Given the time restrictions of balancing my website, my Foxsports articles and my day job as well as family requirements, I cannot respond to all the submissions via individual e-mail. So as I did a couple of weeks ago, I'll respond to the Fan Speak Out comments in today's Soapbox.
As I did previously, I won't be posting the comments word for word here. You can read the entire posts in the Fans Speak Out section. What I'll do is reprint comments I found particularly interesting and worthy of comment or rebuttal. I'll make every attempt to ensure I'm not quoting you out of context.
There won't be cheapshots if I disagree with certain comments. I respect your opinions even if we don't agree and I have no problem posting dissenting view in my Fans Speak Out section. That's what it's there for, as this Soapbox is for my own comments. Be forewarned, this one is rather lengthy so you may wanna grab your favourite beverage before settling in for this one.
Original comments in regular print, my responses in italics.
So, here we go:
Just wanted to voice a concern
regarding the Avalanche and their "free
That's true, the Avs have rarely dipped into the UFA market to make a huge signing. Neither, for that matter, have the Blues.
What you fail to mention
is that the difference between the Avs and
That's where, however, the Avs and Blues have contributed to the rise in player salaries: by trading for impending free agent players of small market clubs (Blake and Bourque the exceptions). For the most part, yes, they've gotten a good return for their money, and yes, they do draft and trade well, but there is no denying the fact that they're considered among the free spenders.
Please, Spector... if you
want to use the Avs in an example of a team
I'll grant your the first three, but not the latter. The Wings three Stanley Cups is indicative of the fact that they too have gotten results for their money.
Next up: Deuce
The thing that aggrivates me the most, well aside from the layoffs of close friends at the ACC, is the fact that neither side is talking each other. I may be 'just a fan', but somehow it seems a little insulting that the NHLPA nor the NHL Admin are even talking to each other. If they don't have anything to say to each other, if they can't negotiate, what is the point of waiting, why not fold the NHL right now?
I share your frustration,
as I'm sure most hockey fans do. Regardless of which side I feel
has the better case, they should be in negotiations until they
reach an agreement, not taking away the game for the fans. That's
selfishness on both sides.
All they're doing is pissing off their fanbase. It took several years and a home-run duel between McGwire and Sosa to reignite interest in baseball. Does the NHL really want to risk the same scenario and hope that a scoring race duel reignites fan interest again? Heck, in the US, 56% of sports fans in a recent poll didn't know the NHL was shut down to a lockout. That's why a lengthy lockout could be a potential kiss of death to the NHL in some American markets.
Next up: Alex Alvaro.
Unfortunately, it's also
a fact. The league rejected outright the union's two proposals.
The union at least studied two of the six from the league before
rejecting them. The union is willing to make concessions on everything
except a hard cap. Indeed, they're willing to accept a salary
cap by proposing a luxury tax system. The league, on the other
hand, wants a hard cap or nothing. It's the league who locked
out the players, it's not the players refusing to play.
A league in this much
trouble should not be staging a lockout and playing hardball
with their employees. They should be working with them to improve
this situation. That's not to suggest the league must make concessions
on everything. Indeed, with the players willing to make concessions
on everything except a hard cap, the owners should be all over
this and using those concessions to their advantage.
That's true to a certain point, but not in every case. The Flames and Oilers have lost players to free agency or given them up in trade, but their fan support remained strong for the most part.
It's not much of a choice to the owner who wants to bring in fans and make the game popular in his market. To call the owners "irresponsible" for doing what every fan wants them to do -- sign and keep their stars -- is going a little too far, in my view. (Was it irresponsible for Calgary to re-sign Iginla?)
The Flames weren't going to lose Iginla if they didn't re-sign him because they owned his rights until he was 31. In their case, however, it was understandable, considering the year Iginla had had. In most cases, however, the smart owner and GM ignores the fans in building a winner. Sometimes moves can be puzzling or unpopular, but if they work toward building a team into a winner, the fans will quickly forget about it. The New Jersey Devils, for example, have been doing this for years, and their success since 1995 cannot be denied.
Of course, if all the owners acted "responsibly" and refused to sign free agents, they would be accused of acting in collusion.
Easy to claim, tough to
prove. Some player agents believe the reason we've seen so few
offer sheets proffered to Group II free agents is collusion,
but not even Bob Goodenow will publicly make that claim because
he knows that's very difficult to prove.
Agreed, but their proposal could've been used as a starting point for further negotiation. The league doesn't have to adopt a system like MLB, but it could adopt one similar to the NBA. None other than Gary Bettman was the co-author of that one.
The players' proposal is a very modest tax and a high threshold. It is a "tax" that would have little or no drag on salaries. The players have rejected a strong luxury tax (one that taxes dollar for dollar or more) as tantamount to a "salary cap". In fact, as far as the players are concerned, everything seems to be a salary cap if it links revenue to salaries. It is a game of semantics to them -- everything except the status quo is a "salary cap".
Then why are the players
willing to accept a luxury tax system? That's a soft salary cap,
and something they refused to consider ten years ago, but they're
open to it now. Sure, their proposal was modest, but why didn't
the league say, OK, we're willing to discuss a luxury tax, but
your proposal needs improvement, we want it to be tougher"?
The players were offering
to give back a portion of their salaries. Over $70 million US
is not "window-dressing." That alone would cut the
league's losses from their grudgingly admitted $240 million down
to $170 million. Why didn't the league say, " OK, we like
the idea of a salary giveback, but it has to be more, like fifteen
percent"? The union likely would've rejected that, but there
could've been negotiation that may have brought that number in
higher than 5%.
A legal impasse will not
fix the game, but rather, it'll make the labour situation even
worse. The players will immediately go on strike if there's a
labour impasse. Even if the league is successful, the union will
never forget it, and we'll see the same crap in five or ten years
It's not going to be easy
for the league to impose those conditions. Even if they're successful,
their actions will have left an irrepable gap between players
and owners, and we'll see the same crap again within the next
ten years. Should the imposition of "cost certainty"
fail to control player salaries (which I foresee unless there's
strict controls on clauses and a revenue sharing scheme comparable
to the NFL's), and we start seeing more teams being shopped or
filing for bankruptcy, Bettman will face losing his job. As for
the number of players who'd cross the picket line, that remains
to be seen, but that creates the possibility of dressing room
discord when all the players return, which could have a serious
effect on team chemistry.
I agree that the fans aren't stupid, but most do lack knowledge of the facts and evidence because they're just not interested. All you hear is "greedy players" and "The NFL's salary cap works", but fans aren't looking at the facts. The owners created this situation and sustained it, taking a CBA that was tilted in their favour (restrictive free agency, hard cap on entry level salaries, right to walk away from arbitration awards) and abused it, and they're refusing to negotiate with the union. The NFL's cap is not a hard one and teams regularly spend over it. What makes it work is prorated bonuses, the right to renegotiate contracts, guaranteed dollars instead of contracts, plus the league's revenue streams and revenue sharing.
Next up, Gord Brenner.
I agree that the owners are PARTLY responsible for outrageous salaries. After all, they are the ones setting the high price for the UFAs. But what about the RFA's?? That is the player/agent setting the price. Some will say that the owners don't have to sign them then. Well, what are teams like Calgary supposed to do when Jerome says he will hold out and the fans won't buy seasons tickets until management signs their star player? When a team like Minnesota has a terrible start because their only offensive threat decides he deserves more money?
There are, of course, exceptions but for the most part, teams willingly paid their RFAs. The majority of RFAs did not hold out. Many were re-signed before training camp. As for the Wild, Gaborik's holdout may have cost them a playoff berth last season, but it didn't hurt them at the gate. When the league finally returns to action, the Wild will have Gaborik under the contract they wanted and for a full season. That's why I feel the Wild are smartly managed, as they're willing to absorb a short-term hit for the greater long-term good. They're forward-thinking.
How about the rookies? How is it possible for the owners to be responsible for their cost when a rookie wants a 6 million dollar contract to sign otherwise he will go back into the draft? Don't throw the entire blame on the owners for salaries being outrageous - some owners don't have an option.
This situation never would've occured had the Boston Bruins not signed Joe Thornton to that incentive laced contract. Had they sat tight, they could've avoided this situation. They had Thornton's rights for two years and had the leverage. But once that contract came into existance, it set a precedent and made the cap ineffective.
Next up: "Erwin"
In respsone to your three
signifcant reasons why you are sympathetic to the union's side,
I completely disagree with your reasons.
As I noted before, collusion is very tough to prove. If teams were refusing to pay raises beyond what was stipulated in the CBA, that could be seen as collusion. But if they're paying raises that are above that amount, even though they may not be to the union's liking, collusion cannot be proven.
Also two other huger factors that escalates players salaries with no bearings on owner/management decision are arbitartion and peer contract. I don't think arbitration needs to be discussed further. Peer contract escalates salaries because players compare contracts to determine their own value/worth.
Agreed. I've said many times the arbitration system must be changed because it's tilted too much in the players favour. As for peer contracts, again, that's a judgement call by the team. They have the leverage because they own that players rights. If they believe that player isn't worth what he's seeking because another team overpaid a comparable player, they don't have to pay him that raise. But in most cases, teams re-signed players to significant raises without a fight. I find it hard to believe that in all those cases they were being pressured to do this.
A player may be granted a higer than usual salary because of unique situation that he is in. i.e. Jose Theodore being a Francophone was able to gain a higer salary from Montreal. His contract thus elevated the contracts for all goalies.
There is no evidence that Theodore got that higher salary from the Habs because he was a Francophone. He got it because he won the Hart and Vezina and Crozier trophies and single-handedly carried the Canadiens to both their first post-season in four years and a first round upset of the Boston Bruins. As for his elevating the contracts for all goalies, I don't buy into that, considering Olaf Kolzig and Martin Brodeur signed higher deals than that as Group II free agents before Theodore.
I never said the union
were the"good guys". I said I was sympathetic to their
side because they were willing to make concessions and negotiate,
while the league is not.
Over $70 million raised from a 5 % roll back doesn't equate to anything? If you put that alone against the league's self-admitted $240 million debt, that chops it down to $170 million. That's nothing to sneeze at. The players are willing to give back a portion of their salaries, so why didn't the league negotiate that point with them and try to squeeze for more? The union is willing to accept a luxury tax system, so why not negotiate for a much stricter system with a $40 million luxury tax bar, like they originally proposed?
If I am not mistaken the NHLPA went from a previous tax of 40 mil to a current 50 mil tax. Now that is hardly negotiating in good faith. If anything that is an insult. It would be interesting to see what was in the owner six proposals since the contents have nver been disclosed.
The contents were disclosed
and can be read
here. I agree that the $50 million luxury tax proposal was
unworkable, but why didn't the league negotiate with the players
for a stricter one? They didn't negotiate, in fact, they weren't
even willing to address those points from the players. They merely
rejected them out of hand and insisted the union accept one of
the league's six proposals. No compromise. No discussion. Nothing.That's
The union has acknowledged
with their proposals that they're not seeking to maintain the
status quo and are addressing the fact that changes need to be
made. What bothers me is the fact the owners have created and
sustained this mess, yet they want the players to fix it. In
other words, they screwed up but are seeking to make the players
Again, the players aren't in denial as their proposals clearly indicate. They've never said there weren't any teams losing money, they're questioning the number reported by the league and the amount they're supposedly losing. When the Flyers and Rangers are declaring losses, while the owner and GM of the Hurricanes can't seem to get their story straight on the amount of their losses, it's no wonder the players are suspicious of the league's claims.
Next up, Mat Porter
I've been reading your web site now for more years than I can remember but today will be my last. Your one sided opinion in support of the players and the manipulation of some of the facts to support your beliefs is quite creative.
I'm sorry to be losing you as a reader, Mat. I've done no manipulations of the facts. They are what they are. I've also substantiated my sympathy with the union side. I've also made clear that, if it were the other way round and it was the owners, not the players, willing to negotiate and the union refusing to, then my sympathy would be with them. I base my opinion on the facts available, the league's labour history, and which side appears to be more willing to negotiate. Right now, that's the players union.
The current frame work for NHL hockey is seriously flawed. Under no circumstance should players have guaranteed contracts.
Take that up with the league, since they've said they aren't looking to do away with guaranteed contracts.
Should there be a cap? Yes. Should there be better revenue sharing? Yes.
If you're looking at a
true hard cap, it'll have to be one that eliminates bonus and
incentive clauses, otherwise, it'll be open for abuse just like
the entry level cap in the last CBA. As for revenue sharing,
it'll have to be comparable to the NFL's model, otherwise it
won't do very much to narrow the gap between the big and small
I disagree. The quality of NHL play has decreased noticeably since 1994, when there were 24 teams. Coincidence? I think not. The reason for the "success" of the defensive trap is too many teams have too many players of lesser talent and skill compared to ten years ago, and the only way most of them can compete against teams with greater skill is to use the trap.
Stars don't sell hockey. They might have a minor impact early and in the odd market but winning and exciting hockey brings fans to the rink. With the odd exception. Yes people pay to see Lemiuex. They paid to see Gretzky. Who pays to see Federov? Heatley? Thornton? Satan? Iginla? As you can see I'm doing it team by team. Yes Calgary fans pay to see Iginla but does he create any serious up draw in other markets? Yes he impacts attendance in Calgary but if they had an exciting team, that was winning with out him, they would come out anyway. Before Vancouver moved to GM place they there season attendance had dropped to under 7000. They were awful to watch but we had Bure!
Which then raises an interesting
question: why did those teams overpay to retain those players,
instead of sinking money into improving the overall depth and
thus increasing the team's chances of winning?
I believe that I have
provided an objective opinion. Whenever the league does something
right, I acknowledge it and praise them for it. Whenever a player
has been greedy, an agent has been a twit or the union has been
wrong, I've singled them out for criticism. With regards to this
lockout, I base my opinion on the facts available. If the facts
jibbed with the owners, I'd be sympathetic to their side. I believe
the facts favour the union at this point. I know that's not the
opinion of the majority of hockey fans, but if I were to "go
with the flow", I'd be writing lies, since I wouldn't believe
what I was writing. Even if it costs me every last reader I have,
I will write what I believe, even if it should occassionally
be against popular opinion.
Be prepared to be disappointed, Mat. Who's coaching those players? The same coaches who preach the trap in today's NHL. Who's calling the penalties and enforcing the rules? The same officials who've allowed uncalled obstruction to ruin the game.
Who are those scabs going to be? A year from now, it will be a huge majority of the current players and players would continuously keep flowing back into the game,
Maybe it will, but it could also be a minimal number too, and should the fans prove indifferent to replacement players, the league will have mud on it's face.
Just want to point out how wrong you are on replacement players.
