Click here to return to Spector's Soapbox Archives


It's that time of year again, folks! A time when ghosts, goblins and monsters prepare to prowl the land, when the telling of chilling tales becomes popular.

For hockey fans, this year's Hallowe'en is more terrifying, more blood-chilling, more horrible than at any time since....well, since the last lockout ten years ago.

The 2004 NHL lockout, however, is more frightening than it's predecessor. A decade ago, there was still hope and optimism, not just amongst fans, but also amongst owners, players, agents and management that something would be worked out to save the 1994-95 season. Blessedly, a settlement was reached by January 1995.

This time around, hope is only found in the word "hopeless", as that's the feeling hanging over the NHL regarding a potential solution.

The owners are determined that this time, they will not give in the players. They want to force them to accept one of the six cost certainty (read: hard salary cap) proposals. If doing so brings about crushing the union in the process, all the better.

The players are just as determined never to accept anything that even remotely resembles a hard salary cap. If getting their way should mean the eventual contraction of several clubs and the loss of jobs, so be it.

For the owners, they're willing to risk losing the entire 2004-05 season to get what they want and bring the players to heel. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and several outspoken owners claim the owners and the league are united on this and will do whatever it takes to achieve their aims.

But deep down for some of the owners, there has to be a rising fear that a lost season will cost them, and the league, more dearly than they imagine. None of them, however, can publicly voice their doubts because Bettman has a gag order imposed upon them, where speaking out can mean hefty fines as punishment.

So those owners, the more moderate and perhaps rational of the bunch, have to suffer their fear in silence.

And what could possibly be troubling them? How about the loss of revenue of an entire season for one. But even more scary is the potential for alienating their fan base and ultimately driving them away with this standoff.

The NHL is predominantly gate-driven and cannot rely on lucrative broadcasting revenues like their bigger cousins , the NFL, NBA and MLB. Those owners saw what happened to Major League Baseball after their 1994 labour dispute, when their fan support dropped for several seasons and was only brought back by Mark McGuire's and Sammy Sosa's run for Roger Maris' home run record.

The fear for those owners is that for the NHL, which was struggling at the gate in the US markets going into this lockout, the fallout from a lengthy labour dispute could be so serious that they never recover.

There also has to be a cold chill down the spine of some small market clubs, who are pinning their hopes for survival on a new CBA that drastically restricts player salaries.

If they don't get that CBA, they believe they're doomed to either fold or relocate.

They're not afraid of the players, but of their richer, big-market rivals. It was they who created and perpetuated the conditions for the rise in salaries over the past ten years with their wild free-spending, which left most of the small markets unable or unwilling to compete financially.

How sickening it must be for some small market owners to know some of their allies in this war with the players are the ones who could stab them in the back again when it's finished.

As for the NHLPA, they've got a scary situation on their hands that must be dealt with to maintain solidarity.

In the months leading up to the present lockout, the players union proclaimed far and wide that their 700 members were standing together in rejecting any attempts to cap their salaries.

But now, scarcely two months into the lockout, the NHLPA faces the possibility of dissension within its ranks, as several lower paid players publicly spoke out against them, claiming the union wasn't adequately representing them and daring to suggest they'd accept a salary cap.

So far the number of fringe players speaking out is less than ten, but what if their opinions are shared by many more of the lower paid players? What happens to union solidarity if more of them speak out? What happens if they force NHLPA honcho Bob Goodenow to put a salary cap to a vote?

It would be a nightmare scenario for the union. If a significant number of their members are willing to accept a hard cap, it would bring about a civil war between those players and the wealthier ones. If they forced Goodenow to accept a hard cap, it would place the union in a position of weakness in negotiations with the league. It could potentially undo everything the union had achieved over the past ten years.

Sure, that scenario is extreme, but the comments of that handful of disgruntled fringe players had to have struck fear into the hearts of Goodenow and his player executive. If it didn't, it should have. Dissension usually starts out small but like a cancer can multiply exponentially if left unchecked.

It's now time for the union to do damage control in public, something they didn't want to face at all, particularly when they know the league is watching and enjoying it.

Finally, there's the horror felt by hockey fans everywhere. The news that a settlement must be in place by mid-to-late December in order to save the season came as a nasty shock for fans who remembered the last CBA was resolved by January.

That leaves potentially six-to-eight weeks for a new deal to be in place, otherwise, the 2004-05 season will be lost and the Stanley Cup won't be awarded for the first time since the influenza epidemic of 1919.

With both sides in this labour dispute scarcely speaking, the possibility of a lost season looms ever larger, creating an atmosphere of frustration and resentment and anger toward the NHL.

The owners may be willing the PR war as the fans are siding with them against the players, but if the season is lost, it won't matter who the fans support if they become so frustrated with the NHL and NHLPA that they say, "screw you guys, I'm staying home!"

In the end, the final horror could be the wrath of angry fans visited upon the NHL. Most Canadian fans will still support the league since hockey is stamped indelibly into the culture, but they'll be jaded. A lost season could be a potential death blow to the NHL in the United States, where the majority of sports fans are either unaware of an NHL lockout or simply don't care.

A sports league doing as poorly as the NHL in the US sports market doesn't shoot itself in the foot by locking out it's players, instead, it works together with the players to find a solution that is mutually beneficial.

The sheer stupidity of this lockout could be the final nail in the NHL's coffin in the US market, forever branding it as a second-rate national curiousity that can't even outdraw the World Series of Poker.

The worst terror of all is the realization that you could've done something to save yourself from self-destruction when it's too late to save yourself.

That terror could be what awaits Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow, not now, not in a year's time, but within the next five years.



- The past week certainly wasn't a good one for the NHLPA in terms of it's solidarity.

Several players spoke out against the way the union was handling this situation and dared to suggest they'd accept what union head Bob Goodenow claimed was unacceptable: a hard salary cap.

And while one of those players - Montreal Canadiens forward Mike Ribeiro - retracted his statements by claiming what was attributed to him by Le Journal de Montreal wasn't true, the other three stood by their words.

Calgary Flames defenceman Mike Commodore lashed out at the way both the league and the union were handling the labour impasse and declared he was not adverse to a salary cap, provided it was fair to both sides and more than $30 million.

Ottawa Senators blueliner Brian Pothier voiced his concerns to both Goodenow and his union rep and teammate Daniel Alfredsson. Pothier feels younger, lesser paid players aren't being fairly represented by the union.

Finally, Montreal Canadiens forward Pierre Dagenais also suggested he felt players of his ilk weren't being well represented and even claimed that, if a salary cap were put to a vote by union membership, it would have stronger support than Goodenow and his player executive believed.

Coming on the eve of a meeting between Goodenow and his thirty player reps, their comments will undoubtedly be addressed at that meeting.

So does this mean the union is about to crumble? Is there a revolt about to take place that'll force Goodenow to accept the NHL's proposals for a hard cap? Could it even lead to Goodenow being replaced?

The answer to those questions is no, no and definitely no.

As TSN's Bob McKenzie recently reported, while there are pockets of lesser paid and fringe players who view a protracted standoff as harmful to their careers and wouldn't be impacted by a hard cap on individual salaries, the remainder of the union are solidly behind Goodenow.

He's won too much on their behalf over the years for them to question his motives and even if the union were to eventually accept the league's proposals, they certaintly won't fire him.

Still, the grumblings of a few fringe players cannot be ignored by Goodenow and his executives. Expect them to broaden their communication with the lesser lights to address their concerns.

Because, as McKenzie and myself both noted in recent articles, if this thing were to go unchecked, it could potentially lead to a revolt within the ranks of the union, pitting the lesser paid fringe players against the better compensated, which would tear the union apart and significantly weaken it.

- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners must be enjoying the news about potential solidarity problems within the union. Hence the reason why they ratcheted up pressure on the NHLPA, thanks to recent comments by NHL Executive VP Bill Daly suggesting that the longer the union takes to return to the negotiating table with the league, the more likely the union could be forced to accept a lesser deal than that originally proposed by the league.

The timing of those comments were no coincidence, and were aimed squarely at the union's lesser paid members. The league is hoping to stoke the fires of dissent within the NHLPA's ranks.

Can't say that I blame them. A potential weakness in union solidarity has been exposed and the league is hoping to exploit it to their advantage. Divide and conquer.

A divided union would play right into the league's hands if it is successful in achieving a labour impasse via the law courts. Their plan would be to then impose their cost certainty scheme unilaterally, thus forcing the union to take strike action, which would then allow the league to hire replacement players.

And who would those replacement players be? Career minor leaguers, of course, along with unsigned juniors...and the NHLPA's lesser paid fringe players.

It should be noted that neither Commodore, Pothier or Dagenais suggested they'd cross a union picket line if that were to come into effect. Only one player, Florida Panthers forward Juraj Kolnik, made that claim, but then backed off it when he said that, because of his poor English, he didn't understand what that meant.

Still, dissension within the ranks of the NHLPA is exactly what the league wants if they successfully achieve a legal labour impasse.

- It would be interesting, however, to find out just how united all thirty NHL owners have been in this standoff. But thanks to Gary Bettman's gag order and threats of stiff fines for speaking out, we'll never know until probably years after the fact.

A lot of the small market owners, along with big market hawks like Boston's Jeremy Jacobs and Chicago's Bill Wirtz, are solidly behind Bettman.

But some of the big market teams have hefty payrolls and would be gutted by an immediate imposition of cost certainty, particularly if the league achieves it's draconian $31 million.

That's not to suggest those clubs aren't in line with bringing down player salaries, but I doubt they want it to be so low that reducing their payrolls resulted in seriously weakening their clubs.

You can also bet that a lot of those big market clubs aren't as keen about revenue sharing as Bettman would have us believe. Check out any newspaper in any big market city and do a little research, and you'll find that support for such a scheme is not strong.

The opinion of media, fans and the usual "unnamed team executives" is, "why should our team take the money they made and send it to help small market teams? If those teams can't make a go of it, they shouldn't be in the league!"

Again, however, we won't find out about dissension within the ownership ranks until long after this current dispute is history, likely when Calgary Herald reporter Bruce Dowbiggin writes another book on the subject.

- Looks like the NHLPA is losing the support of some of it's former members in this lockout.

Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur recently lashed out at problems within the league, but also had a few choice words for the players, chiding them for accepting less money to play in Europe when they could be staying at home and making much more by playing in the NHL. Lafleur said he didn't believe the players would be harmed by a salary cap.

There were also reports that former NY Islanders greats Mike Bossy and Billy Smith spoke out against the players stance in this lockout and for playing in Europe for less money.

The three do have a point. Those NHL players currently plying their craft in Europe for less money than what they could be making in the NHL under a salary cap makes them appear hypocritical. How can they claim a hard cap is bad for them when they're taking less money to play in Europe, not to mention taking jobs away from lesser players in Europe by doing so?

However, it should be pointed out that, if Lafleur, Bossy and Smith were twenty-five years younger, in their prime and still playing in the NHL, they'd either be overseas playing in Europe or else working out at home while awaiting the end of the impasse.

To claim they don't understand why over 230 of today's NHL'er are playing in Europe during the lockout is silly. They know why they're doing it. The league locked them out, and European teams were keen to snap up NHL calibre talent to give them a short term boost at the gate.

I do sympathize with those players who lost their jobs to locked out NHL players, but the beef should be with the owners of those European clubs. They're the ones who decided to hire NHL players. Those NHL'ers didn't come over and forced those European owners to hire them.

Those NHL'ers playing in Europe right now are doing so to stay in game shape for the duration of the lockout. It's no different than what many of them did during the 1994 lockout. What are they supposed to do, sit around and get fat during the interim?

All the beaking off about them earning less money in Europe when they could be back playing in the NHL for far more is missing the point. The owners created this situation, not the players. The owners locked the players out, and European teams were happy to snap up as many NHL calibre players as they could, thus providing them with a boost at the gate and providing locked out NHL'ers a place to play and stay in shape.

- I recently saw a blurb on TSN where former New Jersey Devils owner John McMullen gave his views on the current lockout. McMullen owned the Devils during the 1994 lockout and he says this current one is far worse than the one ten years ago.

McMullen also suggested the players were going to have to make some concessions to help settle this lockout.

Of course, the owners don't have to make any concessions at all, right Mr. McMullen? Your former associates had nothing to do with creating and perpetuating this mess, right?

For those fans of small market clubs cheering McMullen's words, consider the source. After all, this was the man who, according to the book "Money Players", infamously said, "screw the small markets!" during the last lockout.

- Finally, I ask all hockey fans everywhere to say a prayer or send a note of support to New Jersey Devils coach Pat Burns as he battles colon cancer. Here's to a speedy recovery, Pat!


In yesterday's Soapbox, I commented on Sportnet's and The Hockey News alternative history of the Eric Lindros saga.

As I noted, dabbling in alternative history can be fun and creates interesting "what if..." scenarios. Thus, I decided to apply alternative history to the past fifteen years of the NHL's labour history.

WHAT IF...the NHLPA hadn't forced Alan Eagleson to step down as it's executive director?

By 1989, Eagleson ruled the players' union with an iron hand for over twenty years. But although he represented the players, he'd been in bed with the owners throughout that period, cutting deals with them to keep players salaries artificially low. He'd also been fleecing many injured players of health insurance benefits, and used their pension fund for his own personal gain.

"The Eagle" had done this by taking advantage of the players naivete and ignorance of their rights, often bullying and humiliating into silence those who dared to question him.

But by the late 1980s, many players and their agents began to question Eagleson's motives, and in a momentous meeting in 1989, staged what could only be called open rebellion against him, which ultimately led to Eagleson stepping down by 1992 as executive director, replaced by current director and former player agent, Bob Goodenow.

But what if the players had remained ignorant of Eagleson's misdealings? What if the formidable "Eagle" successfully beat back the challenge to his authority?

There certainly wouldn't have been a players strike in 1992 or a lockout in 1994. Players salaries would've remained artificially low while it's membership would've remained cowed. Fans might believe that's a good thing, the fact remains that what Eagleson was doing was literally criminal.

In fact, by the early 1990s, Eagleson was under investigation by both the FBI in the United States and the RCMP in Canada, spurred in part by articles published by Pulitizer Prize winning sports reporter Russ Conway, which later formed the basis of his book, "Game Misconduct".

The players likely would've rallied around Eagleson, as they often do with "one of their own", as he was once considered. They probably wouldn't have wanted to believe the man they trusted for all those years was in fact robbing them blind.

Eagleson was later convicted of racketeering and sent to prison in 1997, so it's safe to assume that by that point the blinders would've finally been ripped off the players eyes. Whether or not Bob Goodenow would've replaced Eagleson is a moot point. From that point on, the players' union would've become as militant as they were in 1992, 1994 and today.

