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pector's Note: Last Friday, I posted up a list of several questions regarding the lockout and encouraged readers to send in responses, The questions were as follows:

1. If the NHL is losing as much money as they claim to be, why won't they make full disclosure of all the teams' finances to prove the point? Be forewarned: before you answer this question, the Levitt Report does NOT provide a detailed audit of each team's finances but rather a summary of the league's overall finances.

2. If the NHL does achieve cost certainty, has anyone heard from the league exactly how they'll impose it? Will it be all at once, or phase it in over time?

3. Almost half the NHL teams presently have payroll sitting at over $35 million. If the league imposes cost certainty at once, what will they do about the increased number of UFA players who'll have no teams to play for because most teams will be maxed out at the $33 million cap level?

4. The NHL claims it wants revenue sharing to ensure all its franchises are financially sound. Considering they lack the substantial revenue streams of more popular sports leagues like the NFL, has anyone heard how they'll achieve this?

5. How will the league ensure no team finds creative measures to legally skirt a hard cap (ie. bonus clauses), just as they did with the entry level cap under the previous CBA?

6. The Hockey News recently reported that only three of the thirty teams surveyed told the publication they would reduce ticket prices. The president of the Montreal Canadiens told Stan Fischler two months ago that his club wouldn't be lowering their prices. Since many hockey fans believe high salaries equals high ticket costs, what guarantees has the league made to ensure ticket prices will be lowered under cost certainty by the other 26 clubs?

7. How will the NHL recoup their broadcasting losses if they lose the entire season to this lockout?

8. If the lockout wipes out this season and potentially jeopardizes next season, how will the NHL ensure NBC and ESPN will pick up the option years in their contracts?

9. Do you believe the NHL should adopt a salary cap system akin to the NFL's? Be forewarned: this is a trick question! Only respond to this one if you know how the NFL's salary system works.

10. If a luxury tax system is "unworkable", why is it the centerpiece of pretty much every proposal made by media observers, including former Bettman lieutenant and Vancouver Canucks GM Brian Burke?

Responses are below. My thanks to everyone who took the time to send these in. I'll be taking this opportunity to address some of those responses.

First up, Gord Brenner.

1. There is no doubt that the league is losing money. Exactly how much no one will ever know. The fact is that a league like this should never lose money. Whether it is 221 Million or 91 Million they lost a LOT of money.

The NHL could set this straight tomorrow by proving just how much they're losing. It would support their claim that cost certainty is the only solution. There's a big difference between losing over $200 million last season and losing less than $100 million, in that the former would back up the league's desire for cost certainty, whilst the latter figure could be better addressed via a luxury tax.

2. The impression is that it will be all at once. This is the heart and soul of the owners case and to not implement it immediately would make no sense since that is all they have been preaching.

If the lockout were settled tomorrow, half the NHL teams would be well over the $33 million level sought by the league. Such an imposition would seriously gut most of those clubs, which is something I cannot see those teams standing for. To go from contender to bottom-feeder overnight isn't going to set well with those teams.

3. Look for a lot of restructured contracts. Also, with the surge of players going over to Europe and the lower salaries in the new NHL, expect the marginal (and even some of the superstars) Europeans to stay in Europe and mutually cancel their contracts. Watch a few more North Americans look towards Europe to continue their careers.

There would still be a large number of UFA players with no place to play in the short term. Furthermore, imposing a draconian cap would leave the NHL wide open to competition from Europe. Money was the one advantage the NHL had over those European clubs, and over time a hard cap measure would drain the league of a lot of good European talent and even some North American talent.

4. Just because there isn't as much revenue coming doesn't mean they can't spread what little salary they have around the league.

The question is, how?

5. If the player signs a contract with a bonus clause, the total cost of the players contract PLUS the bonuses should be added into the teams total payroll.

Yes, it should, but that didn't happen under the entry level cap in the last CBA. Thus it's a safe assumption teams would do like the NFL and hire "capologist" to help them find legal ways to skirt that cap.

6.Ticket prices are in NO way connected to salary costs. The ticket prices are set to what each market can handle.

But too many fans believe otherwise, and the NHL has done nothing to dispel that impression.

7. They won't. This is why I believe the owners set the salary cap so low. Otherwise they would have set the cap at a more reasonable level (~$40 Million)

That recoup would only be short term. If this lockout wipes out this season and threatens next season, it would also threaten the NHL's hopes of remaining on network TV in the United States, which would only worsen their present situation.

8. If this is the case, expect the US networks to have somewhat of a say in what type of product gets put on the ice.

The league is apparently already in talks with NBC about improving their product to bolster the league's sagging ratings. That raises the possibility this lockout could be settled by January 2005.

9. Even though the NFLs cap is not foolproof, there is some very good points to it. My favorite is that if the team overspends they must reduce the amount from future cap ceilings. Look at teams like the 49ers - once perennial contenders but overspent their cap and now wallow at the bottom because of mis-management. Look for the Leafs to follow suit if the NHL follows the NFL model.

Personally I'd have no problem if the NHL followed the NFL model, but I doubt they will.

10. This is what is making the owners look the worst. I was originally on the owners side but with Bettman saying that a luxury tax system would not work and the owners are not willing to negotiate with a tax system in place has turned me off of the owners as well. Can someone explain how, in the long run, a cap and a luxury tax system differ? As long as the penalties in the luxury tax system are severe and are strictly enforced, I believe (and hope) that this is what will eventually come out in an agreement.

Excellent point. The NHL insists a luxury tax won't help them but they've yet to give detailed explanations why.

Alexander Alvaro.

Here are some answers to your questions, not quite in order, though some answers may be rhetorical:

1. I think that the whole "disclosure of revenue" issue is a red herring.
Why? Because even if the owners disclosed every material document relating to revenue, the players still would not support a "salary cap" or any system linking salaries to revenues. They are philosophically against it.

I disagree. They are against it because the NHL has not proven their losses are so high that the only solution is cost certainty, meaning a hard cap. If the proof were there for all to see, it would take away the NHLPA's main argument against the cap. Even if they were "philosophically" against it at that point, they'd still have to give in to it.

As I understand Mr. Bettman, the NHL gave the NHLPA access to the NHL's financial records in 1999 and have offered them an opportunity to do their own audit, but the NHLPA has declined.

Not true. Mr. Bettman claims he wanted to start talks with the NHLPA back then, but he didn't offer up full access to the league's books. A couple of years ago they did give the NHLPA full access to only four teams to audit, and they discovered those four clubs had over $50 million US in undeclared revenues. That's when Bettman hired Levitt to "prove" the league was suffering substantial losses.

That being said, the major revenue streams -- gate receipts and television revenue -- are easily identifiable streams of revenue. The owners gave up one major source of revenue already -- the NHLPA also has control over its players' likenesses, something that no other major sport has negotiated with its union, as far as I am aware. The NBA's CBA (which was negotiated) is linked to revenues. It seems that there is a way of doing it, and I'm sure the NHLPA knows this.

And that's why, like the NBA, the NHLPA is proposing a luxury tax system.

The owners invest hundreds of millions of dollars and assume all the risk of running a business when they purchase a hockey team. As with any business, the reward for such an investment is a reasonable return. Without it, there is no point to running the business. Obviously, they feel they are not getting a reasonable return under the present system. If the owners are really getting rich under the present system, then we won't lose the season or next season. No businessman is that stupid. If the owners are losing money, even if they aren't losing as much as they say, why should they continue under the present system?

No one is disputing that the league is losing money, not even the NHLPA. What they're disputing is the amount of those losses, and that's why they're proposing a luxury tax system, along with major concessions such as a salary give-back, changes to arbitration and the entry level cap.

2. I think a lot of your questions concerning "how" things would work are matters of negotiation. A lot of the same questions can be asked of a luxury tax system. How would it work? Would it be phased in or would
teams have to pay immediately? How do we know it will act as a drag on
salaries? What if it doesn't? Proposals are starting points, not final agreements. But there has to be an agreement in respect of the starting point, and we don't have that. Without such an agreement, a discussion about the nuts and bolts of a system is premature and academic. You would simply be negotiating with yourself in a
vacuum. That being said, I think the NHL is inviting chaos if they are
hoping to implement everything at once, without a phasing in period.


3. As I've said in previous posts, this lockout is not about ticket prices
but about saving the NHL. I agree with you in this case that the talk about ticket prices is rhetoric to bring fans to the owners' side. Nevertheless, ticket prices will stabilize if costs are stabilized, unless the demand for hockey suddenly increases -- and I doubt we'll see that.

Not if the NHL keeps icing the same product as they have over the past ten years.

4. Of course, if the season is lost, the television revenue is lost. I'll
also answer this question with another question: if the season is lost
owing to a lockout, how will the players recoup what they've lost? There
will be no recouping most of it. I do not know what the NHL has negotiated with ESPN and NBC, but I suspect very strongly that the contract includes terms that address the lockout. The lockout was within contemplation when the contracts were negotiated.

From what I've read on the subject, the contract with NBC is set to start in January 2005. It's for two years with two options years after that. The new contract with ESPN is set for this season with two option years following that. The option years are likely based on ratings and not the lockout.

5. The problem with a question comparing the NHL and the NFL is that it is comparing apples and oranges. If the NHL wants an NFL system, they would need a significant national television contract, and they don't have and won't get that, not in the foreseeable future. They would have to have revenue sharing. They would have to eliminate guaranteed contracts (though bonus money is not usually refundable -- see Ricky Williams for the exception -- and its impact on the team's cap can be spread out over the life of the contract). The answer to your question is that the NHL should craft a system that fits its own characteristics. The cap that Bettman negotiated with the NBPA in 1982 is not an NFL type of cap. The interesting thing about the basketball situation is that issues relating to revenues were all negotiated. The "how will it be done" problem was solved via negotiation. Basketball is in better shape than hockey.

Yes, it is, although like football it has better TV deals than the NHL. What puzzles me is that Bettman was one of the architects of the NBA's system, particularly the luxury tax, yet he's dead-set against it for the NHL. Still, your point is well taken.

6. The NHLPA is on record as rejecting a luxury tax that has any teeth,
because in their view it would be akin to a salary cap. It seems that
everything that isn't the status quo is a "salary cap" in the eyes of the
NHLPA. To imply that what Brian Burke has proposed is something that the players support is simply not correct. I'd be interested to see the players propose a "dollar for dollar" luxury tax, at a threshold that links
salaries to revenue, because I think it would make some owners sit up and take notice.

As I've noted before, the NHLPA has stated their proposals are not final offers but merely starting points. Obviously any form of luxury tax is going to need "teeth" in it to work.

Robert Wheeler.

Interesting questions you posed. And while I cannot claim to know the answers to all of them I still feel the owners are (ack im almost choking on my words) right! That said I think its their fault we are here in the first place. Bobby Holik isn’t a $10 million player, nor is lindros or any of the other players I could list who were thrown big contracts by stupid GMs and owners. Still just because its their fault is not a good argument to keep the system in place.


I know that the owners don’t really care about the game. To them its the profit margins that count(profit margins which cannot be as high as they would like) but at least you know what to expect with them. What disappoints me about the players is, as a fan I always expected them to at least love the game (maybe that’s naïve but until recently that was true). But when I hear bill Guerin say he would rather see the league die than accept a salary cap suddenly he and the NHLPA lose cred with me. They have gone from the greatest athletes in the world both in skill and personality to more overpaid jocks.

Guerin isn't a good spokesman for the association. He puts his foot in his mouth every time he speaks up. But I wouldn't judge the majority on the salaries of a few nor on the opinions of a few. You can bet a majority of the NHL players don't wanna see the NHL die.

As to your argument about where the extra players will go? The WHA if it gets off the ground will offer a place for the pricier players and the 4th liners who get bumped. I think a good argument can be made that a lot of these players shouldn’t be in the league anyway and since the owners and players will never agree to contract I can see no better way.

Personally, I believes the extra players would head to Europe, and that would be where the real competition would be for the NHL over the next decade.

lastly ill just say as a fan I just want this over. Cap or no cap, bill Guerin and ziggy palffy or travis scott and yanick lehoux as long as someone is wearing a kings jersey and someone is wearing a Detroit or new york rangers or stars, etc… jersey ill be happy! Im a kings fan not an ice dogs fan, to me there is a difference. The ice dogs wont ever have a chance to win the Stanley cup. The ice dogs didn’t have a miracle on Manchester, or a frenzy at Figueroa, or a 93 cup run. I don’t mind the skill level drop or the different arena what I mind is I grew up a kings fan and now there are no los angeles kings! This whole mess is BS.



Now these are not definite answers merely my own opinion on what may be implemented or would work.

1) In this matter I beleive that full disclosure would be the best course
of action, however no company, government or charity has ever opened their books as I beleive they are suggesting. Let us not forget that the NHL invited the NHLPA to look into their books, and be a part of the levitt

The NHL only allowed the NHLPA access to the books of four clubs, and were quick to dismiss the union's findings of over $50 million in unreported revenue. As for the Levitt Report, it was only a summary of losses and not detailed for each club. Furthermore, by his own admission, Levitt stated he lacked the staff and resources to fully audit all thirty clubs, and instead relied on telephone interviews with the CFOs of most of the teams.

2) Revenue sharing would be totally reliant on the outcome of the CBA, as well any further specifics would allow the NHLPA new points of contention with the NHL and provide new rallying points to the players.

But will it be a worthwhile revenue sharing scheme? Is there enough money to even make it worthwhile? What will the reaction be of big market clubs toward such a plan?