1) Do you think the owners are thinking short or long term? 10 years from now, 10 drafts from now, the game will be fine, even if no players come back, which they will by the way. THEY ARE THINKING LONG TERM SLAPPY!!!!!
And what facts do you have to back this up? What guarantees can you give to prove this?
2) The owners would be paying replacement players a much lower salary, therefor lower ticket prices will be there as well. They will be raising them as the drafts go by and top end talent begins to fill up the league again.
Prepare yourself for a disappointment,Jason. If there is a drop in ticket prices, it'll be marginal. Are you prepared to pay $35 bucks to watch third-line talent and AHL and ECHL players? If so, good luck with that. I know I wouldn't. Most teams will either keep the same prices or reduce them marginally, since they have to recoup some of their losses.
3) Watered down talent the league would have is better than NO FRICKEN HOCKEY right now. Youre so pro NHLPA it sickening man. If you really think any fan thinks the league is unreasonable in its request for what fricken works well in the NBA and the NFL, youre nuts. If you think for one second any fan who sees an average salary of $1.3 million being offered by the league isnt fair, youre really fricken nutso.
The union would love to have a system like the NBA, because it's a luxury tax system with a soft cap, which is what they're seeking. It's the league who's rejecting it. As for the NFL's"hard cap", by the admission of the NFLPA, that cap is not a hard cap at all. What makes it work is prorated signing and incentive bonuses, free agency, renegotiation of existing contracts, but most importantly, the revenue streams from broadcasting the the league's revenue sharing. As for the NHL's reducing salaries by 30% under cost certainty, how are they going to impose that? All at once, thus forcing over half the teams in the NHL to gut their rosters? They haven't addressed that, and you can bet teams like the Red Wings, Maple Leafs, Flyers, Devils, Avalanche, Stars and Blues aren't going to take too kindly to that proposal.
4) Turn players against player? Thats what is needed because the NHLPA reps are not looking out for the entire player population.
And your proof of this?
I listened to Saskin say he could care less if theres 6 less teams in the league. What is a UNIONs #1 job priority? JOB SECURITY. 6 teams x 25 players a team means 150 less jobs. Thanx Bobby. Youre a crack head if you think the NHLPA is a union. I see Chelios said the same. The players are gonna devide because of themselves, not because of the league. Madden said differently already. How unified do you really think they are?
I don't recall Saskin making those comments. He said that's something they'd have to deal with if it happened, but since the league insists there won't be contraction, it's not something they can address right now. Until hundreds of NHL players start speaking against their union, you can't judge them by the words of a few. And remember, unlike the NHL, the union doesn't have a gag order on their members. I'd love to hear what the owners all truly feel, but Bettman has them under wraps and fines them if they speak out of turn.
5) Does any fan want what the NHL players are after, a baseball model? Try being the Jays in the AL east against the Sox and Yankees. Thats fair, thats nice. Wake up. The competitive imbalance is killing baseball. Go be a Brewers fan and see how much fun the game is.
I agree, but nobody says the league has to adopt the baseball model of a luxury tax system. Instead, why not adopt a variation of the one used by the NBA? It was co-designed by Gary Bettman, after all? Why is Bettman against bringing that in?
All in all man, you sicken me. You really sicken men with your spinning and weaving.
Sorry, I don't own a spinning wheel nor are there baskets piled up in my den.
Ive been reading your take on this issue for months now. Some objective journalism man, what an embarrassment? Every read of yours has sided with the NHLPA to this point, and it sickens me.
So, if it took the owners side instead, you'd have no problem with that?
Next up, "Norman from Saskatchewan".
I disagree that fans will not pay to see replacement players. More than the players, we love hockey and will go to great lengths to see it played. I disagree that hockey with replacement players will be second-rate the NHLPA only represents the 600 best players in the world. I argue that there are 6000 players that are 99% as good as the ones in the NHL that would play highly entertaining hockey for much less. And key from a fans perspective - less salaries would mean lower ticket prices.
I hate to disappoint you, Norman, but trust me on this one: if the NHL goes the replacement player route, the reduction in ticket prices will be minimal at best. Since the average ticket price last season was $43.57, I doubt you'll see it drop much below $35.00 - 40.00. The teams have to recoup their losses somehow.
Hockey fans care about the game first, their teams second and the players third (and the strike places these spoiled millionaires in a distant third).
This isn't a strike right now, Norman, it's a lockout. The owners are refusing to let the players play. If the league achieves a legal impasse, that'll force the players on strike.
Just like in College Football, we cheer for our team. Replacement players works because we will cheer for anyone who has the jersey on. And if you are a long-suffering Oiler fan like myself, that is exactly the strategy they have had for 15 years they have fast skaters with no hands or fast skaters with hands and no hockey sense. They are literally interchangeable. Over the years we have seen hundreds of them and have continued to cheer them because they wear the Oilers jersey.
Sorry, Norman, but I doubt most hockey fans will buy watching replacement players. It didn't work for the NFL, and it won't work for the NHL.
So screw the players no one is irreplaceable even Joe Sakic! We will create a new league with new stars that we will cheer for because they wear the jersey. The only problem is what to do with those in the NHLPA who want to play in the new league?
Are you willing to pay NHL prices to see players of lesser talent? Are you willing to watch players you can't identify with? Do you think the calibre of game will improve if they're playing under the systems of NHL coaches and officiated by NHL officials? If you are, fine, but I doubt most fans will. If the quality of the game was lousy with the best NHL players, how will it be an improvement with AHL and ECHL players and third line NHL'ers? And let's face it, any team that wins the Stanley Cup with replacement players on their rosters won't be considered a true champion. Fans will say that one doesn't count since it wasn't won with the league's best players.
Next up, "W" (not "Dubya")
Just a quick note/question, has anyone brought up that the owners and Gary Bettman are crying "players make to much! We need cost certainty! Etc" (and I am not saying that they don't have a point, if I was in business I would want those kinds of controls in place too, especially if I was bone-headed and paid the Martin Lapointe's of the world as much as he got last go round) but they can still shell out $250,000 (US I would guess) for saying the wrong thing?
I have, every time they
I concur. I've been saying over and over again that the NHL, in it's current state, should not be employing hardball tactics with the players. They must be negotiating and working with them, not trying to crush their union and make them the scapegoat for the owners mistakes.
And finally, "Justin".
There has been some talk
recently about replacement players in the NHL. Obviously, this
was something the NHL didn't want shared with the public by the
$250,000.00 fine levied on Thrashers owner Steve Belkin.
Wow, talk about a busy time these past couple of days.
First, the latest round of news this past week has been tough to keep up with. Thursday alone saw rumours of Gretzky coaching the Coyotes, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's online chat with fans and an increase of media opinions in the wake of the Daly-Saskin appearances on TSN.
I've already address the Daly-Saskin comments, and I'll address the others in future Soapboxes.
For now, however, a couple of my recent Soapbox articles have stirred up quite a response amongst the readers, which are currently appearing in my "Fans Speak Out" section.
Given the time restrictions of balancing my website, my Foxsports articles and my day job as well as family requirements, I cannot respond to all the submissions via individual e-mail. So as I did a couple of weeks ago, I'll respond to the Fan Speak Out comments in today's Soapbox.
Due to space restrictions, I've posted up the submissions I received prior to Thursday, October 14th. The subsequent ones will be posted and replied to on Saturday, October 16th.
As I did previously, I won't be posting the comments word for word here. You can read the entire posts in the Fans Speak Out section. What I'll do is reprint comments I found particularly interesting and worthy of comment or rebuttal. I'll make every attempt to ensure I'm not quoting you out of context.
There won't be cheapshots if I disagree with certain comments. I respect your opinions even if we don't agree and I have no problem posting dissenting view in my Fans Speak Out section. That's what it's there for, as this Soapbox is for my own comments.
Original comments in regular print, my responses in italics.
So, here we go:
From "Paul W":
I fail to see how these teams (NY Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs, Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers) "abused" the system. If they use the CBA as it was designed, how can this be described as "abuse."
By the owners definition, the previous CBA was intended to keep player salaries under control. That's why they imposed the most restrictive free agent system in pro sports, ensuring no player could become a UFA unless they either reached their early 30s or if as a Group II free agent they made under the average salary. In terms of the aforementioned clubs, they abused that system by engaging in frenzied bidding wars for UFA players which contributed to driving up player salaries, which made a mockery of the controls that had been put in place.
The current system allows for the free market so coveted by the NHLPA. In that system, rich teams can earn a profit despite very high payrolls. The problem with the current (expired) CBA is that it allows for teams with high revenues to have high payrolls.
Some of those teams, like the Rangers and Flyers, are now claiming losses under that system. Yet they were among the leaders in high payrolls for several years now.
Isn't it a possibility that the system simply doesn't work? Do you really expect Detroit, Philly or any of these other teams, in today's NHL, to spend less money on payroll when they can spend what they spend and make a healthy profit based on their own individual determination of what returns on investment their ownership requires? Without any cohesive framework from team to team, each team will necessarily operate based on their own self interest. I don't see this as "abuse."
No system is perfect, but if the owners had used the previous CBA as intended, rather than putting their own individual needs ahead of the common good, it could've worked as intended. Granted, there were things in the last CBA that needed to be addressed, the arbitration system being the prime one. But again, those teams took a CBA tilted in their favour and abused it. It's all well and good to improve your club, but only to a point. When your spending winds up squeezing small and mid market clubs, creating an unlevel playing field in the UFA market, you're damaging the overall health of your league.
My point is that these teams operated under the system and played by the rules of the CBA. The CBA as it stands now, does not promote, encourage, or mandate that individual clubs operate in a manner which benefits the collective sport. They operate in their own best interest as any business in a free market would. I believe describing this as "abuse" is inaccurate. Your choice of words implies that these teams have operated outside of the system in some way.
A good point, but as I noted above, the purpose of the last CBA from the owners POV was to control player salaries. I'm not suggesting those teams broke the rules. Rather, I'm suggesting they abused the rules by using their financial advantage when it came to UFA players that put their small and mid market peers at a serious disadvantage. I respect your opinion but I stand by my use of the word abuse.
What I think the league hopes to achieve is a system where each team's self-interest is secondary to the collective good of all teams. It seems to me that ownership has acknowledged, at least financially, that the collective health of all teams is critical to the individual financial health of all teams. If they could apply this approach to the on-ice product the sport would really benefit. Still, I wonder why the NHLPA fails to view this in the same way?
I disagree. The NHLPA has demonstrated with their proposals for a luxury tax system , revenue sharing , a five percent salary giveback, closing off bonus clause loophole in rookie contracts and addressing the need to change the current arbitration system that they're acknowledging there are teams losing money.
The league's proposals, on the other hand, raise more questions than they answer. How will they impose their cost certainty plans? All at once, forcing almost half the teams to gut their rosters? Or by a phasing in period? What measures will they put in place to ensure the same tactics that were used to skirt the entry level hard cap in the last CBA aren't employed under an all-inclusive salary cap? How will they accomplish their revenue sharing plan? What will be the measure of the division of the gate? Will the big market clubs be expected to share their broadcasting revenues? None of these have been addressed in the league's six proposals.
You also make this statement:
The point is that all these teams willingly circumvented the hard cap on entry salaries with bonus and incentive clauses. Technically they were under the cap, but in reality, those rookies could earn far above that cap when their clauses kicked in. The purpose of that hard cap was to ensure teams wouldn't grossly overpay a rookie player who would underachieve, as the Ottawa Senators did with Alexandre Daigle back in 1993. Once the Bruins agreed to pay those clauses to Joe Thornton, that blew the cap apart, and was copied by every team in the league.
Clearly, many if not all of those teams have overspent and made poor decisions. Who hasn't? Every team has players that have not met expectations. But financially, the teams you mention aren't the ones struggling financially are they? So why should they spend less?
Because their frenzied spending contributed to driving up salaries for UFA eligible players, thus putting small and mid market teams at a disadvantage in the UFA market, making it almost impossible for those teams to retain their UFA players or to bid for replacements. Since Gary Bettman believe sthe NHL shouldn't contract and won't have to under his "cost certainty", then obviously it falls to those big market clubs to spend less.
As for entry level bonuses, do you really think ownership alone exploited the loopholes? I am certain player agents, and some rookie players themselves, had a lot to do with that too.
The player agents certainly played a significant part and I've addressed that in previous articles. However, at the end of the day, the onus falls on the team to decide if they're going to do this. The Bruins knew full well what the consequences would be for signing Thornton to that clause-laden contract, but did it anyway. It's the teams, not the player agents, who decide what they'll pay out.
Next up, Bart Brewer.
I've been a season seat holder to the Kings for 22 years. I own the seats personally- they are not corporate.
I am in full support of the NHL shutting the season down to get a hard cap. I pay US$7K for my seats. I need the $$ right now for property taxes!
That's a lot of money for season tickets. However, there is little correlation between rising ticket prices and player salaries. The Kings, for example, were 11th in attendance last season. They lowered their ticket prices by 3.1 percent, yet their payroll jumped noticeably from the previous season, from over $37 million to almost $54 million. So if there is a correlation between rising salaries and rising ticket prices, then why did the Kings payroll jump over $16 million in one season after they lowered ticket prices?
On a slightly more serious
note, the Kings have not charged their fans
I think that's very fair of them.
In hockey, the owners really
don't make money- unlike baseball and
There's no question teams are losing money. The union isn't disputing that. What they're disputing is the number of teams the league claims lost money, and the amount they claim to have lost.
I have a way to save the season even if "negotiations" drag past January, but first the two sides need to get together. See you when pucks drops with replacement players in 2005-06.
Would you be willing to pay 7K to watch a Kings team stocked with replacement players? How about 5K or 6K? Because the teams won't cut ticket prices by a large margin if they do that. After all, they have to recoup some of their losses.
In 1987 the NFL busted the NFLPA by imposing a hard cap. The league and players have done great since. Hard caps mean no guaranteed contracts- only signing bonuses and broader free agency- and that is fabulous.
The NFL's salary cap is not a hard cap, as there are many teams who spend over it thanks to prorated bonuses and incentive clauses. It is a like a "credit card" in that teams who do this will eventually have to pay the piper. That's the concern I have with the league adopting a hard cap. What measures will they put in place to ensure the same thing doesn't happen? Let's not also forget the real reason why the NFL is doing great: lucrative broadcasting deals and revenue sharing that levels the playing field and creates a more competitive league, thus ensuring those revenue streams continue.
Next up, Eric Bowser:
Did Bob Goodenow, Executive
Director of NHLPA, possibly upset the most
I agree with you, Eric. As you noted further on in your piece, NFLPA President Troy Vincent recently endorsed their system and said the union is seeking to extend it. Whoever Goodenow was talking to, they weren't speaking for the majority of NFL players, who seem to support their system.