Eagleson's remaining in charge of the NHLPA would've only forestalled the inevitable. Granted, we probably wouldn't be seeing the lockout situation we have today, but we'd be undoubtedly well on the way.

WHAT IF...The players strike was a failure?

At the heart of the 1992 Players Strike was negotiating a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Goodenow filed a 120 day notice of termination of the then-CBA in the fall of 1991, which the league challenged, claiming the notice was invalid because, as noted in the book "Money Players" by Bruce Dowbiggin, "it failed to include a series of proposed changes to the contract".

Both sides agreed to negotiate a new deal throughout the 1991-92 season, but the sticking points were trading card rights, arbitration and other side issues. It led to the union voting 560-4 in favour of strike action at the end of the season, potentially cancelling the 1992 playoffs

That threw millions of dollars in broadcast and ticket revenues into jeopardy for the owners, but it also put incredible pressure on the players, who were suffering from self-doubt and pilloried by hockey fans.

Ultimately, both sides were dealing from weakness and got a quick deal done to save the playoffs, with Ziegler giving up the hardline on trading card rights while the owners, according to "Money Players, "could prepare for the real showdown in 1994".

But what if the owners had stood their ground? What if they hung tough for a few days or a week longer and succeeded into forcing the players to capitulate "for the good of the game".

Had that occurred, Goodenow would've had a tougher row to hoe going into the 1994 CBA showdown. The players would've questioned his judgement and their solidarity likely wouldn't have been as strong in the faceoff with the owners in 1994.

Goodenow would've been handicapped going into those negotiations with likely a good portion of his union membership second-guessing his every move. If the 1994 lockout did occur, it likely wouldn't have lasted as long as it did, and the gains the players made would've been insignificant.

That, in turn, might've led to Goodenow being replaced by another player agent or possibly someone from outside the sport.

Still, the possibility of the owners digging in their heels back then was remote, because of the amount of revenue they stood to loose if the playoffs didn't go off as planned. While both sides positions were weak, the owners had the most to lose in the short term.

WHAT IF...the last CBA favoured the owners, rather than the players, over the long run?

With the benefit of hindsight, it's clear the NHLPA outsmarted the owners with the last CBA. Their salaries rose significantly as the players and, most specifically, their agents took advantage of the natural greed of most owners to blow apart the most restrictive free agency system in North American pro sports, as well as skirting a hard cap on rookie contracts out of the water with bonus clauses, and obtain an arbitration system tilted in their favour.

But at the time, the opinion of most owners and media observers was the players gave up far too much and that Goodenow had been outsmarted by Gary Bettman.

It was widely believed the free agency system was far too restrictive, that the top rookie players wouldn't get their true worth under a hard cap system, and that most owners would walk away from arbitration awards they didn't agree with.

So what if the owners used the advantages they had in the last CBA to their own benefit? What if they didn't engage in wild free-spending orgies free agent players? What if they maintained the hard cap on entry level salaries? What if more teams exercised their walk-away rights in arbitration?

Had the owners used the leverage they had in the last CBA, and worked for the common goal of keeping player salaries under control, those average salaries wouldn't have jumped from just over $500K in 1994 to $1.8 million in 2004.

The top player salaries likely would've been in the $5 million range, not $9 million to $11 million. It's likely the average salary would've risen, but probably to barely $1 million.

Team wouldn't have spent wildly in the UFA markets, since by the time most players were eligible for it, they would be deemed on the downside of their careers and hence past their peak earning years. With a few exceptions for the top UFAs, most would've earned less, not more, under unrestricted free agency.

The top players on entry level salaries wouldn't have earned more than $1.2 million per season, as teams wouldn't have used bonuses and incentive clauses to circumvent that hard cap. Indeed, the average entry-level salary would probably be half that amount.

Best of all, there was no way under the last CBA that the union could blame the league of collusion, since the teams would be following the rules of the CBA. It likely would've frustrated the union, but they wouldn't be able to prove collusion.

As for arbitration, that still would've been tougher for teams to exercise that walk-away right, particularly with the player still in his prime earning years. But considering that owners and managers would be following the letter of the CBA, those players cut loose wouldn't have achieved larger paydays, particularly with their original team able to match bids for up to 80% of the arbitration award.

But would the 2004 lockout been avoided?

Possibly, since the owners would likely have been happier with the way things were going under that CBA. Salaries would've remained under control, thus giving them no reason to declare a need to tie player salaries to revenues. Indeed, they'd have a tougher time doing so if the CBA had worked as they had intended it to.

If anything, it would've been the players union who likely wouldn't have been happy over the way the CBA went, but they may not have wanted to force a work stoppage.

Arbitration still would've gotten them increases in salaries, as would the free agent system, although the increases wouldn't have been as steep. Neither side would've had a bone to pick over the entry level cap since that was passed without issue during the 1994 negotiations.

Likely the NHLPA would've tried to lower the age limit for UFAs to ensure players still in their prime could receive top dollar. They might also have sought some tweaking to Group II free agency to make it less restrictive.


Sportsnet's Hockeycentral panel has teamed up with The Hockey News to, in their words, "answer the NHL's greatest debates." Among the topics: "What if Eric Lindros stayed with the Quebec Nordiques?" They'lll also address the "no-call on Doug Gilmour in the '93 Conference finals ... Brett Hull's Cup-winning goal was disallowed ... Ballard never owned the Leafs ... Tremblay pulled Patrick Roy in '95" as the weeks progress.

This week the focus is on Eric Lindros reporting to the Nordiques in 1991 instead of staging a year-long holdout that forced the Nords to trade him to the Philadelphia Flyers the following year.

The article suggests Lindros would've been the most beloved player in Nordiques history, winning over fans in Quebec City by his desire to play there, his "charm and charisma" and willingness to learn French.

It also has Lindros winning the Calder, three Art Rosses and three Hart Trophies, but coming up short for the Stanley Cup as the Nordiques never would've obtained Patrick Roy from the Montreal Canadiens, thus lacking the top-calibre goaltending to put them over the top.

The piece claims that, having retained Lindros, the Nordiques wouldn't have relocated because 88's popular appeal would've resulted in a massive boost in ticket sales that would've convinced owner Marcel Aubut not to sell the club.

Alternative history is fun to dabble in, but I guess I'm too much of a realist to buy into Hockeycentral and the Hockey News "what if" version of Eric Lindros. Their speculation is more "through the looking glass" stuff that fails to take into account several realities that never would've changed regardless of whether or not "Le Gros E" played for the Nordiques.

The Lindros clan was concerned about Eric's marketability, hence the reason why he refused to go to the small market Nordiques. They wanted their son plying his craft in a big market, preferably Toronto, but one where he could cash in big time, something that wasn't going to happen, in their opinion, in Quebec City.

The possibility of Lindros saving the Nordiques from relocation is just not based in reality. Aubut had threatened for several years to sell the Nordiques, and not even the presence of a god-like Lindros as envisioned by this revisionist panel would've changed his mind.

The Nords were already wildly popular in Quebec City, selling out Le Colisee through good times and bad. They were clearly a team on the rise by the early 1990s, but that wasn't enough to convince the provincial government to shell out the cash Aubut wanted to build a new, larger venue, let alone bring about renovations to enlarge Le Colisee.

The prospect of the Nordiques offering a package of Joe Sakic, Adam Foote and Jocelyn Thibault to their hated provincial rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, is laughable. There's no way the Habs would've dealt Roy to the Nordiques, and no way the Nords would've dealt the reliable Sakic and the hard-nosed Foote to get him, even with the mythical Lindros on their roster.

Similarly, the notion of the Canadiens dealing Roy to the NY Islanders, a conference rival they'd have to face six times a year, is unthinkable. When Roy had his falling out with Mario Tremblay, Habs GM Rejean Houle knew he had to move him to a Western Conference team, where his club wouldn't have to face Roy that many times. Houle may not have been a shrewd general manager, but he was smart enough to understand he didn't want to be haunted by Roy six time a year if the trade backfired on the Canadiens, which of course it did.

There were several inevitabilities had Lindros stayed in Quebec City.

First, he undoubtedly would've won the Calder in 1992, because the Nordiques teammates he would've played for (Sakic, Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan) would've resulted in higher scoring totals than he had playing for the 1992-93 Philadelphia Flyers. As the Nords improved, so too would've Lindros' stats.

Second, his style of play wouldn't have differed from the style he played in Philadelphia, which would've resulted in several concussion injuries that would've either forced him from the game early or limited his effectiveness as it did during his sad tenure with the New York Rangers.

Third, the lack of a top flight netminder would've derailed any possibility of a Nordiques team with Lindros on it winning the Stanley Cup. The Avs got their two Cup banners thanks to Patrick Roy. Without him, they'd have nothing. If the Nords still relocated with Lindros on the roster, of course they'd have landed Roy. That never would've changed.

Fourth, regardless of whether or not he reported to the Nordiques, they were as good as gone from Quebec City by 1995. Lindros wouldn't have saved them for the reasons noted earlier.

It'll be interesting to see what the results are of the other "Great Debates". Hopefully they'll be a little more grounded in reality.



- Read an interesting bit in Sunday's Toronto Star about how the NHL owners this time around are much richer and much savvier than those the players squared off against ten years ago in the last lockout.

Business reporter Rick Westhead noted that 22 of the 30 NHL clubs changed ownership in the last ten years, with many of them being billionaires whose ownership of a hockey team is just one part of their overall financial empires.

And while the owners have stored up a $320 million war chest to see them through the lockout, Westhead noted most of them probably won't avail themselves of it.

The sampling of Westhead's new breed of NHL owner was quite impressive. Tampa Bay Lightning owner William Davidson has a net worth of $2.8 billion. Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano is believed worth over $1 billion. Colorado Avalanche owner Stan Kroenke is heir to the Wal-Mart empire and believed worth over $1.4 billion. St. Louis Blues owner Bill Laurie married another heir to the Wal-Mart fortune. LA Kings owner Philip Anschutz is believed worth over $5 billion, and Minnesota Wild owner Robert Naegele Jr founded Rollerblade Inc.

The Anaheim Mighty Ducks, NY Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers are owned by large corporations - Disney, Cablevision and Comcast respectively. Westhead noted the three had combined sales last year of a staggering $50 billion.

It would seem, as a sports consultant did in an interview with Westhead, that the owners will have "more staying power" than the players union to withstand a lengthy lockout.

Only time will tell if that's the case, but there's one thing that should be remembered: the players are also wealthier now than they were ten years ago. When they made less money, the players stayed united. That includes those who were at the bottom of the pay scale, just as now. The players are in good shape to weather a long work stoppage.

This article raised an question: if so many of these owners are so wealthy and so savvy, why are they collectively losing $270 million in a season?

If the reason is because they left the running of their franchises to "experienced hockey people", what does that say about their judgement?

For that matter, what does it say about the judgement of those they hired to run their clubs?

And if these teams are owned by billionaires or billionaire corporations, why the hell are they crying poor when it comes to their franchises?

- The Hockey Rodent has an interesting post up regarding the possibility of European games being broadcast in Canada.

The Rodent speculates that the televising of these games in Canada or even the US could create a problem for the NHL. Specifically, potential NHL sponsers might consider advertising for those European telecasts if they like the product.

If so, the Rodent suspects the league will try to do what they can to either interfere with the broadcasts or attempt to convince sponsers that the European product is inferior.

I'm not so sure the NHL will go that far, because quite frankly, I think the NHL doesn't take the potential threat to their dominance from Europe very seriously.

The NHL has a long history of either ignoring or misjudging problem areas.

The owners in the early 1970s didn't take the WHA seriously, until the rival league raided their rosters and signed away players to significantly higher salaries than the NHL was offering, thus forcing the NHL to raise the salaries of their players.

Owners in the late 1980s never saw the storm gathering over then-NHLPA honcho Alan Eagleson as the players began wising up to his tactics of enriching himself and the owners at their expense.

In the early and mid 1990s they failed to take the players union seriously during the 1992 strike and 1994-95 lockout, so smug were they that they could break the players will.

Fans of the NHL noticed a serious drop-off in the qualify of play over the past ten years for a variety of reasons. It's affected the sports popularity, particularly in the United States, but the league does little to address it.

As noted earlier, there are 22 new owners compared to ten years ago, but the fact they've apparently run up significant losses doesn't say much for their competence in running a professional sports league.

Europe isn't a threat to the NHL now, but it is a slumbering giant. The one weapon the NHL has in their arsenal which keeps a potentially rival European league from challenging their supremacy is money.

As long as the NHL can pay substantially more than the top European clubs, they'll continually attract the best European talent. But if they succeed in installing their hard cap on salaries via cost certainty, they'll soon discover it's a double-edged sword.

Their draconian cap will keep salaries low, but it'll allow European clubs the opportunity to competitively bid against NHL clubs for European players.

If North American fans get a taste of ExtraLiga or Russian Elite League or Swedish Elite League games with some of the best European talent on the rosters and like what they see, it could bring in more sponsership for those leagues, thus emboldening European clubs to consider engaging in aggressive bidding for European free agents.

The NHL has always been run by men with tunnel vision, never seeing what's on the periphery until it's too late. Hence the reason I doubt they'll consider telecasts of European games during the lockout as a threat.

- Hockey News reporter Mark Brender recently suggested NHLPA leader Bob Goodenow should "beat the owners at their own game" by proposing the following:

" The owners want a tie between league-wide revenues and player costs? Fine. But given that we're the ones making the grand concession, the players would say, we're in charge of this game now. Our share is going to be 60 per cent in a soft-cap system, not the 50 to 55 per cent that's on the table - and teams re-signing their own free agents above previous contract amounts don't count against the percentage.

As for defining hockey revenue, our accountants are going to pore over every dime of every financial statement you've ever produced and then some - and we'll go through every team, individually, to decide how to allocate revenue and determine what constitutes the hockey business.

That hard team salary cap? Forget it. There won't be one. No individual player salary cap, either. Pay us what you want and if it's over 60 per cent, we'll pay the difference back the next season. But first you've got to share 40 per cent of all gate receipts. You want the NFL, now you can prove it. We'll also take unrestricted free agency at 27, thanks much."

Somehow, I just don't see the owners or Gary Bettman going for that, do you?

They want cost certainty which broken down from the $920 million they've stated they want salaries reduced to, which roughly equals $31 million per team. No soft cap, no 60 percent, no room for the NHLPA to negotiate. "Here's our six proposals, NHLPA, take 'em or leave 'em, but don't waste our time with anything that looks like a luxury tax."

