Well, we are in day whatever of the great freeze out 2004 and as the ground gets harder, the air gets crisper and the wind gets colder a good deal of us are letting out those obligatory sighs as we half-consciously flip on the tube to catch the scores of the last night's game. Things are going fine, Toronto played Detroit last night? Awesome. A high tempo affair? Even better. Toronto outscored Detroit by 9? Have I woken up in 1991? No of course not, these are basketball scores. I would sleep my day away if I was without a partner, child and job. I would sleep the days away until the unmitigated madness had ended. There is no hockey, the Red Sox won the World Series, Dubya won the election AND the popular vote and the Raptors are 3-0, yeah this is all a little messed up.
So what do you all do with absolutely no NHL hockey to watch? Send angry pictures of yourself to Trevor Linden and Bill Daly? Pull out those Goodenow and Bettman voodoo dolls from '94 and start poking away? I don't know about you guys, but here are the things that I am doing to pass the time.
MEET HOT NEW SINGLES!
Yeah right. The last time I was hot, new or single, size 32 pants were too big for me and the trap was something you avoided if you were on shore leave.
WATCH OTHER SPORTS
Yeah, there are other sports out there, even though I still cannot get into basketball. I tried to watch a few minutes of a recent Lakers game and it was one word: brutal. Players have seemed to have forgotten how to shoot and I saw more bricks thrown up than, well, well, it was so bad I cannot come up with any clever metaphors. It's not easy being simile deprived.
Football is still pretty fun to watch. Well-paced, hard-hitting and never without drama, the league preaches parity and that is why Football is still the ultimate sucker's bet. There are no completely dominant teams in the NFL, some very good teams but not even the Patriots as of late are rolling over anybody. There are some great stories this year, namely the resurgence of the Steelers and Chargers and the continuing mouthcapades of Terrell Owens. The great thing about Football is that is a well-run machine and commands a high entertainment dollar. An 8 billion dollar TV deal, an extension to boot? Yeah, their salary cap is just hurting the hell out of them.
CREATE THE GREATEST UNDERDOG TEAM EVER IN EA SPORTS NHL HOCKEY
And this is the only way I will play the series, which in my opinion has been going steadily downhill since 2002. I skipped 2003 because I heard it was so bad and then stepped right into it with NHL 2004. I won't even think about 2005 (and if anyone can prove it's better than last year's debacle, please email me). Anyways, I will only play the international tournament with super special sliders and then what I do is take all the best players Canada did NOT pick. Todd Bertuzzi, Chris Phillips, Sheldon Souray and Mathieu Garon have never looked so good beating up on Team Canada 1. You can do this with the U.S. and Russia too but might be hard pressed to do it with Latvia or France (there are only so many Kristobal Huets to go around)
INVENTING A NEW SANDWICH
Deep-fried egg salad and pickle sandwich. This was a bad idea. Horrible nightmares of it being 1985 and playing in a Styx cover band, all the while playing to an audience of the sandwiches.
GETTING IN TOUCH
Talk to your wife, play with your kids, call your family, get in touch with long lost friends, apologize to all those jilted ladies you left behind, say sorry to the guy you hung up by his underwear on his locker in the 6th grade or university. Now you have that time to get in touch, reconnect with all those people who have missed out on your company in the past and .yeah right, who am I kidding, just get busy sending out Darcy Tucker to take out Mario Lemieux in the medal semi-finals! Christmas is coming, you'll see all those people then, except probably for the jilted ladies and the ruined underwear guys.
Though lacking in any real propensity to be courageous, not owning a gun or really being good at anything except sleeping, I have decided that while the lockout is on, I would dawn a cape and ski mask and look around town in an attempt to thwart crime. The results so far are pretty mixed; pummeled mercilessly by some pre-teens for looking like a dork, tripped trying to jump a fence and the groin tear pretty well ensures there will be no chance of pro-creation of several months, the cops have said crime has actually gone up since I put on my costume and I got asked out by some who claimed he was the Green Lantern (though he didn't have a lantern or any green on). It would appear this was almost as good an idea as my new sandwich.
Hello both my readers, sorry I have been away for a few, I have been standing in front of the NHL head office in New York trying to light myself on fire in an effort to get both sides to talk. Needless to say, my lighter ran out of fluid and the closest I got to both Bettman and Goodenow was creating them in NHL '96 and trying to get them to settle their differences on the ice. Bloody sigh.
§ Opening night in Ottawa last night. No hockey. I guess we can look at it from this perspective; The Ottawa 67's drew 10000 fans on their opening night and junior hockey rinks all over Canada have been jammed to the nines as fans try to get their hockey fix. The AHL rinks are showing strong attendance here in Canada as well. Too bad that most of these players are doing nothing right now except collecting minor league paychecks.