Even though guaranteed contracts
never happen, guaranteed dollars
Average Signing Bonus through
1992 - $125, 728
Very good point and again, I agree with you. This also, however, highlights why the NFL system won't work in the NHL. That "hard cap" the NFL has isn't a hard cap at all. As I noted earlier, it's like a credit card system whereby once you reach your limit, you have to pay it back. However, for those NHL fans endorsing the NFL hard cap system, I fail to see how it achieves the league's "cost certainty". If NHL owners, particularly big market ones, follow the lead of their NFL peers and sign players to prorated bonus and incentive clauses, they'll still be going over the cap, and they'll still be using the system to their advantage at the expense of the smaller market teams, just as they did in the last CBA. Without strong revenue streams and revenue sharing like the NFL, I fail to see where the NHL's hard cap model would work.
The NFLPA released a stinging
report in April 2002 regarding
In the report, NFLPA said
"It's important to emphasize that the Salary
And this is where I think most NHL fans who point to the NFL's system as an example of how well a hard cap would work in the NHL are getting confused. As the NFLPA indicates, the salary cap does not create a hard limit. Thus, teams are able to spend above that cap, often by significant margins. For example the Washington Redskins payroll when factoring in all clauses stands at over $110 million, even though the cap is set at just over $80 million for this season.
Also said, "Since signing
bonuses are prorated, clubs are able to have
Again, this substantiates what I'm saying about the NFL cap. What makes that cap work is the fact that it is a "buy now pay later" idea. It also doesn't hurt that the NFL makes the kind of revenue the NHL can only dream about, which is in turn shared fairly amongst all the teams.
To the myth the players are
cut because of their contract, league
I agree with your take on this. My point was never about whether or not players should or should not have guaranteed contracts. That's something which is a moot point since the league claims they're not pursuing non-guaranteed contracts. My point is that the NFL's hard cap system isn't as hard as NHL fans believe it to be.
The philosophical gap over
which economic system can work for the
Next up, "Frankie".
If the Rangers give money
to Calgary via a luxury tax or revenue sharing, a player may
still be able to get his desired $5 million salary while staying
in Calgary rather than limiting his options to the 10 or so large
market clubs. Under a strict (enforceable) hard cap, the player
would have to settle for less money wherever he plays. The players
would rather the revenue sharing system where they can
I couldn't agree more, Frankie. One thing I would like to see in any revenue sharing or luxury tax system is that the monies that go to those small market clubs are actually spent on improving those teams, and not merely pocketed by ownership or put toward something else.
To sum up, under the old
CBA, money was concentrated in the large market clubs. Under
a hard cap, those large market clubs would spend less money,
so the overall money spent in the NHL would decrease. Under a
soft cap, some of that money concentrated in the large
Under a hard cap, those large market clubs may not spend quite as much as they did under the previous system, but unless there are strict controls on bonus and incentive clauses, they'll still spend a heckuva lot more than the small market clubs.
Keep the same CBA but with one exception.....NO MORE GARANTEED CONTRACTS! If a team "fires" a player, they cant hire him ever again, pretty simply no? This would solve alot of problems, dont you think? It would improve the quality of play for sure. One thing for sure you wouldnt have a guy making 10 million$ playing on the fourth line(hello Mr. Yashin).
Perhaps the simplest solution is the best one? Still, the league claims they're not going to go that route and the union certainly wouldn't be for it.
They could also adjust the arbitration process( seriously do you know any other industry that gives 10% raise for someone that had a 30% reduction? ( Hello Mr; Kaberle)
In their proposals the union said they were willing to negotiate changes to the arbitration system to make it a more fair system for both sides. The league rejected it when they rejected the union's tow proposals.
Spector... and everyone else...
Im tired of this CBA crap.
The leauge needs to start playing. I miss hockey over the off
season when things are on schedule. When things are off, it is
redicuous. I cant handle this crap. There are bigger
Canadian sports network TSN recently had NHL Executive VP Bill Daly and NHLPA Executive Director Ted Saskin on their "Hot Seat", answering questions from a panel including Bob McKenzie and Toronto Star columnist Damian Cox.
Both men didn't give us much to get excited about. A lot of their commentary was essentially the same blah-da-de-blah-blah we've gotten used to over the past several months.
In a nutshell, Daly believes the NHLPA needs to compromise, while Saskin believes it's the league that must compromise. As they say in the Army, "Sitrep, no change". In plain English, "same BS, different day."
So here are some of the "highlights" of their grilling from the TSN staff, with my comments italicized for your protection.
First up, Bill Daly:
On Steve Balkin's comments regarding the league's potential use of replacement players next season:
"Well, Steve wasn't talking on behalf of the National Hockey League, he was talking on behalf of Steve Belkin. To be quite honest, he's been an owner of the Atlanta Thrashers for only 4 months, he's only been to one board meeting. I think Steve was talking about maybe what he would do if he was in our situation, he wasn't talking on behalf of the league."
Loose lips sink ships, eh Steve? Was he really speaking for himself? Or did he let the cat out of the bag? He only got fined $250K for his comments. Draw your own conclusions. But if the league does go that route, Daly and Bettman wear the tag, "big fat liars" and gives the players even more reason to distrust the league.
On his supposed comments on ESPN radio regarding teams like the NY Rangers deliberately overstating or understating losses as part of their owner's "overall corporate structure":
"Well, that's not what I said at all on that ESPN radio show. That's a gross distortion of what I said on that show, I didn't-"accounting practices" didn't come up at all. What I said is, owners in the National Hockey League make decisions on players and payroll for various reasons - some non-economic. So I didn't suggest that the Rangers are hiding revenue, or anything else. But I will say, even where you have a club that is part of a broader ownership group worth a lot of related assets, our unified report of operations captures all hockey-related assets. It doesn't just capture what the New York Rangers want to report as revenues, it doesn't."
And that's where the NHLPA disagrees with the owners. They don't believe that all hockey-related assets are being reported by the owners, based on their analysis of the books of four clubs, where they claim to have discovered over $50 million in unreported revenues.
On the players mistrust of the owners based on orevious owners like the Rigas family and Bruce McNall either facing or receiving prison sentences for "financial malfeasance":
"Well, none of those issues had to deal anything at all with our unified report of operations. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of clubs in our league who, as legal entities report far less revenues than we record as part of our unified report of operations... Now, let me finish because you're going to ask me, "Well how can the players be sure those are real numbers?" And, you know, I heard from the Players Association for 3 or 4 years - publicly, not privately - that while they're unaudited numbers, you know garbage in, garbage out, so we went out and hired Arthur Levitt to audit the books of all of our clubs to verify the accuracy of our unified report of operations.... He went in, did his own independent analysis of these businesses-"
The NHLPA isn't disputing Mr Levitt and his integrity, but rather, they feel Mr Levitt didn't get the full information from the league required to produce his report. Mr. Daly refuses to acknowlegdge the years of mistrust the players feel toward the owners. That's something that MUST be addressed, otherwise we can expect more of the same in the future when the next CBA expires.
When asked if the owners demand for cost certainty is proof the individual owners can't run their teams properly:
"I don't think so, only because-what I'll say is, clubs make different decisions for different reasons, based on different sets of circumstances. They make decisions that arguably are in their own best interests and I certainly understand that. The problem with our system is that those individual decisions made by individual clubs necessarily impact the businesses of 29 other clubs, and that creates a league problem, and then a league problem has to be addressed through collective bargaining."
And this is the players fault how? The owners screwed up but they want the players to pay for the owners mistakes?
On how the NHL's cost certainty plan will address the disparity between big and small market clubs:
"Well, we've said all along that to the extent this league needs enhanced revenue sharing to help support the revenue-challenged clubs to afford league competitive payrolls, that we're fully prepared to do that in a meaningful way, in the context of a partnership system with the Players Association. So that's not an issue with our ownership."
I'm glad to read the league is in favour of revenue sharing, but my quetion is, what kind of revenue sharing do they have in mind? We've seen no detailed explanations yet from the league on how they'll put "enhanced revenue sharing" into place, or even what their definition of it will be. If it's not an issue with ownership, then are we to assume the big market clubs are willing to adopt a 60-40 split of the gate as per the NFL's model? Somehow, I doubt it, but we'll never know for sure until the league explains itself in more detail.
On a luxury tax system:
"Well, there's a lot of reasonable ways of addressing the revenue disparity and we think we have better ways of addressing them. The luxury tax proposal by itself is of no-well, is of no interest to us because it doesn't work."
Based on what research? Why in Buddha's name are the owners so unwilling to accept a luxury tax system if revenue sharing "is not an issue" with them, as Daly suggested earlier?
On teams who are supposedly losing money (like the Nashville Predators) while already having a payroll well under $30 million US:
"I think with the right system, a partnership-based system with our Players Association we'll actually have a much more competitive National Hockey League, and the fans, who are already supporting clubs in smaller markets and non-traditional hockey markets will come to the rink more often. So, again, I don't think we have a problem, I don't think we have a market problem."
So the league demands the players accept their hard cap cost-certainty or nothing, and that's entering into " a partnership-based system" with the union? And he doesn't think teams like Anaheim, Nashville and Carolina have a market problem? Sorry, that's just whistling in the dark.
On the issue of contraction:
"We need a system that's going to work for all 30 of our clubs, and we think-we firmly believe that all 30 of our clubs can be fully healthy, competitive and economically viable in their current location."
The only way that's going to happen is with a good revenue sharing system, but while Daly says cost certainty will bring this about, we've yet to see a detailed explanation how.
On the possibility that getting players to tie their salaries to revenues that could be greatly reduced should the lockout negatively impact the league.
"We've grown our revenues 160% in the 10 years of this collective bargaining agreement, which is a higher percentage than many other sports leagues, including the major ones. OK, so this isn't a revenue-generation problem at all. This is player costs that have gone out of control as a result of the system"
But if this labour dispute has a serious adverse affect on those revenues, they won't be growing anymore. One could also make the case that, since revenues increased 160 percent over the last ten years under the last CBA, the players salaries were already tied to revenues, hence the significant increase over the same period.
On when a "drop-dead" date for losing the upcoming season would be:
" We don't have a drop dead date in mind, Bob, we're 100% committed to the negotiation process-I would imagine there is that point in time. I can tell you we haven't determined when it is."
Daly had to be prodded into admitting there would be "that point in time" by Bob McKenzie. Again, if the league is "100% committed to the negotiation process", why have they locked out the players and shut themselves down? Why are they demanding the union accept their cost certainty proposals or nothing? Why are they refusing to even give serious consideration to any part of the union's proposals? That's not negotiating to me.
Next up, Ted Saskin:
On why the NHLPA won't accept a salary cap while the more successful NFL and NBA have them in place:
"Well they may be the most successful leagues, for the owners, but I don't think that their systems are particularly fair for the players, and necessarily for fans. So I don't know that I would agree that they are the most successful sports in that sense."
That's not what the president of the NFL, Troy Vincent, had to say. Meanwhile, the NBA average salary in 2003 was $4.1 million. I'm sure most NBA players aren't upset with what they're making under their system. The NHLPA has offered a luxury tax system, which is in essence a salary cap system like the NBA's.
On the respective presidents of the NFL and NBA not only endorsing their current systems but also seeking to expand them.
"Well the majority of players in the NFL and the NBA who our players talk to tell them there are a lot of problems in the salary cap systems in those sports, but again you can't look at each sport and necessarily say because it works in one sport it's going to work in another. In the NFL they revenue share more than sixty percent of their revenues, that's a great distinction between that sport and hockey and as you know the set up of that sport is quite different as well. So I think what you have to look at is there are a lot of different ways you can restrain what owners spend on players salaries, there are different methods, different restrictions in the NHL and you have to find the system that works best and is fair for both sides in any sport.
And therein lies the big reasons why the NFL and NBA systems work - the revenue streams generated by breadcasting and their revenue sharing systems. As I noted yesterday, the only way a hard cap works in the NHL is if they have those revenue streams and revenue sharing based on the NFL or NBA models. Indeed, Gary Bettman was the author of the current NBA system. A hard cap on it's own will not work. As for problems in the NFL and NBA systems, no system will be perfect, but most NFL and NBA players appear to be happy with their current system. What works for them may not work for the NHL given the lesser revenue, but there may be parts of their models that could be adapted to the NHL's needs.
On why, if the NHLPA hierarchy is against a hard salary cap, did they accept one for entry-level salaries:
"Well the entry level is a little different, in that system you have got players that are untested, unproven and as part of a compromise frankly back in 1994, to resolve that lockout we agreed to an entry level system with some restrictions but also with the ability for some players that performed at a very high level to earn some compensation beyond those cap levels at the entry. "
The owners are on the same page as the union with entry level salaries. Believe me, this will not be a contentious issue in negotiations for the next CBA. Still, the bonus loopholes must be either closed off or strictly capped to ensure no further abuses occur like those under the previous deal.
On acknowledging that there must be restraints on what owners can spend on players:
"anything that we have offered by way of concessions are further restraints on player cost there is no doubt about that. Everything you look at in the system can be used to restrain player cost. Whether that is a salary roll-back, whether that system changes at the entry level, whether that system changes of any other type, what we are talking about here is concessionary bargaining. And the players have put forth a lot of concessions in order to get hockey to be played again. "
If the players were rejecting any changes to the last CBA, they'd be the bad guys in this little lockout drama. But Saskin is correct in noting that the player union has shown a willingness to make concessions. The only one they don't want is a hard cap. Everything else is on the table. If the owners were smart and farsighted, they could leap on this and get a deal that would be more to their benefit than the last CBA. Hence the belief by myself and some others that the league's intent isn't cost certainty, but crushing the union and weakening it's influence.
On the majority of fans, particularly in Canada, siding with the owners on this issue:
"Well I think it's difficult frankly for the hockey public to be fully conversant with all of the issues, they certainly don't any full disclosure from the league on what the actual finances are. It is also difficult to relate to what exactly you are going to compensate players who drive a two billion dollar business. We think that in some sense the market should operate and the owners should set the values of the players salaries as they currently do.I'm not saying the fans are wrong, the fans are passionate, particularly in Canada about seeing hockey and I think they want to see a resolution."
Most hockey fans don't care about the issues at play in this labour dispute. They simply see millionaire players and the automatic reaction is that they're greedy and spoiled and making too much money already. They're blissfully unaware of the league's labour history and the owners fiscal irreponsibility. That's just the way it is. Those fans aren't stupid, just ignorant, because labour negotiations are dull as dishwater. They just want their hockey back and don't care how it happens. The NHLPA was never going to win the PR war and knew it going in, so they've ceded that ground in the overall battle with the owners and are focussing instead on the money issues.
On if the union believes the league will try to bring in replacement players, and the fans reaction to it:
" That certainly seems to be everything we hear from them...I think at the end of the day the fans support the great hockey players that we have and are fortunate to have in our sport. And if the league who alleges that they are doing this for the fan suddenly comes out with a watered down product that they try to implement I think fans would react negatively to that."