The NHL never said they wanted to directly copy the NFL's style, only that they believe the NFL's system is a model that works. Unfortunately for the NHL, what works for the NFL won't work for them.

As noted on this site several times in the past month, the NFL's hard cap isn't a hard cap at all, as many teams often spend over it. It's more like a credit card system, in that once you max out, you must pay it back. The NFL's revenue streams make it possible for that lucrative revenue-sharing scheme that allows all clubs the opportunity to be competitive.

The NHL doesn't have the NFL's revenues, so figure the odds of them accepting a 60-40 split of the gate.

If Goodenow made such a proposal as Brender suggests, he'd be pilloried by the league and its media sycophants for once again failing to make a serious offer or negotiate in good faith. Ignorant hockey fans will claim that proposal was more of "a joke" than the last two from the union.

What will bring this labour stoppage to a close will be when the NHL attempts to file for an impasse with the US Labor court next summer and with the labour courts of the four provinces where the six Canadian teams reside.

It'll be the rulings of those courts, for or against the league, that'll determine how the end-game to this standoff is played out.

- In a recent interview with Hockeyjournal.com, Boston Bruins assistant GM Jeff Gorton expressed optimism over his club's future.

“We’ve put ourselves into a situation where we feel that we’ll play at a high level and be able to sustain that over the long haul.”

Gorton noted that his club built a strong foundation for the future through the draft and how they can build around the youth corps presently on the roster.

“You look at our core players and we’re open to do a lot of things,” said Gorton. “Joe (Thornton), (Patrice) Bergeron, Sergei Samsonov, Nick Boynton, Andrew Raycroft – all of them will figure prominently into our future. It has taken some time, and we’ve taken some hits publicly, but we have some flexibility to build teams around these young, skill players.”

Sorry to burst the bubble, Mr. Gorton, but that won't happen if you treat those players the same way you treated Jason Allison, Bill Guerin, Adam Oates and Kyle McLaren.

There's already signs that the same problems will persist. For one, that nasty business of salary arbitration with Thornton, which obviously didn't sit well with "Jumbo Joe". There's the little matter of Raycroft, the 2004 Calder winner, who still remains unsigned and will be an important piece of business to clean up right away whenever the NHL returns to action. Samsonov has held out before, and after his next contract expires, could be seeking more money if he can finally have an injury-free season.

There's no question the Bruins draft and develop well. The problem, of course, is when it comes to paying those players in accordance with their NHL development. Nobody's suggesting the Bruins should've overpaid in the past, but they certainly could've conducted their previous negotiations with a little more tact, fairness and diplomacy, rather than adopting a hardline that often drove their best players out of town.

- Finally, my thanks to those of you who wrote in to inform me that the artist of the song I referenced in yesterday's Soapbox were Canadian artists The Cooper Brothers, and the title of the song was "The Dream Never Dies."


There's a verse to an old song from the late 1970s (the name of which eludes me, though not for lack of trying to find it and the artist) that goes like this:

"The dream never dies, just the dreamer. The dream never dies if it's strong. The song never dies, just the singer. So come on, everybody, sing along."

That ran through my head when I read a recent article by Robin Brownlee of the Edmonton Sun regarding the hope of die-hard hockey fans in Winnipeg that someday, somehow, an NHL franchise will return to their city.

It's been almost ten years since the Jets skated their last laps around the old Winnipeg Arena and waved their goodbyes to their cheering, tearful fans, but the dream of the Jets reborn has never fully died in Winnipeg.

A big reason why the Jets left the 'Peg was the Arena was too small and the ownership of the day couldn't convince the city and the province of Manitoba to kick in to construct a new state-of-the-art venue.

Nearly ten years later, Winnipeg will be opening the MTS Centre which seats 15,000 fans. That's still not huge by NHL standards, but it has the capacity to house an NHL franchise.

Brownlee reported that Mark Chipman, "governor of the (AHL's Manitoba) Moose and chairman of True North Sports and Entertainment", might be interested in being part of an effort to bring an NHL franchise back to Winnipeg, provided the league could work out a CBA that would benefit a small-market city like Winnipeg.

The reporter noted three key points. "For investors here to even contemplate getting into the NHL sweepstakes", wrote Brownlee. "The numbers would have to add up.

- It would take operating with a payroll of no more than $30 million. That's $4 million less than the Oilers had last season. When the Jets left, their payroll was $17 million.

- A team would need a season-ticket base of at least 13,000 and an average ticket price of $50-$60. The Oilers, at the low end of the scale, had an average ticket of $65 last season. Jets tickets averaged $27 in their final season.

- There would have to be revenue sharing in conjunction with a salary cap, something Cal Nichols and Oilers ownership, the Edmonton Investors Group, supports."

In my humble opinion, that's not going to work to bring the NHL back to Winnipeg.

Sure, a $30 million payroll would be workable under a $31 million "cost certainty" cap. Unfortunately for Winnipeg, there is no guarantee the players union will accept a salary cap, but if they did, you can bet they won't settle for a draconian $31 million.

The old Jets never had trouble attracting fans to their games, win or lose. They were very loyal and made Winnipeg a terrific hockey town. A season ticket base of 13,000, on the face of it, looks very easy to accomplish. Indeed, a new Jets franchise might be able to attract that many in their first few seasons. But as Brownlee noted, ticket prices are more expensive now than they were back in the last years of the old Jets. Considering the expense, maintaining that base will not be easy this time around.

And don't expect ticket prices to be very low in Winnipeg because the player salaries will supposedly be much lower under cost certainty. If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times and will say it a hundred times more, ticket prices have little correlation with player salaries. They're determined on what each market will bear.

The Jets will lack a big time local television contract, and like all Canadian franchises, will have steep municipal and provincial taxes.

Revenue sharing would be a must for a new Jets franchise, but unfortunately, we've seen nothing from the league to suggest how much will be distributed and what the cut will be for the smaller markets.

In order for revenue sharing to work so that all thirty NHL clubs can be competitive, the league would have to adopt the "60-40" system of the NFL, whereby the home team gets the majority of the gate.

Unfortunately, the NHL doesn't generate the same kind of revenue as the NFL, so it's highly unlikely we'll see anything close to that kind of thing. And while Gary Bettman says the owners support revenue sharing, I doubt very much the big market clubs are really that keen on the idea and will do everything they can to keep that as limited as possible.

Don't get me wrong, folks, I don't like dousing the hopes of Winnipeg hockey fans.

To me, the loss of the Jets is one shining example of what's wrong with today's NHL. The game was taken away from a hockey market that, while small, was fanatical in their support and devotion of that team. The Jets were beloved in Winnipeg, and as I noted before, they supported that club through good times and bad. There were some seasons where the losing was painful, but Winnipeggers never waivered in their support.

There should've been some way for the Jets to remain in Winnipeg, but the league was more interested in tapping into what they believed were more lucrative markets in the southern United States. It also didn't help that the MTS Centre was built far too late to save the Jets. Finally, no owner could be found to save the Jets from relocation.

Regardless of the outcome of the lockout, I just don't think that a return of the NHL to Winnipeg is a possibility. The fan support is there, but the economic factors in today's NHL work against it.

Still, in the minds of those Winnipeg die-hards, it doesn't matter what I think. As long as there's a possibility in their minds, and as long as there's hope, there remains a chance a new NHL Jets franchise could land in Winnipeg.

As that old song goes, "The dream never dies..."


I read with interest this past week a recent interview by ESPN's John Buccigros of former Hartford Whalers co-owner Richard Gordon, who owned the team from 1988 to 1994 before selling the club to current owner Peter Karmanos.

Gordon certainly had some unkind words about NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow. To wit:

"Many years I ago, I met Bob Goodenow. I said, "You know, Bob, things aren't going well. We're not making any money and we have no chance." He said that was tough. That if you go out someone else will take it. That's your problem. That's Bob Goodenow's attitude. And you know what? That's when I sold. Bob Goodenow couldn't care less about anything. There is no question the owners are bleeding. I gave them all my books for crying out loud."

Mr. Gordon wasn't finished with bashing Goodenow. Later in the interview he said, "The issue is Goodenow has told all the players not to trust the owners."

And he finished with the following: " I don't think they will get the season in. I think the problem is going to be Goodenow is going to take it right to the wall. They did that in 1995. But I think now it is so severe and so much money is at stake that Goodenow has pushed them too far and the owners have no choice. "

Mr. Gordon also spoke about the differences in the union from 1988 when he bought the club to today: "There was a lot more trust. The players were happy and the owners were somewhat happy. Some were losing money, but not like today."

Now I'm not about to question Mr. Gordon's reasons as to why he bought the Whalers and his general opinion as to whether the owners are in the right or not, which of course he fully believes they are. He's entitled to that opinion.

What I take umbrage with is his claims that he dumped the Whalers because of Bob Goodenow. Sorry, sir, but that's a ludicrous statement to make.

If he based that decision on the fact that Goodenow was now in charge of the union, then obviously he didn't have much respect for his fellow owners or for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who took over in that role in the fall of 1992.

There were undoubtedly better reasons why Mr. Gordon sold the franchise.

Taking a look at their attendance records during the period Mr. Gordon owned the club, the Whalers were consistently near the bottom in the NHL, often ranking second-worst. This despite the fact that, even with poor regular season records, they consistently made the playoffs from 1988 to 1992.

True, their venue was considered small, but they failed to sell out or even come close to the 15, 635 the Civic Center could hold.

The main reasons why Karmanos moved the club were, according to Wikipedia, "the fact that Hartford was not a major market, and the lack of a modern playing facility. The Hartford Civic Center was adequate, but small. In a league where most of its teams played in large, corporately-sponsored stadiums, a municipal civic center just couldn't compete."

For a look at what a Whalers fan thought of the situation at the time, check out this link.

Regardless, there were more substantial reasons for Mr. Gordon to sell the Whalers than a dislike and/or distrust of Bob Goodenow.

Indeed, I wonder where the bitterness toward Goodenow comes from? After all, Gordon has been out of the hockey business for over ten years now. Why carry a grudge against Goodenow now.

The answer undoubtedly lies in the players strike of 1992, when the players finally tore the blinders from their eyes and announced to the league that they weren't going to accept the old boy system of doing things anymore.

Back when Gordon purchased the Whalers, the NHLPA was run by Alan Eagleson, whose management of the union as noted in best-selling books like "Net Worth," "The Defence Never Rest", "Gross Misconduct" and "Money Players" was essentially to keep the players in the dark about their truth worth whilst conspiring with the league to keep their salaries down.

Gordon says there was "more trust" between the union and the league back in the 1980's, but that "trust" was consistently abused by Eagleson and the owners at the expense of the players.

At the time of the players strike in 1992, the owners of the time had a very low opinion of Goodenow. In fact, they derisively referred to him as "Jinglenuts". They believed Goodenow was in over his head against them and refused to take him or the players seriously when they threatened to strike. Suffice to say, they got a rude awakening, although sadly it seems few if any of them from that time learned from the experience.

If there is mistrust amongst the players, and believe me, there is, it's based on all that's happened to those who were around in 1992 and 1994, and the one-sided history of NHL labour relations before that.

The league made the players mistrustful, not Goodenow. To try to paint him as the bad guy who is turning the players against the owners and the league is without basis.

If Hartford wasn't making any money during Gordon's tenure, it may well have been due in part to the lousy product they were icing, one that steadily deteriorated from 1988 to 1994. That was due primarily to poor management decisions, most notable of which was trading the heart and soul of the franchise, Ron Francis, to the Pittsburgh Penguins in one of the most lopsided deals in NHL history.

Ice a better product, or at least look like you're trying to ice a better product, and the fans will support you. Make blunder after blunder and give the impression you either don't know what you're doing or don't care, and the fans won't return.

I'm not suggesting Mr. Gordon wasn't legitimately losing money, but he may have brought a good part of that upon himself. There's no point in trying to make Goodenow the scapegoat.

And where was the NHL in all this? They bent over backwards to save the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres just last year, but they sure weren't willing to bail out the Whalers. Or for that matter, the Winnipeg Jets and Quebec Nordiques.

Because back then, it was all about expansion into big sunny markets with monstrously huge venues and visions of big US TV dollars dancing in their heads. Small market clubs who couldn't pull their own weight back then simply got relocated, even if their fans protested.

If Goodenow made that alleged statement to Gordon about not caring if the Whalers were struggling financially, he was merely reflecting the mood of the league, whose opinion mattered more and of course carried the most weight if a franchise was to be relocated. It may be cold, but it was the truth.

To me, Mr. Gordon appears to be harbouring a pointless ten-year-old grudge.


Once again, another Soapbox commentary by yours truly generated considerable interest and responses from the readers.

As always, I want to thank those of you who took the time to reply to my questions aimed at those who support the owners in this lockout, and to those who've taken the time to write in with responses to previous Soapbox commentaries.

The responses were numerous and given my time constraints (Why can't there be more hours in a day?), I was unable to reply to them all via e-mails as I normally do.

So as is the case whenever my commentaries generate lots of responses, I'll be using the Soapbox to address some of the readers points.

Don't interpret this as a means for me to "get in the last word". If you disagree with my responses, please feel free to reply. Anything sent in will be posted up in my Fans Speak Out section, regardless of whether I agree with it or not, provided it's written in good taste and doesn't get too personally insulting. Also, due to space limitations I'll only be posting certain points that I wish to address. This isn't to be selective or to take things out of context.

The comments are in normal text, while my responses are italicized for your protection.


Also, they are downright lying about the ticket prices getting lower. It's probably true that the rise in player salaries was the biggest cause for the ticket prices skyrocketing, but there are no signs that it would work the other way around.

There were several clubs last season who cut payroll but raised ticket prices, or vice versa. There is little or no correlation between ticket prices and player salaries, and what usually affects those prices are the individual markets.

1) Even though it does seem unacceptable at first, rejecting the Union's proposals as a basis is logical. Sure, there are more good points than the owners come up with. But I don't think we've seen anything good
from either side yet.

But that's why you keep negotiating, rather than just staging a lockout. All that does is upset your fanbase, something a league like the NHL, which is more gate-driven than the other major sports, can ill afford to do.

The players aren't giving up much. Sure, covering the entry system loopholes is very important, as well as changes to arbitration, and a combination of luxury tax and revenue sharing could
be the solution in the end, sort of adapted NBA system.

I'd say giving up part of their salaries, removing entry level loopholes and changing an arbitration system that was very much in their favour is giving up quite a bit.