3) A 33 million hard cap is the very worst that players can do, this will
never happen. Maybe a hard cap of 40 million or a luxury tax at 33- 35
million with come actual teeth.

The NHLPA is rumoured to be preparing another proposal to put more teeth into a luxury tax, but it's doubtful they'll come down from $40 million, which was their first proposal. So far, the NHL has shown no inclination to move off their numbers.

4) Hopefully a gate sharing system with a arena account to build new
buildings for smaller teams.

5)player contracts averaged over their life and precise wording to the
allowed player compensation methods with any outstanding systems methods or types to be prohibited. effectively eliminating anything not expressly allowed in the CBA.

Easy to say, hard to do. Nobody expected clubs to find creative measures to legally circumvent the hard cap on entry level salaries in the previous CBA, but it happened. It's almost impossible to make a hard cap work.

6) This is a moot point because products are priced on supply and demand not on the input costs of the product, unless the NHLPA makes it mandatory in the CBA. However I think they will opt for a pro-player system before one that is pro-fan.

Again, most fans still believe high ticket prices are the direct result of high salaries, something the league has done nothing to dispel. Hence the reason I think most fans will be in for a helluva shock if the league does achieve its cost certainty goals.

7) No, I beleive that a luxury tax would be the most effective and
effiencient method, however their are a couple of problems. A low threshold like the PA wants would not effectivley change any of the leagues problems, merely keep the very smallest teams afloat. The NHL would agree to a more severe tax but the NHLPA would simply write it off as another salary cap. Therein lies the problem in these negotiations, that the PA wants to continue playing each team against each other in order to get the most for its players.

Again, the PA is willing to negotiate on all their proposals. The league, however, has thus far refused to do so, and given little substantiation as to why a luxury tax system won't work.

I support the owners not because of anything they have said or done, the second proposal the NHLPA made was nearly a year after its first and was a step backward. This says that they aren't really serious about negotiating.

The NHL waited over a year to make six proposals, each of which were only one-page in length and all tied to cost certainty, with nothing to address arbitration, entry-level loopholes and other issues. The PA subsequently made a counter-proposal, but the league has refused to do the same. Tell me again that the PA won't negotiate.

Secondly the NHL provided six proposals not to long ago, now normally the thing to do would be to evaluate each over a time and return with changes or solutions to common problems. At the very least give the image that you are considering the proposals from the other negotiating team, but the NHLPA just dismissed them out of hand.

Wrong. The PA took two of the proposals away to study for a week before rejecting them. The league, on the other hand, studied the PA's first proposal for a whole half-hour before rejecting it and dismissed the second one in even less time.


1. The most obvious answer as to why the NHL will not offer full disclosure of each of the 30 teams' accounting is that they are businesses. The revenue streams of businesses are purposely convoluted so that the owners/shareholders can be shown one set of numbers about revenue and the government another. This probably means that the leavitt report used the revenues shown to the US/Canadian governments, which would be lower than the other figure. If the 30 teams were to allow full and open revenue disclosure, it is possible some owners would face tax evasion charges.

This does NOT mean that the number shown to the shareholders/owners is correct. In actuality, as shown by Enron and others, BOTH numbers are lies.

The only way the league could give individual accounting of each of the 30 teams is if the NHLPA had its own lawyers and accountants work with the leagues to do the audits and all parties would need to be under legal obligation to not reveal the results.

Something we'll never see, hence the reason we're supposed to take the league's word on their losses.

2. The league has been close-mouthed about its proposals (if it has actually made them), so I don't see why they would be straight about this issue, but I cannot see how there could not be a grandfather provision.

Agreed, but teams like the Boston Bruins gutted their roster in anticipation of a flood of talent in the UFA marketplace.

3. See #2

4. The revenue sharing would have to tie into ticket sales and local tv broadcasting. If this will work in the long-term--i.e. will the Rangers have any incentive to bargain for a better TV deal when they only receive 30% of the money from it--will remain to be seen.

That's why I think revenue-sharing as proposed by the league is lip service, and that's why I think the only way small market clubs will get any help is via a luxury tax system.

5. Hire accountants and lawyers to write the new CBA with avoiding such loopholes to be a priority.

Good idea but something I doubt we'll see.

6. None. One of the things I am most angry about is that the owners haven't lowered ticket prices, which are much too high. I think the owners would put themselves in a much better bargaining situation if they lowered prices across the board. How could Goodenow argue that the players aren't the greedy ones if the owners were the only ones giving anything back to the fans (albeit in a small way).

You'd think the owners would do that, if for nothing else than to make themselves look good at the expense of the PA. Ultimately, this issue will come back to bite the owners in the ass.

7. They wont.

8. They can't.
ESPN probably will sign something, but NBC probably wont.
This isn't really a CBA question as much as it is a refereeing question.
There is no immediate solution to the TV exposure problem. The only solution is to limit goalie pad sizes and call every clutch and every grab (note: I am not talking about battles in front of the net). And not just obstruction. Any clutch. Any grab. To the 'purist' who will complain about the lack of physical play, I will challenge you to watch old footage of the 80s Oilers and count the amount of times that some octopus akin to Boston's Hal Gill pins Glenn Anderson into the boards for 30 seconds. Take away the grabbing and the game speeds up. If the game is faster, the X and O style coaching doesn't work as well. If the X and O style coaching isn't working as well, there will be more creativity. With more creativity comes more chaos. With more chaos comes more confusion. With more confusion and more speed comes the opportunity for more big hitting. Eliminating grab-hockey increases the potential scoring and increases the potential hitting, which, along with fighting, make up the three most interesting things hockey has to offer. If hockey is more interesting, more people will watch. If more people watch, the NHL will get better TV deals.

I expect it would take no less than ten years to reverse the damage done by the refereeing (whether it's the referees or the league that choose to call the game the way it is presently called, I don't know).

Excellent point.

9. No. Horrible idea. Teams like St. Louis or Colorado will continue to operate at losses (mortgage the future) for the entire duration of the CBA and attempt to have the "borrowing" system reset at the next CBA. The NHL needs to look more at basketball than football.

The NBA has a luxury tax system and I keep hearing from hockey fans that they work. So why are supporters of the owners insistant such a measure won't work in the NHL?

10. a. Because Bettman is an egomaniac who doesn't listen to any ideas he can't take credit for.
b. Because Bettman has some hidden agenda just like Goodenow has some stupid agenda.

Both men got us into this mess and now it's up to them to get us out. Let's hope they do it before they ruin the league.


Before we being, a quick note: I'll be out of town over the weekend training with my Reserve unit, so the next update to this site will be Monday, November 29th.

To keep you occupied, I've compiled a list of questions that I've asked of several of my readers who've questioned my opinion and/or sanity during this lockout.

These questions will help shed light as to why I believe the players, not the owners, have put forth the best case during this lockout. As always I encourage your feedback, and will respect your opinions, even if you disagree with mine, as long as you respect mine and keep the dialogue civil.

-If the NHL is losing as much money as they claim to be, why won't they make full disclosure of all the teams' finances to prove the point? Be forewarned: before you answer this question, the Levitt Report does NOT provide a detailed audit of each team's finances but rather a summary of the league's overall finances.

- If the NHL does achieve cost certainty, has anyone heard from the league exactly how they'll impose it? Will it be all at once, or phase it in over time?

- Almost half the NHL teams presently have payroll sitting at over $35 million. If the league imposes cost certainty at once, what will they do about the increased number of UFA players who'll have no teams to play for because most teams will be maxed out at the $33 million cap level?

- The NHL claims it wants revenue sharing to ensure all its franchises are financially sound. Considering they lack the substantial revenue streams of more popular sports leagues like the NFL, has anyone heard how they'll achieve this?

- How will the league ensure no team finds creative measures to legally skirt a hard cap (ie. bonus clauses), just as they did with the entry level cap under the previous CBA?

- The Hockey News recently reported that only three of the thirty teams surveyed told the publication they would reduce ticket prices. The president of the Montreal Canadiens told Stan Fischler two months ago that his club wouldn't be lowering their prices. Since many hockey fans believe high salaries equals high ticket costs, what guarantees has the league made to ensure ticket prices will be lowered under cost certainty by the other 26 clubs?

- How will the NHL recoup their broadcasting losses if they lose the entire season to this lockout?

- If the lockout wipes out this season and potentially jeopardizes next season, how will the NHL ensure NBC and ESPN will pick up the option years in their contracts?

- Do you believe the NHL should adopt a salary cap system akin to the NFL's? Be forewarned: this is a trick question! Only respond to this one if you know how the NFL's salary system works.

- If a luxury tax system is "unworkable", why is it the centerpiece of pretty much every proposal made by media observers, including former Bettman lieutenant and Vancouver Canucks GM Brian Burke?

As always, I look forward to your replies. Have a nice weekend, see you all on Monday!


- The numbers of NHL players heading to Europe is over 270 and continues to grow. There are continuing reports that more NHL'ers could be planning to jump across the pond in January once they know for certain the 2004-05 season is cancelled.

Wouldn't surprise me to see that number swell to 400 players before the end of the European hockey season.

You can bet the owners of those European clubs are thrilled over the NHL's stupidity to stage a lockout. They get to make a buck at the expense of the NHL, and European fans get to watch NHL talent live, something that only North Americans fans got to enjoy.

- I understand that many hockey fans are disgruntled over this lockout and are upset at the players, the owners or both. But I roll my eyes whenever I read the following statement, "Let them (the NHL players) stay in Europe! I'll watch the NHL with replacement players!"

Yes, I'm sure you're sincere about that...for now. Hey, you're upset over this situation! As I said, that's perfectly understandable.

But come on now, if the best NHL players continued to ply their craft in Europe while all we got to see was lesser talent dressed in NHL sweaters, that tune would change in a hurry, especially when you'd continue to pay high prices for the privilege.

"Oh, but Spector, the replacement players will be hungrier thus they'll work harder and that energy level will provide us with a better product!"

Don't believe it. "Hungrier" doesn't equal "better".

Remember, the NHL coaches aren't locked out, and most of them are responsible for the dull, plodding defensive trapping hockey that's sucked the life out of the NHL product over the last ten years.

Do you really think replacement players, most of whom would be dropped like a hot potato the minute the real stars come back to work, are going to play a different style than what those NHL coaches demand?

No, they'll be so keen to try to make a good impression that they'll do whatever they're told and will keep their mouths shut.

- For all this talk about replacement players, there is mounting evidence that it'll be easier said than done for the NHL to implement this.

First, labour laws in Quebec and BC prohibit the use of replacement workers. And yes, those laws do apply to pro athletes. There is no exemption based on the amount of money they make. So that means no Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks taking part in a replacement player scheme.

Second, and most importantly, the precedent for preventing a pro sports league from hiring replacement players was set back in 1995, when the Major League Baseball players union successfully obtained an injunction from a US federal court preventing baseball owners from starting up the '95 season with replacement players.

That might be one reason why Gary Bettman and company are considering that only as a "last resort".

- That doesn't mean the work stoppage wouldn't continue. The pessimism regarding a settlement to this lockout in time to save the season continues to grow. More and more players are now adding their voices to those of the media who believe the season is lost.

Detroit Red Wings player rep Manny Legace was the latest to make this claim, claiming the league doesn't want to negotiate.

He's got a point. The league has declined thus far to offer up any alternatives to their proposals from last summer, while the NHLPA made their latest one in September and despite their denials are rumoured to be preparing to make another one later in December.

If the NHL is to buttress their case for a labour impasse, they'll have to make another offer to the NHLPA. Otherwise, their claims of attempting to negotiate in good faith isn't going to fly with the respective labour boards in the United States and the provinces where the six Canadian teams reside.

- I'm writing this while TSN shows the classic Game Seven of the 1979 Wales Conference Final between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.

The "too many men" call is what's remembered from that game, but it takes away from a classic contest between two long-time, bitter rivals. Bruins goalie Gilles Gilbert was brilliant in that game, but it wasn't one of the better games for Habs netminder Ken Dryden, who struggled throughout that match and never looked comfortable.

Bruins captain Wayne Cashman and nifty forward Rick Middleton were outstanding in this game, who did most of the scoring for Boston in this matchup.

But the most eye-catching player in this game was Montreal's Guy Lafleur, who set up two Canadiens goals to tie the game in the third, and when the Bruins took the lead late in the period, capitalized on the "too many men" penalty with one of the hardest shots I've ever seen in a hockey game that sent the game into overtime and Yvon Lambert's series-winner for the Canadiens.

What's also forgotten about this game is that Lafleur nearly won it for Montreal with only seconds left in the period, firing another blistering slapshot - from centre! - that beat Gilbert but went just wide of the left goalpost.

The only complaint about TSN's rebroadcast is they cut a considerable amount of time from the first two periods in order to have "full intermissions" for the talking heads of their hockey crew.

Fortunately, I have a copy of CBC's rebroadcast from 1994. That too was cut down for time, but not as much and nowhere near as bad as the butcher job TSN did.

- Brett Hull recently took a shot at Gary Bettman, laying the blame for the NHL's decline in popularity and the quality of it's on-ice product squarely at the feet of the NHL commissioner.

There's no doubt Bettman deserves his share of the blame, but the owners and players deserve their fair share too.

Bettman has tried on at least three different times since taking over as Commissioner to crack down on obstruction, but each time he and his disciplinary staff tried to do so, they were criticized by some general managers, owners and players for these measures.

Some commentators also had their part in that, complaining how the crackdowns were "interfering with the flow of the game" and insisting "the players should be allowed to set the tone" as loudly as the owners, GMs and players.

And guess what? All that bitching resulted in the abandonment of the "get tough on obstruction" plans, and it was back to business as usual.