Admit it, hockey fans, you won't pay top dollar to watch third rate NHL talent and minor leaguers. You'll want to see your teams with their best players going at it. If the Carolina Hurricanes were to win the Stanley Cup in 2006 with replacement players, everyone will say that doesn't count because the best players weren't playing. The league will be cutting it's own throat if they use replacement players. It didn't work in the 1987 NFL players strike and it won't work for the NHL. The fans simply won't accept it.
On why the union would be against replacement players when they're taking jobs in Europe and other leagues:
"... effectively people are taking peoples jobs everyday in the National Hockey League. Our guys fight for their jobs every night, every shift. That's the way it works. And right now they are locked out and they are looking at opportunities where some of their home countries want to see these players play, it is a great opportunity for them to play in front of their home fans they are doing it, frankly, for amounts of money that hardly covers their insurance risks. They are doing it because they love hockey, and they want to stay in shape, and that is why they are doing it, we don't have any objection to that."
I'll bet the players who lost their jobs to those NHL'ers don't feel the same way. Still, it was the owners of those clubs who saw the opportunity to bring in NHL talent for at least a half-season, so who's really at fault here? It is ownership and management, regardless of the league, that dictates which players play where and for how much.
On how contraction could affect the union, particularly those lower paid players:
"What we're interested in, again, is a fair system for the players to operate under. If the owners lockout goes a length of time that jeopardizes certain teams in certain situations, unfortunately that's not something we can control. That's something the owners have decided in triggering their lockout... the players don't have job security at that level anyway right now, and they know that. And we've met with all the teams and all the players and the consensus is overwhelming - we want a fair system, and we want a system that has some marketplace."
The union has to be concerned, however, over the possibility of contraction costing some of their members their jobs. Right now the league is saying contraction isn't part of the equation so the union isn't going to put that on the front burner right now, but I'll bet it's at the back of their minds.
On why the "TSN Solution" which included a salary cap, isn't acceptable to the union:
"I haven't seen a system yet with individual salary caps that seems fair to some of the star players who really drive the interest in the sport. Having said that, there are elements in any solution which we're prepared to talk about, but you need to have a negotiating partner who's prepared to talk about those things with you."
A league owner said the TSN solution would cost the league over half its teams. The union said it was not a player-friendly agreement. Still, when you offer a system that caps individual salaries at $6 million yet also proposes a luxury tax system, you're giving the players a lot of leeway to earn considerable money.
On the fans frustration over the lack of agreement between the two sides:
"Well, it's a difficult process. Just last week, Bill Daly was on television - sorry, radio interview in New York, and his statement was that the Rangers, in the largest market, are a significant money loser. And then he went on to say they may lose intentionally, because it adds value to Cablevision, their owner, as a whole. So it's obvious that Cablevision, the owner of the Rangers, views finances differently than the NHL does in its reporting system, and that's part of the challenge here. But at the end of the day, we don't have to get to the last dollar in each club. There are revenue sharing systems where teams will want to make sure that others are reporting in a responsible manner, but we think it's up to us to negotiate something that's fair, put further restraints on player costs - that's fine, we're prepared to do all that. But at some point, teams have to take some responsibility for managing their business."
It's very hard to believe the Rangers are a significant money loser. If they are, they have no one to blame but themselves, since they spent millions on aging or overrated free agent talent and were the poster child for irresponsible spending over the past seven years. Folks can go on and on about greedy players, but at the end of the day, it's still the owners who pay out that money. The players can demand all they want, but if the owners decide they won't pay those demands, they won't get what they want and must either seek free agency to find someone dumb enough to do so or accept what their owner is offering and stay put.
OK, italicized comments over. I realize reading this that my critics will say, there goes Spector, totally pro-union and anti-owner. That's simply not the case, rather, I am sympathetic to the union's side for three significant reasons:
One, it's the owners who paid out those salaries when in the previous CBA they had measures in place to supposedly control those salaries,
Two, the union has been willing to make concessions on everything except a hard cap and are willing to even accept a soft salary cap in the form of a luxury tax. The league, rather than show any sign of acknowledging the union's offers, dismissed them out of hand and are trying to force the players to accept their proposals with no compromise at all.
Three, no league that is in such dire straits as the NHL should be playing hardball with their employees. You work with them, not against them. You don't risk further pissing off your fanbase and placing your future into more jeopardy. As Glenn Healy recently noted on TSN, it's up to the owners to negotiate, not dictate.
I still hear from folks who believe a hard salary cap is what's required to "save" the National Hockey League. The NFL is most often brought up as the best example of how a salary cap works.
While I respect their opinions, I believe a cap by itself won't work.
First of all, the NFL's "hard cap" isn't quite as hard as hockey fans believe it to be. Some teams, like the Denver Broncos, Dallas Cowboys San Francisco 49'ers, Jacksonville Jaquars , and Washington Redskins, either went over the cap in the past or are presently doing so. Some of those clubs, like the Broncos, Cowboys and Redskins, did so by record-setting margins.
Now of course, the NFL has a system in place whereby going over their "hard cap" is like using a credit card: once you max out your limit, you have to start paying it back.
"So what?", I hear NHL cap proponents say. Such a system would ensure that teams don't abuse the system over the long term and keeps them from mortgaging their future, right?
In the case of the NHL, wrong.
Think about how some of these teams abused the previous CBA for years. Remember all the money plunked down in the UFA market over the past five years by the NY Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs, Dallas Stars and Philadelphia Flyers.
Now recall the free spendings ways of the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, NY Islanders and Washington Capitals, who either consistently overspent for several years, or shot the wad on one or two players in the vain hope of bringing in a franchise player to improve their lot.
If the NHL succeeds in getting it's "cost certainty", which is believed to be a $31 million hard cap, how are they going to ensure these teams won't use prorated bonuses and incentive clauses that could boost them well past that level? If they're allowed to do so, what measures would the league put in place to penalize those clubs down the road?
While it's all fine and good for the owners to proclaim unity during this lockout, the bottom line is that most of those aforementioned clubs simply cannot help themselves. If they see an opportunity to be creative with their bookkeeping, just as they did when they made a mockery of the entry level salary hard cap in the last CBA, they'll do it again if it'll bring in the players they covet and screw what it does to small market clubs and to the payroll scale.
Even if the NHL adopts an NFL "cap credit card" system, that's simply not going to deter some of those clubs. Some will happily mortgage their future if it'll mean playoff success now. They'll willingly pay out whatever penalty needed to achieve their aims. They did it under the previous CBA, and under a hard cap system, free of being penalized for any forays into creative bookkeeping, they'll do it again.
And if the penalties for doing so are tame, it'll do nothing to change the disparity between the "haves" and "have-nots" in the NHL. It'll also ensure that, while player salaries might start out under control, in due time you'd find players again being paid well over $6 million per season, only this time in bonus and incentive clause money.
The NFL's cap does contribute to keeping player salaries under some measure of control, but it's not the fail safe method some hockey fans believe it to be.
Other significant contributing factors are the revenue streams from broadcasting rights, and by revenue sharing. That was acknowledged by Gene Upshaw, Executive Director of the NFL Players Association, in an interview with Rogers Sportsnet on March 3rd of this year.
It's the combination of those revenue streams and sharing, more so than the cap, that has brought about parity to the NFL, making it possible for small market clubs in New England and Green Bay to field championship squads.
There's no way the NHL can possibly compete with the NFL's enormous broadcasting revenue, but if the big market clubs were willing to share the spoils like their big market cousins in the NFL, it would be beneficial to the league as a whole.
In his book "Money Players", author Bruce Dowbiggin cited a study that applied the NFL's split system (whereby the home team gets 60% of the gate and the visitors 40%) to the NHL's gate revenues in 2001 which discovered "the disparity between the top and bottom teams would virtually disappear".
According to Dowbiggin, the study showed that not only would lower-earning teams get a significant boost, but "the top-earning clubs wouldn't be unduly hurt." The statistics showed the Calgary Flameswould've received a 26.5% revenue increase and the Edmonton Oilers 14.5%, while the Toronto Maple Leafs would've seen a 12.9 percent decrease and the Detroit Red Wings only 8.3%.
Dowbiggin acknowledged the peril of revenue sharing would see well-run big market clubs being "penalized" by having to transfer money to a poorly-run team, but he cited a proposal by Andy Bernstein of the SportsBusiness Journal that would "assess teams on the potential of their market" and use that assessment to ensure a payroll floor and ceiling for each team, thus ensuring that poorly-run teams are forced to spend their money on their rosters and not squander it elsewhere.
Obviously, no system is perfect, but revenue-sharing, be it the NFL model or via a luxury tax system, stands a better chance of improving the NHL than a hard salary cap on it's own.
One of my recent Google Alerts regarding the NHL lockout was this article by Matt Canamucio, NHL Editor of The Sports Network, highlighting which promising young rookies from each team we're not getting to see thanks to this lockout.
Last season's rookie crop, consisting of promising kids like Nathan Horton, Eric Staal, Tuomo Ruutu, Nikolai Zherdev, Michael Ryder, Joni Pitkanen, Patrice Bergeron, Joffrey Lupul and Marc-Andre Fleury was perhaps one of the deepest in some time.
This season's crop of rookie talent could be just as good, provided the 2004-05 season isn't lost entirely to a lockout. It's quite possible we may have to wait another year before we get to see those kids listed in Canamucio's article.
Mr. Canamucio's list is a comprehensive one, but I'm going to focus on those I was really looking forward to watching play this season. They're the ones I believe are destined for superstardom whenever the NHL finally gets back to operating again.
Keith Ballard, defenceman, Phoenix Coyotes. A highly touted college prospect whose rights have bounced amongst three teams, he could well become the added bonus for the Coyotes in their late-season deal that brought them Derek Morris.
Kari Lehtonen, goaltender, Atlanta Thrashers. If he plays as well as he did in the four late-season games he appeared in last season, he could end up challenging Florida's Roberto Luongo as the top netminder in the league. Along with Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk, Lehtonen will be part of the foundation of the Thrashers future.
Alexander Ovechkin, center, Washington Capitals. He's considered the sure thing, the cream of this year's rookie crop, a true franchise player. There's still the little matter of an expensive transfer fee with Moscow Dynamo to work out, but considering how well he acquitted himself during his limited ice time in the World Cup of Hockey, as well as the Caps rebuilding program, they may willingly pay up to bring this kid under contract and onto the roster.
Zach Parise, center, New Jersey Devils. One would think the last thing the Devils need is another small forward, but Parise plays like a much bigger man. The son of former NHL'er JP Parise, he was the MVP of last year's World Junior Hockey Championship, and even practiced with the Devils prior to their early elimination from last spring's playoffs.
Dion Phaneuf, defenceman, Calgary Flames. This kid is so good there was even talk of the Flames bringing him into the lineup during their playoff run when injuries started piling up on their blueline. Flames GM and coach Darryl Sutter loves Phaneuf, so you can bet he'll get every opportunity to make the Flames roster.
Anthony Stewart, right wing, Florida Panthers. The Panthers are already a budding young club with loads of potential, and Stewart should blend in well. Possessing good size and a scoring touch, he should be a favourite of GM Mike Keenan and should blossom under new head coach Jacques Martin, who has a proven record in developing promising NHL talent.
Ryan Suter, defenceman, Nashville Predators. The nephew of future NHL Hall-of-Famer Gary Suter, this kid plays like his uncle, with a mean streak and a scoring touch. Pair this kid with Dan Hamhuis on the Preds blueline and opposing forwards could be in a world of hurt.
For those of you who aren't Canadian , today is Thanksgiving Day here in my home and native land. And regardless of when you commemorate or celebrate this day, it is a time to gives thanks for everything that you have.
For me, I have plenty to be thankful for. I have a loving wife, a wonderful teenage son, a terrific little cocker spaniel, a nice home in a beautiful part of the world, and good health. My wife and I even managed to put up crown molding in our living room yesterday without botching the job!
I'm also fortunate to have a couple of decent paying jobs, one of them with my Canadian Forces Reserve unit and the other being the free-lance gig I currently have with Foxsports.com. Even the advertising I have on this website pays enough to off-set my webhosting fees.
Yep, life is pretty good for me this Thanksgiving.
But as per every Thanksgiving, my thoughts also turn to those folks who may be less fortunate than myself. Obviously there are folks all around the world who are struggling to make ends meet or even to stay alive. That helps put things into perspective for me.
Given the circumstances the National Hockey League finds themselves presently in, I also began to think about who might be hurt the most by the lockout, and who may not have as much to be thankful for now as they may have a year ago.
The owners certainly aren't hurting, as they are very rich even with this lockout going on. All of them made their wealth outside the hockey world and most consider their NHL franchises to be status symbols than as genuine money-makers.
Indeed, some of the NHL owners are so rich they're listed in the Forbes 400 Richest in America. They're obviously very thankful people and it's doubtful most of them are really that concerned about this NHL shutdown. They've even put aside a $320 million "war chest" to see them through the lockout.
How about NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his staff? Well, even though the league has locked out its players, losing the first month of the 2004-05 season and possibly even throwing the rest of the season into jeopardy, Bettman and his staff will continue to draw their salaries. That's something I bet they're very thankful for!
The players won't be drawing their salaries for as long as this labour dispute continues, but few of them are going to be hurting. Not when the average salary was $1.8 million and not when the lowest paid players made over $325, 000 US last season. They all knew the work stoppage was coming and most of them (if they're smart) put away enough to see them through this lockout.
Heck, a lot of them made so much they didn't have to worry about setting aside a specific amount to see them through, since they live comfortably on less than what they actually make.
Almost a quarter of them are playing in Europe, and while they're making less money than they would've under their NHL contracts, they're still making money and are keeping in game shape.
Other are playing in the newly formed OSHL, others are signing up with AHL and other minor league teams, while some of the richest are preparing for a European exhibition tour in December. The rest are either working out at home or pursuing other interests to while away the time.
If any of them get into truly dire straits financially, there's a union fund that they can draw on, although it's unlikely most of them will need it.
The obvious assumption is that it's the fans who are hurting the most in this lockout, but that's simply not the case. If you can afford tickets to go watch NHL games on a regular basis, you're not hurting. In fact, you can probably find other, better things to invest that money.
Yeah, it's annoying that the NHL is shut down and we may not see NHL hockey for weeks or months or maybe even a year, but it's not the end of the world. It's not going to negatively impact our lives. We're not going to lose our livelihood over the absence of NHL hockey this fall and winter.
There are other alternatives we hockey fans can turn to. The AHL will have more visibility as TV and radio networks seek to fill the void in their schedules created by the NHL lockout. If you're fortunate enough to live in a city or town where there's a minor league or junior team, you can spend your money on that. It'll cost ya less than the NHL and the quality of the hockey will be quite good.