But revenue sharing isn't really out of the players pockets, as, in theory, it would only move demand for players from one team to another, and, most importantly, the salary rollback, which is a huge part of the total savings, would, what everyone seems to miss, lose effect in about two years, because as soon as current contracts run out, there's no reason forplayer agents not to demand their raises on current salaries instead. Sure, qualified offers would be lower, but players could still hold out until they get what they want. I have no proof of this, but unless there are other severe changes to the system, well, you know what the agents are like.

And I know what a lot of the owners are like, based on their history. You raise valid points, but remember, the league isn't asking for major changes to the free agency system. Rather, they're seeking all or nothing cap systems. And most RFA players didn't hold out, because the owners willingly paid them the raises they sought.

2) This is a point that I have never seen covered anywhere from this of view. I'm talking about how the rise in salaries is something a team management couldn't really control in the previous CBA. This has
been reported, but it's always about a team losing it's fan base. Jarome Iginla and the Flames are often mentioned as an example, how people wouldn't go to see games in the Saddledome without him. There are reports on the Internet regarding this, how the effect is very small. I won't bother gathering any statistics as they are easily found elsewhere. But the big point that everyone seems to miss is being COMPETITIVE. If Iginla had just sat out until the Flames traded him for a
couple of picks and prospects, and maybe a third-liner, the last time his contract was up, would they have made the playoffs this year, let alone the Finals? I very much doubt it.

First, the Flames held Iginla's rights until age 31 or until traded, so they controlled what he could get and where he could play. Second, nobody was bidding against them which would've further strengthened their position. Third, money obviously wasn't an issue if they could afford both a big raise for Iginla and overpay Roman Turek. Fourth, they wouldn't have to trade Iginla, and certainly not for the meagre return you claimed they'd get.

Would the Devils be a force year after year if they had traded Brodeur for a couple of prospects in his contract year instead of paying him $7M a year and now walked away from Niedermayer's $7M arbitration award?

Let Stevens go when he was going to be UFA instead of handing him another $7M? Let Elias go when he got 5.5M, Madden with 4.5M? No, no, no! This example shows that you don't have to be an idiot with a loose wallet to have a huge payroll in this league. Lou Lamoriello is a shrewd man with a budget conscience.

Very good points, but you should be asking yourself, why was the market allowed to reach a point where a fiscally responsible GM like Lamoriello would have to pay out that much money to five players? What precedents were set that created this situation?

He let Bobby Holik go when he had no choice.

He had the opportunity back in 2001 to re-sign Holik for just over $5 mil per season. Expensive? Sure, but nowhere near as expensive as what he got from the Rangers. Lamoriello had the chance but opted to get cheap in order to win a short term arbitration award. Then he turned around the next summer and offered him $8 million per.

Media reports now glorify how small-market clubs can succeed as Tampa has shown. However, they now have players under contract for about 45M and Marty St.Louis and quite a few depth players are yet to
sign. If the current CBA was extended and the Bolts continued their winning ways, how much money would Richards soon want? What, from 2.5M to, say, 5M? Lecavalier from 4M to 5M? Modin from 4M to 5M? And
those are pretty modest raises in the current system if the club's progress continues.

Again, the last CBA was tilted in favour of the owners, because they had the most restrictive free agent system in North American pro sports. Had the system worked the way it was intended, and if there'd been any responsible leadership from the league front office to ensure it, player salaries would've remained under control.

The point, which is a fact, is that in the current NHL, it is very hard to build even a one hit wonder without a huge payroll, and with the raises everyone requests after such a jackpot, makes a dynasty impossible without that payroll. Thus, idiots aside, it's not the owners fault.

So the wild free-spending of big market clubs which jacked the contracts of RFAs and UFAs aren't the owners fault? So the circumvention of the entry level cap by practically every NHL club wasn't the owners fault? So the unwillingness to use the leverage within the CBA wasn't the owners fault?

You can contest that there was someone who set the bar for contracts, Thornton for rookies, Sakic, Fedorov, Lindros, Kariya et al for others. But so what? GM's that are willing to overpay in order to improve their team and fanbase do exist. In fact, if only one GM and owner like that exist,
that's enough for the current system to go crashing down. It is sort of the owner's fault, yes, the first huge contracts. But after that, they REALLY didn't have the means to stop it. Especially because they
can't go to collusion.

So because somebody decides to jump off a cliff, everyone else has to follow suit? Sorry, but I don't buy that. The owners restricted the players free agent rights until age 31. Are you suggesting the players and their agents forced some clubs into wild spending sprees on UFAs? The owners got the restrictions they wanted in 1995, and in 1998 they claimed to be happy about it, but suddenly, a year later, they said it wasn't working and needed to be fixed. They had the means to stop it, and in fact spent the past two years slamming the breaks on those raises, although it was the approaching end of the CBA which forced them to get responsible.

So what happens if the league gets their cost certainty and a team finds some creative way to take advantage of that system?


Many teams claim that they will not lower ticket prices in the event of cost certainty. On the surface this makes no sense but think of this most teams are currently losing close to 10 million. That is with the current ticket prices. If they cut players salaries 10% (just using 10% as an arbitrary number) and tickets 10% they will be losing the same amount of money. By keeping ticket prices the same and lowering players salaries 10% their revenues will increase 10%.

There were several clubs who cut their payrolls last season and raised ticket prices, and some who raised payrolls but cut their prices. There is little or no correlation between ticket prices and player salaries.

Regardless of who is at fault for causing this situation I want player salaries to come down to earth so that I can afford to watch a game. If players salaries don't come down ticket prices will continue to go up. Hopefully if they come down ticket prices will at least stay the same. I cant justify working 50 hours a week so that Alexi Yashin can make $8,130 every minute of ice time he logs. Yes it is the Islanders fault he makes this money, but I can't afford to watch hockey if they pay another player the same money.

Sorry to disappoint you, Bryan. I understand where you're coming from and like you, I'd like to see ticket prices more affordable. However, ticket prices aren't going to be substantially lowered should the league achieve their beloved "cost certainty". Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs told a radio audience last month he couldn't guarantee reduction in ticket prices, while Canadiens president Pierre Boivin said his club wouldn't lower prices following the lockout. Stan Fishcher reports a few teams, but not all of them, would lower ticket prices. It is the conditions affecting the individual market, not the players salaries, that determine your ticket costs.

Final thought what can be done to increase the size of the ice surface and decrease the size of goalie equipment?

Increasing ice surfaces means major renovations meaning a loss of seating which the owners won't stand for. It would be much easier for the league to mandate tougher restrictions on the size of goalie equipment, but they lack the will to make it happen.

Scott Wilson

Why is it the fans of the NHL are apparently disgusted with players who make a million dollars a year, but feel fine aligning themselves with billionaire owners? Is there not an inherent conflict in this thinking?

Good question, one I find a headscratcher.

For the sake of perspective, let's assume this CBA struggle isn't about the NHL, but about whatever company the fans work for, the factory, shoe store, or whatever.

Well, if the owners of this company had been obviously mismanaging their company for years, and then told the employees they were going to have to fix the company themselves, that the owners refused to accept any responsibility, financially or otherwise, would the employees think this was acceptable?

Only in Bizarro-world....

If the fans of the NHL, the very same ones who say they support the owners, were tomorrow confronted by their own bosses, who demanded that their salaries be drastically slashed and capped, would they be willing to support that out-of-hand?

It's not the same thing in that the average NHL'er earns more in one year than most fans will make in ten or twenty years. Still, it's not what I consider good labour practice to tell your employees to accept their offer or be locked out. That's not negotiating.

Are the fans of the NHL willingly endorsing and perpetuating this cycle? Billionaire owners are above reproach? The owners also control the media, because they or their friends own it. Are fans so oblivious to the fact that they're being shamelessly manipulated ?

Bingo! The players are the easy target because they're the most visible. Many fans aren't interested in labour negotiations, they just want their game back, and when they can't get it back, they blame the easy target. The league has done a great job winning the "PR" war, but that's because they're taking advantage of the fans ignorance.

Frankly, the idea of a European super league is far more intriguing than any other idea to come from the current problems in hockey. There are obvious logistical problems with the involvement of a North American division, but the possibility of a return to quality play makes that headache more agreeable.

It could take a few years for a European Superleague to come into existance, but if the NHL succeeds in getting it's $31 million cap, they'll make it much easier for European teams to offer competitive bids. Europe is the big untapped market, but the NHL doesn't see it and ignores the threat to their existance that is going to rise up over there within the next ten years.

Alex Alvaro

Ticket Prices:
I can't speak for other fans, but my position on this lockout has nothing to do with ticket prices. If I don't like the ticket prices, I won't go to the
games. I can stage my own "lockout". This is a power that every fan has. I would support the owners even if a new system resulted in no decrease in ticket prices. Rather than see a decrease in prices, my guess is that with a cap we would see a "levelling off" of ticket price increases. Nevertheless, I support the owners' position because I think that if the current system remains, the NHL will not survive.

Sorry, Alex, but as I've noted earlier in this column and in previous ones on this subject, you're going to be bitterly disappointed. Ticket prices aren't going to level off. They're determined by the individual market and not the players salaries.

Logistics of a Cap System:
Whenever any system undergoes a drastic change, there is going to be a period of turbulence. Obviously, bonuses and incentive clauses are going to have to be addressed in a cap system. I also would be shocked if we saw no "phase-in" period or "grandfather" clauses, even in an impasse situation. These are "nuts and bolts" types of questions that, of themselves, don't make a "salary cap" a bad thing.

These are questions that must be addressed by the league. They're telling us they need cost certainty but they're not telling us how they'll achieve it. Should their imposition of that system be seriously flawed, that will make a salary cap a very bad thing.

As I suggested in an earlier e-mail, I think revenue-sharing is a "red
herring". Revenue-sharing would be a minor element of any new system,
especially in an NHL with no substantial television contract. The teams
rely primarily on gate revenue. If, once a cap is in place, a team cannot
survive primarily on its gate revenue, it should probably move or fold.

The NHL says they're not going to contract teams and that they're interested in revenue sharing. If they're going to keep all 30 clubs viable, they'll need to use revenue-sharing or a luxury tax system to do it. A salary cap on it's own won't work.


Ticket prices are a concern for me, but a very very small
concern. Yes, I would love to see ticket prices come down, but I'd be
thrilled to see them stop going up or just go up at a much slower rate.
Making the league healthy and competitive for smaller market teams is a much more important issue than ticket prices. Let each market drive their own ticket prices, the league needs to make it so that any team can afford to hold on to the young players that they draft and develope, I'm tired of seeing teams draft a player and get them to the point where they are where they want them to be, only to see them leave for more money because their team can't afford their services.

That's going to take some form of revenue sharing or a luxury tax system to achieve this. A cap on it's own simply won't work.
A hard cap is not the answer. It might work, but it just isn't what the
union or players will settle for. The league can compromise with a luxury
tax system that has an upper and lower threshold, but allows teams to go over them. Burke's plan was a great plan allowing teams to go over the threshold, but the more they went over, the more they were penalized. It also rewarded teams that stayed within the threshold while coming down on repeat offenders.

I agree. Burke by admission is a hard cap guy, but even he understands that isn't going to work. His system makes the most sense.

Spector: "Common sense dictates there should be a phasing-in period, but we don't know what the league's intention is at this point. They've given no indication how they're going to implement this system."

A. So why assume that they can't come up with a solution using some sort of phase-in method. You're calling it a failure before you even know what they'll do. It's not like they've said they wouldn't phase-in cost

It's not like they've said they would. When a team like the Bruins chops their roster to the bone in anticipation of a glut of free agents hitting the UFA market when cost certainty is implemented, it sounds to me like they're anticipating it to hit all at once.

A. First off, let me address this 5% rollback. That really is a joke.
Without any form of cost certainty, they players will make that back plus an additional 20%+ in their next contract. Freeing up $70 still leaves the
league short by $200M, which will only grow without cost certainty and the 6 or 7 owners/GMs still allowed to spend freely. Just look at John Fergie Jr's quote earlier this summer about why should he restrict his spending because he's living within "his" budget. The Leafs, Rags, Wings, Avs, Stars, and Flyers will all continue to spend like crazy without cost
certainty. Which means the other 24 teams will either have to spend more than they want to stay competitive, go with a sub-par team, or fold the team.

$70 million straight back to the NHL from that rollback is a joke? I don't find it funny. Indeed, I think it's a good starting point. Why didn't the league seize on this and attempt to get the players to give up more in return for their luxury tax system? As for those big market clubs you cited, why would Fergie Jr spend like crazy if a supposed draconian cap was hitting the league? Perhaps those big market clubs really aren't buying into cost certainty?

Now I am not very familiar with the luxury tax system proposed by the NHLPA. In all honesty, I think a luxury tax system is the best avenue to take. I think it should be one that allows for teams to go over the upper threshold by signing an additional marquee player or a couple of role players, but it should also come down on teams very hard ($5 on the dollar) if they abuse and system and go way over. Look at the luxury tax in baseball, it's a joke and represents what type of luxury tax should not be implemented in hockey. I would love to see one that sets the upper bar around $12-15M over the upper threshold, so that no team can truly afford to break the upper threshold by more than $15M without just tossing all their money out the window.

I agree, so why didn't the league tell the union that? Again, here's an opportunity for the league to seize onto something the players want and use it to achieve some of their aims. Instead, it's "cap or nothing".

A five percent rollback of salaries is a complete joke if the practice of giving a player a 10 percent raise no matter what his play was like to keep his rights. This doubles the role back the first time they come up for renewal. Second the Luxury tax as I have heard it had no teeth. The NHLPA representative himself said that they would not agree to luxury tax proposals that would slow down the growth of player salaries. If this is what he meant then the luxury tax proposals would be nothing more than lame revenue sharing between the richer and poorer clubs. It would be a joke of a tax like in baseball where it does nothing to stop the Yankees from making the agreement look like a joke with their roster of all stars. If the league does want parity in the league more like the NFL where a team can go from worst to first in one year not five rebuilding years anywhere in the league not just New York, Toronto ect... it has to have some sort of "cap/tax" that has some real teeth. I don't believe that ticket prices will come down in all markets unless the owners get the small 31 cap which I can't see. Even then I can't see Toronto doing anything but continuing up until the waiting line for season tickets starts to come down into the < 5 years area.

Again, why didn't the league seize onto the players proposals and try to use them to gain some of the cost certainty they're seeking? I never suggested the players proposals were perfect, but they could form the basis for negotiating an overall deal that could work. And again, ticket prices won't drop significantly, if at all, under cost certainty, because it's the individual markets that drive those prices, not the players salaries.

