at the bottom of the pay scale. Indeed, some of those at the low end are on "two-way" contracts, meaning they'd make less than half of their NHL salaries if they're sent down to the minors.
That being said, those at the "low end" of the NHL payscale actually do quite well for themselves if they can play well enough to stick with their NHL clubs.
For example, 25 year old Mike Commodore, who definitely earned a regular spot on the Calgary Flames with his strong post-season performance during their run to the Finals last spring, is set to earn $515, 000 for the 2004-05 season.
26 year old Pierre Dagenais is set to earn $500,000 with the Montreal Canadiens. He played in 50 regular season games and 8 postseason tilts with the Habs last season. 27 year old Brian Pothier played in 55 regular season and seven playoff games with the Ottawa Senators and is set to make $625,000 for this season.
By contrast, it would take the average hockey fan between seven to twelve years, depending on their salaries, to earn as much as each of these guys.
Now I can understand why they're grumbling, as last season those three finally saw themselves get established as NHL regulars. The big money, compared to what they made on their two-way contracts, is almost within their grasp. Naturally, this lockout is putting a crimp on what they'd be making next season.
And of course they'd be accepting of a hard salary cap, since there's no way they'll likely ever make much more than the league average, currently at $1.8 million. If the league succeeds in chopping that to $1.3 mil per season, it still wouldn't affect them.
The question, of course, is just how many of the NHLPA membership shares their views.
Someone like Canadiens forward Mike Ribeiro, for example, whom a Montreal newspaper claimed was voicing comments in favour of a salary cap last spring, which he subsequently denied, was until last season a fringe player, making $847,000.
If he were still set to earn that much this season, perhaps Ribeiro might've thought a hard cap was a good thing?
But Ribeiro had a breakthrough season last year, leading the Habs in points and almost doubling his salary for 2004-05 to $1.55 million, with some bonuses likely tied in there that could boost that to $2 million.
Suddenly, "Mickey Ribs" isn't amongst the fringe players anymore, but now skating financially with the big boys, or at least, at the low end of the big boys pay scale, earning seven figures.
To give Le Journal de Montreal the benefit of the doubt, perhaps Ribeiro may have mused about a hard cap not being a bad thing, but now that he's in range of $2 million per, with the possibility of earning nearly double that down the road if he can build on his success of 2003-04, suddenly a cap isn't a good thing after all.
Commodore, Pothier and Dagenais are all anxious for a good reason: they're skating into their late twenties and realize they don't have many years left to earn those lucrative six figure salaries. They can't get back what they would've lost if this season is cancelled. They also understand that they may not improve their skill levels much more to where they can break into the seven figures per season club.
But are there enough players like those three feeling that way to create a potential uprising that could affect the union's position in this standoff?
Or are there more like Ribeiro, who are still young enough to build their careers toward where they can earn more, potentially much more, than the league average? If the case is the latter, the complaints of the fringe players won't hold much sway.
Time will tell...
- Finally, I read with interest the comments by former Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators enforcer Rob Ray regarding crossing a union picket line as a replacement player if the opportunity arose.
Ray told the Ottawa Sun that he wasn't in favour of a salary cap, but wanted the union to get back to the bargaining table with the league. Ray noted that the higher paid players have no worries while lower paid players like Chris Neil and Shaun Van Allen would get screwed.
"I went through this whole thing in 1994 when I was making $300,000 US. They got a deal done and I thought I was going to cash in big time. Well, I went from making $300,000 to $350,000. Big deal. Really, it's the role players on the team who are going to get screwed in all of this."
Well, I'll take Ray at his word regarding his bump in pay to $350K, but that obviously came just after the last CBA was signed. A quick look at the last five full seasons of his NHL indicates Ray earned more than that per season.
In his last full three NHL seasons, Ray earned $500,000 per season for a total of $1.5 million. In the two seasons prior to that (source: 1999 and 2000 Sports Forecasters), Ray earned $750,000 per season, for another $1.5 million. Thus, he made $3 million in five years. Not bad for a guy who was essentially a crowd-pleasing "policeman".
It's important to note that Ray wasn't under a two-way contract and didn't spend any time in the minors from 1994-95 to 2002-03, his final full season under an NHL contract.
For a guy whose role was essentially limited to squaring off with the other team's tough guy, Ray did pretty good for himself financially.
As for Chris Neil, he's received raises from 272,000 in 2001-02 to $575,000 last season. He must've been doing something right to get his salary more than doubled in three years. In three years, he's made over $1 million. And according to the NHLPA website, for 2004-05 he stood to make $700K. Doesn't sound like he's being screwed to me, but instead is being well compensated for the role he plays.
