Commentary, opinion and news on the world of hockey.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Just to clarify

I've received a few emails within the last several days that basically, and rather curiously, ask me which side I align myself with in the NHL labour war. The quick answer is, I don't align truly with either side.

I agree with certain assertions made by both sides. Regardless of who's to blame for letting it get to this point, I can understand the owners' complaints that the economics are out of control. On the flip side, how can the players trust any financial numbers that the league tosses their way?

One thing that I believe is abundantly clear is that salaries and spending must be controlled in some way. Now, the owners will tell you that that is the entire solution to the problem, and a salary cap is the magic cure-all for the ailing NHL. But really, that's only half of the solution, and a cap may not be the best way to go anyways.

A salary cap will only get you part-way there. In order to truly level the playing field, the major revenue generators must provide support to the little guys. That means revenue sharing. If the owners are truly serious about providing a healthy league, then this concept is key and it has somehow received much less attention that I initially believed that it would.

As I have said before, you cannot look at each team as an individual business entity. You must consider that the actual business is the NHL itself. To illustrate, here’s Tampa Bay Lightning president Ron Campbell:
"Every league is a business. It should be a business model, and it should be a partnership of sharing the fruits of the business among owners and employees. A business has all these divisions. It would be nice if they all are going to make money. It would be nice if they did and shifts (in team strength) were made on competitive reasons."
So, I do believe in the owners' cause to control spending and I don't view linkage as a dirty word. After all, the players have guaranteed contracts, so what's so fundamentally wrong with the employers wanting to hedge their bets? Keep in mind, that the problem is that the revenues cannot be mutually agreed upon, and who really trusts the owners? Not me.

At the same time, I don't agree that the NHL needs a system that is as restraining as they have prosposed up to this point in order to get their house in order. And even though I don't look upon linkage with disdain, it isn't necessary for the overall well being of the league.

However, the owners do seem to require a system that is somewhat idiot proof, because quite frankly, many of them are idiots.

On the other side, I believe that the December 9th proposal by the NHLPA has a great deal of untapped potential. It wasn't the mother of proposals, but it provided a basis for a framework that could be a viable option. The rollback was a huge step in the right direction, and the details regarding the luxury tax thresholds and arbitration/qualifying offer concepts were ripe for negotiation. If those tax numbers could be massaged to more reasonable levels, then I believe both sides could be happy. (To contrast that, as ridiculous as the NHL "triggers" were in their latest proposal, I think that there is also a workable deal in there somewhere if reasonable triggers can be utilized).

The players feel that the owners have to help themselves; they shouldn't be forced to shoulder the entire blame. And I agree 100% with that argument. However, I also hear rumblings that this is the owners' fault and it's up to them to fix the problems. This I don't agree with completely, and neither does PJ at Sharkspage, as he expresses quite well:
There have been a half dozen articles over the weekend all repeating the meme that this lockout is the owners fault for writing the checks. That is wrong on so many levels that I can barely even muster a response. Both sides are equally to blame for this fiasco. The big market owners for blowing the curve for the rest of the league, to the NHLPA score system for maximizing salary for mid-to-low level players also blowing the curve, to the NHL's marketing wasteland, to player holdouts that last well into the season.
Well put, PJ.

So, after I have ranted on for a while, I probably haven't really clarified anything. Both sides make good points, both sides need to see the light. There's room to give on from each standpoint - and lots of it, but each is too stubborn to perhaps treat this as a partnership (and don't let the NHL fool you into believing that what they propose is actually a partenrship).

What would I like to see the NHL transform into?

Well, something that utilizes these concepts:

- A luxury tax that will actually effectively tax offending teams; whether that's through the pocketbook or in the form of draft picks, make it a tough decision for a team to cross that threshold, but allow them to do it nonetheless.

- Distribute the wealth to the lower end teams; it can come from luxury tax payments, general league revenues, lotto winnings, pop cans and yard sales - I don't care, just do it.

- Fair compensation for players; pay the players, pay them fairly, but do not pay Holik and Guerin the equivalent of the GDP of Cuba.

- Fair arbitration rights and qualifying offers; allow both the team and the player to initiate the arbitration process. And absolutely eliminate the concept that a player automatically receives a raise through qualifying offers and reverse osmosis.

- Give something back to the fans; I went to a few NHL games last year, but I had to sell my truck and borrow from Vinny the loan shark in order to do it. Lower the damn ticket prices and allow the average fan to enjoy the game they love. (this concept will never happen, I realize, but I can dream, no?)

I have no love for the owners who pledge that this fight for a cap is in the best interests of the fans, be no reduction in ticket prices, because there is no doubt in my mind that should cost certainty be impplemented, ticket prices will not be reduced, or capped, nor will there be anything in it for the fans other than, hey, boring-ass hockey is back on.

On the other side, the players have had a great run, holdouts and contract disputes are the norm, 4th line players can retire at 28, half-ass play reigns, and the union line "we want our fair share of the pie, and we want it guaranteed" is the most overplayed tune on the airwaves.

So I guess to answer the orignal question, I am on the side of settling this thing with some sense of reason. I'm on the side of all the fans who have been royally screwed out of the NHL for no good reason. I'm on the side of rational thought...oh wait, that doesn't have a side in this dispute. I'm sick of it all. I want it to end, destroy the league if you have to. Pull all the players into the WHA. I'd go for that.


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