Marc Sikkes

There is very good reason to support the owners in this dispute. Under the current system, even if they do everything right, some teams can't compete. I'm not saying that the owners are right in everything that they are asking for, but they want change and the players want more of the the same. And if things don't change my Oilers will be gone.

The Oilers aren't owned by some billionaire or a huge pension fund or a media company. They are owned by a bunch of local businessmen who bought the team not to make money, but to keep it in town. These men are wealthy, but they have tied down a sizable chunk of their assets in an investment that hasn't produced any income yet. In fact, it lost money every year since they took over except this one (and only because of the heritage classic) and required a big cash call a few years ago just to keep solvent.

They have done everything right. Northlands (I'm a traditionalist) is sellout or close to it every game. Despite being in the smallest market in the league they are in the top ten in merchandise revenue each year. Every form of income available to this team has been maximised and they've even invented new sources like the heritage classic. They never overpay players and we've watched Cujo, Doug Weight, Bill Guerin, Anson Carter and Mike Comrie walk because they wanted more than management thought they were worth. They draft local kids. And they treat fans with respect. They hold practices in small towns like Jasper and Drayton Valley to show that they value Oiler fans in rural areas as much as the ones in the city. They keep ticket prices as low as is possible and still pay the bills.

In short, the Oilers' ownership does everything that they are supposed to do under the system the players want to maintain, and none of the things that the players blame for skyrocketing salaries, yet they lose money every year and the team is never a threat to win the Stanley Cup. They struggle to make the playoffs.

The system doesn't work. And if the NHL doesn't have a place for a market like Edmonton and an organisation as classy as the Oilers, it deserves to die. Nothing the players are proposing gives me any hope that NHL hockey will stay in Edmonton. I support the owners because if they get their way we at least have a chance.

Edmonton is the one city where the last CBA didn't work and are the reason why there must be changes in the new one. That's why I believe a luxury tax system and/or revenue sharing would benefit the Oilers. Edmonton is a tremendous hockey town, yet they are by definition small-market and behind the eight ball due to loss on exchange. A hard cap system on it's own, however, isn't going to save the Oilers either. That would continue to be open to abuse by big market teams and would do little or nothing to help the Oilers survive over the long-term.

"Mike from San Jose"

I don't buy the $31 million point, so I think there's going to be a phase-in period but with less restrictions. Like all negotiations, the first number is an extreme. If by some miracle the owners get their way, I gotta think the cap would be at $40 million with a two-year phase in period (probably a penalty the first year, then a severe penalty the next). that's part of the rumor mill that I keep hearing, anyways.

The only way I could see the union actually accepting a salary cap is if it were up around $40 million. $31 million is far too draconian. But again, what guarantees would the league impose to ensure a hard cap isn't circumvented?

3) Bettman has addressed the revenue sharing and the phase-in period indirectly by acknowledging both in chats with fans and on radio stations. Well, addressed it somewhat-he basically said that they know both of those issues will come up but he feels that they'll deal with those once a framework has been built for the new CBA because you can't really address those when the solution is still foggy. So if it makes you feel any better, at least they're mindful of those problems. Bettman seems to believe that once a framework is ready, those issues will be hammered out much easier.

Bettman talks a lot but he doesn't address the issues directly. That's why I question their cost certainty system. If he would offer up detailed explanations as to how this plan will work, perhaps I wouldn't be so hard on him.

4) The union's proposal-the Toronta Star (if memory serves me correct) broke down the union's proposal from the Leafs POV. They determined that MLSE would have to pay a whopping $4 million in luxury taxes because the union's tax was a very wimpy 10 cents for $40 million+ and 20 cents for $50 million+. That won't stop any big spender from going over. I agree that it might be the starting point for a negotiation-and I continue to believe that either the TSN solution or a combination hard cap @ $60 w/ luxury tax @$35 is the best way to go. But the union's proposed luxury tax is too weak to be considered a serious proposal.

Again, the union is willing to negotiate a luxury tax, something they were dead set against ten years ago. Why not seize on that and negotiate one that would have more teeth to it, rather than reject it outright?


say that you sometimes come across being pro union yet you raise questions that are pro fan. I would have to say that you and everyone else now seems to understand that everyone is to blame in this debacle. You need to stop defending players because they hire the agents that help convince the owners to circumvent the rules and get there clients the most money.

That certainly doesn't say much about the owners. If they're so easily swayed by savvy player agents, how do we know they won't make a mockery of the next CBA like they did the last one?

I blame the players for not wanting to give up the good life they have had.

So our sympathies should be with the billionaire owners who are suddenly "cash-strapped"?

In my industry (IT) we have seen jobs go to India the last few years, Layoffs, and pay decreases rather than increases. You have two choices, find another line of work or take less money for the same job. Does it suck? YES! Is it important to the industry to have the pendulum swing back the other way? YES!

I agree with you, but that doesn't mean an industry should have carte blanche over how they go about doing it. Some rational means must be employed.

You see the 90's were good to a lot of people financially and many bad decisions were a result of those years, Gary Bettman was not smart in the fact that he expanded the league without the vision to make sure the league could support the teams in bad fiscal times not just the good.

Are we to then trust him to negotiate a deal to improve the mess? Or should he be replaced with someone better qualified? Actually, it really doesn't matter since the owners call the shots.

Both sides will need to make serious concessions and it will have to be bullet proof. You would think with all the lawyers involved they could get it locked down.

The players have made offers of concessions. They may not be perfect offers, but they have been made. The league, on the other hand, isn't willing to make any concessions.

The players need to realize that the good times need to come to an end. If it were truly a market value than what is Arbitration? They need to understand that something is better than nothing,

And that's why they've offer to negotiate changes to the current arbitration system to make it more fair to both sides, rather than tilted in favour of the players.

The owners need realize that without the fans they will never have cost certainty so lets get tickets back down to a fair value, and the League needs to take a long hard look at the teams and cities they could cut away to better the league.

Indeed, they do, but if the lockout is anything to go by, they really don't care what their fans think.

Cut the size of the NHL down by 4 teams. Florida and California do not need two teams in one state. New York can slide because of the size of the Market but even they have troubles supporting the islanders of late. Take Anaheim, and one of the teams in Florida, Pittsburg and one more team based on location and market and then move a couple teams around and you will get a good NHL.

Being a Buffalo fan I can see some thinking they should be contracted or moved, Hard to argue however they don't have the competition for the entertainment dollar that a Phoenix (were I live now) has. Here there are all four pro sports plus two colleges that draw a lot of fans to there programs along with more to do year round. Studies can be done to investigate what teams should stay and which should go. Maybe Pittsburg is better suited for the AHL and something can be worked out there. Carolina witch was a relocated team would be better in Winnipeg or Quebec. Nashville and Columbus seem to be successful marketing the game and shouldn't be penalized for being new. Hockey in Minnesota should flat out be a fact of life and maybe LA or Phoenix needs to go. I am not the expert though but as a fan would not want to see the Sabres folded but if it meant the game would be healthier for it then goodbye Buffalo. The Canadian teams are doing well now but if the dollar gets strong again they will be back in the tank again, Lets fix that now. Not later when it is a glaring issue.

Folding teams is easy, moving them is not. The league has tapped out it's North American market and there is nowhere else for them to go. I suspect your comments regarding some of the clubs you earmarked for relocation and contraction won't sit well with their respective fans. Lots of folks want contraction, but they want it to be somebody else's team. In the end, it's a moot point because the league claims they won't be contracting teams....at least not in the immediate future, anyway.


When it comes down to it, small market teams have three choices:

1) set your team salary at an affordable level based on your revenues, and have almost no chance of competing

2) duke it out with large market teams for players and almost surely lose mega-$$'s in the process

3) try to manage a balance between finances and winning and hope to catch lightning in a bottle for one or two seasons (a la Buffalo, Carolina, and probably Calgary).

Most likely you choose (3), and you end up losing a few million and angering your fans because you're close and yet seem unwilling to sign the marquee player(s) to put you over the top. I do not expect the Sabres owner to have to lose money to field a competitive team, yet if he didn't, it would be hard to remain an active, paying fan.

The reason that fans are overwhelmingly on the side of the owners is that the owners' position seems to have the financial health of the game in mind. If the owners proposal was implemented, with a revenue sharing component which Bettman says they are prepared to included, I am confident that the playing field will be significantly leveled for small market teams (short of a major loophole in the salary cap which doesn't exist yet).

How can the league expect the players to bear the full brunt of the burden without absorbing some of it themselves? What's wrong with a luxury tax system? How do we know that the league will ensure a strong hard cap system, the only one in North American pro sports, won't be circumvented? And what kind of revenue sharing plan is the league prepared to implement? As I said before, the league's cost certainty is raising more questions than it is answering.

Colin McCusker

I was reading your soapbox column today and you raised some very excellent questions as to why people would choose to support the owners. Personally, reading some of your columns has changed my opinion from favouring the owners to favouring neither side at all. While you make great points about the NHLPA and how they wanted to start negotiations with salary rollbacks, changes to the entry system, and changes to arbitration, you failed to mention one key point, and this applies to both sides. Players are making millions of dollars a year, while owners are raking in tens of millions dollars per year. Owners pay all the bills, athletes do not. Unless you count their AMEX platinum card bills. This is the reason why I cannot side with a union of the NHLPA's sort, however, I cannot side with the owners in this situation either seeing how they have put themselves in this position. Another reason I choose not to side is because the exploitation of the previous CBA was just as bad for both sides. Owners decided to lace bonus clauses in rookie contracts, and even player contracts for that matter. However, one player in particular helped to push salaries out of control.

I'm not sure if it was Paul Kariya's fault, or his agent's fault, Don
Baizley I believe, but back in the summer of 1997, Paul Kariya was given a ten percent raise to comply with the qualifying offer needed to qualify a restricted free agent. He refused and a holdout began. Same can be said of Sergei Federov in that exact same summer. Both holdouts were landmarks in driving player salaries through the roof for restricted free agency. Such cases prove that the PA exploited the last CBA just as badly as greedy owners did. As for there being no correlation between ticket prices and player salaries, I agree fully. But, if player salaries do go down, which is likely going to have to happen for there to be any hockey some time soon, we the fans will know about it. And if owners still keep ticket prices the status quo or drive them higher, it's our decision as the fans in the end, if we really want to spend that amount to watch the NHL. And currently the real problem with this impasse seems to be that players refuse to bring in a system that will bring harsh consequences to owners who are not fiscally responsible and that the owners want a system that will ensure a "fool proof" way to run a hockey team. I do not believe either system is feasible for the league and until both sides come to this realization, labour talks will not resume anytime soon. Thus, the side that is truly losing out is the fans and showing support for either side at this point is supporting a stoppage in hockey.

The players side deserves their fair share of the blame for the way the last CBA was exploited. Ultimately, however, it's the owners who pay the salaries. They had the controls and the leverage, but failed to use them to their advantage.


First off, if you believe the owners that rising player salaries are the chief cause of rising ticket prices, why did Stan Fischler, an ardent supporter of the league and the owners, report ticket prices would drop in some NHL cities but not all after the lockout?

Supply and demand. Why should Detroit or Colorado, who sell out with current ticket prices, sell tickets for less? Why lower ticket prices when the fan base for that team is willing to pay those prices already? Why give up revenues? It will be the small market teams that lowers their prices, not the big market teams.

The LA Kings both lowered their ticket prices last year. And they jacked their payroll by almost $16 million. Big market teams like Toronto, NY Rangers and Philadelphia didn't raise their prices last season.

Why are teams like the Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks, with the lowest payrolls in the league, sitting amongst the top fifteen teams in ticket prices?

Simple, if tickets are the main source of revenues, and they don't have many fans coming in, the first move will to be raise ticket prices in hopes that the additional revenues from added prices will overtake the lost revenues from lesser attendance.

Sorry, but that doesn't make sense. If fans are staying away, you want them to come back, and the best way to do that is to lower your ticket prices. Ultimately, lower prices could mean more fans, which could actually mean more money at the gate.

The second move would be to lower prices, which many teams seem unwilling to do.

The Kings, Penguins, Blue Jackets, Thrashers, Panthers and Sabres lowered their prices last season.

In Minnesota's case, and please correct me if I am wrong, they do have good attendance, which means they can charge a higher price. However, I am not able to explain why, if they are making money, they have not gone out and obtained free agents (possibly because of their run 2 years ago with a low payroll team).

The Wild have tremendous attendance and increased their ticket prices last season by almost 8%. So why did they play hardball with Marian Gaborik, their best player? Given their attendance has been near or in the top ten since they joined the league four years ago, that has no bearing on them being a "low payroll" team.

And why are big market clubs like the NY Rangers, St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars charging ticket prices far lower than one would think for clubs with those kinds of high payrolls?

I would say two reasons. 1) They have good attendance for their games, hence they can lower their prices knowing that the fans will still come. 2) they are owned by owners with deep pockets who don't seem to mind losing millions a year. They would rather keep the attendance in the arena up than make a few million less. Keep up an image so to speak.

But the league would have us believe high ticket prices are the result of high player salaries.

Aren't any of you, regardless of which side of this issue you're own, just the least bit concerned about the likelihood of ticket prices remaining high under a new CBA? If the league cannot guarantee that ticket prices will drop under their cost certainty system, what is the basis for their supposed desire to make prices more affordable?

I can't offer an unbiased opinion on this one really. I am a Penguins fan, and they have already lowered ticket prices for next season. Substantially for some seats too. So I think this would almost have to be answered on a team by team basis. If fans are already willing to pay the price, why be concerned?

Because, again, the league is trying to tie ticket prices to player salaries when there is little or no correlation.

Remember, the NHL is predominantly a gate-driven venue. The average ticket price last season was $43.57. Does anyone really see that price cut in half, or even by ten dollars, under cost certainty, when the league's national TV contract in the United States is $480 million less than it was a year ago?

Honestly, no, I don't. I see a drop in ticket prices for small market teams. I see ticket prices for large market teams staying right where they are.

I see that for the first season or two. After that, they'll be determined just as they always have, by the individual markets and not the players salaries.

Another question I have is for those who believe a hard cap is going to solve all the league's problems.

No, it won't solve all the problems. But then again, what will? In the owners minds, it will solve the most problems of any of the options available. And, because some fans follow the leader, they think it will too. Part of the problem is the game itself. T.V. revenues aren't as high partially due to the lack of commercial time for the sport. Part is due to the game taking a turn to the defensive style. Neither of these can be changed. The 1st not at all, and the 2nd, well, I don't think teams like NJ will respond well to someone telling them to drop their style of play that has won them 2 cups in ten years.