Bettman has attempted to introduce some measures to improve the game. Some were adopted, but many others fell by the wayside because of the conservative mindset of the owners and general managers.

How often, after proposals were shot down, did we hear an owner or general manager intone, "we like our game the way it is"? It was more than once, I can assure you.

Yes, Gary Bettman deserves blame for the state of the game, but it's not fair to dump it all on his shoulders. Everyone played their part in ruining the quality of the game over the past ten years.

- Thanks to the Calgary Herald's Bruce Dowbiggin, "here's the Forbes Magazine breakdown of the NHL's Class System:

1. Filthy Rich. These teams own or control their building (often they own
the surrounding real estate, too). They are either owned by or have very close working relationships with their TV partners. Their owners are filthy rich and can run the team as a hobby. The lockout is not relevant for them. Members: Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, Chicago, the Rangers, Detroit, Colorado.

2. Comfortably Rich. The upper-middle class of the NHL with combinations of the Filthy Rich's assets, but not all. Montreal, say, would be in the first
category, but for Quebec's ridiculous taxes. St. Louis, Dallas and L.A. the
same but for wild spending on unproductive free agents. The lockout could help them somewhat, but they don't need it. Members: St. Louis, Columbus, Minnesota, Dallas, Montreal, L.A., San Jose, Vancouver.

3. Middle Class Rich: Each club has one major challenge -- either their
building, TV revenue, Cdn dollar, corporate support -- but can work around it with savvy management and occaisional playoff success. For example, the Islanders need only a new building and creative leadership to escape the Fiscally Challenged doghouse. Calgary has reduced pressure from Cdn dollar, but smaller population base. Buffalo or Florida need a long playoff run. A hard-cap CBA will help these teams, but they're in no real danger long term. Members: New Jersey, Islanders, Ottawa, Buffalo, Washington, Calgary, Tampa Bay, Florida, Phoenix.

4. Fiscally Challenged. These teams have a fatal flaw, either location,
building or population size that make them chronic problems. (Ironically,
they're not the NHL's biggest money losers at the moment.) With no
stalking-horse city willing to pay $80 million for them, they're stuck-- and
so's the NHL. Members: Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Carolina, Atlanta, Anaheim, Nashville.

So there is the Forbes bottom line: Only six teams in real trouble which nohard salary cap can ultimately correct."

Personally, I think this is an accurate breakdown of the status of all 30 NHL clubs, but I'd love to hear your take, dear readers. As always, I'll post your comments in the "Fans Speak Out" section.

-Finally, being part of the "distinct minority" of hockey fans who doubts the NHL's claims of huge losses and believes the NHLPA has made the better proposals for a new CBA, I often received e-mail from readers who disagree with my take on this labour dispute.

I have no problem with those. In fact, I encourage your comments, which I'll post in my "Fans Speak Out" section. I also enjoy debating with you. Even if we don't agree, I can respect your opinion...providing you respect mine.

Most of you who've disagreed with me have been respectful, but naturally there are a few chuckleheads who for some reason seem to believe insulting trash talk, schoolyard taunts or accusations of taking money from the NHLPA as engaging in intelligent debate.

What money I make for my work comes Foxsports and from the advertising on my website. The NHLPA doesn't contribute a single dime.

As comedian Lewis Black once observed about folks who criticized anti-war protestors, "just because someone has a different opinion about the war doesn't mean they're for the other side".

The same thing applies here. Just because I question the NHL's claims and feel the NHLPA has made the better proposals doesn't mean I support the players.

My opinions are supported by hours of research, which I've posted up links to in many of my previous articles. Go here or here or here if you wanna understand where I'm coming from.

Feel free to question or criticize my opinion, but leave the stupid insults and insinuations out of it. I back up my comments and stand by them.


And once again, my counterpoints will be aimed at my colleague and MSG Network hockey analyst, Stan Fischler. As always, my comments are italicized for your protection. Tally-ho!

- The hot buzz among NHL marketing folks is that major changes are in the works for league telecasts. Inspired by the new NBC-TV pact, startling innovations will be featured. One possibility is a strikingly different color to the ice!

Already, NBC people have been conferring with league officials about the soon-to-be streamlined game.

The biggest future rules collision will be over NHL implementation of the Shoot-Out. Conservatives are against it but NBC’s willingness to accommodate Shoot-Out (extra) time could tilt the vote in favor of the innovation.

Hmmmm, very interesting that Stan leads off with "buzz" from NHL marketing over major changes in their NBC league telecasts. Now we can naturally assume that not all the league's folks (or at least those still gainfully employed by the NHL since the imposition of the lockout) are consumed with the labour situation and are still working out how they'll best present their product. To that I say, "kudos!" It's nice to see the league is considering changes to the game in hopes of attracting more US viewers.

However, if the 2004-05 season is supposedly lost, if the league is willing to lose the season to achieve it's aims, and if negotiations between the two sides are at a standstill with no hope of resolution in sight, then it seems rather pointless for the league to be talking with NBC officials about changing the product, doesn't it?

Could this mean the NHL might be angling for a January resolution? Remember, the NBC contract isn't due to kick in until then, meaning that the lost games from October to December won't affect NBC telecasts of NHL games.

Just something to ponder in lieu of news of a breakthrough in this labour stalemate.

A very high NHL power-broker-owner sees no CBA settlement this year “because the two sides are speaking two different languages.” He says the league’s Cost Certainty philosophy has everything to do with enabling small market clubs to compete on an even playing-ice with the biggies.

Well, of course he'd say that: he's a "very high NHL power-broker-owner...emphasis on the "owner" part of the equation. What did we expect him to say? That the league's figures are dubious because they've never made full disclosure? That a luxury tax also enables small market clubs to compete on a more level field with the biggies? That if the NHLPA needs to be more flexible in negotiations, so should the league?

Luxury Tax concepts, as proposed by many “experts,” are out of the question in terms of the league’s position.

Yeah, stupid experts, think they're so big...what do they know? That Brian Burke, what a fool he was to suggest a luxury tax system! I mean, just because he used to be one of Bettman's right-hand men in the last lockout and had tremendous success in turning around the once-moribund Vancouver Canucks, what makes him so smart?

So let's see, a luxury tax system, one with real teeth in it like those proposed by Burke and other "experts", would penalize teams who overspend on salaries by collecting taxes which would then be distributed to the struggling small market clubs like, oh, the Edmonton Oilers, who are one of the few teams who would genuinely deserve it, thus making it possible for them to retain their best players or even (gasp!) bid for big name free agents. And this system is bad how, exactly?

Those who know the NHL workings finger December 20th as the finis date for saving the season. We believe the real drop-dead date was the day two years ago when Bob Goodenow painted himself in a corner, likening a salary cap to the Bubonic plague.

If you haven’t figured the NHLPA negotiating strategy, it’s simple: WAIT! Bob Goodenow still figures the NHL will crack under pressure.

Yes, yes, we know, Stan: Bob Goodenow is the anti-christ. The fact the players have been better served by Goodenow than at any time under his predecessor Alan Eagleson shall continue to go unmentioned. Moving on...

Bill Wirtz’s answer is just as plain: “I know what the problem is. I have to put in the money every year. But if you want my farm, you ain’t going to get it!”

Ho-ho, that's rich coming from Mr. Wirtz. Yes, I'm sure there are Chicago Blackhawks fans out there who remain grateful that he put in the money every year, it's just that they're becoming an endangered species!. After all, that's what kept Bobby Hull, Eddie Belfour, Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios and Steve Sullivan in Chicago, right? That's why the Blackhawks had the sixth lowest payroll but charged the 8th highest ticket prices, right?

To those wondering when there’ll be a new CBA, the test question is: Who’s afraid of the blood? When one side feels so much pain, it can’t continue, a white flag will be raised.

And on that, myself and Mr. Fischler are in agreement. I can't say for certain who's going to "win" but it's likely to be a pyrrhic victory if it's achieved without compromise and concilliation.

And for those who believe Wayne Gretzky can be a factor in a settlement, forget it. There’s nothing The Great One Can Do to help.

Once again, Mr. Fischler and I agree. Gretzky's hands are tied in this one. If he takes a stand against the players, he'll look like a hypocrite and if he goes against the league, he'll be treated with contempt by his fellow owners.

There’s NO doubt that fans overwhelmingly support the owners. A Hockey News’ poll has 40 percent backing the league and only 12 percent with the players. Fans know the score.

And what about the other half of that poll, Stan, that blamed the players and owners equally? We won't go into that, will we? Look, I acknowledge that 40 percent back the league, but a large majority of that percentage are either unaware of the facts or simply don't care and will blame the players regardless. That still doesn't take away the fact that a very large percentage blames both sides equally, and that's a number I expect will increase if the season is lost to a lockout.

Here are the nine words NHLPA leaders want least to hear from card-holders: “What’s wrong with an average salary of $1.3 million?” That’s what the league offer would give players. You’ll soon hear more questions like that from players of brain diseases.

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

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


The editors of The Hockey News recently published an article on the power hockey fans can wield over the National Hockey League.

The editors praise the fans, suggesting they're among "the most influential folks around". While the power of the fans cannot influence the lockout, that power is apparently felt when the games resume.

THN claims the "NHL has poured untold thousands – probably millions – into public relations, including a website and a touring caravan for league brass to explain why their fiscal medicine is going down fans’ throats so sourly.

Why? Because they know what the NHL’s foundation is built on: non-empty seats at their games. And you can’t count on that if you abandon your customers. Why? Because they’ll eventually become somebody else’s customers, that’s why."

So why did the National Hockey League do just that? Why did they abandon their customers by staging this lockout?

If the NHL truly cared what their fan thought, they wouldn't have risked alienating so many of them with this work stoppage. The league has violated the most basic rule of business - stay in business.

By doing so, they've already turned some of their customers off, particularly in the United States, where a Zogby poll indicated 69 percent of sports fans won't tune into the NHL when it returns from this lockout. It would appear this lockout has already forced some of the NHL's customers to become somebody else's customers.

The article goes on to suggest that "fans have the power to change the game more than any other group. Agents can negotiate contracts until they run out of loopholes; players can obstruct one another until they’re blue in the face; and, owners can inflate ticket prices until they burst. But none of it matters in the slightest unless fans pay to see it."

If the fans have so much power to change the game, why hasn't the NHL actually listened to their fans complaints about the deterioration of the on-ice product over the past ten years?

Hockey fans have been complaining for years that there is too much uncalled obstruction passing for "defensive hockey", that the excitement has been sucked out of the game, that there is not enough offensive action, that goaltender equipment is too large, that the game is now too slow.

And what has that gotten us? A crease rule that was ultimately an embarrassment. Moving the nets out from the end boards which only gave goaltenders and defencemen more room to operate, rather than forwards. Several "get tough on obstruction" campaigns that fell by the wayside.

If the league truly cared about what the fans thought, if the fans truly had power, these problems would've been addressed and most if not all would've been rectified. Another basic tenat of business is "the customer is always right". The NHL, however, doesn't seem to believe that one either. They pay lip service to fans complaints but do little, and when criticized for their inaction, say those critics don't understand the game and accuse them of whining.

THN went on the state, "Fans are the ones who buy the league’s endless array of merchandise, the ones who travel hours to attend games, the ones who wolf down nutritionally bereft hot dogs and sodas. They’re the ones suffering the slings and arrows of players’ and owners’ outrageous fortunes. They’re paying for autograph signings, intra-squad workouts and pre-season games."

Why have they been doing so? Because the owners know the fans will do it. They take advantage of the fans love of the sport to overcharge on concessions, parking and above all, tickets.

All those are determined by what each market will bear. Some markets can bear more than others. All, however, can get away with it because the fans are willing to pay for it.

If anything, the prices hockey fans pay to attend NHL games are indicative of the contempt the owners feel for the fans. As I noted a few days ago, the league doesn't give a damn about the fans. All they care about is that they keep paying to plunk their asses down in those tight plastic seats and keep shelling out more money for tasteless concession food.

THN suggests that "Once fans are unwilling to do that any more, teams will fold, interest will further wane and TV ratings will disintegrate as if they were Michael Jackson’s nose. And once they’re gone, there won’t be enough cost-certainty or free markets on earth to bring them back.

Judging by the reaction leading up to the lockout and in the weeks after it was implemented, hockey fans are apparently willing to put up with a lot.

Most fans were apathetic about the possibility of a lockout, and have since merely shrugged their shoulders in the belief things will start back up again in January 2005. According to a THN poll, 71% claim they'll actually come back to watch a league with replacement players.

Of course, those fans are saying that now, before they witness inferior talent playing the same trapping systems that have sucked the life out of the game. They're saying that before having to pay out ridiculously high prices to watch that inferior product.

Maybe this lockout will push the fans over the edge once they realize the season is lost, or that ticket prices won't go down if the league gets its cost certainty or if the league hires replacement players. Maybe the lack of visibility in the US sports market might force American fans to demand more of the NHL.

For now, the league wants the fans on their side because they want them to come back. What reasons they've given to deserve the fans support have yet to be fully explained. Ultimately, it's not about doing right by the fans, but rather, making sure those fans keep paying out to come watch the games.

THN sums up by saying, "So fret not, NHL fans. You may not get the ink that other hockey bigwigs are afforded, but deep down, those bigwigs know who rules the roost. Take a look in the mirror, and you’ll see one of those roost-rulers looking back at you. Then ask yourself the following question: if a sports league returns to action and nobody gives a rat’s behind, does it really return to action at all? The answer: not a chance."

Sorry, THN, but you're way off the mark here. Your comments might make the fans feel good about yourselves, but they don't reflect the reality of the situation.

