I’ve been a hockey fan since I saw my first game on ESPN back in like 1989. I thought to myself, “What an amazing sport, they have to do all their work on ice of all surfaces!”. I became a New Jersey Devils fan for no reason other than they happen to be the team that was considered the underdog in the game. (For some reason, in sports, I like to cheer for the underdog when I don’t care much about either opponent) Then, a miracle occurred, and the Minnesota North Stars moved from the more appropriate home in the north, to Dallas to become the Dallas Stars.
Immediately my allegiance switched to the “new” team. I finally got to go to my first NHL game in the fall of 1995. If you really, really dig deep, you can find a column I wrote about the experience in my college (at the time) newspaper. And once you’ve seen a live game, it gets just that much better. Ask my in-laws, they went to a single game two seasons ago and were hooked enough to watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Since about 2001 there have been grumblings about the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expiring in 2004 and how it would be “Armageddon”. Both sides could have been working out their issues since then, but instead of talking, September 15th, 2004 came along and the owners locked the players out.
The league wants what it calls “cost certainty”, which basically means some sort of salary cap on the players based on the revenues the league generates. The players will have none of that and want a luxury tax system that makes teams that spend over a certain limit pay fines for doing so.
So now it’s a bunch of millionaires fighting a bunch of billionaires, which makes me and most of the rest of the country wish they had these guys’ problems. Yeah, I know not all of the players in the NHL are super rich, but even with a league minimum of $250K per year, they are certainly doing better than most of America.
I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I think I’ve finally decided I’m with the owners on this one. Some would say that it’s the owners that have put themselves into this position, which is partly true. But when they have to bid against each other for Free Agents and that artificially drives up the price since each team wants to win (although only one will win it all every year) and thinks they have to have all the “best (read: more expensive) players. So that’s why some 3rd line center can pull down more than $1 million a year.
The thing that really puts me on the side of the owners is that these players don’t seem to understand how little importance their sport and league play on the American Sports Landscape. Basically, hardly anyone on radio or print (outside of Canada) even talks about Hockey, unless it’s the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and there was some major controversy, it gets a highlight on SportsCenter, right after the bajillion, and insignificant, summertime baseball scores. Hell, there might even be NFL news before Stanley Cup news. That’s pretty far down the line to me.
And the way things are going, if the leagues stays off the ice for the year (which it looks more and more like it’s going to do with the weekend deadline set by the league), I think they will lose a great deal of fan base, especially in the newer cities like Atlanta and Nashville (although Nashville did finally make the playoffs for the first time last season, so there’s hope there). This will have a fairly drastic affect on league revenues and further erode the amount of money to pay the players and other personnel. You can’t truly believe you can spend over 75% of revenues for players and still make the investment worth it for the owners.
The players also seem to be all about the money, even though not one of them will tell you that. It’s not about the game, if it was, these guys would realize how good they have it and would be playing for peanuts, like the MLS guys do now. They say they won’t play under a cap. Well guess what, the two leagues generating the most revenue and having a lot of success are the NFL and the NBA (you may have heard of them) and they each have cost containment. The NFL has a hard salary cap with a lot of rules, and the NBA has a very harsh luxury tax system.
For the players it comes down to realizing that there’s a limited amount of money, the owners are in it to make money too, and to just be damn happy to get paid to play a game for a living.