If the league wants to improve it's gate, it must improve it's product. As for a system that'll solve all the league's problems, I doubt there is such a thing, but the one that can best address most of the problems is a luxury tax.

For starters, have we heard anything from the league as to how they'll enforce that measure?

Remember, "Joe Fan", without you there would be no National Hockey League, so why are you letting them get away with keeping you in the dark?

This is something that has bothered me also. We don't know everything that is going on, especially from what the owner's offers were. So, can we really accurately judge this situation? But what are we able to do to get them to tell us what is going on? Sue them? Boycott them? I don't see any options the fans have to make the sides show us their hands. We're like the dealer in a game of poker. We just deal the cards, we don't decide on what the players do, nor do we know what's in their hands.

I disagree. It's the money of the fans that is the reason the NHL exists. It's our money that keeps the league alive. Believe me, if there had been a strong protest from the fans, there wouldn't be a lockout now, but the fans were apathetic and now we've got the mess we're in now.

The union proposed a five percent salary giveback worth over $70 million, changes to arbitration, a luxury tax system (first at $40 million and then $50 million), revenue sharing, closing off bonus loopholes in entry-level salaries and lowering the entry-level cap.

Yes, they did, and it is a start, and not a bad one either. However, I believe raising the 2nd proposal to 50M was a bad move, especially in terms of PR. I am a realist. I know a hard cap wont solve the problems, but I know it would be better than seeing the same teams in the playoffs every year. Face it, we can pretty much predict before the season starts who is going to be in the playoffs. Is that a good thing? Football is very hard to accurately predict who will be good or bad (my Steelers are 5-1, many expected, at best, 3-3). So, I guess this boils down to what you prefer: knowing you're team will be good or bad, or having a good chance they could surprise you.

Like I said, I'm a realist. If there is a cap, it won't be 31M. 42M is my guess. In one sense, yes, the players are greedy, but then again, which of us don't want our pay at work increased? Don't we want to make as much as possible regardless of our actual worth? I think a part of people siding with the owners is outright jealousy of the players. I mean, which would you rather have: slave at a cubicle for 50k a year hating your job, or playing the sport you love for millions, than get the summer months off? But the problem is, the fans are the ones paying for these players, and they get tired of hearing them want more and more every year. It's like the low life uncle that keeps asking to borrow money and never pay you back.

I believe many fans know that the union isn't bunch of Nazi's and the NHL doesn't have a halo hanging over its head. But, it's easier to act ignorant to the facts and take one side whole heartedly than to stand back and take time to look at the situation (look at politics). Welcome to human nature, the one thing you can't change.


When I noted yesterday that hockey legend and player agent Bobby Orr was practically pleading with the owners and players to force their respective representatives, Grabby Gary Bettman and Bashful Bob Goodenow, back to the negotiating table before the 2004-05 season was lost, I was cynical about the possibility.

After all , over a month had passed since both sides held actual talks and that was days before the current lockout was imposed. Since then, there'd been nothing except depressing news about more games being cancelled and players finding ways to fill their empty days.

To but it bluntly, things didn't look good, and hope appeared to be slipping further out of sight.

But as the old saying goes, what a difference a day makes.

First off came news that Arthur Levitt, author of the controversial report which earlier this year claimed the NHL was in big trouble financially, fired off his two cents worth regarding the current labour standoff.

Levitt said he was puzzled by the "endless pirouette around the issues" of Bettman and Goodenow. He chided both sides for arguing over numbers and forewarned that time was running out on getting a deal in place to save the season. Levitt then hit at the heart of the matter, saying "Don't talk [salary] caps because that closes down the discussion."

It wouldn't be surprising if the union's response to Levitt's critique is the same "don't blame us, it's their fault" rhetoric. Given their response to Levitt's report, I'd expect nothing less at this point.

It'll be the response of the league to Levitt comments that'll be more interesting.

Bettman and his lieutenants were more than happy to wave around the results of Levitt's findings after they'd hired him to examine the NHL's financial situation more than a year ago. To have the very man whose report apparently buttressed their contention of financial woes now chiding them for not getting back to the table with the union must be causing a little discomfort at league headquarters.

Then later yesterday morning came a report in the Toronto Globe and Mail suggesting a movement may be afoot to bring in a mediator to end the dispute.

Globe and Mail columnist William Houston cited "a well-placed source" claiming both sides will be approached regarding mediation, and a list of names is apparently being prepared for the suggested mediator.

Topping the list, claimed Houston, is former Toronto Blue Jays president and current Major League Baseball COO Paul Beeston, who apparently knows both Bettman and Goodenow well. It's believed that if Beeston is suggested as a mediator, both men would be willing to return to the table and, with Beeston's help, hammer out an agreement.

Both sides rejected the notion of a mediator last month, but if there are some influential folks on both sides presenting a united proposal for mediation, and if Beeston is the guy both Bettman and Goodenow would accept, it could bring about positive steps toward ending this stalemate.

Finally, there came word late yesterday that the NHLPA was gathering the union reps from all thirty NHL clubs for an "update" of the current labour dispute.

This may be nothing more than a little get-together on Goodenow's part to inform the union reps of little or no change in the stalemate, maybe even to get them to speak to all their teammates about some of the grumbling over the situation as a few have done in recent weeks.

Or maybe there's going to be some proactive discussions. Maybe Goodenow wants feedback from his reps as to where the membership truly stands. Maybe he wants to bounce the notion of a mediator off them. Maybe he wants to gauge the troops opinion about more concessions.

Perhaps I'm just grasping at straws here. It could be the lack of NHL action and the prospect of this situation dragging on into next summer where legal machinations could decide the fate of the league has brought me so low in despairing about saving this season that I'm willing to read into any tea leaves to see something that may not really be there.

But I must admit, the recent comments of Orr and Levitt, the speculation of a mediator stepping in to save the day, and the sudden announcement that Goodenow will soon meet with his union reps have given me the first real sign that all imay not be lost.

Maybe, just maybe, both sides could soon get back to the table and get a deal in place before the New Year.

There's an old saying about hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

I've been more than prepared for the worst in this situation, expecting it to be an inevitability. Hope wasn't a luxury I could be afforded to have.

But now, perhaps, I and hockey fans everywhere can dare to hope.


For anyone who's followed hockey since the late 1960s, Bobby Orr is a hockey legend. He was undoubtedly the greatest defenceman of all time and is considered in the eyes of some fans as the greatest player ever.

Orr is now a player agent, and recently made news by speaking out against the lockout. He expressed his disappointment over the fact that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow have not held any talks since the lockout was imposed over a month ago.

Orr believes it's now up to the owners to get Bettman to the negotiating table and the players to get Goodenow to the table to get a deal down before the entire season is lost.

There is no question that this is becoming a frustrating situation for many people involved in the NHL. Several players have already spoken out and made their opinions known, albeit none of them are exactly marquee names.

And while we won't know what the owners truly feel as long as Bettman has that gag order hanging over their heads, there can be no doubt that some of them are probably growing frustrated with the inactivity and, like the players, may start getting concerned about their finances if this thing drags on too long.

We've already seen games cancelled up to November 17th as the league intends to put more pressure on the union, who seem unmoved by this latest league tactic.

Into this mess steps Orr, who some might argue as a player agent has more personal, selfish reasons to see this deadlock sorted out before it wipes out the season and in turn affects his cut of his players salaries for this season.

Let's not be naive, Orr does have a vested interest in seeing a resolution and the season saved, but he is passionate about the game and the league and obviously wants to save it from the self-destructive path it's presently on.

He knows full well that the only way anything is going to happen is for Bettman and Goodenow to be at the bargaining table, face-to-face, not leaving the process to lieutenants like Bill Daly and Ted Saskin. If Bettman and Goodenow aren't talking, nothing is going to happen.

Orr's pleas certaintly stirred up interest in the Canadian sports media, where he'll always be revered, but got scant attention in the US, except for Boston, where he spent the best years of his storied career and is still remembered fondly.

Die-hard hockey fans certainly share Orr's viewpoint, as do undoubtedly many players, agents, general managers and owners. But that opinion, and Orr's plea, won't mean squat if the guys it was directed at turn a deaf ear.

Orr understands this lockout to be what it is: ultimately, it's a battle of wills between the league and the union, with Bettman and Goodenow as the respective pointmen. Neither man will give way, neither man wants to appear weak, and both want the upper hand.

Compromise is needed. Bettman and his hawks must understand this hard line stance only upsets the fan base, and with the league's popularity dwindling in the important United States sports market, this work stoppage is doing more harm than good to the game's visibility.

Yes, there must be controls placed on overspending on salaries, but it must be done reasonably. There is no point in blaming the players for the situation created and perpetuated by many of the owners throughout the last ten years. What is needed is a willingness to work with the players union, to cooperate with them and to find common ground, rather than yet another attempt at breaking the union in hopes of turning back the clock to when the owners called the tune.

Goodenow and the players must understand that nothing will be accomplished in getting wrapped up in figures of which teams may or may not be hiding money. The facts are on their side, but there must be more of a willingness to compromise on their part, too.

While it's understandable that a hard cap is anathma to them, they must be willing to work with the owners in finding some kind of common ground. While their proposals were better than the league's, perhaps giving up some ground in terms of a hard cap, whereby it's placed only on the maximum individual salary, such as that proposed by the TSN Solution, or even based along the lines of the NFL model, provided they find some means with the owners of establishing reasonable revenue sharing and flexibility in terms of player contracts.

These are only suggestions on my part, and I'm not saying that they're the best way to go. Ultimately, it's up to Bettmand and Goodenow to sit down and hammer out something that will work, which is certainly better than the impasse we presently find the league in.

Orr didn't present any solutions himself, but he's right in noting that this situation has gotten out of hand and must be sorted out before it's too late.

Regardless of where we hockey fans stand on this issue, we can all agree with Orr that Bettman and Goodenow should be talking, rather than posturing and robbing us all of the game we love.


One of the good things about this lockout is that TSN is showing classic hockey games in lieu of actual NHL action.

Now I realize it's not the same thing, as we already know the outcome of these games which takes away the elements of suspense and surprise, but for me, it also assures me of three things, one, that I'll see a hockey game twice a week, that it'll be a damn good game, and that I can relive my memories of watching some of my hockey heroes from my younger days in their prime.

Canada Cup 1976 is special for me. For one, all the great players I grew up watching in the 1970s are playing in this tournament, most of them for Team Canada.

More importantly, of all the international hockey tournaments over the past thirty-odd years involving NHL pros, this was the only one I never got to watch when it was happening.

In the late summer of 1976, my family was in the process of moving to a new home. Living in rural Nova Scotia, at that time we could only get three channels - CBC and it's French affiliate, and CTV.

Getting CBC was easy but you needed an antenna up in order to watch CTV, and unfortunately, my father hadn't gotten around to putting it up once we'd moved into our new house. In fact, it would take almost a month before he'd finally get around to that. Of course, he and my mother were more focussed on finishing the interior and unpacking and weren't really that concerned about a hockey series.

I, on the other hand, was heartbroken. I couldn't go to my cousin's house to watch the games because they were televised after 9 PM and as a 13 year old, that was my curfew. I can still hear my father calling out, "make sure your ass is through that door by nine". Don't get me wrong, my Dad wasn't cruel or harsh, but he was strict and didn't brook any breaking of the rules.

I was able to listen to the games on radio, but that wasn't the same thing as watching the games on TV. I know older hockey fans have fond memories of listening to games on the radio but that was something I was never able to do. I gotta see the action, man!

So when, 28 years later, TSN announced they would broadcast some of the games from that tournament, I was overjoyed. For years I've tried to lay my hands on videos of the 1976 Canada Cup to actually see what I missed. Curiously, there weren't any to be had.

It's funny, there are videos and DVDs aplenty of the '72 Summit Series and the 2002 Winter Olympics, and you can even find a dusty copy of the 1987 Canada Cup if you shop around, but there was nothing packaged or even pirated to be had from the original Canada Cup.

This particular game, Team Canada vs Team Sweden, was part of the round-robin part of the tournament, and was held at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

Not surprisingly, the biggest ovations of the night during the player introductions went to the Maple Leafs players on the respective rosters - Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald for Team Canada, and Borje Salming of Team Sweden. In fact, Salming got a bigger ovation than Sittler and McDonald, a standing one in fact.

Two Bobbys, Orr and Hull, also got rousing ovations before the game started.

Team Canada was loaded that year, arguably the best roster ever iced by Canada in an international pro tournament.

Check out some of the forwards: Hull, Phil Esposito, Guy Lafleur, Bobby Clarke, Sittler, McDonald, Marcel Dionne, Bill Barber, Bob Gainey, Gilbert Perreault, Steve Shutt.

How'd you like to see to see any of those guys in their prime bearing down on you if you're a goaltender?

On the blueline, a Hall of Fame lineup: Orr, Denis Potvin, Guy Lapointe, Larry Robinson and Serge Savard. I'm amazed that opposing forwards got any scoring chances at all.

In goal, the under-rated Rogie Vachon, who if he'd played for a better team than the often lowly Los Angeles Kings in the 1970s, would've had himself a Hall of Fame career. At least he won a couple of Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens in the late 60s and rightfully had his number retired by the Kings.

Vachon got his shot in this series because both Ken Dryden and Bernie Parent were nursing injuries and unable to go. Vachon proved himself up for the task in this game, and throughout the series, making plenty of acrobatic stops in giving Team Canada solid goaltending.

The Swedes, however, were no slouches, icing a club with Salming, Leafs teammate Inge Hammerstrom, WHA stars and Bobby Hull's Winnipeg Jets linemates Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg and LA Kings forward Juha Widing.

The Swedes also relied on a form of the neutral zone trap to slow down the vaunted Canadian attack. It worked well for them in the first period, as they outshot Team Canada 14-8.

Several things stood out for me in this game. For one the almost non-existence of helmets for Team Canada. Only a handful of Canadians wore helmets, so there's plenty of free-flowing 70s locks on display, even Bobby Hull's, although it's quite obvious to those who weren't aware that "the Golden Jet" was by this point follicly challenged that he's wearing a rug and a bad one at that.

I kid Hull for the hair piece, but there's no denying he still had blazing speed and that booming slapshot, and wasn't shy about laying on the body when need be. Watching him on an end-to-end rush in the first period was vintage Hull and a delight.

Another thing is, as I noted when I recently watched Game Five of the 1984 Patrick Division Semi-finals between the NY Islanders and NY Rangers, just how much smaller the players equipment is, particularly that of the goalies, who look positively tiny compared to the Michelin Man gear worn by today's netminders. Vachon and his Swedish counterpart, Hardy Astrom, wore the old plastic form-fitting masks, which would spare you stitches but would still leave you with a helluva bruise if you caught a puck in the face.