Yes, NHL fans have power, but unfortunately, too few of them exercise it. Where were the large protests against the lockout - before or since? Where were the boycotts of last spring's playoff games? Or of last September's World Cup of Hockey? Where were the demands for season ticket refunds?

Those were the things that would've grabbed the league's - and the NHLPA's - attention. A mass revolt by the fans would've had a new CBA in place long before October 2004.

But most hockey fans are apathetic. Nothing has aroused righteous anger or frustration to a level that the NHL should be concerned. Believe me, the league definitely wouldn't be engaging in a high-stakes game of chicken with the NHLPA if that anger and frustration meant anything.

But it doesn't mean anything. NHL fans have no power. If they did, not only would there be no stupid lockout, but we'd have seen significant improvements to the game long before now.

Fans with power don't get treated with disrespect. They don't get force-fed endless spinning of the facts. They don't have revenue numbers hidden from them. Their opinions aren't discounted.

The NHL isn't staging this lockout for the good of the game or the good of the fans. They're staging for one purpose: for the good of the owners.

And for the record, the NHLPA is fighting the league for their own self-interests, not those of the fans. At least they've been realistic enough to understand that, no matter what they say, no matter what the facts are, the fans will still see them as the bad guys.

This article will probably piss some of you off. Some of you will probably write me off after this and never return to my website.

Hey, you're entitled to that. Unlike the NHL and NHLPA, I respect your opinion. After all, I'm a fan, just like you.

But the truth hurts, and folks, what I'm writing about is the truth. It ain't pretty and it ain't uplifting, but then in most case, the truth never is.

It's the owners and players world, hockey fans. We just live in it.

And until we actually DO SOMETHING to get the owners and players attention, it'll always be that way.

Remember that the next time you're shelling out all that money for overpriced tickets, concessions and parking.

Remember that the next time you get mad at your favourite team for not shelling out the bucks to retain your favourite player or sign a big name free agent.

If you wanna do something, go sign up with the National Hockey League Fans Association (NHLFA), or sign one of the petitions on my links site. Or start up your own website or weblog to get voice your opinion.

Until you do something, you have no power.


Another week, another prospect of more gloomy news regarding the NHL lockout.

In the two months since the imposition of the lockout on September 16th, the news has grown more depressing. Both sides appear firmly entrenched on their sides of the issues, neither giving ground or even showing a willingness to do so.

There've been no talks between the two sides since September 9th, and when both sides do make comments to the press, it's to slam the other side whilst making themselves appear the aggrieved party.

There appears little hope of a resolution at this point in time.

Still, we really shouldn't be surprised that at this stage there's nothing but doom and gloom to report. At this point, only the first two months of the 2004-05 season have been lost, while games in the future have thus far been cancelled up until late December.

That means both sides have used this time as their respective windows of opportunity to build up their cases, not for the court of public opinion, but for the possibility of going to court to end this labour standoff, one way or the other.

Given the depressing news of the past several weeks, it does appear likely the 2004-05 season could be lost.

Still, it remains possible a resolution could be reached in time to save the season before the unofficial due date period of January 15th, 2005.

The website has an interesting post by a fan named Pinellas, who believes the NHL will return to action in January 2005.

Pinellas suggests neither NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman or NHLPA honcho Bob Goodenow wants to responsible for losing the entire season. He believes both men have more to lose if this standoff kills the 2004-05 season than to gain from such an event.

It could also be argued that neither man wants to be seen as giving in and neither wants to sign a deal that might ultimately work in favour of the other party.

Pinellas makes a better point by claiming Goodenow's last offer - a five percent salary giveback, a luxury tax system, closing bonus loophole in entry level salaries and lowering the cap ceiling for those contracts, plus planned negotiations for revenue sharing and changes in the arbitration system - isn't his "final offer".

As Pinellas notes, "Are we to believe it was Goodenow's best offer? Hardly. Nobody steps up to the plate with a "final" offer right off the bat. It is apparent the players want to play NHL hockey this season, so the onus is on Goodenow to present a plan that will kick-start some serious negotiating."

That would jibe with media rumblings over the past several weeks that Goodenow and the NHLPA executive are preparing another proposal to present to the NHL at some point in December.

A well-placed contact in the NHLPA informed me two week ago the association has no plans to make further proposals, and NHLPA president Trevor Linden last week stated the same, insisting it's up to the league to make the next offer.

Still, one shouldn't rule out the possibility of Goodenow making one last pitch to the league, if for nothing else than to make the NHLPA appear that it's doing everything it can to avoid losing the season.

That being said, the NHL also has to make their case if they are indeed planning on losing the season in order to seek a labour impasse via the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in the United States and the labour boards of the four provinces where the six Canadian teams reside.

NHL Executive VP and Chief Negotiator Bill Daly told the Toronto Sun last week he was prepared to make a seventh proposal to the NHLPA. "All I need is a starting point", said Daly.

If the league continues cancelling games 45 days in advance, it will soon be running out of time to make another proposal to the NHLPA and thus buttressing their case for the labour boards.

In order to achieve a labour impasse, the NHL braintrust must prove that they did everything they could to avoid shutting down the season. It's up to the league to prove they tried to negotiate in good faith with the NHLPA.

As the Hockey Rodent noted in his recent three part article, "Pendulum", the NHL will have to make another proposal, even a token one, in order to build up their case. Remember, it was the NHLPA who made the last proposal, which was summarily rejected by the league.

If they don't make at least one more proposal to the association before late December 2004, it will appear in the eyes of the NLRB and the provincial labour boards that the NHL didn't attempt to bargain with the NHLPA to end the lockout.

It's possible, however, that the threat of replacement players is only an empty one.

As David Shoalts of the Toronto Globe and Mail observed last week, if the league unillaterally declares an impasse, the NHLPA will immediately file an unfair labour practices complaint with the NLRB to stop the league from starting up with replacement players. That's just what the Major League Baseball players union successfully did back in 1995.

Should the NLRB side with the NHLPA as they did with the baseball players, the lockout would continue.

Shoalts notes that the NLRB "tend to be unsympathetic to the owners in these cases." If the NHL sticks to its guns and refuses to make any new proposals, it could jeopardize their plans for an impasse.

More significantly, Shoalts points out labour laws in the provinces of Quebec and British Columbia prohibits the use of replacement workers. Make no mistake, when it comes to labour laws, NHL players are considered "employees" and "workers" even though many of them make millions of dollars.

That means the Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks wouldn't be a part of an NHL stocked with replacement players. Even if the NLRB ruled in favour of the league, if the labour boards of Alberta and Ontario also decided against the NHL, the league would face the embarrassment of having all their Canadian franchises sidelined, thus robbing the league of their most devoted fan base.

There's another factor, however, which the Rodent touched on this past weekend, that could also come into play: television.

NBC signed a two-year contract with the NHL earlier this year. It's nowhere near the $600 million deal the league had with ABC and ESPN, but rather a revenue sharing deal that will be worth far less.

That contract is set to start in January 2005, when NBC will "televise seven regular-season games and six Stanley Cup playoff games in regular Saturday afternoon time slots. In addition, NBC will broadcast Games 3-7 of the Stanley Cup final. ESPN will have the first two games of the final."

As Pierre Lebrun of the Canadian Press noted when the deal was annouced, for the NHL to make money on this contract with NBC, they need their US television ratings to improve.

The NHL also signed a one-year deal with ESPN worth $60 million US for the 2004-05 season, where the US sportsnetwork would air forty games on ESPN2.

The bulk of those games would've been broadcast after December 2004 If the NHL season were to begin in January 2005, they wouldn't lose most of the games set to be televised on "The Deuce".

What better way for the NHL to show an improvement in ratings compared to last season if they were to end the lockout and return to action by January 2005. Die-hard US hockey fans, like their Canadian brethren, would flock to their TV screens, having been starved for NHL action since October.

More importantly, the NHL cannot afford to lose whatever television dollars and viewership they have in the United States. As bad as their TV ratings have been in recent years, they're at least still being televised by a major US television network, and still having forty games shown by ESPN.

If the league were to lose the 2004-05 season, it would strike a serious blow to re-signing a new deal with NBC. Good luck getting a new TV deal from another major network. Fox and ABC aren't going to be interested, having already found the NHL product to be wanting in the US television market. CBS won't be interested if their three rivals tried the NHL product and dumped it.

As for ESPN, they probably won't dump the NHL from their schedule, but you can bet they'd not only reduce their telecasts of NHL games from forty, but they'd likely only televise those games once a week.

Surely Gary Bettman and the owners aren't willing to jeopardize their tenuous television contracts and risk possible humilation in the labour courts just to bring the NHLPA to heel?

We'll find out soon enough.


Whenever this stupid posturing between the NHL and the NHLPA finally comes to a close and the league starts up again, there will still be a serious issue that must be addressed if the NHL is to move forward.

For the past ten years, the quality of the on-ice product has deteriorated noticeably. That in turn has led to half-empty arenas in some cities, and a definite drop in the NHL's television ratings in the United States.

When this game is played the way it's meant to be played, it is the most exciting, fast-paced, action-packed sport on the planet. The problem, of course, is that it hasn't been played that way for a very long time.

Regardless of which side emerges victorious in this labour dispute, the quality of the game must be improved if the National Hockey League is to become what its front office envisioned when it followed its expansion policy of the last decade.

The NHL brass acknowledges the product needs improvement and several times in the last decade have experimented with different concepts. Unfortunately, their tinkering either blew up in their faces (the crease rule), improved nothing (moving the nets out from the end boards) or dissolved under protests from "traditionalists" (every attempt to crack down on uncalled obstruction).

Many who follow the sports, either as reporters or fans, have ideas as to how to improve the game, and I'd like to take the opportunity today to give my two cents. I believe my proposals would bring excitement back to the game, increase scoring, and eliminate undesirable by-products that have harmed the game in recent years.

As always, I encourage your feedback.

1. Either widen the ice surfaces to international size or eliminate the red line.

One of the reasons scoring is down is there is less room for players to maneuver, partly because of the increase in size and speed of the players and partly because of uncalled obstruction masquerading as defence.

Widening the ice surface would give players more room, but given the cost of widening, that probably isn't going to happen. A cheaper alternative would be removing the centre red line, which was introduced during World War II by the league to keep scoring under control. Seems the NHL was concerned back then that with so many of their best players serving overseas, scoring would be artificially inflated thus watering down the product.

Last time I checked, WWII ended nearly 60 years ago. The red line is an archaic rule that no longer applies to the NHL. Critics will say that will force teams to employ a "1-4" defensive system, as was noted in The Hockey News' "Great Debates" issue, citing Slovakia and Germany employing that system in the World Cup.

But if memory serves me correctly, neither team got very far in the World Cup, or in the Olympics for that matter, using that system. Better teams will shred that system.

Put another way, either widening the ice surface or eliminating the red line is better than keeping things the way they are.

2. Eliminate fighting.

Now before some of you start sending me angry e-mails accusing me of being a pansy-poo, understand that I enjoy a good hockey fight as much as the next person. Even dropped the gloves a few times in my younger days.

That being said, the NHL has a serious image problem. Whenever you ask a sports fan in the United States who doesn't follow the game very often to picture a hockey game, in most cases they think of fighting.

One of the late Rodney Dangerfield's most famous jokes was "the other night I went to a boxing match and a hockey game broke out". When your game is reduced to a one-liner, you've got an image problem.

Put simply, it's time for the game to grow up. Yes, when we were kids or teenagers or even young adults, we'd get into fist-fights sometimes. But as we gain maturity and wisdom over time, most of us understand that fighting isn't a solution.

Hockey doesn't need fighting to put butts in the seats. The game itself, when played the way it was meant to be played, will take care of that. I'd rather watch a pretty scoring play, an outstanding save or a hard, clean open ice hit than two guys doffing their gloves to chuck knuckles. The game simply doesn't need it anymore.

3. Stiffer penalties for stick fouls.

Of course, once you eliminate fighting, you'll see an increase in the number of stick fouls. Thanks to the current instigator rule, players have become more careless with their sticks.

I propose five-minute penalties for high-sticking, slashing and cross-checking. If a player is injured, that's an automatic game misconduct and a $5, 000.00 fine. The incident would also be reviewed post-game to determine if more punishment is required.

Watch how fast the number of stick fouls decreases.

Granted, there will always be accidental stick fouls. That's part of the game and you can't eliminate that, but if players are aware they're going to be punished severely for being careless with their sticks, they're going to keep them down more often, which in turn means we won't see as much accidental stick fouls.

4. Crack down on obstruction.

I'm fed up with players using hooking, holding, and interference as defensive tactics. This has gone on far too long and is in my opinion the main reason why the offensive life has been sucked out of the NHL product.

Obstruction must be called according to the rule book. Period. And no amount of complaining is going to change it. The rule book is there for a reason and it must be enforced.

Once the players get used to that and understand what will be called, you'll see the number of obstruction infractions drop significantly over time.

5. Shaddap and play hockey!

That leads to my next point: the constant bitching and whining by players and coaches at the officials who call penalties on them. I don't care if you're the best player in the game or the worst one. I don't care if you're the greatest coach or the most incompetent. When the official makes the call, accept the punishment and keep your pie-hole shut!

To enforce that rule, any player who mouths off at the officials when called for an infraction should get slapped with a five-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Same for the coaches. If they wanna complain they can do it after the game, not through the media, but by launching a formal protest through the league's front office. Those who carp via the media at the officiating faces suspension and fines.

Like I said before, shaddap and play hockey! This ain't about you, sunshine, it's about the game.