There's even going to be broadcasts of classic NHL games here in Canada and I'm pretty sure ESPN Classic will also televise some.
What about hockey reporters, commentators and analysts? Yes, they'll feel the impact, but most will remain on salary with their respective employers and will either cover the lockout or be re-assigned to covering other sports.
Folks like me who follow the NHL with our websites are feeling the hit in terms of visitor numbers and what we can write about, but a lot of us are finding other creative measures to fill the space and keep our sites going. For those like me who don't rely on our websites as the primary source of income, we're not going to be hurt by this lockout. If anything, it'll be a test of our writing skills to come up with interesting stories to post up and keep our dwindling numbers of visitors from dwindling further.
So who're the real victims of this lockout? Who're the ones most deserving of our sympathies? Who're the ones who have less to be thankful for this year?
NHL employees for one. The league laid off half their employees less than a week after announcing the lockout. While Mr. Bettman and company could've been big about it and come up with the money to keep those folks on salary, they opted to go the Simon Legree route instead.
It's not the fault of those employees that the current labour impasse occurred, but they're being unfairly made to pay for it.
Rink employees are another group. Some of them are being laid off or seen their hours cut back because of the absence of NHL hockey. The local businesses, particularly the small ones, who rely on the fans coming out to the games for part of their business are also feeling the effects.
Those folks are now going into the winter with either no employment, or less employment or less money than they had a month ago. They now have to figure out how to make ends meet while they wonder how long this lockout will last. Some may even be wondering if they'll have a job when it's over.
So the next time, hockey fans, you feel sorry for yourselves because you've got no NHL to watch, or if you see or read any tales of woe about struggling owners or underpaid hockey players, just remember who the real victims are in this stupid posturing game between the league and the players union.
Over the past several weeks, I've wondered how the NHL plans to impose their "cost certainty" upon the teams if they should emerge victorious from this current labour dispute.
The league has been very vague as to what their plans will be and how they'll put them into effect.
If we go by the premise, widely accepted by the media, that the NHL is seeking to impose a hard salary cap of $31 million dollars, over half the clubs will be forced to pare down their payrolls to get under that cap mark.
For some clubs presently sitting between $31 million and $40 million, it may not be difficult achieve this aim, but the difficulty increases once you get over that $40 million mark.
A sensible way for the league to achieve this would be to allow a phasing-in period of two years to allow teams sitting well above $40 million in payroll to bring that figure down, either via buy-outs, outright release, trades or allowing current contracts to expire without re-signing.
Another school of thought, however, suggests that the league would impose the cap immediately, forcing the owners to get their payrolls down under $31 million prior to the start of the season.
Such a move would create a huge flood of unrestricted free agents, which would be a boon to teams whose payrolls are already well under $31 million, but it would make it extremely difficult for other clubs who are close to or at that $31 million mark to bid for those UFAs.
Another method would be a dispersal draft.
According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post last June, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman intends "to hold a dispersal draft with teams able to protect players who earn up to an aggregate $31M in payroll, with the remainder available to be drafted - and, get this, with the original clubs on the hook for the contracts of both those players selected by other teams and those who might go unclaimed."
Brooks went on WFAN radio last month and expanded on this, noting that if NY Rangers GM Glen Sather decided to leave forward Bobby Holik unprotected and thus eligible for a dispersal draft, and he were selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Rangers would still have to pay Holik's current salary of $9 million per season.
Personally, I don't see how this could possibly work.
As noted by The Hockey Rodent, the scenario with Holik isn't going to happen. The Rangers would simply exercise their right to buy out two thirds of the remainder of Holik's contract, rather than be on the hook for the remaining years of it while he's playing for another team. Thus it would cost the Rangers $6 million per season, rather than $9 million.
Many other clubs faced with that scenario would respond the same way. It'll mean teams would be able to select UFA players at bargain rates, but their original clubs won't be on the hook for the full amount of their salaries.
You'd also probably see a lot of restricted free agents cut loose by their clubs before the dispersal draft would take place. The market will still be flooded with UFA players.
That's not to suggest a dispersal draft may not happen, but it seems unlikely to me it'll be a bonanza for small market clubs to pluck away high-salaried veterans without being on the hook for their salaries.
- I'm still intrigued by some of the curious moves made by several NHL clubs in the weeks leading up to the lockout.
If the owners are united in achieving their cost certainty, why did the Toronto Maple Leafs and New Jersey Devils push their payrolls as high as they did in the off-season?
The Leafs now have the highest payroll in the league while the Devils have the third-highest. The Leafs willingly paid out raises to aging stars like Ed Belfour, Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk, while the Devils also paid out raises to their free agents and most importantly didn't exercise their walk-away rights when Scott Niedermayer and Scott Gomez won big raises via arbitration.
Now I can hear Devils fans arguing that there was no way Lamoriello was going to cut loose two of his best players, but in the case of Niedermayer, he's talking about leaving next summer via the UFA market. Why not walk away from his arbitration award?
After all, if all the owners are united for cost certainty, then it stands to reason that no rival owner would pay over 80 percent of $7 million arbitration award to secure his rights, now would they?
As for Gomez, if the NHL is set to become flooded with unrestricted free agents once the league implements it's cost certainty, surely a cheaper, bigger replacement for "Gomer" could be found under those circumstances?
The question was posed prior to the lockout and I think it's worth asking again: could it be that the Leafs and Devils don't really believe the NHL will achieve it's aims?
On the flipside of the coin is the Boston Bruins, who dumped almost all their impending UFAs in anticipation of the imposition of cost certainty.
The Bruins thinking here is they'll be able to fill the numerous gaps in their roster with the plethora of UFAs sure to be available in a post-cost certainty league.
Only problem is, by accepting the hefty arbitration awards for Sergei Gonchar and Joe Thornton, their payroll is now periously close to $30 million, which would leave them very little room to fill those gaps under a $31 million hard cap. If the impasse is resolved, say, within the next month or two, the Bruins could be screwed.
Perhaps the Bruins aren't worried about those arbitration awards since they're only good for the 2004-05 season. If there isn't a season, they won't have to worry about it.
Still, they'd lose Gonchar for certain to unrestricted free agency next year, and would have a very messy contract dispute on their hands with Thornton.
Even so, is it possible the Bruins ownership and management knows for certain there won't be a 2004-05 season? That the league might file a labour impasse, thus forcing the union into strike action, in an attempt to break the union once and for all?
- MORE CARTOON FUN! As always, I try to inject a little levity into this dreariness that is this stupid lockout. So here's a couple of links to cartoons sent in by regular trade rumour contributor "Go Sharks!"
According to McKenzie, " The response from NHLPA headquarters was that the TSN Solution was "extremely anti-player", which is really kind of funny when you think of it, because the league hated it too. One general manager said if that's the solution, his team and 14 others will be going up for sale.
All of which only confirms to us that the TSN Solution must be the ultimate compromise. The NHLPA hates it because it has a salary cap of sorts. The league hates it because it doesn't guarantee cost certainty."
Hey, if both sides hate it, it's gotta be good, right?
The only problem with the TSN solution was that it tried to be all things to both sides, giving the owners the salary cap they crave and the players the luxury tax they're seeking.
It should'nt be surprising that both sides rejected it, and for that matter, ignored Brian Burke's "Fifteen Points". Both sides have not just drawn lines in the sand, they've buried their heads in it like good little ostriches.
Ultimately we can have a proposal a day toward ending this mess, from fans, reporters, retired players and GMs and former owners, and it won't mean squat.
In the end, both sides aren't interested in what those people have to say. They'll settle this thing their way. The attitude is one of "hey, if we wanted your opinion we'd have asked you for it".
So in other words, folks, quit wasting your time dreaming up solutions, because they won't be acknowledged.
- Damien Cox of the Toronto Star reported recently there's been no contract between NHL Executive VP Bill Daly and NHLPA Senior Director Ted Saskin since September 9th, the last time both sides in this dispute held face-to-face talks.
Daly and Saskin are the head lieutenants for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow respectively, and until recently were the ones conducting the CBA negotiations on behalf of their bosses.
As Cox pointed out, if those two aren't talking, we may not see any further negotiations until possibly January 2005 in a last-ditch effort to save the season.
TSN Hockey Analyst Gord Miller stated during the unveiling of the "TSN Solution" this past Monday that moderates on both sides were talking, so it appears it'll be up to those unnamed and unknown people to get these guys back to the bargaining table.
- The Florida Panthers have announced a program to ensure they don't lose their season ticket holders during the lockout.
Here's what you get under their "Lock In during the Lockout" program:
* LOCK IN the price of their
seats with a guaranteed price freeze for the next two seasons
"The response has already been outstanding," Vice President of Sales and Service Chad Johnson said. "We sent out an e-mail this weekend about our Panthers Loyalty Program, and more than 95 percent of fans responding have chosen to LOCK IN."
So like good little lemmings, Panthers season ticket holders are rushing out to get those savings, rather than telling the club where to jam their program and their season tickets until the lockout is settled.
I'm not picking on the Panthers fans, they're only doing what season ticket holders in the other 29 cities will do, pony up the bucks while the owners laugh all the way to the bank.
Gotta give credit to the Panthers, they know their audience.
Folks, it would be so easy to end this lockout. All it would take is for all the season ticket holders to cancel out and demand a refund. That's all it would take. You wanna see the NHL re-open negotiations with the union and end this lockout? Just hit 'em in the wallet.
A mass cancellation of hundreds of thousands of season tickets worth millions of dollars would create panic amongst the owners and at NHL headquarters.
But the league and the owners know the fans won't do that. That's why they're laughing at the suckers...er, sorry , "season ticket holders".
And that's why the opinion of the fans doesn't count, especially the sheep who hold season tickets.
Some of you season ticket holders aren't going to like the above comments, but you know what? You can't dispute it. They're taking your money, putting it in the bank, and ignoring you and dissing you by staging this stupid lockout.
They're ignoring and dissing me, too, but hey, at least I'm not paying for the privilege!
- POINT/COUNTERPOINT WITH THE MAVEN. Yes, once again as a public service to my readers (and because I have fun doing it), it's time to post up some counterpoints to points made recently by my Foxsports.com colleague (although I doubt he'll ever actually consider me one) Stan Fischler.
Again, I point out that I have a lot of respect for Mr. Fischler for nurturing my love of the game with his books when I was growing up in the 1970s, and I have no problem with his taking the owners side in this impasse. I just feel the urge to respond to some of Stan's points. As always, my responses are italicized for your protection:
"Is a break in the NHL impasse about to happen? We hear that the NHLPA soon will produce a PR-oriented "improved" version of its original not-a-chance-it'll-be-accepted-year-old CBA offer. Bettman, Inc. will reject it because Cost Certainty won't be achieved. No, it won't be the necessary panacea!"
Because the panacea is for the union to know its role and shut its mouth! The panacea is for the union to meekly accept whatever the NHL tells it to accept or if not, it's "union-busting" time! This is not about cost certainty, it's about breaking the union and limiting its effectiveness. The owners wanna turn back the clock to when Alan Eagleson was running things and keeping the players in the dark.
Support for NHL owners over players continues to be overwhelming in polls, in the street, newspaper columns and editorials. This from the St.Paul Pioneer Press: "In this Lockout, players are behaving as though they've taken too many slapshots to the frontal lobe. Players want to continue living a fantasy. How many people do you know whose salary has more than doubled in the past decade and then complained about it?"
Dunno about you, Stan, but I've read some polls, like the latest Decima Poll taken back in August, that showed the fans were almost evenly split between assessing blame for both sides. I've read reports on some message boards and in my Fans Speak Out section that also suggest an even split. Many newspapers columns I've read here in Canada are in favour of the players. I'm sure that overall the owners have more support than the players, but it's not the overwhelming kind Fischler and the league would have us believe.
One NHL GM's off-the-record observation: "We'll lose a year and then see who comes back!" Our View: Plenty of players will be ready to sign.
It won't get to losing a year. The NHL will most likely go to the courts and declare an impasse, forcing the union into strike mode, rather than let this lockout drag out for a year.
How much is "plenty of players"? A dozen? Fifty? A hundred? And if there is a strike, are teams prepared to have their dressing room chemistry torn apart by this?
Even if it does go a year, who's to say there won't be "plenty of owners" willing to sign? Oh, wait, we won't know that because the NHL has a gag order on them. Nothing like a million dollar fine to buy loyalty!
Our "Dumb Comment Of The Week" award goes to Arturs Irbe, an NHLPA exec committee member and his alibi for rejecting the Cap: "Unfortunately, our careers are short." Hmmm. Mark Messier, (43), has played 24 years; Chris Chelios (42) has been around 20 years. Toss in Brian Leetch, Ed Belfour, Scott Stevens, et al. and you can see that Irbe's full of Latvian lettuce. Plus, who forced him to take up pro hockey as a vocation?
Stan should be careful about his "dumb comment of the week" award, because it could boomerang in his face. Those players he cites are in a distinct minority. I remember reading somewhere (the source eludes me for the moment) that the average NHL career today lasts 8 seasons. I think that total might be closer to ten, but overall, few play as long as Messier, Chelios Leetch, Belfour and Stevens. Most consider themselves fortunate to have made it to the 10 year mark.
Sheldon Souray, who'd be making millions under a new NHL hard cap, is in Sweden earning $80,000 for the season. Betcha he'd favor a new deal where the average salary would be $1.3 mil.
Betcha he won't, considering he made $3.5 million over the last four seasons, and recently re-signed a multi-year deal paying him $2.5 mil per season! Poor example, Stan, because Souray's got his new contract regardless of the outcome of the labour dispute!
NHL players are getting no sympathy from fans. During an Original Stars Hockey League game at Sarnia, Ontario, fans shouted at Bill Lindsay, "Go back to work!"
Maybe Lindsay and some of the other NHLPAers are getting the message. Lindsay tells Sports Illustrated, "It's tough facing the fans, like trying to avoid your mother after she thinks you've done something wrong." Is Lindsay trying to tell us his union has done something wrong? Sounds like it to us!
Or maybe you're just reading more into it than you should, Stan?
NHL owners are getting no sympathy either, but luckily for them, they're not as visible and well known as the players, so they don't have to worry about fans shouting anything at them.
The players aren't gagged from speaking to the press by the union, unlike the owners, who face a million dollar fine if they fail to toe Bettman's party line. I wish Bettman would have the spine to lift that gag order and let the owners truly speak their minds, but if he did that, his coalition of the willing might fall apart. Why put a gag order on them if they're supposedly all lined up in support of his cost certainty proposal?