It's noteworthy watching this series that it's the final hurrah for Bobby Orr, who played this series literally on one knee. Orr was in the twilight of his career at this point, having missed most of the 1975-76 season, due to his bad knees. He's clearly not the dominating force he once was, even losing a few footraces to Swedish forwards.

Still, even on one leg, Orr played very well, his positional game, instincts and stickhandling prowess still among the very best. The Swedes had to know Orr was playing at half-speed, but gave him plenty of respect and caution, aware that even wounded, Number Four was still dangerous.

Canada would open the scoring thanks to a flukey goal. Phil Esposito grabbed the puck from the right hand boards and fired a shot that struck Hull on the skate, changed direction and bounced past a startled Astrom.

After that, however, the Swedes did a good job of neutralizing Canada's attack with the trap. So I guess if we're looking to blame someone for the birth of the neutral zone trap, it's the Swedes unless someone can come up with an earlier example.

That trap, however, would only help the Swedes so far. The Canadians were stacked with firepower and as this game wore on, it would extract a toll.

Team Canada began to open it up in the second, particularly as Orr got his legs. Larry Robinson also saw more ice time in the second and was a notable physical presence. So too was Robinson's Habs teammate, Bob Gainey, who hit every Swede in his way, and following up on a rush by Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald, capitalized on a McDonald rebound to make it 2-0 for Canada.

The Canadians made it 3-0 late in the second. With Canada pressing the Swedes as their powerplay expires, Pete Maholich chased down a loose puck and fired a long backpass into the slot for Marcel Dionne, who made no mistake burying a quick wrister through Astrom's five hole.

Phil Esposito was definitely the man of the 1972 Summit Series, the leader of Canada's "Team of the Century" who wouldn't allow that team to quit even when down to the Soviets in that series. Espo was everywhere then, and your eye was drawn to him throughout the 72 series.

Sadly the same cannot be said of Espo in 1976. It was clear,even playing with the best of the best, that his game was going into decline. While still a faceoff specialist and the usual immovable object in the slot, his skating has slowed by this point and the puck no longer has eyek as it once seemed whenever he'd fire those low quick shots.

The leaders of Team Canada 76 were Clarke, designated team captain, Darryl Sittler, Orr, Potvin and as Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun noted, Bob Gainey.

And as Pierre McGuire noted, Peter Mahovlich was perhaps Canada's most under-rated forward, not just in this tournament, but also in the '72 Summit Series, and I might add, the classic 1975 New Year's Eve tilt between Les Canadiens and Central Red Army.

Mahovlich was a very good forward in the early to mid 1970s, but he always seemed to step up his game whenever he played in international competition. Big Pete could always be counted on for a big play, whether a timely goal or assist, penalty killing or in a checking role.

The Swedes had two standouts in this game: Salming and Hedberg.

Salming was one of the best blueliners of the 1970s, who played a very strong two-way game and, in this particular game, could be counted on to log lots of ice time. Salming didn't get much of a chance to put his offensive skills on display in this game, but his defensive game was sound.

Hedberg was clearly the best Swedish foward, blessed with speed and dazzling stickhandling skills, he creates numerous opportunities for his team and the Canadian defenders had their hands full trying to contain him.

In the third period, Orr made the defensive play of the game, when as the lone Canadian back and a Swedish forward breaking in shorthanded, Orr refused to be deked and made a lunging stickcheck to deny a clear scoring chance on Vachon.

Guy Lafleur received a misconduct for accidentally spearing a Swedish player, and just past the 10 minute mark of the third, Gainey would get his second goal of the game, taking a pass from Darryl Sittler behind the Swedish goal to make it 4-0 for Canada.

You know, in all the years I watched Gainey, I rarely saw him score two goals in a game, so this was truly a memorable moment!

The future Canadiens captain wasn't done for the night, making his presence felt with an aggressive penalty kill late in the game where the highlight was a bone-jarring check on Borje Salming near the Swedish blueline.

Ultimately, it was a very entertaining game. Even with the Swedes playing it tight defensively, there was plenty of flow to the game and some excellent scoring chances. Naturally if you're Canadian, the end result was quite to your liking, but you could see back then that the Swedes were taking their first steps toward becoming a respected hockey nation.

In the end, the Canadians were simply too overpowering and the Swedes just weren't up to their talent level as a team.

It may have been 28 years late for me to see this game, but better late than never. Thank you, TSN!



There was an unusually high amount of news over the past several days. So much came down so quickly that I scarcely had time to address it all, fixated as I was with responding to reader e-mail, examining if Gary Bettman fudged expansion attendance figures and asking questions of those who support the owners position in this lockout. All of which you can read by going here.

So now let's play a little bit of "catch-up" by looking at what's made news since last Wednesday.

- First off, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman had an online chat with NHL fans this week, in which he said pretty much the same things he's been saying since the day he locked out the players.

It's the usual spiel: he wants a system where all 30 teams can be competitive, denying reports of plans to use replacement players, hoping the union will come to it's senses, there's been no dialogue with the union since September 9th, all the markets have demonstrated over time they can support their franchises, the owners all want "meaningful revenue sharing" which will increase attendance and make the game more affordable, the union continues to mistrust the league and won't negotiate, our offer to the players is fair and better than what they're offering us, and so on.

In other words, the only answers was the usual rhetoric.

Now before you think I'm picking on poor Gary, I also feel the NHLPA isn't engaging in much meaningful dialogue either.

NHLPA head Bob Goodenow hasn't changed his tune since the lockout, and his lieutenants are just as guilty of overusing talking points as much as Bettman's. Goodenow and a member of the union executive, Billy Guerin, recently came down with a case of "foot-in-mouth" disease when NFLPA president and Buffalo Bill cornerback Troy Vincent denied their claims the NFL's salary cap system was bad for NFL players.

What's bugging me about the responses on both sides is that they're showing little empathy toward the fans. Sure, they claim they're sorry, but let's face it, gang, both sides really aren't taking us into account in the process. For the NHL, we're pawns to be used in their pissing contest with the union. Those fans who support the league's side are conveniently used for polling purposes to win the "PR" war with the NHLPA, but that's all those fans are good for in the league's eyes.

But really, we all brought it upon ourselves, hockey fans. We didn't make any noises of protest leading up to the lockout, and we've done nothing to hit them where it counts, right in their collective wallets. Since we're apathetic, why should they give a damn about us?

We got the league we deserve.

- Speaking of Bettman, he followed up his online chat by getting together with Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos to meet with some Hurricanes fans at RBC Center last Thursday.

It was pretty much a re-run of his online chat, and that didn't sit too well with reporter Ned Barnett of the Raleigh News and Observer.

He noted Bettman "had an answer for everything. He accepted no blame for driving the NHL into this ditch. He spared no opportunity to say it was the players' fault. Bad-mouthing the other side is taboo for good negotiators seeking a swift and fair solution. Bettman apparently sees nothing wrong with it."

Bettman also went on to claim that the Hurricanes franchise won't be moved or folded and denied there would be any contraction of franchises. He claimed the Carolina hockey market was a strong one.

Hmmm, other than 2002 and 2003, that hockey market hasn't been that strong. Mr. Karmanos claims to have lost millions of dollars since moving the franchise there from Hartford in the late 1990s.

Hey, I'm not dissing Hurricanes fans, particularly those in and around Raleigh, but let's face fact, folks, your attendance has not been that great since the club moved to RBC Center five years ago.

Despite what Mr. Bettman says, the Hurricanes are in a troubling situation, and if he wants to hang onto his job, Bettman better pray that if he gets his beloved cost certainty that it'll address that struggling franchise's needs.

Otherwise, bye-bye 'Canes within the next ten years...and bye-bye Bettman if that comes to pass.

- Oooo, there's another "crack" in the NHLPA solidarity, if TSN and the Canadian Press are to be believed.

Seems Florida Panthers forward Juraj Kolnik said earlier today that he'd break ranks with his NHLPA peers and report to the Panthers if the league declared an impasse thus forcing the union out on strike.

"Play hockey is what I've done all my life," said Kolnik. "Why am I going to pay for something that's not my fault?

"Let the guys who want to play, play."

Kolnik told the Post he's confident that "all the young guys" would follow his lead.

"This is really hard for the young guys," Kolnik said. "They don't care how much they're going to make. They just want to play. The guys making $10 million want to make even more. That's a little crazy. Why do the young players have to (suffer) for that?"

When asked about a suggested $6 million cap on individual salaries, Kolnik was unperturbed. "That's a lot of money," he said. "You're talking about $300,000 paychecks every two weeks. Excuse me, but you could buy a house every other day."

There's even a report in the Palm Beach Post claiming some of the players on the Panthers minor league affiliate say they never hear directly from union leadership and feel out of touch with the seven players who form the union's executive committee.

Kolnik later backed off his statements claiming half of the comments attributed to him weren't true.

This of course will be taken as "yet another example" that the players union isn't as united as they'd have us believe and soon they'll rebel against Goodenow and the rich players and force a settlement, and that Kolnik's retraction will be seen as the union "getting to" another outspoken player.

But as Stephen Brunt of the Toronto Globe and Mail noted this past weekend, "A fantasy persists that having now missed their first paycheque, they're on the quick road to capitulation. Understanding that the owners' resolve is real, and understanding that making somewhat less money for playing hockey is preferable to making none at all, they will press their union boss to cut a deal, on any terms. Well, maybe some of them feel that way. In any group of 600 or 700, there are bound to be pockets of dissent and panic. "

He went on to point out that the players have been prepared for this for a long time and most have prepared financially for it. He believes the players union is looking to what happened in Major League Baseball in 1994 and 1995, when MLB attempted the same tactics as the NHL is today: to declare an impasse, force the union into striking, hire replacement players in hopes of breaking the union.

It didn't work for MLB back then, and it probably isn't going to work for the NHL this time.

As for "solidarity", I'd really love to hear what each owner truly believes about this lockout. Of course, we'll never know that because of Gary Bettman's gag order, where any statement by an owner that doesn't follow the script ends up in a heavy fine, as Thrashers owner Steve Belkin found out last week.

- Wayne Gretzky for Commissioner?

That's the opinion of loose-lipped Detroit Red Wings blueliner Chris Chelios, who believes the Great One would do a better job as Commissioner than Gary Bettman.

''The owners, the players have to respect his opinion. I've known Wayne forever, actually, and talked to him about this situation,'' said Chelios, who also added he doubted Gretzky had given any thought about becoming commissioner.

Would Gretzky make a good commissioner? I think he'd make a wonderful figurehead, but the owners decide who the commissioner is going to be. They want a guy who's a tough negotiator, willing to stand up to Big Bad Bob "Jinglenuts" Goodenow.

Folks can question Bettman's knowledge and love of hockey, but even a staunch critic like myself can respect the man's negotiating skills and can sympathize with the position he's in, having to appease different sets of owners with different agendas. Love him or hate him, he's representing the owners side in this standoff very well.

Gretzky as commissioner would go down well for the fans, but he wouldn't be the guy the owners would want in the trenches for hardnosed labour negotiations.

-Chelios opinion of Bettman certainly hasn't mellowed since the last lockout ten years ago, when he made what would be considered veiled threats toward the Commissioner's well-being.

Chelios didn't go that far this time around, but he lays the blame for the league's problems squarely at Bettman's door.

Gary Bettman has put the league in this situation," Chelios stated. "A guy who doesn't do his job shouldn't be there ... He put hockey where it shouldn't belong. You get rid of six or seven teams that don't belong where they are ... Some states just aren't marketable, some cities. Hockey's not a national sport in the U.S., and Gary Bettman doesn't have a feel for that. That's my opinion."

Gotta admit, Chelios is right about the state of the league right now, only Bettman's not the only guy to blame for it. There's thirty men sitting in 30 different cities who, to various degrees, bear just as much, if not more, responsibility than Bettman.

"When reminded that contraction would mean less NHL jobs, Chelios told the paper, "Well, it'll cost jobs, but it'll make the league a better league. There's a lot of players - especially a lot of guys that come over from Europe - who are average players. Make the league a better league. The league was a strong league 10 years ago."

Spot on, Chris! The evidence speaks for itself. The quality of the game went downhill when more franchises were added to the mix. The only point I take umbrage with is the crack about the European players. Take a look around, Chris, there's a lot of average North American players, and last time I checked, North American players made up the majority in the NHL.

Hey, maybe he should run for Commissioner...nah, he'd scare the crap out of too many owners. Can you imagine the first time one of them said something he didn't like? "Hey, nice team you've got there...be a shame if something happened to it!"

- This just in: Americans don't give a crap about NHL hockey!

OK, that's a bit harsh...naw, it's the truth. Lemme put it another way, those Americans who do love hockey love it with a fervour that could match the most die-hard Canadian hockey fan...the problem is that there isn't enough of you.

According to a recent Sportsnet survey, only two of five American households are aware that the NHL season hasn't begun. More than 60% of fans between 18-29 aren't aware of the lockout.

Wait, it gets better: less than six percent expressed "great interest" in watching NHL hockey when the lockout is settled, while almost two out of every three people said they had no intention of watching NHL hockey after the lockout. In the Southern US states, where the NHL placed great expectations of "growing the game" with their expansion in the late 1990s, only 36 percent of residents knew about the NHL work stoppage.

This, then, is the sad legacy of the NHL's dreams of expanding into a sports league that would rival the NBA, NFL and MLB. And it certainly doesn't say much about the future prospects of some of those US-based markets.

- Several hockey reporters expressed strong doubts that ticket prices will be reduced if the NHL achieves it's dream of cost certainty.

The Boston Globe's Kevin Paul Dupont, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Tim Panaccio, and the Toronto Globe and Mail's Eric Duhatschek all dismiss that notion for a variety of reasons.

Considering the Bruins Jeremy Jacobs told a radio audience last month he couldn't guarantee a drop in ticket prices, Montreal Canadiens prez Pierre Boivin said his club wouldn't lower ticket prices after a lockout, and MSG Network's Stan Fischler reported last month that some, but not all, NHL teams would lower ticket prices, I'd say there are going to be lots of hockey fans expecting more affordable prices for NHL games who'll be very disappointed after this lockout ends.

- And finally, regular trade rumours contributor "Go Sharks" sends in this link to some NHL TV humour, courtesy of The Hockey News. Enjoy!


Over the past several months I've received e-mails from several readers who disagree with my take regarding the current NHL labour situation. That's understandable, as those who like myself sympathize with the union are in a definite minority.

I have no problem with folks disagreeing with me, and encourage them to continue sending in their reasons why they do.