6. Reduce goaltender equipment.

Now before any of you goalies out there go off on me, let me give you a little insight. As a kid, my favourite player was Montreal Canadiens goaltender Ken Dryden. Thus, throughout the 1970s, I too was a goaltender.

Back then, we goalies didn't have the Michelin Man sized equipment that the netminders have today. I remember only too well how heavy that equipment back then would get when it got sweat-soaked as a game progressed, but I also remember that it didn't limit my ability to block shots, and I always felt safe wearing that equipment. Apart from the occasional bruise, I was never seriously hurt.

Now I'm not suggesting today's goalies go back to wearing that type of equipment, but I am suggesting that, given today's technology, they can surely be fitted out with smaller equipment that will do the job of protecting them just as effectively as their overblown gear.

One of the reasons scoring is down is because the goalie equipment is so huge. It's gone beyond being a protective issue. That has to be changed.

Besides, we keep hearing that it's not the equipment but the improved athleticism of today's netminders that makes the difference. If that's so, then their argument against reducing equipment is pointless.

No goalie can honestly say that they need the overblown equipment they have today. As former NHL goaltender and now-commentator John Davidson said, the equipment is now being made to block shots, rather than protect the goaltender, which was the original intent.

7. Tie games to be decided via shootout.

First of all, I wouldn't allow teams to get a point if a game is tied after regulation time has expired. I'd also still allow the five minute four-on-four overtime period.

But if it's not settled by then, then we have a five-player per side shootout to decide the winner. That would prevent teams from "coasting" through the overtime or playing for the tie.

One of the most exciting things in the game is the penalty shot. So what's wrong with using it to settle regular season games.

Note that I said regular season games. I wouldn't want to see it employed during the playoffs, since no ties are allowed in the post-season and teams give their all to win those games in unlimited overtime.

Some will argue that they wouldn't want their team to risk being eliminated from a playoff spot via a shootout, to which I counter, then that team should've played better throughout the season. If a team puts itself in the position of being eliminated from a playoff spot due to a shootout, they only have themselves to blame for that.

8. An eye for an eye.

By that I mean, if a player deliberately injures another player, he'll be suspended, not just for a set amount of games, but for the entire length of time the player he injured is sidelined.

Part of the reason why injuries are on the rise in the NHL, particularly concussion injuries, is there is little respect between the players. Watch an NHL game and you see players automatically raising either their sticks or elbows when they're about to check an opponent.

I earlier addressed how stricter enforcement of the rulebook would keep players in line, but you're still going to have a small group of players who have little regard for the rules. There are even times when a player might lose their cool in the heat of the action and do something they wouldn't ordinarily do.

Hence my "eye for an eye" policy. If the players understand going in that they face being sidelined for an indefinite period of time should they deliberately injure an opponent, they're going to be far less likely to do so.

Obviously you can't stop 'em all, and that's another reason why I'd want this policy in place, as it would make examples of those who do play with a careless regard toward their opponents.

This rule would not be enforced during the game, as that player would already be kicked out of the game for deliberate attempt to injury, but following a review of the infraction by the league disciplinarian. That should address any qualms about accidental injuries.

9. Raise the draft age to 20.

There is no reason to be drafting 18 year old kids who have yet to fully finish growing physically and developing their skills. Of all 18 year olds who get drafted, barely a handful make it to the NHL immediately after being drafted.

Not every kid is Bobby Orr or Mario Lemieux or Eric Lindros, yet too often we've seen youngsters brought up to the NHL far too early. As a result, their development was either delayed (Joe Thornton, Vincent Lecavalier) or ruined altogether (Pat Falloon, Alexandre Daigle, as noted by THN's "Great Debates").

There's a reason why most who get drafted usually don't make the NHL until they're in the early twenties. They need time to mature, both mentally and physically.

It'll also save the NHL millions of dollars that are too often wasted on scouting kids who haven't yet fully developed.

10. Reduce both the regular season and playoff schedules.

Another reason for the rise in injuries is the insane length of the regular season and playoff schedules. Too often we're seeing teams go through periods where they're playing three regular season games in four nights, or five games in seven nights. The human body isn't meant to handle that much wear and tear.

Not only does that leave players open to serious injury, but the fatigue factors limits their ability. Too often we've seen teams look as though they're going through the motions on the last game of a "three in four" or "five in seven" stretch. That's because, quite frankly, they've got nothing left.

And let's face facts, the regular season is just too damn long. The hockey season shouldn't be starting until late October at the earliest and should be finished up by mid-to-late March. I propose reducing the schedule from 82 games down to 70.

The playoff schedule is also far too long. As with the regular season schedule, it was set up not to give the fans more hockey to enjoy, but for the team owners to generate more revenue.

I propose the first round of the playoffs be a best-of-three format, the second and third rounds to be a best-of-five, leaving only the Finals as a best-of-seven.

Granted, there will be folks who'll counter that this wouldn't give teams a chance to "rally back" as they would under a seven-game format. I believe, however, that it'll further improve the quality of the postseason. The games will be far more intense under a best of three and best of five format, as it would leave clubs little room for error. It would also generate even more excitement, and that's what is seriously lacking in today's NHL.

This format would ensure that the playoffs would be completed by early May, instead of mid-June which we see today. It would save wear and tear on the players, meaning it would extend their careers, and also ensure that we'd see top-flight hockey during a reasonable period of time, rather than the long, boring seasons we've been subjected to for too long.


In The Hockey News' "Great Debates" special issue, there's a chapter entitled, "The Bests", in which, of course, various topics such as "best player, best goaltender, etc" are discussed.

It reminded me of my own "personal best" list that I compiled five years ago as 1999 was winding down. At the time, various sports networks conducted reviews of the century and their greatest teams, players, coaches, etc of various sports.

That naturally inspired me to come out with a list of what I consider to be hockey's best. This list comes with a twist. I do not believe I'm qualified to list the all time best of the century, as I was not around to see just how great players and teams were before 1970, which is when I began following hockey, so I decided to base my list from that year onward.

I recently re-read that compilation and found my opinions hadn't changed since I first put it together five years ago. As this is one of those days when I need a break from writing about the lockout, and since I drew further inspiration from THN's "Great Debates" issue, I decided to post it up again.

Remember that this is based on personal opinion, so I'm sure there will be those of you out there with your own strong opinions. I encourage your feed-back, which I'll post in my "Fans Speak Out" section. Remember to keep them clean, as this is a family page. Now, on with the list...

GREATEST TEAM (season): Montreal Canadiens 1976-77. There can be no question or debate. This Habs club was the greatest team I have ever seen. The lineup consisted of eleven future Hall of Famers: Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Jacques Lemaire, Yvan Cournoyer, Ken Dryden, Bob Gainey, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, head coach Scotty Bowman and GM Sam Pollock. No NHL team, before or since, has dominated a single season the way the Habs did that year. Lafleur won the Art Ross, Conn Smythe and Hart Trophies. Larry Robinson the Norris. Dryden the Vezina. Bowman the Jack Adams trophy. The team was first overall, setting a record 60 wins and only 8 losses. Oh yeah, they won the Cup too, with the only real opposition coming from an up-and-coming dynasty from Long Island that post-season. Yes, the Red Wings won more games in 1996, but it took them more games to do it and besides, they didn't dominate like the Habs did that year. There's been no club since then that's come close to what the Canadiens did that year.

GREATEST DYNASTY SINCE 1970: Montreal Canadiens (1976-1979). I'm sure this will upset fans of the New York Islanders, who'll argue their club won more playoff rounds and went to the finals more than the Canadiens did. However, the amount of playoff rounds won is a deceiving figure. In the late seventies, the top teams in their respective divisions earned a "bye" from first round action. How can anyone honestly state the Habs powerhouse of the late seventies would be tripped up in a best of three opening series round? Laughable! It's not the Canadiens fault they were so good they earned a bye each time. Besides, compare the individual awards plus thefirst and second all-star team selections from both teams. It's no contest. The Canadiens were far more dominating in their prime than the Islanders were in theirs. Look at who the Canadiens faced in the Cup finals. The defending champion Flyers in 1976. A tough, hard-working Bruins squad in 1977 and 1978. Only the New York Rangers in 1979 could be considered pushovers. By comparison, the Islanders had the tough Flyers in 1980 and the rising Oilers in 1983. Sandwiched in between were two overmatched squads, Minnesota in 1981 and Vancouver in 1982. Finally, you never saw the Canadiens pushed to the brink of early elimination by a club the calibre of the Penguins in 1982 the way the Islanders were.

GREATEST TEAM OF THE 1970s. Montreal Canadiens. Six Stanley Cups, plus everything else I noted above. Nuff said.

GREATEST TEAM OF THE 1980s. New York Islanders. I'm sure Edmonton Oilers fans will disagree, but a true dynasty doesn't get derailed by overconfidence like the Oilers did in 1986. The Islanders of the early 80s had great stars, with future Hall of Famers Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies and Billy Smith in the lineup, plus head coach Al Arbour and GM Bill Torrey. However, the Islanders were a different kind of dynasty, one that focussed on togetherness as a team. Individual accolades weren't as numerous for the Isles, but they were able to get quality performances out of every one of their players whenever they needed it most. Players like Butch Goring, John Tonnelli and Bob Nystrom were the epitome of this style. That's why they won four straight Stanley Cups: they knew hard work, determination and the desire to succeed in the face of injuries, age and fatigue won championships.

GREATEST TEAM OF THE 1990's. Detroit Red Wings. Although they won their two Stanley Cups in the late 90s, the Wings were the dominant force in the NHL throughout the decade. It took years of growing pains, due to early playoff exits, to mould themselves into Cup champions. In the end, it was worth it to long-suffering Wings fans. Although the talent had been there in Detroit since the late 1980s, it took Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman to turn it into a winner. Led by stars like Steve Yzerman, Sergei Federov, Niklas Lidstrom and Brenden Shanahan, and aided by a strong supporting cast, the Wings were without a doubt the best team of this decade. They were a shining example of perserverence, consistency and success, something very difficult to maintain given the increasing parity amongst NHL clubs today.

GREATEST COACH: Scotty Bowman. Five Stanley Cups with the 1970s Canadiens. One with the Penguins of the early 1990s. Two with the Detroit Red Wings in the latter part of the 1990s. What more needs to be said. The man is the winningest coach in NHL history, and been successful over three decades despite the changes in the NHL from his days with the Blues in the late Sixties. Bowman is far and away the best coach of the past thirty years. (Spector's Note: Add in his last, and record-setting, Cup championship in 2002, and that adds to his lustre).

GREATEST PLAYER: Wayne Gretzky. The man owns over 56 NHL records. It'll be years before at least half of them will be matched or broken. Some may never be broken. The game is noticeably different without him now. His twenty NHL seasons made him seem like he was always around, yet it still felt too soon when he retired. Gretzky wasn't the best all round player, and most who sing his praise forget he had his own human imperfections, too. However, he was, and is, the greatest ambassador the game has ever had. Gretzky is now the standard by which all future players will be measured. Whoever breaks his records is going to be one heck of a hockey player. What more can be said that hasn't already been said?

MOST EXCITING PLAYER: Guy Lafleur. Gretzky's game was based on angles and his ability to disappear and reappear throughout the flow of the game like a magician. Lemieux's size and grace made him appear slower than he really was. Orr could match Lafleur's end-to-end speed, but not his stickhandling wizardry or laser like shot. The Flower was a player whom you always knew where he was when he was on the ice. He's the only player I've ever seen that, whenever he did one of his patented end-to-end rushes, could lift the crowd with him with each stride. In his prime, you knew something special was going to happen each time he touched the puck. Lafleur was pure dazzling energy and speed. As Red Fisher once said, the most exciting sight in hockey was Lafleur in full flight, his blond hair streaming in the breeze created by his own momentum. There hasn't been another like him since.

MOST DURABLE: Gordie Howe. What can you say about a player who started his professional career in 1946 and ended it in 1980? Howe, along with Bobby Hull, also gave the WHA credibility. At 52, Mr. Hockey did nothing to embarrass himself, playing better than half the players in the NHL who were half his age. Today, we consider it amazing when a player is still around at forty. We may never see another who lasted as long, and played with such distinction, as Howe.

GREATEST DEFENCEMAN: Bobby Orr. The man who changed the role of defencemen in the NHL forever. Those who've followed, from Denis Potvin to Larry Robinson to Paul Coffey to Chris Chelios to Al MacInnis to Chris Pronger, owe a huge debt of gratitude to Boston's number 4. Some of Orr's records have since been broken, but none of those who broke those records come close in comparison. To this day, there's not been a defenceman who can match Orr's 8 Norris Trophies, 3 Hart Trophies, 2 Conn Smythe Trophies and 2 Art Ross trophies. It could be another century before another one comes along who can match it.

GREATEST GOALTENDER: Ken Dryden. In his eight year career, Dryden won the Conn Smythe, the Calder, and was a five time Vezina winner who played on six Cup championships. It took Patrick Roy over ten years to match Dryden's record for playoff victories. No goaltender has accomplished so much in so short a span of time as Dryden did. There are those who say he was simply fortunate to have such a great team in front of him in the late 1970s, but to a man, every one associated with the Canadiens dynasty of that time period assert it never could have happened without Dryden. Bryan Trottier of the Islanders said that, if you could get past the Canadiens checking forwards, then "the trees" of Robinson, Savard and Lapointe, you had to face Dryden, which was even more daunting. He maintained the same intense level of focus whether he faced forty shots or fourteen.