Thrashers' ex-prexy Stan Kasten brilliantly explains the labor dispute in Sunday's New York Times. Get this: "The tweaks and minor relief that the union is offering now, and that would have been so welcome five years ago, will not do the job." (More from Kasten here next week.)
-One thing I've yet to heard from those who support the league's side in this labour impasse is what, if any, certainties there are that an owner or GM won't find some creative means around it.
A luxury tax system may not be perfect, but at least it addresses the harsh reality of pro sports: you're always going to have some teams who'll find a loophole and exploit it.
That doesn't mean player agents won't as well. After all, it was the agent for Boston Bruins star Joe Thornton who dreamed up the notion of using bonus clauses as a means of circumventing the entry level hard cap in the last CBA.
But remember, while it was Thornton's agent who dreamed up the scheme, it was Bruins ownership and management who agreed to put the scheme into practice.
I'm not singling out the Bruins on this, because if they hadn't done it, somebody else would've. It might've been one of the free spending big market clubs or a team nobody would've thought of doing such a thing...like the Bruins.
So is this lockout really about "cost certainty"? Or is it more about crushing the union?
- I hate to say it, but I honestly believe that, if there is no form of revenue sharing or a luxury tax system in place in the next CBA, contraction will be inevitable within the next ten years.
The league believes cost certainty will prevent this from happening, that's it's a fail-safe measure that will ensure the overall health of the league.
Unfortunately, they're not taking into account human nature. While a cost certainty system might benefit some small market clubs to a certain degree, there is nothing in the league's six proposals that suggest free spending clubs won't be penalized for going over whatever set amount the league ultimately comes up with.
Without something to keep teams from finding creative ways around that limit, salaries will continue to rise. And without some method of ensuring struggling clubs will have the additional dollars to compete against those teams, the situation the league is currently in won't change.
It's revenue sharing as much as a hard cap that has made the NFL successful, ensure team parity and giving small market clubs the opportunity to be competitive.
Without their revenue sharing and only a hard cap in place, I doubt the NFL would have achieved parity.
I predict, and I hope I'm wrong about this, but I predict that if the NHL achieves it's aims in the current labour dispute that within ten years, between 4 to 8 teams will disappear.
And if that happens, who will Gary Bettman and the owners blame then? If they get their cost certainty and the losses keep mounting, how can they continue to blame the players and their salaries?
- Philadelphia's Ed Snider had this to say about the players stance during the lockout (my comments in italics):
"The players have drawn a line in the sand, they've said they're not going to accept a salary cap and I don't see how anything gets done when somebody says they're not going to accept something before they negotiate"
Kinda like the way the owners have drawn a line in the sand and said, "salary cap...er, that is, cost certainty or nothing"?
Regarding the players offer of a five percent salary give back: "It's an indication they tried to do something for press relations. But they knew it wasn't going to help the league in any way, shape or form. "
Returning over $70 million bucks, which would've reduced the NHL's losses from $220 million to $150 million, isn't going to help? For that matter, Ed, why didn't you just tell them that you liked the idea, but you wanted them to give back more? Oh that's right, you guys didn't get the opportunity to do that because Gary Bettman rejected it out of hand three months before the owners got to hear about it.
"When Bob Goodenow says he wants the free market, well, I'll give him the free market. A free market is no union. That's a free market. You don't have guaranteed contracts, you don't have arbitration, you don't have anything. When I got into hockey, you signed a player for a year and when he came to training camp, you signed him for the next year. That's a free market."
And that, folks, is what the owners truly want. It's not about cost certainty, it's about crushing the players union, bringing them to heel and getting rid of Bob Goodenow. Mr. Snider wants a return to the good ol' days when the owners told Alan Eagleson what they wanted and he in turn told the players how things were going to be. As I said before, those days were great days...if you were an owner.
- Hockey News senior writer Mike Brophy believes Gary Bettman "will win this war", but he doesn't have kind words over the state of the NHL under Bettman's tenure. He believes that if Bettman does get the better of Bob Goodenow that he shouldn't receive a contract extension.
Don't kid yourself, Mike, you know as well as I do that if Bettman does win his Pyhrric victory that the owners will keep him onboard. The only way Bettman loses his job is if he loses again to Goodenow.
- So why would some European players, who make big money in the NHL, return home to Europe during the lockout to play for less?
If you're Marian Hossa, you do it for family ties and because you love playing back home again.
The Ottawa Sun yesterday reported Hossa turned down more money by playing in either the Swiss or Russian leagues to play for less in his hometown of of Trencin, Slovakia.
This has been fun," Hossa told the Sun. "This isn't about playing for the money. This is about getting a chance to play in your home town in front of your friends and family. You don't know when you're going to do it very often. So, it's nice to have this.
"We'd like to be playing in North American right now, but that's not happening and this is something different. You don't know if you're going to get this chance again."
Put in the same situation, I think most of us would do what Hossa has done.
- Stan Fischler still believes the "rank and file" players will lead a revolt against Bob Goodenow when they start running out of cash. He cited a recent interview New Jersey Devils forward Pascal Rheaume had with the Bergen Record where Rheaume said, ". "If the Players' Association wants to pay me to stay home this winter, I'll do it. But I have a wife and family to take care of."
There will undoubtedly be some players who may push for Goodenow to concede, but I doubt very much there will be a "revolt". Not when the average salary was $1.8 million per season. Not when the lowest salary was just over $300K per season.
Just received a transcript of a recent interview of NHL executive VP Bill Daly with Nashville's WTN 99.7 Sportsnight.
Pretty much the standard fare we've been hearing from Mr. Daly for some time. Here's some of the highlights, with my comments in italics:
"Actually we'd like nothing more than to have the agreement done and be in training camp. Unfortunately that is not our reality right now."
So why not get back at the bargaining table with the union and try to reach common ground on a deal instead of locking them out and wasting everyone's time?
"We need a system that's going to work for all 30 franchises and make all our clubs healthy economically, more stable, and give everybody an equal chance to be competitive long-term in this league."
I used to believe that, but research over the past year has convinced me that this simply isn't possible. You can get an agreement in place that'll benefit most of the clubs, but unfortunately there are always going to be teams that are poorly run or playing in markets unable to sustain them. And there are always going to be owners and GMs who'll sign players to deals that have serious repercussions on the market. There is no "idiot-proof" solution, all they can do is come up with the best one they can that'll be to the benefit of the majority.
"We think it (the Nashville Predators) is a great market for our league. We think the excitement on the Preds' run to the playoffs last year - the excitement that was generated in the first round of the playoffs - really demonstrates that Nashville is going to be (or already is) a fantastic hockey market and will continue to be one."
But suppose the Preds fail to build on that excitement? Suppose they struggle and end up missing the playoffs again? Every town gets excited when their teams make the playoffs, but the true measure of the fan base - for the most part - is how they support a club during the tough times. Even with making the playoffs, the Preds were ranked 28th in attendance last season.
"We want to deliver to Nashville a system that will let everyone know that their team can compete with every other team in the league on a yearly basis, and that is what we are committed to doing."
Judging by their play last season, Nashville was able to compete. Even though their attendance was the third lowest and their payroll the lowest, the Preds charged the fifteenth highest ticket prices, ahead of Colorado, Dallas, Montreal, Calgary and the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Something here doesn't compute. Obviously their player salaries aren't the reason for those high prices, so there must be other reasons, which may not be addressed by the draconian measures envisioned by the league.
"Nobody is fooling themselves with respect to the damage that a work stoppage does, particularly in non-hockey markets."
Then why do it, Mr. Daly? A league whose US TV ratings are so bad they can't even outdraw arena football, bowling and poker on ESPN, a league that lacks a lucrative TV deal, a league where attendance has been a concern in several US markets, a league where apparently 20 of 30 franchises lost money, a league where the product is so dull it's turning off viewers and keeping away fans, a league with those problems CANNOT afford to stage a staredown with it's players union. The best the league can achieve from this is a Pyhrric victory, where even if they best the union, the damage to the league in the US sports market could be devastating to its long-term future. A smartly-run organization DOES NOT take hard line tactics with its employees at a time like this, but rather it NEGOTIATES with them.
"We are going to deliver to the Preds and to every other team in the league a system that is going to work, and long-term going to guarantee that the team can be competitive with other teams in the league."
How can you guarantee that there won't be a team that'll find a creative way to get around your beloved "cost certainty"? How will you will impose this system when over half the teams in the league are currently sitting with payrolls near or well over $40 million? How will you handle the flood on the UFA market if you impose it all at once? How can you ensure that you won't cut into your talent pool if some European players decide they can get offers as good or better back home? I've yet to hear the league address this, and it's those unanswered questions that concern me about their cost certainty plan. So far, all we've heard from the league is to trust them, that they know what they're doing. Given everything that's transpired over the past ten years, would you trust them?
"I have little doubt that the fans will come back when we are back. "
In the Canadian markets and some of the more traditional US hockey markets, yes. In cities like Miami, Nashville , Raleigh , Phoenix, Atlanta and Nashville and even in Washington, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Long Island, that's not a certainty.
"If you took a look at ten years of the CBA, (and we have), a team with a top-ten payroll, was three times more likely to make the playoffs than a team that was bottom ten in payroll. And take that up a notch and look at the teams that are competing for the championship. A team with a top-ten payroll was five times more likely to make the conference finals than a team with a bottom-ten payroll. "
That's true, the last CBA wasn't perfect and there definitely needed to be some adjustments, but then how do you explain clubs like the Rangers who spent top dollar over the past seven years with nothing to show for it? Or the Maple Leafs who, for all the money they've spent since 1998, made it to the Conference Finals only twice? And how do we know that the trend we've seen over the past two years, where most of the high-salaried clubs were knocked out of playoff contention by lower-salaried, small market clubs isn't a sign of a long overdue market correction?
" I won't use "salary cap", because in my lexicon, "salary cap" is a term and plan used in the NFL and to some extent what the NBA has. We made six proposals over the summer to the Players' Association, understanding what their objections were in respect to the "salary cap." "Salary cap" in my lexicon is a maximum team payroll that is the same for every team. We have offered five other systems that we think could work just as well for the league to make it healthy, make all the franchises healthy and (would have) maintained an average player salary in excess of $1.3 million US."
All the proposals were to bring the average salary down to $1.3 million, which averages out to around $31 million for the average payroll. Again, how do they plan to impose this? You've got teams like the Leafs, Flyers and Devils with payrolls currently in excess of $60 million, several others over $50 million and more around or over $40 million. How do you make those proposals work if they're not some form of a salary cap, meant to be imposed immediately and forcing clubs to cut their rosters? There's some speculation the league would set up a dispersal draft to accomplish this, which I'll be touching on in a later Soapbox.
" Lets talk about the industry, let's talk about the revenue of the industry and negotiate what a fair allocation of those revenues will be and it goes back to my early point. At that point it becomes fairly easy - let's make sure the dollars are being spent efficiently, effectively and fairly.
I concur, but again, seeing how a number of owners both past and present are responsible for this situation, what guarantees does Mr. Daly and Mr. Bettman have that their cost certainty system, whichever one they impose, isn't going to be circumvented just as the cap on entry level salaries was in the last CBA? How do you stop "maverick" owners and GMs from finding creative measures around it?
"Making sure that the players who are performing the best are receiving the most. "
But that's what it was in most cases under the previous CBA. Sure, there were some outrageous contracts handed out to players who didn't deserve it (funny how Bobby Holik's name always springs to mind whenever fans think of a reference for this point!), but the best generally received the most.
"And, again, the system concepts that we proposed all would have had that feature in them and would have maintained big dollar contracts in this league - $6 million contracts. (They) would have maintained average salaries in the mid-$1 million range. We think they were fair proposals and we wish the Players' Association shared our view on that."
The best players would've done well under the performance based and payroll salary slotting proposals, but they limited what the rest could make, essentially making it a hard cap. The performance based proposal also left the possibility of being exploited by an owner or GM, who could ensure a player didn't receive his bonuses by benching him or having his linemates changed or restricting his ice time.
"The Players' Association resisted us in those efforts, pretty much at every turn, and finally came forward with a proposal on September 9th that was really regressive in nature. They were really offering less than what they had offered and what we had rejected prior to that, so from our perspective, we really don't have much to negotiate over."
The union has tried to negotiate with the league. They're willing to discuss anything except a hard salary cap. They're willing to accept a soft cap via a luxury tax system, which they rejected ten years ago! The league, on the other hand, simply won't listen. They rejected all the union's proposals out of hand and want the union to accept one of their own six proposals, take it or leave it. That's not negotiating.
"I think it is fair to say that our view at the current time is the puck is in their end of the ice. We are not ruling out the possibility we are thinking about this, talking about this every day. We want to move this process forward, we want to make progress and we reassess it every day. At this point we really don't see a real reason to reach out to them because they haven't given us anything that we can really work with."
In other words, so long as the union agrees to one of the six proposals from the league, and drops their silly attempts at real negotiation, everything will be hunkey-dorey!
"We are prepared to negotiate at any time, any place and for however long it takes. But we do need something to negotiate with, and over."
So lemme get this straight: the union comes to you and offers to accept a soft cap via a luxury tax system, changes to the arbitration system, closing off bonus loopholes in entry level salaries, a willingness to lower the cap level on rookie salaries and discuss revenue sharing and even offer to give back a portion of their salaries, and there's nothing there to negotiate over?
Why not say to the union, "ok, we'd like a luxury tax system, but the cap level and the tax levels must be harsher. We also like the idea of a salary give back but we'd prefer more than five percent. Yes, we'd like to revamp the arbitration system and we want to adopt the MLB model because it'll be more fair to the owners, and we definitely want to close off those bonus loopholes in rookie salaries and yes, we want to lower the rookie salary cap, so let's talk about what's a fair level". What's wrong with that? I'm not suggesting the league has to accept everything the union is proposing, but there's enough there to "use it as the framework for a new deal", and who knows, you might be able to slip in some of your cost certainty points, too! Give a little, get a little, eh? That's how negotiation works.
The NHL wants to get this resolved as quickly as possible, and play as many hockey games as we can this season.
So get together with your union counterparts tomorrow, sit down and take however long it takes to get a deal hammered out! Enough of this stupid posturing of a lockout which only serves to piss off your shrinking fanbase! Talk and keep talking until you get it done!
"Craig (Leopold, owner of the Nashville Predators) was asked a question at one of the meetings by a player as to why an extra revenue-sharing check in their proposal wouldn't be a beneficial thing for the Predators. He said that basically it would be a beneficial thing for the Predators, but unless you make changes for the system, the Predators can't be competitive long-term."
Huh? Did I miss something here? A luxury tax and revenue sharing system would be changes to the system! And Leopold said it would benefit his club! But if we follow his logic, a change to the system would be beneficial to the Preds but they can't be competitive long term unless you make changes to the system. Excuse me while I go get drunk and read this again, maybe it'll make sense to me then....