It hasn't escaped my attention that a high number of hockey fans, at least in Canada, are still siding with the owners during this lockout. As someone who's swimming against the stream of public opinion, I offer up these questions for those who support the owners in hopes you'll provide me and your fellow readers and hockey fans with some sufficient answers that might sway my opinion toward your side.

Bear in mind, I'm not trying to be a smart-ass here. I genuinely want to know the answers, since the league has been lacking in providing them.

First off, if you believe the owners that rising player salaries are the chief cause of rising ticket prices, why did Stan Fischler, an ardent supporter of the league and the owners, report ticket prices would drop in some NHL cities but not all after the lockout?

Sorry, but that simply doesn't make sense. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman continues to preach about how his cost certainty plan will bring about "affordable ticket prices", but if you're tying salaries to revenues, then shouldn't that mean if the salaries drop across the board, so too should the ticket prices?

Why are the Montreal Canadiens, a team which cut payroll last season but raised ticket prices, refusing to cut prices after the lockout?

Why are teams like the Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks, with the lowest payrolls in the league, sitting amongst the top fifteen teams in ticket prices?

And why are big market clubs like the NY Rangers, St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars charging ticket prices far lower than one would think for clubs with those kinds of high payrolls?

I've heard the argument made that those figures have to be determined on a "case-by-case" basis, since not every team is run the same way and there are different determining factors.

I agree with this, but that leads to my next question: doesn't that disprove the league insistence that high ticket prices are the direct result of high player salaries? In the end, isn't it really a combination of several conditions unique to each club that form the basus for teams raising or lowering ticket prices?

I believe so, and that's why I disagree with the league's claims that the players salaries are the prime reason for higher ticket prices.

Aren't any of you, regardless of which side of this issue you're own, just the least bit concerned about the likelihood of ticket prices remaining high under a new CBA? If the league cannot guarantee that ticket prices will drop under their cost certainty system, what is the basis for their supposed desire to make prices more affordable?

Remember, the NHL is predominantly a gate-driven venue. The average ticket price last season was $43.57. Does anyone really see that price cut in half, or even by ten dollars, under cost certainty, when the league's national TV contract in the United States is $480 million less than it was a year ago?

Another question I have is for those who believe a hard cap is going to solve all the league's problems.

For starters, have we heard anything from the league as to how they'll enforce that measure?

The teams have already proven in the previous CBA that they can come up with creative ways to circumvent a hard salary cap, since they employed bonus clauses to skirt the hard cap on entry level salaries in the last CBA.

I've heard folks claims that it's not solely the owners fault for this happening since it was a player agent, Michael Barnett, now the GM of the Phoenix Coyotes, who along with then-Boston Bruins GM Harry Sinden negotiated the incentive-laced entry-level contract for Joe Thornton, a model which has since been carried on by practically every NHL team.

Yes, player agents have played a significant role in the use of bonus clauses to circumvent the entry-level cap, but the bottom line is it's up to the team's front office -particularly it's management and ownership - to decide if such a deal is worth doing.

Sure, player agents will likely try the same tack under a hard cap system, but ultimately it'll be the teams respective front offices deciding if they'll agree to do so. The agents throw it out there, but it's the management and ownership who ultimately decide if they'll go with it.

Supposedly nobody saw that coming, but these are supposedly very smart men who made fortunes in business. Is it really plausible to believe no one saw the potential for circumvention of that system?

So what are the restrictions from the league to ensure signing bonuses and incentive clauses aren't used to get around a hard salary cap? Has anyone heard of any? I certainly haven't.

Are we to then assume that the league has this under consideration already and that they're holding their cards close to the vest for the next round of talks, whenever they may be? Possibly, but based on what they did with the entry level cap, I'm not so sure.

Some may say the league doesn't owe us an explanation, but I disagree with that, because they've taken away from the fans the game we love so much. Based on that alone, I feel they need to give fans a detailed explanation of their plan, rather than just empty promises that this time, they're going to get it right.

Remember, "Joe Fan", without you there would be no National Hockey League, so why are you letting them get away with keeping you in the dark?

My next question is, how is the league going to impose their cost certainty? Will it be all at once, or will there be a phasing-in period?

If they attempt to do it all at once, only ten NHL clubs - San Jose, Edmonton, Minnesota, Nashville, Columbus, Chicago, Carolina, Florida, Pittsburgh and Washington are in position to reap the benefits, since their payrolls are substantially below $31 million if the regular season were to begin tomorrow.

Calgary is also below $30 million, but they've yet to re-sign Jarome Iginla, which will certainly push them well over the $31 million mark. The Boston Bruins are at $29 million, but they've still got to plug the numerous holes in their roster and now have little wiggle room to do so...unless they go over that cap. Atlanta is currently at $25 million, but they've yet to re-sign Ilya Kovalchuk and Dany Heatley, and you can bet those two will be seeking at least $5 million apiece per season, pushing the Thrashers into the $35 million range.

There are presently seven clubs - NY Islanders, Ottawa, Montreal, Buffalo, Anaheim, Los Angeles and Phoenix - whose payrolls are between $31 million and $39 million. Of those seven, three of them - the Islanders, Canadiens and Kings - still have key players either to re-sign or replace, which could push their respective payrolls higher.

That leaves ten teams - New Jersey, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Toronto, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Detroit, Colorado, Vancouver, and Dallas - with payrolls in excess of $40 million, and seven of those clubs are sitting over $50 million.

Are we to believe that the majority of NHL teams, especially the powerful and influential big market ones, will accept having to gut their rosters overnight, thus turning them into non-playoff clubs, to meet a $31 million cap?

Common sense dictates there should be a phasing-in period, but we don't know what the league's intention is at this point. They've given no indication how they're going to implement this system.

That leads to another question: regardless of whether cost certainty is implemented at once or phased in, that's going to create a glut of players in the unrestricted free agent market. How does the league plan to address this?

Now some will argue that's a great thing for the teams sitting under $31 million in payroll right now, but there's no guarantee that every one of those clubs will be players in a UFA market. Another thing to consider is that it's a safe assumption that teams forced to cut payroll will likely start with their more expendable players first. Their checking line guys, their fifth and sixth defensemen, and their backup goaltenders will likely get the chop before the top players.

Even if these teams are then forced to cut some of their higher-salaried guys, that's going to mean a two-thirds buyout of their existing contracts, which doesn't get easier as you go up the payscale.

New York Post hockey columnist Larry Brooks is certain the league will be conducting a dispersal draft, whereby players left unprotected could be picked up by other teams, yet the player's salary would still be paid by their former club.

Personally I doubt the league will implement this, since there are too many teams perched far above that magical $31 million mark who aren't going to take kindly to paying the salary of a player they lost to a rival club, especially if that player is toiling for a divisional or conference rival.

Still, we've seen nothing from the league as to how they'll address this situation. Isn't anyone just a little bit curious about this?

Finally, I'm wondering what sort of revenue-sharing plan the league wishes to introduce.

According to Gary Bettman, the owners are very much in favour of revenue-sharing, which I am genuinely pleased to hear. The question is, what plan do they have in mind and how will they implement it?

Bettman promised revenue-sharing to the fans during his on-line chat last week, but he didn't say what their plan was to implement it.

Could they follow the NFL model, whereby 60% of the gate goes to the home team and 40% goes to the visitors? Unlikely, since the big-market clubs will complain about it cutting too deeply into their revenues.

Will the league look to the big market clubs in areas with lucrative broadcasting contracts to share some of that revenue? That seems even more unlikely.

There is a resistance from fans and media in those big market venues to have their teams forced into any agreement to share their respective clubs' wealth with the small market franchises.

You can bet that attitude is also reflective of the owners of those franchises, who only cared about struggling expansion franchises when they were cashing their expansion fee cheques, and could really care less if a small market inter-state rival should fold up and leave. Indeed, I have strong doubts that most of those owners really give a damn what happens to those small market franchises.

Then of course, there are concerns about where that revenue sharing money would go. The concern of a well-run big market franchise would be seeing that money going to a poorly run small market club who invests that money elsewhere instead of into their roster.

The league would have to put a policy in place to ensure monies from revenue sharing are invested into rosters and not pocketed by the owner who receives it.

But has anyone seen or heard anything from the league drawing out guidelines as to how they'll achieve this?

Finally, I hear a lot of talk about how the "greedy players" are "being unreasonable" by "refusing to negotiate", and that their two proposals were "a joke".

The union proposed a five percent salary giveback worth over $70 million, changes to arbitration, a luxury tax system (first at $40 million and then $50 million), revenue sharing, closing off bonus loopholes in entry-level salaries and lowering the entry-level cap.

The union made an effort to negotiate. While their offers aren't perfect, they could've formed the basis for continued negotiation.

The league not only rejected the players offers out of hand, but insisted the union accept one of their six proposals or nothing at all. And it's the league who imposed the lockout, not the players walking away from playing.

So how then can the union be accused of being greedy, unreasonable, out of touch with reality and refusing to negotiate?


I recently received an e-mail from Dave Caldwell, who regularly contributes to my trade rumours page, regarding recent comments made by Gary Bettman regarding NHL attendance in the expansion markets.

Here's what Dave had to say: "The following was taken from the official transcript of an on-line chat Gary Bettman had with fans recently. I've heard him spout this 40,000,000 million fan figure for the last few days and it's gotten me thinking. This deals directly with the fact that expansion has flopped and that contraction would probably/most likely help the NHL.


You seem pretty hard and fast on having 30 teams in the league. Have you ever regretted allowing that many teams?

Gary Bettman
No. All of our markets have demonstrated over time the ability to support their franchises. In fact, if you look at the nine most recent markets, over 40 million fans have attended games. We believe that with the right collective bargaining agreement and the right economic system, we can have 30 competitive and successful franchises."

40 million fans have attended games in the 9 most recent franchises!!!
Bear with me here, I'll try to outline the math as best as possible.

Anahiem - joined 1993 = 11 seasons - with 42 home games = 462 total games played in Anahiem since that period
Florida - joined 1993 = 11 seasons - with 42 home games = 462 total games played in Anahiem since that period
Colorado - joined 1995 = 9 seasons - with 42 home games = 378 total games played in Anahiem since that period
Phoenix - joined 1996 = 8 seasons - with 42 home games = 336 total games played in Anahiem since that period
Carolina - joined 1997 = 7 seasons - with 42 home games = 294 total games played in Anahiem since that period
Nashville - joined 1998 = 6 seasons - with 42 home games = 252 total games played in Anahiem since that period
Atlanta - joined 1999 = 5 seasons - with 42 home games = 210 total games played in Anahiem since that period
Columbus - joined 2000 = 4 seasons - with 42 home games = 168 total games played in Anahiem since that period
Minny - joined 2000 = 4 seasons - with 42 home games = 168 total games played in Anahiem since that period

There you go... the 9 most recent markets according to Gary Bettman. If you add up all those games you would get a total of 2730 total games played in those markets.

Someone please take 40,000,000 and divide 2730 into it...

You get an avg of 14,652 fans at every game. Obviously Colorado sells out all the time which squews the stats upward but the avg is what needs to be looked at.

Does anyone think Carolina has avg'd over 14,000 fans the last 7 seasons? Ditto for Atlanta, Nashville, Florida, Phoenix, Anahiem. If these places were averaging that sort of attendance should these teams be in such a financial struggle?"

Dave raises an interesting question. Did those expansion clubs really achieve that kind of attendance? Here's the figures from 1994-95 to 2002-03 for those nine hockey markets as per hockeyresearch.com.


1993-94: 16938

1994-95: 17174

1995-96: 17155

1996-97: 16977

1997-98: 16908

1998-99: 15804

1999-2000: 14461

2000-01: 13512

2001-02: 11646

2002-03: 13988



2000-01: 15263

2001-02: 13368

2002-03: 13476


1997-98: 9086

1998-99: 8188

1999-2000: 12401

2000-01: 13346

2001-02: 15052

2002-03: 15682


1995-96: 16017






2001-02: 18007

2002-03: 18007


2000-01: 17457

2001-02: 18136

2002-03: 17744


1993-94: 14144

1994-95: 14198

1995-96: 13278

1996-97: 14703

1997-98: 14696

1998-99: 18500

1999-2000: 15982

2000-01: 14679

2001-02: 16084

2002-03: 15428


2000-01: 18328

2001-02: 18015

2002-03: 18500


1998-99: 17281


2000-01: 15824

2001-02: 14789

2002-03: 13228






2000-01: 14224

2001-02: 13161

2002-03: 13229

Dave subsequently followed up with this: " Did a bit more research...


Can those figures actually be right? Carolina averages 15,000 fans a game? How the hell do they lose money with a payroll of $35 million?"

Here's the figures for those nine clubs from last season:










Thus, if we take into account these figures, Mr. Bettman is correct in his estimation. If we go by Dave's average of 14, 652, most of these teams have either consistently hit or exceeded that mark or have come close to reaching it.

One team that Mr. Bettman forgot to include was the Dallas Stars, who relocated from Minnesota to Dallas for the 1993-94 season. If we examine their attendance figures over the past five years, we can see they had no trouble exceeding the league average. In fact, if their figures are added in, that might raise Dave's average.

In answer to Dave's question about the Hurricanes, they've only met or exceeded the average attendance he cited twice, and then tumbled down to just over 12, 000 last season. For most of their existance, they've done poorly at the gate. The first two seasons they were playing in Greensboro while their arena was being constructed in Raleigh. They did strongly in 2001-02 during their miracle run to the Cup finals and during the following season, but struggled badly at the gate last season.

The Hurricanes payroll was 19th overall last season, yet their ticket prices was the lowest in the NHL and their attendance was second-to-last in the league.

Gary Bettman claims the hockey market in Carolina is a strong one, yet the figures appear to suggest otherwise.

Other markets also appear to be struggling if we look at their attendance figures of the past five years. The Anaheim Mighty Ducks, for example, has attendance figures below 14, 000 for three of the past four seasons. The Atlanta Thrashers and Phoenix Coyotes were under that figure two of the last three. To be fair to both clubs, their attendance showed significant improvement, the Thrashers and Coyotes drawing over 15, 000, the Ducks almost 15,000.

Whether this is indicative of real improvement or just a one-year "blip" remains to be seen.

The remaining six markets appear as healthy as Mr. Bettman claims. It's Anaheim, Atlanta, Phoenix and Carolina which at this point in time appear to be struggling.

Expansion over the past ten seasons may not have been an overall flop, but some of those clubs are facing attendance problems that could become serious if left unchecked.

Reducing player salaries via cost certainty isn't going to work if the fans continue to treat the product with indifference.