GREATEST GM: Sam Pollock. From 1963 to 1978, he was the architect of ten Stanley Cup champions. Whether he was fleecing an expansion club by trading veterans for a first round pick, which became Lafleur; swapping draft picks to land the player he wanted (Bob Gainey); or picking up promising youngsters throughout the lower levels of the draft, Pollock was undoubtedly the best judge of skilled talent the NHL has ever seen. He was shrewd enough to surround himself with the best staff he could find (Bowman as head coach; Al MacNeil coaching the farm club), and maintained a strong development system through the Nova Scotia Voyageurs of the AHL. Other GMs, like Bill Torrey, Glen Sather, and Craig Patrick, have seen their fortunes rise and fall. None have had the amazing success of "Sad Sam".

GREATEST SERIES: Summit Series 1972. The world of professional hockey was forever changed in September, 1972, when a team made up of the NHL's best - all-Canadian back then - squared off against a squad of unknown Soviet players in an eight game series. When it was finished, Team Canada emerged victorious after a month-long rollercoaster ride of emotion, but its eyes were opened wide to what the best European talent had to offer. It would spark a period of self-examination and improvement in the way the game was played.

GREATEST GAME: Game Eight Summit Series 1972. Team Canada, after being shocked by the Soviets in the first four games of the series, had managed to claw back into it and make the final game of the series the deciding one. It was filled with tension, high drama, back-and-forth action, ugly clashes between players and officials, the hopes of two countries, and a thrilling, last-minute ending. If you had written this series as a movie script, you still couldn't match the real-life emotions that went into it. Ken Dryden summed it up best when he said that nothing had ever brought him so low, and nothing had ever brought him so high.

GREATEST GOAL: Paul Henderson. Game Eight. Summit Series 1972. "Cournoyer has it on that wing...HERE'S A SHOT!...Henderson made a wild stab for it and fell...Here's another shot! Right in front! THEY SCOOOORREE! HENDERSON...HAS SCORED FOR CANADA!" When I saw that goal, as a nine-year old boy in my living room, I leaped so high into the air, I literally hit the ceiling in our house. I've seen many thrilling, exciting, last-second, sudden-death goals before and since - Orr's Cup clinching flight in overtime in 1970; Lafleur's last minute rescue of the Habs in Game 7 against the Bruins in 1979; Bob Nystrom's OT Cup winner in 1980 for the Islanders; Mario Lemieux's series winner against the Soviets in the 1987 Canada Cup. But none have had the drama, the thrill and the excitement of Henderson's goal. It won the Summit Series for Canada. It was the greatest goal ever scored. Period.

GREATEST UPSET. Team USA/Team USSR. Lake Placid. 1980. Speaking of movies scripts, if you tried to pitch a story about a bunch of American college kids defeating the greatest hockey team in Olympic history, it would probably be dismissed as too hokey. But it actually happened, and the fact it was a bunch of US college kids that upset the great Soviet squad in the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games was truly a "miracle on ice". What was more special was what it did for the United States as a country. America was going through a troubled, self-doubting period at that time. Their Olympic hockey team's triumph in the face of long odds helped heal the nation's wounded pride. Team USA also inspired renewed interest in hockey in the United States, which has led to the increasing growth of American-born talent in today's NHL.

GREATEST CAPTAIN: Bobby Clarke. Why Clarke? Consider the fact that his Philadelphia Flyers of the 1970s were not as deep in talent as the great Bruins and Canadiens clubs of the 1970s; the Islanders and Oilers of the 1980s; nor the Penguins and Red Wings of the 1990s. Yet from 1973 to 1976, the Flyers were consistently among the best teams in the NHL, became the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup in 1974, then bucked the odds and won it again in 1975. Yes, they were brash and brawling. Yes, they had a great goaltender in Bernie Parent and shrewd coaching in Fred Shero. But the Flyers wouldn't have achieved even one Cup victory without Bobby Clarke. He led by example, refusing to use his diabetes as a crutch, and gave his all in every shift in every game. Shero once called him "a dream dressed in work clothes". He exhorted, browbeat, cajoled, threatened, and cheered on his teammates, bonding an average bunch into champions. His was the greatest example of leadership by a team captain I've ever seen.

MOST INSPIRATIONAL MOMENT: Mark Messier, Game Six, Devils/Rangers, 1994. There are times when a leader becomes legend due to one moment in time, when words backed by deeds can change the course of a game or series. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the 1994 Eastern Conference finals between the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers. Down 3 games to 2, with the next game to be played on the Devils home ice, Messier told the New York media "we will win Game Six!". Not since Joe Namath in the 1969 Super Bowl, or Muhammad Ali in the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle, had an athlete made so bold a statement with so much on the line. Messier did more than "talk the talk", he also "walked the walk" by scoring three goals and sending the series back to New York for Game Seven and Stephane Matteau's OT heroics. The Rangers would go on to win the Cup, and Messier went on to secure his place in hockey history as "Captain Courageous".

GREATEST FRANCHISE PLAYER: Mario Lemieux. Bobby Orr did turn around a moribund Boston Bruins team, but that club was never in danger of folding or moving. The Pittsburgh Penguins were by 1984 always in danger of this happening, until they drafted Quebec sensation Mario Lemieux. The Magnificent One not only saved the Penguins, he would lead them to the promised land of the Stanley Cup within seven years of his first game with the franchise. It helped, of course, that the team had the good sense to hired Craig Patrick as GM, Bob Johnson as coach and Scotty Bowman as director of player personnnel and, later, head coach. They surrounded Super Mario with a tremendous supporting cast and developed them into champions. But without Lemieux, none of it would have been possible. Even in retirement, Lemieux saved his former club once again, by purchasing it as a part-owner.

GREATEST ARENA: Montreal Forum. It was the mecca of hockey. So much history took place within that building. The tragic end of theStratford Streak, Howie Morenz, and his heartbreaking send-off. The Rocket's red glare. Beliveau's class and grace. Plante re-defining the art of goaltending. Dryden's trademark stance. Lafleur's dazzling brilliance. Roy's "Horatio at the gates" heroics and controversial last game. Stanley Cup victories. Canada Cup tournaments. "Forum ghosts" jinxing opposing teams. Twenty four championship banners hanging from the rafters and the words from a World War I poem as inspiration on the dressing room wall. Closed due to the constantly changing financial situation of the 1990s' game, the Canadiens seem to have lost something since they left the Forum. Some intangible that hasn't carried over to it's new, cookie-cutter, "state-of-the-art" arena. Is it any wonder the Forum's closure was such an emotional night for Montreal fans? This was no simple building or arena. This was a physical touchstone to past glory.

GREATEST FANS: Their team last won a championship in 1967. It's been even longer since their club was first overall in the standings. They've suffered through decades of sub-par performances. They've seen promising teams that appeared only a player or two away from greatness fragment, their promise unfulfilled. They've seen great players give their all for what ultimately became lost causes before being dealt away, shells of their former selves. They've been humilated by an arrogant, greedy owner who sucked the life out of Maple Leaf Gardens in his quest for profits; who laughed at and taunted them for being suckers by continuing to come out and support such pathetic on-ice talent year after year with no sign of improvement ahead. Through it all, fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs continue to support their franchise. Their hopes have been cruelly dashed so often over the past three decades that one can't help but hope their team's current success will finally end the misery and bring a Stanley Cup back to their long-suffering fans. What has kept Leafs fans supporting their team through all the dark times? Nothing more than love of a team. They may not be the most vocal, the most animated, the most fanatical, the most belligerent or arrogant. But they are the most faithful, and an inspiration to those who follow a sports team.


It's probably too early to be making predictions as to what the NHL will look whenever it finally returns to action, but I'm not really in the mood to re-hash the recent lockout happenings. Besides, it'll be fun to look back on these in a few years and either marvel at the accuracy of my predictions or shake my head at how far off I was.

If the NHL wins and achieves its cost certainty, the best players will still get the top salaries, although they aren't likely to be quite as high as they were in the past. Those costs, however, will come at the expense of the lower paid players, who'll find their salaries drastically reduced.

As well, we'll see some or all of the big market clubs employing the clever use of bonus and incentive clauses to skirt the hard cap, now revealed to actually be $33 million US instead of $31 million as previously published. Technically, they'll be under that cap limit, but in reality, they'll be over it by a substantial amount.

The league can expect a challenge from either European leagues or a "superleague" within the next ten years. Keeping payrolls under $33 million means European teams will have the opportunity to make competitive bids for free agent NHL talent, particularly European-born.

If the NHLPA wins out, big market teams will continue to have the biggest payrolls, although the luxury tax will curb them to a degree and benefit smaller market clubs.

Still, I expect the big market franchises will do all they can to minimize the impact of a luxury tax. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they fight it tooth and nail before accepting a watered-down version.

The arbitration system will finally balance out, giving teams a fair chances of signing players to the raises they want to pay, rather than those awarded in the middle ground by an arbiter.

The players five percent salary giveback will help pay down the league's debt, but on it's own won't eliminate it. As a one time giveback, it'll only work for one season.

Contrary to the NHL's claims, a victory by the NHLPA won't be the end of the league. Most of the teams will survive as they would under cost certainty, just as a handful of clubs will struggle to get by.

Regardless of which side wins, don't expect a long-term reduction in ticket prices. Some teams will drop ticket prices in the first season or two, but most won't. The average price of tickets will eventually rise back to what they were prior to the lockout, and in fact will continue to increase, to the consternation of the fans.

NBC will not renew their contract with the NHL, and the league will face being without a national US television contract, save for ESPN, which has essentially banished the NHL from their prime time schedules in favour of poker tournaments.

The on-ice product will continue to suck. The league has spent the past ten years talking about improving the game, but have actually taken little action in addressing their problems. Expect more forums on how to make the game better, with perhaps a grudging acceptance of no-touch icing and a minimal reduction in goaltender equipment. Don't expect much in terms of radical change.

Salaries will be reduced, but not to the level of 53% as sought by the league. I'd expect a reasonable compromise somewhere between 60-65% of revenues.

Teams who claimed to need cost certainty as their salvation won't see much of a change. Their payrolls are already at or under $33 million in player salaries anyway so there is no difference.

Revenue sharing will do little to help those clubs because the NHL won't be bold enough to put into place a system similar to that of the NFL. The big market teams will fight revenue sharing and in doing so will emasculate whatever plan the league finally put into place.

While a luxury tax guarantees small market clubs will get some much-needed financial aid, it is unlikely to be enough to save all of the six teams struggling to make a go of it. As with revenue sharing, the big market clubs will do as much as they can to limit the impact of such a tax on their spending.

A couple of clubs might be sold to owners committed to retaining their franchises in their current cities, such as the Edmonton Oilers. A few others, however, could face the possibility of either relocation or contraction as the full reality finally hits that the NHL grew too large and cannot fully sustain 30 markets.

Carolina will continue to lose money and fan support unless the franchise can start icing a playoff contender on a regular basis. The NY Islanders will continue to be listed amongst the "have-nots" as long as it plays in their ancient arena. Without help from state gambling revenues, the Pittsburgh Penguins will also struggle.

Finally, regardless of which side wins, if the 2004-05 season is lost to the lockout, the league will be faced with a reduction in its fanbase. Given the unaddressed problems with its product prior to the lockout, and the league's inability to properly address them in conjunction with their players association, it could be a loss they may never fully recover from, especially in the United States.


- See, I told you nothing would emerge from yesterday's meeting between the NHLPA braintrust and the player agents to create any changes to the lockout situation.

Sure, some of the agents had questions, and undoubtedly some had concerns over the lockout situation, but in the end, the agents, or at least a majority of them, are standing by their players.

There was some hope that the agents, standing to lose millions if the lockout lasted an entire season, might put pressure on NHLPA honcho Bob Goodenow to return to the bargaining table.

Ultimately, the agents believe their clients have made concessions and shown a willingness to negotiate.

Sure, some critics like Stan Fischler will chide the agents for not "standing up to Goodenow", but the reality is, powerful agents like Don Meehan support what the NHLPA, and his clients, are doing.

If the agents truly felt a need to speak out, they would've done long ago, and they wouldn't have hidden behind the "unnamed agent" tag to do so.

I'm sure some of them are working with moderate owners and NHLPA members to try to get both sides back to the bargaining table, but they're not about to rock the boat publicly to do so.

- Ah, but could there possibly be a new proposal coming from the NHLPA? NHL Executive VP Bill Daly claims he's heard rumblings of something like that happening, but according to him it likely won't come until their meeting next month.

Daly isn't the only one hearing "rumblings" as I've heard a few myself in recent weeks.

So to get clarification, I spoke to a well-placed source in the NHLPA (and no, it's not the janitor!) last week, who claims there are no new proposals coming from them.

Still, I wouldn't rule out the possibility that the players could make one final proposal as the supposed "deadline" for saving the season (believed to be sometime in mid-to-late December) approaches.

That would certainly tie in with Goodenow's modus operandi. He's an "11th hour" guy, who likes to wheel and deal as time winds down, feeling it gives him an advantage in negotiations as it puts pressure on the NHL.

After all, it worked for him in the 1992 players strike and the last lockout, so why not try it again.

That doesn't mean it'll work this time. Then again, perhaps the NHLPA isn't expecting it to work at all. Curious? Read on...

- Daly also claims he'd be willing to come up with a seventh proposal to the NHLPA, but just needs a starting point.

That would tie in with a piece called "Pendulum" recently written by the Hockey Rodent, who predicts "The NHL will make the next move. But the concession will be modest, perhaps even "token".

The basis for the Rodent's prediction is what could be the NHL's attempts at getting a labour impasse next summer, thus allowing them to start up next season with replacement players.