" We need fundamental changes to the system and what the Players' Association has offered doesn't produce those."
A luxury tax isn't a fundamental change? Revenue sharing isn't? Changes to entry level contracts and arbitration aren't fundamental changes?
Last night during TSN's Sportscentre, two of the network's hockey analysts, Bob McKenzie and Gord Miller, offered up what they call "the TSN Solution" to the NHL's current labour impasse.
While less detailed than Brian Burke's "15 Points" proposal of nearly three weeks ago, "the TSN Solution" is comprised of six key points aimed at the most contentious issues in this lockout.
The proposals are based on discussions the two, along with fellow analyst Pierre McGuire, had with owners, general managers, players and player agents. The highlights are listed below, with my comment in italics:
1. a hard cap of $6 million on individual player salaries with no cap on how much teams may spend on total payrolls.
The analysts rationale on this one is based on the fact that it would impact a small minority of NHL players. Currently, only 27 players earn over $6 million per season, and while they may not be thrilled at the prospect of having their salaries cut, it might certainly be of interest to the majority of the NHLPA membership, particularly those who'll never come close to earning that much per season. If it were put to a player vote, they may be willing to accept that idea.
A good number of those on the ownership side might also find this appealing, as it could help them to retain their best players when they become eligible for UFA status. However, some of the small market owners are likely to dismiss this as unworkable because it would keep salaries higher than the $31 million hard cap proposed by the league.
2. a dollar for dollar, or 100 per cent, luxury tax on all team payrolls in excess of $40 million with the tax monies to be redistributed to those teams with payrolls of less than $40 million but more than $30 million.
This addresses the criticism of a hard cap of $6 million on individual player salaries from small market owners. If the wealthy clubs had to pay out a dollar for dollar tax on whatever amount they went over a luxury tax cap, the wealth would be spread amongst those struggling and small market clubs, which in turn would make it easier for them to re-sign and retain players, as well as be competitive in the UFA market.
It would only affect a minority of clubs, primarily the free spending big market teams in Toronto, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Colorado and Dallas, but you can also expect those clubs will put up a fight if that sort of luxury tax were to be thrust upon them. Still, as Bob McKenzie pointed out, most of those teams would blow by that $40 million cap anyway to sign or retain the players they want, and given how much most of them are over $40 million in payroll now, their complaints might be for public consumption only.
The union would probably be for this as well, considering their first proposal contained a luxury tax set at $40 million. Since over half of the teams are currently sitting close to or well over that mark, it would be more realistic and likely to meet with union approval.
3. a revamped salary arbitration system that allows the teams, as well as the players, to file for arbitration and baseball style "final-offer" arbitration.
The union has expressed a willingness in their proposals to discuss changes to the arbitration system, acknowledging that it is tilted too much in their favour. They would likely approve of the "final offer" stipulation whereby the arbiter had to choose between the player's demand and the team's offer without settling on the middle ground. However, they may not be too keen about teams getting the right to take players to arbitration.
The league hasn't really laid out what tchanges they're seeking to the arbitration system, focussing more instead on their cost certainty salary restrictions. Still, it wouldn't surprise me if most or all of the owners jumped on this one.
4. liberalized free agency with the age for unrestricted status moving to age 30 or after 10 years service in the NHL, whichever comes first.
That stipulation would meet with the players approval, especially the latter bit, which would thrill players like Marian Gaborik and Ilya Kovalchuk, since they broke into the league at 18 and would thus be eligible for UFA status at 28.
The owners of the Wild and Thrashers, on the other hand, likely wouldn't be pleased at the prospect of losing their top offensive stars at 28, but it would have the big spenders very interested.
There's been some media speculation over the past year that both sides were considering a lowering of the UFA eligibility age, but to date both sides maintain that issue hasn't been addressed yet. It remains to be seen if it'll be part of a new CBA.
5. qualifying offers to be 75 per cent of the player's most recent salary level.
The owners will give this one a big thumbs up, as they wind up in many cases making qualifying offers of the same salary as the previous year to players who may not have earned it.
The union might bicker about that, but as the TSN staff noted, they'd have to give up something in order to drop the eligibility age for UFA status, and this would be a fair trade off.
6. an entry-level salary and signing bonus cap of $850,000 per year, with no more than 25 per cent of that amount in signing bonus, plus allowable performance bonuses to another $850,000, effectively capping entry-level salaries at no more than $1.7 million a year.
This one is the easiest point for agreement, as both sides share the same opinion that rookies need to prove their worth before they can start commanding hefty salaries.
It ensures rookie players a good entry level salary and at the same time, doesn't take away any bonuses, although it does keep those bonuses under control. I see no problem with this being accepted.
So now the big question is, will any of these points be taken under consideration by both sides?
Burke's "15 Points" generated a lot of chatter on the internet and some mention in the media, but since then the proposal disappeared off the radar. Could the same thing happen to "the TSN Solution"?
Gord Miller pointed out that the good news is the moderates on both sides of the issues are talking. The bad news is, the two guys who should be, Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow, apparently are not.
With apologies to Marcel Proust, I'll be occasionally using the Soapbox to recall some of the best games I've witnessed in my almost 35 years of following the National Hockey League.
This past Saturday night I was in the mood to watch an NHL game, so I blew the dust off some of my VCR tapes and found a copy of Game Five of the 1984 Patrick Division tilt between the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers.
Settling down with a Gahan House brew, I popped in the tape and prepared to enjoy a matchup that, while 20 years old, remains one of the greatest NHL games I've ever seen.
The first thing that struck me watching the game was how neat and white the boards and the ice were. This was back in the days before end board and ice advertising became prevalent. I have to admit it was nice to see that without the distraction of ads.
The other thing I noticed was that the ice surface appeared larger, until I realized that the players were actually smaller. There weren't a lot of 6' 4", 230 behemoths in the NHL back then compared to todays game. Most notable was the size of their equipment, which was considerably smaller than that worn by today's players, particularly the goaltenders. It's amazing what a difference twenty years can make in the evolution of player equipment.
The absence of uncalled obstruction was very noticeable, making for a fast-paced, free-flowing, exciting game. And for all the talk of how better conditioned players are today compared to twenty years ago, the skill levels seemed much better back then.
Finally, there was the noise level in the Nassau Coliseum that night. It was different compared to the noise heard in arenas today, where music is blasted at earbleed level designed to whip the fans into a frenzy but more often than not drowns out their cheering. Instead, the fans were only prodded by an organist playing short little ditties.
To me, the noise of the crowd that night sounded, well, more pure. They weren't being whipped into an artificial frenzy, in fact, they didn't need to be prodded into cheering at all. The game, a playoff clash between two bitter cross-town rivals, was incentive enough.
In 1984, the Islanders were the defending four-time Stanley Cup champions, embarking on their "Drive for Five" in hopes of tying the record for consecutive Cup championships set by the Montreal Canadiens of the late 1950's. They were a far cry from the mediocrity they would be well sunk into twenty years later.
Their rivals, the New York Rangers, weren't the dominating Cup champions they would become ten years later, or the expensive laughingstock they are today. The Blueshirts were a young, rebuilding club, still labouring under the curse of 1940. They weren't expected to give the Islanders much of a fight.
But the Isles that year were an aging dynasty beginning to feel the effects of four years of Stanley Cup wars. Mike Bossy, Billy Smith and John Tonelli were still in their prime, but Denis Potvin, Butch Goring and Bryan Trottier were starting to show the effects of the wear and tear, while Bob Nystrom and Clark Gillies were shadows of their former selves.
The Rangers, coached by 1980 Team USA head coach Herb Brooks, appeared poised to pull off the same upset that Brooks' young Olympic charges did against the Soviet Union four years before.
It's a bit sad now to watch Brooks behind the Rangers bench, knowing that he'd never achieve the same measure of success in the NHL as he did with the Miracle Olympic team, and that untimely death awaited him in the summer of 2003.
The Islanders Al Arbour, meanwhile, stands tall behind the Islanders bench, much more noticeable because of the absence of assistant coaches that today crowd the bench area. Rarely animated, Arbour was a poised veteran of the ice and coaching wars, juggling lineups and seeking the right combinations to put away a pesky Rangers club that threatened to end the Islanders dynasty.
If you love end-to-end hockey with plenty of scoring chances and outstanding goaltending, this game is for you, regardless of whether or not you follow these two clubs.
The Rangers and Islanders in that game put on a show for the ages, with Hockey Night in Canada's Bob Cole in his prime providing crisp play-by-play, ably supported by the best colour man ever, Dick Irvin and Don Cherry, who back in those days also did colour in addition to his "Coach's Corner" first intermission segments.
Did I mention the goaltending was outstanding? Billy Smith of the Islanders and Glen Hanlon of the Rangers dazzled with a display of acrobatics rarely seen by today's Michelin Men. Hanlon in particular made two outstanding glove saves that would be highlight reel stuff today.
While defenders of today's goalies will cite their superior conditioning and positional play, the smaller size of the goaltending equipment back then made the players far more active and thus more exciting to watch. Their skill, not their equipment, was on display that night.
Indeed, it was a testament to their ability that this game would be a low-scoring affair. That's not to suggest the defensive game was lacking for both clubs, but the uncalled obstruction that passes for defensive hockey today was happily absent, leaving a lot more room to players to move around, thus forcing the blueliners to be much quicker and creative.
The Rangers opened the score 1-0 on a goal by Ron Greschner, who'd been benched in the previous game. Greschner walked out from the corner and beat Smith with a nifty little backhand over the Isles goalie's pad.
It was a treat to watch Mike Bossy at his prime, creating opportunities and always a threat to score. He would tie the score with only a handful of seconds remaining in the first period, splitting the Rangers defence and sliding a backhand shot between Hanlon's legs.
The second period was scoreless but no less exciting, as both clubs traded chances and raced back and forth at breakneck speed. The Islanders Bob Bourne had the best individual chance of that period, racing end to end before being stopped by Hanlon. At one point the Isles had Hanlon sprawled down and out but were unable to capitalize on the opportunity.
In the third the Islanders got a powerplay advantage and made the most of it thanks to defenceman Stefan Persson, ably assisted by Clarke Gillies screening Hanlon. Even then the acrobatic Blueshirts netminder got a piece of it, but not enough to prevent the goal.
The Isles would hold that lead until the final minute, rebuffing numerous Rangers scoring chances. The Rangers, backs to the wall, pulled Hanlon in favour of six attackers. At one point, they had to put their goalie back in for a faceoff near center ice, and Brooks sent out a young John Vanbiesbrouck for several seconds before pulling him when the Rangers got control of the puck and move it back into the Islanders zone.
With 39 second left to play, Don Maloney batted a rebound out of the air and over the shoulder of Billy Smith, who was still on his knees after making the initial save. However, the goal was controversial as video replays showed the blade of Maloney's stick made contact above his shoulders, which would've been called back as a high stick making contact if video goal judges were around back then.
Calling back the goal would've been the right thing to do, but then it would've robbed hockey fans of one of the most exciting periods of overtime in playoff history.
In the extra frame, both clubs didn't let up or play it cautiously, instead they went at each other with a frenzy, both sides trying to get the winning goal that would end the series. "Can you believe this action in overtime?" asked Bob Cole, prompting Dick Irvin to reply that he didn't care who won this game because he enjoyed so thoroughly the tremendous show both clubs were putting on.
Finally, the Rangers Bob Brooke split the Isles defence and fire a hard low shot, aiming for the "five hole" but Smith slammed the door as Cole called out, "Smith! Robbed Brooke! Robbed him, I tell ya! Robbed him!"
Back down the ice they went, and after the Rangers failed to clear the zone, the puck came back to Islanders defenceman Ken Morrow, who played for Herb Brooks on the Miracle on Ice Olympic club four years before.
Morrow was not known as a scoromg defenceman, playing a stay-at-home style. The puck came to him along the end boards and he fired a low, hard shot that eluded Hanlon and won the game for the Islanders.
The Isles had survived and would march on to eliminate the Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens before falling short of winning their fifth Cup, losing in five games to a brash, exciting young Edmonton Oilers club.
Mere words cannot describe the intensity of the play and the excitement of the crowd that night. It was pure entertainment, hockey the way it was meant to be played, and sheer joy to watch for anyone who loves this game.
Even today, twenty years later, despite knowing how the game would turn out, I still get caught up in the excitement of it. If you want to turn somebody into a hockey fan, showing them a tape of this game would do the trick. It was, without a doubt, one of the greatest games I've ever seen.
As they were interesting questions, I decided to take the opportunity to share them with my readers and take the time to offer up my own responses. If any of you would like to send in your own answers to these, or to respond to my answers, feel free to do so and I'll post them in my "Fans Speak Out" section.
Without further ado, and with apologies to Craig Kilborn, it's time to play "Five Questions":
1. When will we see NHL hockey again?
Unfortunately, I don't think we're going to see it for a long time. Personally, I think this season is a write-off as both sides appear firmly entrenched in their positions and so far are unwilling to compromise.
I believe the league will eventually take "union busting" action after mid-January when the season is officially lost. I think they'll unilaterally impose their "cost certainty" measures and force the union into strike action.
Of course it'll take some time for this to occur. The league will have to get approval through the courts to do this, and as the New York Post recently noted, they'd also face an immediate injunction from the NHLPA if this goes into effect. That'll tie things up legally for a while, but if they're successful, then you'll see the league start hiring replacement players and gearing up for the 2005-06 season.
There's no way the NHL will allow this lockout to drag on for 12 to 18 months. As much as some teams crow that they'll lose less money in a lockout that if the season were played, more influential and successful big market clubs aren't going to accept this situation. They may be willing to accept losing one season, but not two.
The league will force the issue in hopes of bringing the union to heel by putting pressure on the players to capitulate. That in turn is only going to make a bad situation worse. Pitting player against player might be the owners dream, but ultimately it has the potential of blowing up in their faces. It could tear dressing rooms apart, destroying team cohesiveness, and could drive many players to Europe.
2. Should there be contraction?
A year ago, I was dead-set against it. I believed the NHL needed to keep all thirty clubs and ensure their financial survival because it would be an embarrassing black eye for the league to end up cutting clubs less than a decade after a major expansion.
Now, however, my opinion has changed. The public perception of the NHL in the eyes of the sports world was already negative prior to the lockout and couldn't get much worse than it is right now. Thus, any further damage to the league's reputation via contraction isn't going to make much of a difference.
I believe contraction is inevitable. It all comes down to the individual markets. There are some clubs that, quite frankly, aren't working out as the NHL hoped. In some cities, like Anaheim, Atlanta, Florida and Carolina, the sports fans simply aren't interested unless the team's a winner. When those clubs are losing, those fans don't come out. To them, hockey remains a curiousity.