Shaun Van Allen doesn't have a contract with any team for next season, but over the past four seasons he's earned a total of $2 million US. Not bad for a guy who's essentially a fourth line checking forward.
I wouldn't say those players got screwed at all under the old system. They were well-compensated for the limited roles they've performed over the years. They can thank Bob Goodenow for getting that last CBA in place which allowed them to make those kind of wages, particularly when one considers the average player salary in 1993-94 was around $550K.
As far as the lockout goes, when these guys can make over $1 million in three seasons, you have to wonder how they're being screwed during a prolonged work stoppage. Where did all that money go?
Reading the Slam! Hockey website this past weekend, I read some comments aimed at locked out NHL players going to Europe written by former NHL goaltender Corey Hirsch, who according to Slam! "was playing for the Langnau Tigers of the Swiss "A" League when the NHL lockout hit."
Hirsch lost his job, as did other players in Europe, with the arrival of NHL players who have been hired by European clubs during the NHL lockout. I've reprinted Hirsch's piece and decided to respond to his comments(as always, italicized for your protection).
The NHL lockout has affected many people on a variety of different levels, but every time an NHL player signs in Europe another life is affected.
At the time of the writing of this article, we are now at 231 NHLers in Europe and counting.
And why are so many NHL'ers playing in Europe? Because the owners of those European clubs see an opportunity to make money at the expense of the NHL lockout. Which proves that hockey owners are the same everywhere, out to make a buck. They're obviously not that concerned about laying off players to bring in NHL calibre talent when it's available. But hey, that's capitalism in action.
One of those lives affected is my own.
I came to Europe two years ago to get away from the NHL.
To get away from the NHL? Why, were they stalking him or something?
For whatever reason, like many of my North American colleagues over here, I didn't make it in the NHL. Europe was the next best option to keep my career going. Once again though, the NHL has me in its grasp.
The reason Hirsch didn't make it in the NHL was, quite bluntly, he wasn't good enough to play there regularly. At least he had the opportunity, something most of us never did. For a few seasons, Hirsch was in the big leagues.
I'm also curious as to what happened to the money Hirsch made during his three seasons as an NHL regular. According to this website, in 1995-96 Hirsch earned $250,000 as an NHL rookie and in 1996-97 he made $650,000 in his second full NHL season. According to the 1999-2000 Sports Forecaster, he earned $250,000 in 1998-99, and USA Today reported Hirsch made $300,000 in 1999-2000, although that figure is probably lower considering he spent most of that season in the AHL on a two-way contract.
Thus, in three full seasons in the NHL, Hirsch made over $1.1 million. Even if that was all in Canadian funds, that's still a lot of money. Seems to me Hirsch did all right for himself financially when he was "in the NHL's grasp". It would take my wife and I, with our current combined salaries, nearly twenty years to make that kind of coin.
It's like a choke hold I can't get out of, but this time it's different, it's my fellow players that are doing the damage.
Hirsch's "fellow players" are those who played with him in Europe, not the NHL'ers who are playing there now.
NHL players are coming to Europe in droves and are bumping off, one by one, players that actually need the money. While I can empathize that some players feel they have to play or they may become lockout casualties themselves, the lack of compassion and understanding of what they are doing to many of the players in Europe is extremely unnerving.
And if Hirsch were an NHL regular, he'd likely have joined the exodus to Europe during the lockout too. If he wants to complain about lack of compassion and understanding, he should direct it at the owners of the European teams. They're the ones hiring the NHL'ers. it's not as though the NHL players are barging into their offices and demanding jobs.
Every day, I read another arrogant quote from someone coming to play in Europe for nothing but to stay in shape.
I'm sorry that Hirsch lost his job, but he knew this was coming for at least a year, and he also knows that, as soon as this lockout is over, those players will be gone and he'll have his job back. Most of the NHL'ers are playing to stay in shape and for many European players, to enjoy the thrill of playing in their native countries and cities again. If anything, Hirsch should be upset with the NHL for imposing this lockout and for the stubborn refusal to negotiate with the union.
Where is logic?
Where is the logic in not negotiating a CBA that will still pay a player more than he will ever need, but instead he'll come to Europe to play just to stay in shape?
The union has tried to negotiate. They've made concessions and are even willing to give back a portion of their salaries. It's the owners, not the players, who are refusing to negotiate and have implemented this lockout.