To read the full details, go check out the link provided. It makes for some thought-provoking reading.

- As for proposals and counter-proposals, they all appear to be nothing more than posturing in the great game of building a case in preparation for an eventual legal showdown sometime next year.

Any proposal from the union won't deviate much from their previous ones. I suspect they'll probably add more "teeth" to their luxury tax and perhaps "tweak" other parts of their proposal.

Anything that comes from the league won't move off from their cost certainty plans, although I suspect they might bump up their cap limit and possibly even suggest some form of a flexible cap akin to that of the NFL.

Barring a sudden and drastic shift in policy by either side, any last minute proposals won't change a thing.

The 2004-05 season won't happen, but the real game, the behind-the-scenes labour war, is only going to escalate.

- Speaking of replacement players, David Shoalts of the Globe and Mail yesterday claims the league may be "playing with fire" if they attempt to pursue an impasse.

First, Shoalts points out, via an anonymous labour law expert, that the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) courts "tend to be unsympathetic to the owners in these cases."

Second, and most importantly, if the NHL does achieve an impasse via the NLRB and the courts in Alberta and Ontario also side with the owners, the league would be starting up without the Montreal Canadiens and the Vancouver Canucks.

Why? Because, as Shoalts noted, "Labour laws in British Columbia and Quebec prohibit the use of replacement workers."

Kinda makes the whole thing pointless, don't ya think?

If the NHL were to start up next season with replacement players, I'd follow it in my capacity as a free-lance hockey commentator. But as a hockey fan, I wouldn't follow it with much interest.

And as a die-hard Montreal Canadiens fan, I can tell you that I wouldn't give a damn about any NHL that didn't have my Habs in it.

The most storied franchise in the National Hockey League not in action in a replacement player league? Gimme a freakin' break!

That only makes the notion of replacement players that much more of a farce!

- Speaking of the Canucks, their ownership recently sold half their franchise to Vancouver businessman Francesco Aquilini.

Given the restructuring of the Toronto Maple Leafs last year, that means twelve NHL clubs have wholly or in part changed hands since 2000.

So what's all this noise I hear about nobody wanting to buy NHL franchises? If NHL franchises are in such trouble, why would Aquilini or anyone else for that matter wanna buy even half a franchise? Hell, why did two other Vancouver businessmen try to buy the Canucks and their arena outright for $250 million?

Are they insane? Are they just trying to waste their money? Are they stupid?

Or perhaps they know more than we do?

Folks, it's time to put this myth to rest that NHL franchises have no value and nobody is lining up to buy them. Ten teams changed hands over the past four years. The Vancouver Canucks just sold half their franchise, while the Toronto Maple Leafs last year also restructured their ownership.

The only reason why the Dallas Stars and Anaheim Mighty Ducks haven't found new ownership yet is because the asking price from their respective current owners is too high.

If teams can be had for a bargain, potential investors will be interested. Buy a franchise at a decent price, build up it's value and sell it someday at a profit. Or you make that franchise a key part of your overall business empire,thus driving up its value.

Considering how the value of NHL franchises have risen over the past ten years, it's not surprising one third of them were bought and sold since 2000.

- Finally, as a little aside here, during a rebroadcast of the 1978 Game 7 Quarterfinal game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and NY Islanders by TSN last night, the network asked the viewers, "who was the best Maple Leafs coach of the last fifty years?"

Among the names listed: from the 1960s, Punch Imlach; from the 1970s, Red Kelly and Roger Nielsen; from the 1990s, Pat Burns, and from the current decade, Pat Quinn.

The end result: the winner was Quinn, with Burns in second place. In third, Imlach.

So Imlach, the last coach to guide the Leafs to a Stanley Cup, who also built them into a dynasty, finishes behind two guys whose respective records behind the Leafs bench pale by comparison.

So TSN's demographic is under thirty and dumb? Come on, people, geez, I mean, ok, so the Leafs haven't won a Stanley Cup in almost forty years, but surely some common sense should've kicked in when voting for this poll!

And don't gimme that "but Spector, Imlach was before our time. That's so, like, ancient history".

Compare the records: Imlach: four Stanley Cups, including three in a row from 1962 to 1964. Burns: zero Cups as Leafs coach. Quinn: zero Cups as Leafs coach. It's a friggin' no brainer, people!

Pat Burns' Leafs were a likeable, hardworking bunch, but getting to the Conference Finals in two straight seasons isn't the same as winning four Stanley Cups.

As for Quinn, he improved the Leafs, but also made them one of the most despised teams in the league. Two conference finals appearances is not cause for arrogance, and certainly doesn't match up with the great Imlach.

Next I suppose you'll tell me Ray Bourque was a better defenceman than Bobby Orr!


Warning! Some of the following comments might be a little caustic. I haven't been feeling well over the past few days, so I'm in a grouchy mood. Some of the themes and words in this piece may not be suitable for youngsters or those of a devotely religious leaning.

- First of all, the owners are not on the side of the fans. Never have been, never will be. They don't want your hearts and minds, they just want your butts in their arena seats, and they want you to pay an outrageous amount of money for the privilege. Remember PT Barnum's adage of a sucker born every minute? That's how hockey fans are viewed by most owners. To them, you're nothing but dollar signs.

- Like the owners, the players also aren't on the fans side. They're looking out for their own self-interests, which is to get as much of what they consider their fair share of the pie as possible.

If both sides genuinely cared what the fans thought, they'd be playing hockey instead of engaging in their high-stakes staredown.

- Fans have had little influence on either NHL labour negotiations or anything else involving the running of the league, and that includes the quality of the on-ice product. Think about it, we've been complaining for years now that the quality of the game sucks, but has that led to any significant changes to improve it? Anybody who claims "yes" should give their head a shake, because they haven't been watching the same game as the rest of us!

The only time the league makes significant changes is when they've been embarrassed into action, such as when Brett Hull scored the Cup winning goal with his foot clearly in the crease during the 1999 Stanley Cup finals. That killed the stupid crease rule, but that's of cold comfort to Buffalo Sabres fans.

As for the lockout, it probably could've been avoided if fans had staged large protests during last spring's playoffs or last September's World Cup. They definitely would've gotten the attention of both sides if they'd boycotted those games. But the fans were determined to get as much hockey-watching in as possible, while the owners and players patted their wallets without so much as a "thank-you". As Johnny Rotten once asked, "Ever get the feelin' you've bin cheated?"

- The true reason for this lockout is centered around what the true value of the NHL's losses were. The league claims losses last season in excess of $200 million as the basis for their cost certainty demands. The union disagrees, believing the losses to be much lower, thus forming the basis for their proposals. It has nothing to do with lowering ticket prices or "greedy players" wanting more than their fair share.

- Ticket prices will not go down under cost certainty nor if the league reopens with replacement players next season. A few teams will likely lower prices, but not by a substantial margin, while the rest will keep the same prices as last season. They'll either claim they're not raising prices as a way of saying "thank you" to the fans, or blame the NHLPA for the situation.

- How many NHL teams have come forward and said yes, regardless of the outcome of the lockout, they'll cut their prices in half? Or by a third? Or by a quarter? Or by even five lousy bucks? Anyone?

And yet there are still some hockey fans who,judging by e-mails I've received and comments I've read on message boards, actually believe the owners will lower those prices! Refer to the aforementioned comment by Mr. Barnum if you're in this group. Sorry if that pisses you off, but I forewarned you I was in a bad mood! Feel free to send in your comments and I'll post them to my Fans Speak Out section when I'm in a better mood.

- Some of the league's media sycophants point to a recent Hockey News poll indicating that 71 percent of respondents would watch the NHL with replacement players.

To which I respond, whoop-de-frickin' doo. Those in the "pro-owners" camp who point to that figure in triumph are forgetting something: that poll also suggests that almost 30 percent of those polled won't watch the NHL with replacement players. If we go by that poll, it means the NHL will lose almost a third of it's fanbase if it starts up next season with replacements. This is a good thing how, exactly?

Oh, but Spector, the product will be better because the players will be those who'll be thrilled to play in the NHL and consequently will work harder, thus making for a better product.

Got news for ya, the product will be less entertaining, because the same NHL coaches who employ the same boring defensive systems will still be working, only with lesser talent. Those players will be in such awe of playing in the NHL that they'll do whatever they're told to do. The league has no real plans to improve the quality of their product with NHL regulars, so what makes you think it'll be better with replacements?

You can bet a lot of fans will be turned off from the ticket prices, which will remain high. Remember, these teams have to recoup their losses somehow, so keep enjoying those overpriced seats and concessions while watching AHL and ECHL players toiling under NHL trapping systems.

A friggin' pee-wee game will be more entertaining! In fact, you'd be better off watching pee-wee hockey under those circumstances. At least it won't cost you anything and those kids will actually try to score goals and have some fun.

- Any NHL team who wins the Stanley Cup in 2006 with replacement players won't be considered a true Cup champion by most hockey fans, because the best players weren't participating. That team will be considered a "faux" champion, with an asterick forever beside their name.

- It won't be easy for the NHL to institute a labour impasse in order to hire replacement players. They'll not only have to convince the National Labor Relations Board in the United States, but also the labour courts in the four Canadian provinces where NHL teams are located. If just one of those provincial courts rule against an impasse, the teams located in that province legally cannot return to operation with replacement players.

How embarrassing would it be if, say, the court in the Province of Ontario ruled against the NHL? No Toronto Maple Leafs or Ottawa Senators, effectively wiping out one of the NHL's biggest markets. If all four provincial courts rule against it, that means no Canadian teams. And of course, if the NLRB rules against the league, no American teams, meaning no 2005-06 season with replacement players.

- If that comes to pass, the league will be left with only two choices, continue the lockout and hope the players will feel the financial pressure and return to action, or change their tactics and try to get a face-saving deal from the players union. It'll go one of both ways on that one, and right now it's anybody's guess who'll be in the position of strength by that point.

Most teams are prepared to write off one season and return with replacements next season if it'll bring the NHLPA to heel, but if they don't get the legal impasse, that could create divisions between owners still willing to continue the standoff and those who'll want to get back to work. Naturally we won't hear about them because of Bettman's gag order, but trust me on this, there will be divisions behind the scenes.

- As bad as shutting down an entire season will be, shutting it down for two straight seasons will be the kiss of death. The NHL won't ever get another network TV contract again when the current one with NBC expires. The fan base in the United States will take a serious hit, and even that in Canada will be adversely affected. Again, I point out the bleedin' obvious: a team in as much trouble as the NHL doesn't compound their woes by going to war with their players. That violates a basic rule of business: keep your business operating.

- Player agents do seek far too much money for their clients, and some are out and out pricks. Hey, this business ain't for the squeamish, and like politics (which I also find fascinating) it's a rough business. Like you, I can point to many players earning far more than they're worth. The fact the system needs to be changed isn't in dispute.

That being said, no player or his agent "forced" an owner to overpay for their services. Ever. Don't bring up Paul Kariya or Chris Pronger,because that was simply the case of the front offices of two teams flinching, rather than standing their ground. The agent took advantage of the situation, but he didn't force them to make those decisions.

And what did those two teams get for their troubles? Kariya returned for a few weeks and then was lost for the season to a concussion and in my humble opinion was never the same after that. Pronger struggled for several seasons with injuries and hasn't returned to that Norris and Hart winning performance that got him that fat contract in the first place. All the Blues and Ducks got for their troubles was contributing to the rise of player salaries. It's supposedly a team sport, remember? Some front offices tend to forget that.

Best case in point where a team refused to meet an agent's demands: Alexei Yashin in 1999-2000, when he sat out that entire year in hopes of forcing the Sens to tearing up his contract for a bigger deal or trading him to a team willing to do so. The Sens stood their ground, lost only 8 points from the previous season (due more to a rash of injuries to several key players in their roster than the absence of Yashin), scored more goals that season than they had with Yashin in the lineup the year before, and won two more playoff games without him than they did the previous year with him . And when they finally traded Yashin a year later at the June 2001 draft, they got Norris contender Zdeno Chara and future star centre Jason Spezza in return.

Want another example? How about the Wild standing their ground with their two best offensive players last season, Marian Gaborik and Pascal Dupuis? Both held out, both claimed they'd stay home rather than return to the club and then, a month after the season began, they were both back in the fold.

The key difference here: the Wild kept their eye on the long-term future, not just that of the season. They had patience and reminded anyone who'd listen that hockey is a team game and no one player was better than the team. It may have hurt their short term chances of making the playoffs in 2003-04, but it didn't hurt them at the gate.

Bottom line, folks: a smart GM, backed by an owner with common sense, will trump a player agent anytime. Oh, and throughout that whole business, the Sens had the support of their players, hockey fans both in Ottawa and throughout the NHL, and that of other NHL players and general managers . So don't gimme any nonsense about "players forcing owners to overpay them". That's bullshit. Sorry about the profanity, but remember, I said I was pissed off today. Forewarned is forearmed.

- Oh, and don't gimme that " fans won't wait for a winner" BS. I hear that nonsense for years: fans and local media pressure teams into signing players for more than they're worth. Sorry, but that's passing the buck.

Few general managers give a damn what the press or the fans think about their stance in contract negotiations. The only pressure a general manager feels is from his employer. If the higher-ups are forcing his hand, that's when the deals go down. And if those deals blow up, it's the GM who pays the price. But if the GM's superiors aren't willing to overpay, the GM can comfortably play hardball and get the deals he wants. Sorry to tell you, fans and reporters, but your opinion has little influence on the contract signings. Ultimately, it all comes down to the ownership's whims.