§ Listened to the Saskin and Daly traveling verbal cure-all for insomniacs everywhere road show on Ottawa sports talk radio for most of yesterday (I couldn't bear to watch the wags on TSN). I didn't hear a damn thing other than the finger pointing. Evil owners versus selfish hockey players. The way they were talking I don't expect them to hit the negotiating table until December----2005. There was absolutely no straight talk in terms of anyone answering a straight question and the whole process was so painful to listen to as you felt the swell of doom lodged in your throat. This is already nasty and it is going to get a lot nastier before it gets nicer.
§ Steve Balkin was fined a quarter of a million for saying what everyone already feels is going to happen. Not surprising the NHL send out the rookie owner to say the piece and then kick in to pay his fine. As mentioned in the previous thought, this is going to get N-A-S-T-Y. In my humble opinion, ownership has already given up on any chance of saving this season (albeit they feel if the players extend any sort of branch, they will come to the table) and are getting prepared to take the matter to the courts, asking to bring in 'replacement' players, circumventing the union and either there is capitulation or players cross the line. Mark my words, the players will use every legal recourse at their disposal before player one crosses their line. 'Replacement' players may cross the line and the league might go on with most of the players from 'Making the Cut' and that dreadful Slap Shot sequel but they will be playing in front of dozens, not thousands. The fans here have the power to voice their displeasure by simply not going to the rinks, hitting the owners where it hurts.
§ Watched some of the 1988 Boston/Edmonton playoff game that was on TSN the other night and two things really stuck out to me. First, the play was so smooth, end to end and it looked like everyone knew how to skate and secondly and I might sound crazy but didn't the players look like they were wearing about half the bulk of equipment they do now?
§ Watched the Yankees/Red Sox game 2 the other night and in my humble Mariano Rivera is becoming the best closer, ever. The guy suffers personal tragedy not even a week ago then comes back and helps his Yankees shut down the BoSox twice in two nights. Sadly, I don't think the Sox are getting by the Yankees again this year, they are just too stacked and it is becoming reminiscent of the Leafs and Sens, the talent is there to compete but never discount the psych out factor rivals can have on each other.
§ If anyone can tell me if Bill Parcells, Joe Gibbs and Dave Wannestedt have a clue, please email me. The 'boys have definitely taken a step back with an obviously done Testevarde, Gibbs cannot get the 'skins rolling with an obviously done Mark Brunell and Wannestedt, well, the Dolphins are looking forward to moving on and drafting well. Now if I could just get into basketball maybe I could get over this whole hockey thing .
Hello both my readers, I hope you have stayed out of harm's way.
Well we are now in day whatever of bloody lockout 2004 or 2005 or whatever and I am already irritated and pining for hockey and the thought by all accounts of not seeing real hockey for a year, maybe more, is just unacceptable to me, purely unacceptable. Are the owners really suffering? Are the players? Well, we can all chalk up a big fat no to that because we know it is us, we the ticket-paying people who are suffering the slings and arrows of this outrageous misfortune!
Now solutions have been brought to the table by the NHL, NHLPA, experts, pundits, neophytes, talking heads, The Talking Heads, ne'er do wells and some who do all alright all across the land. Spector has brought some interesting insight to the issue and Brian Burke has brought an interesting proposal to the table and if I had stayed awake in math in high school, I'd probably think it was a pretty rad solution being that I met him at the Vancouver Aquarium and he was really nice and friendly with me and my family. The common problem I see with all the proposed solutions is that they are not radical enough. You have to come up with proposals so beyond the realm of the radar(I refuse to use that damned 'outside the box' expression) that they have no choice but to look at it in wonderment and give it some serious thought, sort of like looking at Donald Trump's hair, which by all accounts, baffles hairstylists and physicists alike. Now that my stomach flu has passed and I can address a keyboard without the room spinning more than usual, I have decided to run this gauntlet my gentle pair of readers, I have decided to end our beloved game's woes by coming up with five solutions to the labour strife and fear even less reader because as soon as I can afford two stamps, these proposals are being sent to Mr. Goodenow and Mr Bettman, respectively. Brace yourself kids, it's going to be a very bumpy ride.
Nothing in life is guaranteed and player's contracts should be no exception. 95% of us go to work everyday with absolutely no guarantee that we will have jobs tomorrow so why should already very wealthy hockey players have this luxury? Maybe if the players remembered what it was like to earn a living the hard way, they wouldn't be so hard-pressed to fight the owners. As a matter of fact, screw the cap as well, I have a different idea. (Maybe not so different)
Salaries should be a retrospective and retroactive situation for all professional athletes. More often than not a player is awarded an absolutely sick contract and then proceeds to coming nowhere near close to earning that contract. Owners throw their hands up in the air and raise ticket and concession prices to pay for that fat contract as another player on the team with his good season is if not recompensed properly will head for the greener pastures. Here is a solution: players are paid by performance. What? Easy. Naturally a player with better stats than a teammate should be paid better and stats account heavily into this idea because this idea would need the most complex scoring system in hockey history. A player who gets 80 points might get x amount of dollars but a guy who gets 40 points but has a better plus minus and spends more time on the PK could also be given the same amount of money, it will depend on the mathematical system devised. Maybe there is a base salary involved, maybe not but think of it as a generic salesperson job, basic salary but with commissions based on performances. The system would be standard, across the league with no exceptions and yes, there would be a cap but on individual salary as opposed to an overall team cap so if an owner wants to pay big bucks for a team of third-line overachievers, that is their choice but it will not equate until the season is finished. Why the hell would this proposal make any sense? Quite simple, it makes sure no more stupid contracts are awarded and it rewards skill as opposed to reputation. I could probably write a whole paper on this idea but Spector needs the room .