I think some of these players should have a talk with my pregnant wife and kids that moved their lives to Europe, only to watch me sit in the stands game after game, because I have been bumped by an NHL player. It is now realistic that I may not play a game this season.
It sucks to lose a job, but welcome to the real world, Corey. At some point, his playing career is going to come to an end, and the timing for the end of any career is rarely perfect. I've lost jobs, as have family members and friends, and I'm willing to bet so have many hockey fans. Rather than complain about it, most of us move on and try to find other work. Again, Hirsch knew when he moved to Europe two years ago that NHL players might be hired by European teams if there were an NHL lockout. Perhaps he thought that it would affect other players, but not him?
At some point the NHL lockout will end and a strong majority of these players will go back to the NHL. They will have have careers making great salaries, but the damage they will have left in their wake will be irreparable.
While they are back playing , I and many others will be fighting for jobs that pay minute salaries compared to the NHL. Without playing the previous season due to this mess, many players in Europe may have to retire.
If the salaries weren't so great, why did hego there in the first place? As noted earlier, all the players in Hirsch's position knew that, as in 1994, many NHL players would look to play in Europe in the event of a lockout. They should've been prepared for that.
Some of you reading this may think I'm being a heartless bastard, so allow me to shed a little light on my own personal situation.
I face the possibility of losing my current day job as the contract may only last until the end of March 2005. I've won't know for sure until the end of January 2005 at the latest. So I'm currently keeping my eyes open for other work and preparing for the possibility of losing that job.
I also have to take an 35-day unpaid layoff period in December, right in the middle of the holidays. That means I have to save up enough money over the next four paydays to ensure I have enough to get through that layoff period. I'm also having a colonoscopy during that time to check for colon cancer. I'm not happy about it, and it may mean a lean Christmas, but I'm doing my best to compensate, rather than complain about the unfairness of it.
My point is not to try to make my lot to be worse than Hirsch's but to simply point out that everyone has to face losing jobs or reduction in income. My sympathies in this lockout are for the arena workers and team and league employees who were laid off, as well as the local businesses who are affected by the absence of NHL games.
I am left to wonder if any of the NHL players understand exactly the repercussions they are causing. When the topic of NHL replacement players comes up, it is met with anger and resistance.
Because if that happens, the NHL would be on strike and those who cross the picket line would be scabs.
Do NHL players not realize that this is exactly what they are doing by taking jobs in Europe?
They are scabs over here, replacement players, basically rented to put fans in the seats.
First of all, they're not scabs because they didn't cross a picket line to play in Europe. Second, and most importantly, it's the owners of those European teams who hired those guys to make extra money. They're the ones deserving of derision.
All these players they are stepping on over here will now be the first to stand in line if and when the NHL needs replacement players.
They're not stepping on Hirsch. If his team owner and his counterparts decided to stay loyal to Hirsch and those others who toiled for them last season, those NHL'ers wouldn't be playing in Europe and Hirsch and his counterparts would still have their jobs. As with the NHL, it's the owners, not the NHL players, Hirsch should aim his frustration at.
I understand that my views will probably not change anything, nor will it save any jobs over here. They will, however, give NHL players an understanding that it is not OK to bring their lockout mess to Europe and believe that they are doing no harm.
It's the NHL owners who created this situation, and the European owners who hired the locked out NHL players. He's taking out his frustration on the wrong group.
We are now at 231 lives and counting, not to mention the families that have been affected. So before NHL players come to Europe, I suggest they take a long hard look in the mirror and ask themselves why they are coming?
And Hirsch might also take a long look in the mirror and ask himself, if the roles were reversed, would I not be doing the same thing?
Other than to stay in shape, they will be playing for little money and will be destroying others' job security.
It's true that those who play in the European leagues don't make anywhere near as much as those who play in the NHL. Since the money there wasn't that great to begin with, where's the job security?
Professional hockey offers little in job security. In the NHL you must play a total of 400 games to qualify for a pension, which certainly isn't a lot to live on. Your career is basically one serious injury away from ending prematurely, and most NHL players are finished by the time they reach their mid-thirties. That's a big reason why NHL players want to be well-compensated for their work. So when did the European leagues become this wonderful sanctuary of job security for washed-up NHL'ers and minor leaguers?
I have to ask, is this not exactly what the NHL players are fighting against back in North America?
No, they're rejecting the league's attempts to cast them as the villains in this standoff and are rejecting the NHL's attempts to crush them by forcing upon them six proposals which all constitute a hard salary cap.