- For the umpteenth time, this isn't a players strike, OK? The players have neither walked out on the league, nor are they refusing to negotiate, nor are they walking a picket line. They've been locked out by the league owners, because they don't want to negotiate with the players union until the players accept one of their six cost certainty proposals.

- And again, people, those NHL players currently playing in Europe are not scabs. As any dictionary will tell you (go look it up if you don't believe me, sorry, no links today. Told you I was in a bad mood...), in labour terms a scab is either someone who refuses to join a union, or as a union member, either refuses to walk a picket line or crosses said line to continue working. The players in Europe aren't on strike, so those NHL'ers going over there to play during the lockout aren't crossing a picket line. Are we clear now?

- Also, those players aren't hypocrites for playing in Europe for "peanuts" when they could be earning millions in a cost-certainty NHL. Again, it's the owners who locked the players out, the players didn't refuse to play. The league could've kept the league operational while the league and union continued to negotiate a new CBA, but the league opted to lock the players out as a negotiating tactic. The players are merely exercising their legal right to seek employment elsewhere. If you want to get mad at someone over this, blame the European owners for making a buck at the NHL's expense for hiring those players in the first place, and the NHL for locking out the players in the first place!

- Overpaid players like Chris Pronger, Mike Modano and Bill Guerin should really either think about what they're going to say when talking to the media about this work stoppage or just keep their mouths shut.

Guerin made a fool of himself by claiming NFL players weren't happy under their cap system when they obviously are. Modano sounded like a spoiled brat when, asked if he'd consider playing overseas, dismissed the notion because the money he'd make there wouldn't feed his dog for a month. And of course an overpaid player like Pronger would say he's willing to hold out for ten years: he's earned over $32 million US in the last four years!

All they do is reinforce the stereotype of the "greedy player", which most NHL'ers aren't.

- Has anyone heard the NHL answer the following questions: will they impose cost certainty all at once or over a period of time? If it's all at once, how will the league address the glut of free agents who'll have no teams to play for because of the $31 million cap? What system of revenue sharing will the league bring in to ensure struggling franchises can compete with their big market brethren? What rules will they put into place to ensure no team finds methods to legally skirt a hard salary cap as was done with entry level salaries under the last CBA?

Anyone? Helloooooooo.....?????

So with those questions going unanswered, is it any wonder I'm openly critical of the league's position during this lockout? You ask Bettman or Bill Daly any of those questions, and they dance around it with responding to it directly. "Consult the Levitt Report", they say, knowing full well most people won't.

-Speaking of the Levitt Report, I've read it, and nowhere does it give a detailed breakdown, team by team, of their respective finances. Instead, we get a summary. Mr. Levitt also noted that he had to correct discrepancies - which he didn't reveal the details of - in both the 2002 URO's and the returns he got from the 2003 UROs. Levitt also stated the teams audits might not match their UROs. His audit team also reviewed most of the teams finances by speaking by phone with the financial officers of those teams, because by his own admission his team wasn't prepared to conduct full audits or reviews of all thirty teams, but only a select few.

Now, I'm not going to call Mr. Levitt a liar because I don't believe he lied. But I'm also not the only one who's questioning the information Levitt got from the NHL. Go check out Ranger Fan Central or Blueshirt Bulletin web sites and you'll see what I mean. In the meantime, if you've got an afternoon to kill or you're looking for a cure for insomnia, go to the NHL's CBA website and read the Levitt Report for yourself.

- Has anyone heard from the players union how, exactly, it would be a bad thing to ensure players like Martin Lapointe and Bobby Holik aren't overpaid? How would it be a bad thing if, say, there were a maximum cap on individual salaries, rather than on payrolls? If the NHL were to impose an NFL style cap system, one that is flexible and allows for free agency at a younger age, prorated bonuses and incentives, how would that be a bad thing?

- Oh, and for those of you trying to match me snark for snark by trying to use the last point against me, the NFL salary cap system is not a hard cap at all. Even the NFLPA says so, and I was commended by an NFLPA executive, who's name I won't reveal for confidentiality reasons, for my grasp of the NFL system. To see what earned me that praise, I'll break my "no link" policy for today to provide this one.

- Regardless of which side wins in this labour dispute, neither NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman or NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow will be fired.

Bettman may well be out of touch with some aspects of the game and the fans, but he represents the owners very well, and there can be no denying the value of the league and its teams have increased significantly under his watch.

As for Goodenow, he's done more in 12 years for the players than his predecessor did in 25. Even if he loses this round, he won't lose his job. Anyone who believes either guy will get the can is living in a fantasyworld.

- Those reporters actively stumping for either guy to be replaced should damn well know better. It's a waste of good newsprint and air time to keep harping on that point.

- Anyone, be they owner, player, agent, league official or union executive who claims their side in this dispute is doing so "for the good of the game" is a lying bastard.

They have their reasons, but it ain't for the good of the game. If it were for the good of the game, we wouldn't be suffering through a lockout, now would we?

Everytime I hear someone spouting that garbage, honestly, I want to put on my combat boots, walk right up to them and kick them square in the nuts. I wouldn't, of course, because I don't wanna go to jail for assault and violence doesn't resolve anything, but you know, it's nice to daydream about sometimes.


I bring you today's "point-counterpoint" segment a little earlier than usual this week because of a couple of reports over the past few days that need to be addressed. And as always, my responses are italicized.

First up, Stephen Harris of the Boston Herald:

Regarding the NHLPA: "Their vision for the league allows a player to be paid whatever a team is willing to pay him - a free market - but they also want all manner of financial guarantees that do nothing but help the players and hurt the owners.

The players want guaranteed contracts that pay off in entirety, even if the quality of performance plummets. They also want the right to salary arbitration if they feel they're not being paid enough. Most players want an automatic, minimum 10-percent raise in every new contract. They want it all but assured they can't be sent to the minors. They want entry-level players to be paid a preset sum. They want total free agency at age 31."

First off, I usually enjoy Harris' work and consider him one of the better hockey reporters. I agree that teams shouldn't be on the hook for money owed to a player whose performance declines. That's something that will be dificult to address without totalling gutting the notion of guaranteed salaries, but one that could be accomplished if stipulations were put into those salaries to ensure no team could abuse that system.

However, salary arbitration, the 10 percent minimum raise and total free agency at 31 were all agreed to by the NHL. There's nothing wrong with arbitration as long as it's a "high-low" system like that used in Major League Baseball. I have no problem with total free agency at age 31, the problem with it is that too many teams spent far too much money on those players. That's a self-restraint issue on the owners part.

It's also the salaries that guarantees a player won't get sent to the minors, since few owners want millions of dollars riding the buses in the AHL and ECHL. As for the entry level salaries, the NHLPA agreed to a hard cap on those salaries and are willing to accept a lowered salary ceiling in future rookie contracts.

-On the number of NHL'ers currently in Europe or signing with minor league franchises: " And equally vexing is their claim the NHLPA is a union no different than any group of electricians, plumbers, Teamsters, etc., protecting its inalienable rights.

Tell that to the dozens of AHL players who have been bumped out of the jobs and decent paychecks they thought they'd have this season but lost to NHLers who elected to sign minor league deals just to stay in shape. You might mention it, too, to the more than 260 players who lost their places on teams across Europe thanks to the transatlantic exodus."

I've addressed this several times in the past and I'll address it here once again: While it's quite obvious the NHLPA isn't a union in the sense of those groups Harris noted, it still has to perform the function of one, and that is to ensure that it's membership receives the best deal possible and is protected from any abuse from their employers.

Don't blame the 260 NHL players for taking away jobs from other players in the European Leagues. Blame the NHL for locking out the players rather than negotiating with them, and blame the owners of those European teams for happily signing up as many NHL players as they can in order to make a buck at the expense of the NHL's stupidity.

The NHL players didn't demand those jobs, they were already there to be had. If the European team owners had stuck by their own players, the NHL'ers wouldn't be playing over there.

As for the AHL players bumped out of jobs, a lot of the NHL'ers playing there were sent down there by their teams because they were on two-way contracts and thus making the most of the opportunity to remain in North America to play hockey. If those players were truly "locked out", then why are the owners allowing them to play for their minor league affiliates.

That goes too for players like JS Aubin and Brad Lukowich, who signed minor league contracts with the farm teams of other clubs. If their teams didn't want them playing there, they would've made arrangements to ensure they didn't.

If there's any "hypocrisy" to be had here, it's with the owners.

And our "regular" to this weekly "debate", Stan Fischler of MSG Network and, like me, a contributor to

It is my humble opinion that Goodenow's aim — as it has been in the past — is to bring ownership to its knees and forever secure dominance of the NHLPA over the NHL.

I cannot see the nearly 100 collective NHL owners being "brought to the knees" and dominated by Goodenow or anyone else...unless they're into that sort of thing.

There are suggestions — which I believe valid — that the union is holding out in the expectation that league governors will capitulate next month or January because of pressures to get on the NBC network this season.

The union, as usual, is guilty of false reasoning.

Some players were on record last summer suggesting that, but I doubt most believe it now. That's why we're seeing an increasing number signing up to play in Europe. They're already assuming this season is toast. And Goodenow told them repeatedly over the past two years to prepare themselves for 12 to 18 months of no hockey.

(T)he players refuse to acknowledge the obvious. That is:

# The league is hurting fiscally more than players realize.

Not according to Forbes Magazine, a highly respected business publication whose sports editor is willing to stack their findings ($96 million in losses last season) against the NHL's ($224 million). Of course, we'll never know just how much money the league is truly losing since they wouldn't even make full disclosure of their losses in their much-touted Levitt Report, but only a summary.

# Players can't win every collective bargaining agreement.

Nobody's suggesting they have to, but why should they just roll over and accept the league's claims and stipulations without questioning them or offering counter-proposals? That's what negotiation is all about.

# Investors are shying away from the NHL.

According to Dubi Silverstein, editor and publisher of Blueshirt Bulletin, five NHL teams changes hands in 2002-03, while another five were bought and sold since 2000. So bang goes that illusion.

Describing a meeting he had with a part-owner of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Fischler writes of the gentleman telling him:

"My group actually was interested in buying an NHL team before we got into baseball. We checked the NHL numbers and they were awful. In fact, they were so bad right across the entire league spectrum that we decided that it was ridiculous to consider such a move. To an investor, hockey just doesn't work."

Granted, not every wealthy businessman is going to invest in an NHL franchise. Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, had a study conducted in the late 1990s that convinced him not to invest in an NHL team.

There are some NHL franchises having a tough time finding new owners, the Dallas Stars, Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Mighty Ducks being three examples.

That being said, as noted by Mr. Silverstein, ten NHL teams changed hands over the past four years. Those included the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, Atlanta Thrashers, Montreal Canadiens, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Phoenix Coyotes, Washington Capitals and New York Islanders. Obviously the league, prior to damaging itself with it's ill-advised war against the players union, was having little trouble attracting investors.

The NHL desperately needs such a prescription for its ailment and nothing the players' group has produced comes even remotely close to achieving such a goal.

I've yet to hear a rational explanation as to why the players proposals won't work, other than the usual dismissals. Granted, the proposed luxury tax ceiling of $50 million won't work, but they were willing to accept one at $40 million. They're willing to give back over $70 million in salaries, which would certainly go far in reducing the league's losses if the Forbes estimation of $96 million is correct or even close to it. They're willing to change the arbitraiton system, lower the hard cap ceiling on entry level salaries and clamp down on rookie bonus clauses. Again, I vainly await a clear cut answer that will convince me that the players proposals won't work.

Heck, I believe half of the leagues proposals - a performance based system, a salary slotting system and the "P4" system - might be acceptable, provided they weren't tied to such a drastic and unrealistic slashing of salaries.

Needless to say, there are those pro-NHLPA critics in the audience — a distinct minority, I might add — who argue that the league is attempting to crush the Association of Millionaires.

Yes, it's lonely being among the few swimming against the tide, but we're not doing it just to be different or arbitrary. Rather, we've examined both sides of the issues and found the league's side to be lacking in substantiation.

Well, think about it, for a moment. If the players should win this war, it will have crushed the league...


What will the players gain if so bad a deal is foisted on ownership that some six owners permanently fold their franchises?

Those franchises probably shouldn't be in existence anyway if they're in that bad shape. However, according to Forbes, teams supposedly in bad shape, like the Nashville Predators and Atlanta Thrashers, actually made money last season, while some of the biggest money losers were supposedly successful franchises like the Detroit Red Wings and the St. Louis Blues. So which franchises are going to go under?

But the possible loss of a hundred jobs would be a disaster to a (ahem!) union that supposedly worries about the good and welfare of its own.

I put that question to Ted Saskin, Executive VP of the NHLPA, last summer, and he told me the union would deal with that if it should arise. He said they acknowledged there were some teams who were having trouble, but added what the union was offering would address those troubles. He acknowledged that if teams did go under and jobs were lost that it was an accepted part of business and everyone in the union understood that, but like Gary Bettman, they're convinced that all thirty teams can survive and flourish.

So, what lies ahead? Can the 2004-05 season be saved? Not as long as Bob Goodenow is calling the NHLPA shots.

The rest of Fischler's article is a diatribe against Goodenow which we've already read before in his previous articles. He also believes the NHL agents are "gutless" to stand up to Goodenow and force him back to the bargaining table. Fischler concludes with his usual hope that enough NHL players will by next summer realize Goodenow is "killing the golden goose" and will dump him.

It's obvious Fischler has a distinct dislike of Goodenow, but he's living in a dream world if he believes the players will dump their association leader. Even if Goodenow loses this standoff, the players understand they've gotten everything they did over the years because of him.