PLAYERS AS SHAREHOLDERS
This is another very simple idea. Owners run the teams like public companies or even some private companies by offering shares in the team. Players are entitled to these shares after one year of service and only a certain amount of shares at that time but are then entitled to more shares for service time accumulated. Players traded for or signed as free agents are then granted x amount depending on years of service in the league. This would be intriguing for a few reasons but the players would most certainly become more interested in the overall financial well-being of the team as dividends and even bonuses would be paid out the healthier the team was financially. I currently hold shares in the company I work for and I am definitely more concerned with the financial well-being of the company and work hard to make sure our targets are met and I don't see how this would be any different.
THINK GLOBALLY, CONTRACT LOCALLY
No one watches hockey in the U.S. it is a non-factor, a non-issue in the U.S. for the most part and there are too many reasons for this to discuss right now but mostly hockey has become a boring plugging game that offers little in the way of excitement with the exception of the playoffs. The game is not working in the U.S. and with this lockout; the already eroding and disinterested fan base is only going to get worse. This is a drastic statement but sadly true and with little hope for redemption at this stage in the game (just look at the joke of the TV deal the NHL rustled up with NBC in the U.S. What can be done?
The current North American model doesn't work and it is time to shed some of these North America teams in markets that are not performing. How many teams? Six would be the most common number to start at but realistically getting back to the pre-expansion 21 teams might be the best solution, stopping short at what teams should be removed (because a couple of years ago Tampa and Calgary might have been on my list). It's simple, the weak don't survive.
It might be time to consider opening the game up on a much larger international scale, with the 'N' in NHL switching over to 'W' to stand for world. Again, this is still slightly abstract thinking but to separate the league into possibly national divisions with all of them getting together and thrown into a huge world tournament annually might be something to consider. Yes, it would take the luster off of the Olympics and the World Cup but the Olympics are supposed to be about the celebration of amateur sport and the World Cup is just scheduled too erratically to be charted properly. Allow teams to carry a few 'imports' and widen the North American rinks so once again, skating can be more heavily emphasized in game strategy and conditioning, rather than hooking and holding. International hockey is amazing to watch, so why not take this incredibly vague idea and make hockey a truly recognized international sport? The league could also take a page from the most popular sport in the world, soccer, and allow the best teams from each national division to compete in these tournaments annually and then every four years have the world cup. Maybe crazy but oh well.
FANS AS SHAREHOLDERS
Community-owned teams rock. Ask the Green Bay Packers and their 32-year waiting list for season tickets. Offer shares to fans and give them real stakes in teams or even complete community ownership and let's see just how many strikes there are. Greed is not such a definitive catalyst when it comes to motivation when there are several rather than the one or the handful because the spoils are divided evenly.
I know I said five but I really could only come up with four. I'll probably come up with another one eventually but I'll add that to a later column.
Hello both my readers. I have decided in lieu of school back in full swing I would celebrate the lack of attention spans everywhere with some quick thoughts from the last two weeks.
DETROIT LOCKOUT CITY
Speaking of the lockout, TSN is saying that the NHLPA is sending out one last proposal to the owners before the September 15th eviction notice. This is obviously a press grab as the players want to look good and sympathetic in the public eye and that they are doing everything they can to prevent the boot. The proposal states nothing of a salary cap and in more serious matters the owners have said no way to allowing the top scoring players on each team to give them wedgies for each performance clause they meet. The owners will also not budge on allowing chip trucks in the locker room between periods. The talks drag on .
THE WORLD CUP IS NOT ENOUGH
Just in case anyone was wondering how these national teams would stack up salary-wise in the NHL today, I did some haphazard accounting and found out that lo and behold Canada has the team with the largest salary at a whopping 136 million (USD) dollars with the U.S. second at roughly 109 million. I think these are both are half of what the Rangers salaries were at the start of last year and pretty close to the Yankees payroll if they were combined (damn you New York! Damn you and all your richness!). Now bear in mind that the injured players on each team were factored in as well and that these figures, supplied by the NHLPA are for next years salaries so I also guesstimated on FA and UFA's would be for the next season. Anyways, here are the rest, debate on the significance of these numbers amongst the both of you:
Czech Republic 77 million
VIVA LA DIFFERENCE
Tim Stubinski lives in Pembroke, Ontario which is the HockeyTown of the Ottawa Valley.
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