I may be cruel to the true die-hards of those respective clubs for saying this, but nobody outside of your small corps of fans is going to miss your clubs if they disappear. Not in the way NHL fans would miss teams with longer, richer histories.
If there is contraction, it must be done sensibly, looking at the market history of each club and determining if it will improve down the road. I fear that, like the expansion of the past decade, it'll be done haphazardly. Small market cities where NHL hockey has a lengthy history and where the fan support has usually been strong, like Edmonton, Buffalo and Calgary, could also be targeted.
That would be a shame, for the fans in those cities have always turned out through good times and bad. Now I know that some will point out that Buffalo's fan support dropped off noticeably in 2002-03, but that was due to the fact the team filed for bankruptcy, it's former owners had been frog-marched in chains to federal court, and it appeared the franchise would either be moved or folded.
Last season, under new ownership, the Sabres attendance bounced back noticeably, even though the club again missed the playoffs, which proves to me that their '02-'03 attendance drop was an anomaly.
Calgary and Edmonton have strong fan support, but they get hit with large municipal tax bills, loss on exchange and lack of major television revenues. For them, revenue sharing is the only way to ensure their long-term survival. Without it, they may be as good as gone, despite their respective fan bases.
3. Should the NHL participate in the 2006 Winter Olympics?
No. The entire purpose of the Olympics is to allow amateur athletes to compete for their respective countries, not professionals. Now I realize that some Olympic athletes are actually "professionals" because of the dollars they receive from their governments and from endorsement deals, but those are the high profile athletes in the "glamour" sports. Most amateur athletes are just that, amateurs. When they're not in training and competing for their countries, they work regular jobs just like you and I.
Allowing athletes from professional sports leagues to participate in the Olympics makes a mockery of an event that has already been tarnished from years of scandals over how they award the events to cities, the use of performance enhancing drugs by some athletes, and controversial scoring systems.
We already have a tournament where the best professional players can represent their countries in competition, and that's the World Cup of Hockey.
4. Will there be a salary cap?
Yes, indeed, but what type of cap depends on which side emerges victorious from this labour impasse.
We all know that the NHL's "cost certainty" boils down to mean a hard cap on player salaries in the neighbourhood of $31 million. What some fans don't realize is that the union's offer of a luxury tax system is essentially a salary cap.
Under a luxury tax, there is what's called a "soft cap" on salaries, meaning teams have the flexibility to go over that cap if they desire, but they must be prepared to pay penalties to the league for doing so, and those penalties are then spread out amongst the lower salaried clubs.
5. Who do you hate more, Bettman or Goodenow?
"Hate" is a strong word. I don't know either man well enough to hate them. I think both men are stubborn, shrewd negotiators who won't back down from a fight and will battle tooth and nail to get what they want.
What I hate is the situation the people Bettman works for put us all into. The owners had a CBA that, for the most part, was tilted in their favour. They had a hard cap on entry level salaries, imposed the most restrictive free agent system in pro sports on the players, and had the right to walk away from up to three arbitration decisions in two years.
Unfortunately, some owners exploited that system for their own personal gain, creating the situation we're in now. They had the opportunity to address this back in 2000, when the last CBA was supposed to end, but they wanted that $320 million in expansion fees they were going to get from Nashville, Minnesota, Columbus and Atlanta. So to "ensure labour stability", they voted to extend the end date of the lockout to 2004. They put their short term financial gains over the long-term good.
An addendum to yesterday's Soapbox: During my rant against staging protests now against the the lockout, I stated that my only sympathy was to NHL employees who were laid off for the duration of the lockout. I would like to add that sympathy also extends to local team, concession and arena employees who themselves were either laid off or had their hours or wages cut back. My thanks to "Go Sharks" for pointing this out.
I recently read an article in the Winnipeg Sun about a hockey fan who is attempting to organize a nation-wide rally in Canada of his fellow fans to voice their displeasure at the NHL over the current lockout.
Winnipegger Jeff Powell, a 23-year-old marketing assistant and part-time musician, is upset at the owners and players for creating this situation and hopes to rally thousands of hockey fans outside NHL arenas on October 16th, which was supposed to be opening night for the 2004-05 season, to boo those responsible for the lockout.
As I noted in my Foxsports column yesterday, it's a noble gesture but it comes far too late to have any bearing on this situation.
This protest would've been far more effective had it occured at some point during last season, or during the playoffs, or during the World Cup of Hockey.
That way, the fans could've gotten up close and personal with the players and owners to let them know exactly what they felt.
A rally or protest of any decent size at any NHL games last season would've gotten the attention of the league and the union. Mass cancellations of season tickets with the threat never to purchase them again if a lockout was implemented certainly would've made the league sit up and take notice. More empty seats at the arenas or masses of banners and signs against a lockout couldn't have been ignored by either side.
Deluges of letters and e-mails to the NHL and NHLPA head offices would have to be noted. Anti-lockout chants during games also would've been nice attention grabbers.
Unfortunately, little, if any of that, happened last season.
In ranking the 100 most influential people in the NHL last year, The Hockey News rated "Joe Fan" as Number 100, noting hockey fans were "the No. 1 supplier of NHL revenue".
The piece cited the billions of dollars hockey fans pony up to watch the NHL that the owners and players are squabbling over as the reason for "Joe Fan's" inclusion on that list. It also noted that baseball fans threatened to abandon Major League Baseball if they held another work stoppage three years that brought about a new CBA for MLB.
The paper noted there was still time in the 2003-04 season (it was published on December 30th, 2003) for NHL fans to do the same, to make their feelings known to the NHL and the NHLPA.
Suffice to say, the response was underwhelming.
Some fans did gather names on petitions to send to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow. The National Hockey League Fans Association (NHLFA) has been in existance since 1998 and in that time has tried to grow it's membership to the required 75,000 in order to have representation at the CBA talks. While their numbers currently sit at 24, 885 (of which I've been one since 1999), it is far below what is needed to make a difference.
The bottom line is not enough hockey fans cared to voice their opinions in a strong enough way to convince the league and the union to find a solution and prevent a lockout.
Most hockey fans were, in fact, apathetic. As the months, weeks, days, and hours wound down to the September 15th deadline, the reaction from fans was one of an overall shrug and an "ah, whaddya gonna do" attitude.
Too many hockey fans in Canada were more interested in the World Cup of Hockey last month to worry about the lockout. The attitude in this country was, "better watch these games now 'cause there ain't gonna be much to watch after this".
Way to send a strong message.
Our American cousins didn't fare much better. In fact, if ESPN's TV ratings were anything to go by, they weren't interested at all. Friggin' re-runs of the World Series of Poker outdrew the World Cup of Hockey! Seems American sports fans would rather watch chunky guys sitting around a poker table than watch the best hockey players in the world.
Where were the protests last month, people? Where were they during the World Cup? Where were they during the off-season? Where were they during the playoffs and regular season?
We didn't see them because, quite frankly, most hockey fans just didn't give a damn.
I love it when I hear some fans whine that "it's the fans who are the losers in all of this".
Yeah, you're losers, all right, but not in the way you're thinking.
The only people who've got my sympathy in this lockout are the NHL employees who were laid off when the lockout went into effect. Of course, Gary Bettman and his immediate staff are still drawing their salaries, as are the management staff of each NHL team. The NHL made over $20 million in interest on their $300 million "war chest" but they were too cheap to use that money to keep the employees they laid off on the payroll.
Now I know some of you reading this will get all defensive and say, "Hey, Spector, you didn't do anything either to prevent this".
Oh, didn't I?
I joined the NHLFA in 1999, one year after their inception, because I had the foresight back then to understand that another lockout was coming and we fans needed to have a voice at the table.
In the past year, I wrote several pieces both here and in my Foxsports column, trying to stir up hockey fans to make their voices heard. I provided links on this website to petition sites. I stated in at least one of my segments on the Faceoff Hockey Show that the fans had to get out and make their voices heard if they wanted to prevent a lockout. I also wrote to the NHL and expressed my concerns, but never heard a reply back. When the lockout occurred, I removed all my NHL advertising on the prompting of a fan and will keep it off my site until this labour stoppage has ended.
Living in Charlottetown, PEI, well away from an NHL city, I tried my best to make a contribution. I'm sure that there are thousands of hockey fans in Canada and the United States who, like me, didn't live near an NHL city but tried to voice their concerns and opinions the best they could. You folks I have no argument with.
But what about those who live in or near NHL cities? You folks were the ones who had the best access to the owners and players. You were the ones whose protests would've been seen on television and reported on in the papers. You were the ones who could've had the biggest impact on the gate. You had the best opportunity to speak out visibly, not just for yourselves but on behalf of those of us who couldn't. Where were you?
Sorry, folks, but any protests you stage now outside a darkened arena are too little and too late. They won't amount to anything and won't change what's been done. It's akin to the fire department arriving days after the building burned to the ground.
In the end, hockey fans are just as deserving of blame for this situation as the owners and players. Fans pay their salaries, are responsible for the NHL's existance, and could've made their displeasure known in a loud enough manner to convince them to avoid a lockout. Hockey fans could've hit the NHL and the NHLPA right where it counts, in their wallets, but over the course of the last year, fans kept willingly shelling out for tickets and merchandise while hoping a lockout wouldn't occur.
The overall apathy did nothing to change things. The owners and players are fighting over the fans money, but in the end most fans did nothing to stop them.
In my humble opinion, I think The Hockey News over-rated the power of "Joe Fan". It turns out that "Joe Fan" was just too lazy and apathetic and apparently doesn't mind being played by the league and the union.
Maybe most hockey fans just aren't jaded enough. It took two decades of labour stoppages before baseball fans finally had enough. Maybe hockey fans need to suffer through a few more of these before the message sinks in that the best time to take action is before a lockout occurs, not afterwards.
Hey, I wish Jeff Powell luck in staging his demonstration, but I think he'd better prepare himself for a disappointing turnout.
Recently I've read a few articles in the sports pages offering tips to hockey fans on how to pass the long weeks and months of the lockout without the sport we love.
Some were done very much tongue-in-cheek, gently ribbing those die-hards who'll now have too much time on their hands, while some were of the serious instructive kind, for those genuinely needing help on how to pass the time without NHL hockey to follow.
I'm sure the overwhelming majority of hockey fans already knew what they were going to do without the NHL, for unlike the truly sick few, who need professional help if they can't survive without their NHL fix, we have lives and will adjust quite nicely without the NHL.
I love hockey, especially NHL hockey. Naturally I'm going to miss it during the lockout, both for personal and professional reasons. I spend a great deal of my time in my den in front of my computer during an NHL season, checking out the latest news and rumours to post up in my columns and my trade rumours page while my TV usually has a game on or is tuned to TSN's That's Hockey, Roger's Sportsnet's Hockey Central or checking out game highlights on The Score.
So yes, this'll be a helluva gear change for me. So what'll I do to pass the time during the lockout?
1. I'm going to enjoy life away from hockey. As more than one sportswriter observed, this isn't the end of the world. Sure, it's annoying, but life goes on. I have a family to spend time with and love and support, chores to do around the house, buddies to hoist a brew with at The Gahan House pub, relatives to visit, bills to pay, books to read, movies to watch and just life to live in general.
2. I'll be maintaining this site on a daily basis, posting up my thoughts on whatever's newsworthy or on slow days like this one, just tossing out anything hockey-worthy that's on my mind that particular day.
3. I'll also continue to send my thrice-weekly articles to Foxsports, although I will have to stick more to the hockey news with those than the flights of fancy I occasionally allow myself here. Still, it'll be a good test of my commentary skills to find newsworthy items to write about during the slow periods of the lockout.
4. There is also my sim league team to keep me busy. As general manager of the NAHL Charlottetown Islanders since 1999, my team has made the playoffs exactly once, but that's because I took over an aging club and needed time to rebuild it with youth. Having drafted Scott Gomez, Brad Stuart, Marian Gaborik, Mark Bell, Nick Boynton and Dany Heatley in recent years, and this year Joni Pitkanen and Dan Hamhuis, and traded for Robert Esche, Vesa Toskala, Mathieu Garon and Olli Jokinen last season, I think my club is finally poised for a big breakout.
5. I'm fortunate to live in a city where a QMJHL franchise is located. I recently bought a five-game "Rimouski" package for some PEI Rocket games for $125.00 ($62.50 per adult), which equals $13 bucks per game for attendance. Factor in an additional $10 bucks for programs, a beer and some fries per person, and you're talking a very affordable night out at the arena. So I'll get to enjoy some live hockey, watching some kids who may one day play in the NHL, and on November 1, when the Rimouski Oceanic come to town, I'll be able to check out teen phenom Sidney Crosby and see for myself what all the fuss is about.
6. I'll also catch up on my reading. I've already read most of the good hockey books but I may re-read some of my favourites, including "Money Players" by Bruce Dowbiggin, "Game Misconduct" by Russ Conway, "Net Worth" by Dave Cruise and Alison Griffiths, "The Game" by Ken Dryden and "The New Ice Age" by Stephen Brunt.
7. If you live in Canada like I do, TSN will be running classic hockey games on Wednesday nights when they'd normally televise NHL games. For my American readers, there should be classic games available on ESPN Classic. Now some may dismiss the notion of watching games when you already know the end result, but I think it's a hoot to watch my favourite players of the past in their prime, and to recall the emotions I felt watching those games. Besides, when you watch "classic" games, you know you'll be in store for some great hockey! I plan on having my VCR primed and ready to add to my collection!
8. Come Christmas, it'll be time once again for the World Junior Hockey Championships, when the best junior players in the world represent their countries in a tournament that matches in excitement anything done by the professionals . The tournament will be held this year in Grand Forks and Team Canada could become a "dream team" which could feature locked out NHL'ers like Nathan Horton, Brent Burns and Patrice Bergeron.
9. If any AHL games are televised by the sports networks here in Canada, I'll be checking those out. It'll be a great opportunity to see some of the promising talents of the NHL clubs in action. Failing that, I'll catch some of the action via cybercasts.
10. If I can find a good fun league around Charlottetown and if I can afford to buy some gear, I just might come out of my self-imposed six year retirement and lace 'em up again for some scrimmage games. The reason for my retirement was I suffered a serious leg injury playing in a military hockey tournament nearly seven years ago, and I promised my wife after that I would not play hockey again. However, the league I played in back then wasn't a "fun" league, if you know what I mean. I'm looking for a league where you can just go out, have some fun and not worry about some idiot taking things too seriously.
So that's what I'll be up to. I bet most of you have similar plans or even better ones in store. NHL hockey is a big part of my life, but it ain't the end-all and be-all and there's lots of substitutions if you're willing to look for them.
And if enough of us find those substitutions, maybe that'll help spur the NHL and the NHLPA to get back to the table.
Hey, a man can dream...