witness the preseason warm-ups currently happening in the NHL, a dark cloud
looms over every arena. Everyone from the commissioner, the general managers,
the coaches, the players, and the fans all look towards September 15, 2004 as an
historic day for hockey. Even though itís still under a year away, it will be a
story of make it or break it, and if it becomes broken, fixing it promises to be
then does everybody involved appear to have their collective thumbs stuck you
know where? Why does the pending madness we refer to as the regular season look
more like a chess match? Why is it so difficult for the players union to make a
move now rather than later? How much more money does the NHL have to lose
before somebody skates up to centre ice and says no more?
answer the last question, one must obtain a handle on the NHLís finances.
Recently the annual figures were released to the tune of a collective $300
million deficit for the league as a whole, up from approximately $218 million
the year before. The losses were blamed mostly on increasing player salaries
this into perspective, the NHL reported $1.93 billion in actual revenues for the
2002/03 season, which means seventy six percent of the total revenue was spent
on salaries and benefits. This is more than the NBA, NFL and MLB combined! Yet
the NHL continues to wonder why the fan base has decreased and why the league
does better in game day sales than they do for season tickets.
starters, the average fan canít even afford tickets unless they put a second
mortgage on their home. Assuming a family of four goes to a game, youíre
looking at easily a $500 night to have good seats and concessions, and these
seats would definitely not be behind the playersí bench. Most of todayís modern
arenas can seat at least 18,000 fans, some more, but for the sake of argument
weíll stick with this. If the average fan spends $125 for the night, including
the cost of admission, by my example, a sold out game would make at least
$2,250,000. Because ticket prices fluctuate, obviously some will spend more,
but every arena can easily take in this amount of dough every game (even if they
donít always sell out). Throughout a season which sees a team play eighty two
games, forty one at home, the amount would be close to $93 million in revenue.
So if the players are supposedly getting seventy six percent of this, or $71
million, the team and league is splitting a share of around $22 million per
team. Of course there are the day to day operating costs which need to be
considered such as air travel, team, arena and concession staff, among other
things. Somehow at the end of the day, the league is posting a loss.
Apparently the playoffs arenít even a factor here as they are referred to as
my figures are very crude calculations, but if in fact the players are getting
the huge share they are reported to be getting, one has to wonder how long this
can go on before the NHL declares bankruptcy. It happened to two teams last
season, how many more will have to before this supposed battle is over? At
least this is the question the NHL wants us to ask!
seems to be a discrepancy between what the NHL is reporting and what they seem
to be taking in. Ticket prices continue to go up, but in a lot of cases the
fans simply arenít showing up. The league would have us believe markets where
hockey sells night in and night out are picking up the slack from the markets
where the fans have decided to stay in and watch the game on television.
Somewhere, somebody is making a fast buck, and I personally donít think itís
just the players. Yes they do get paid their share and yes something needs to
be done about salaries over the long term to keep hockey alive, but I personally
suspect more to this than meets the eye. I havenít even gotten into corporate
sponsorships and revenue generated by television broadcasts because these arenít
always guaranteed sources of income, but Iím sure they more than do their part
to alleviate some of the losses.
In the meantime, our friend Gary Bettman has sent out an invitation to
the NHL Players Association to sit down and iron out all the discrepancies
before the current agreement expires next year, yet they havenít budged. Why?
If the solution is as easy as negotiating a salary cap and a possible luxury tax
similar to what happened in baseball, then why wonít they get cracking before
itís too late?
no question the salaries have to be brought under control. Perhaps a system
similar to what the NBA uses could work here; if a team surpasses the salary
cap, they have to pay a certain percentage to the league, which they then
distribute amongst the other teams. My thinking here is the New York Rangers,
Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche could save one or more small market
teams over the course of a preseason at the rate theyíre going.
commentator and fan of the game, I am puzzled by the stand the NHLPA has taken,
as Iím sure every owner, coach, player and fan is. Itís really too bad this
dark cloud will hang over our heads throughout what promises to be an exciting
season. Letís not also forget next summer will be time for the second World Cup
of Hockey (formerly referred to as the Canada Cup).
optimist in me says all will be fine, but the pessimist in me looks back at the
season that almost wasnít in 1995 and hopes history wonít repeat itself in
2004/05. Some players have gone so far as to say they will retire or move
overseas to play should this whole mess not get sorted out. What this could end
up doing to the league we love to watch is so scary I donít even want to go
there. I will say, however, the owners from all thirty teams need the NHL to
survive beyond 2004 just as much as the players do, more in some cases.
least we have this season to do as Mr. Bettman has requested us to do, sit back
and enjoy and let the people who have a say in all of this worry about the
logistics. However, the closer the day of reckoning gets, the easier this will
be said than done.
the often outspoken Brett Hull put it best in a recent interview:
don't know if I have delusions or what, but the world is made up of mathematical
equations, so there has got to be a way to do some sort of mathematical equation
to satisfy both sides,Ē the Red Wings forward told the Detroit Free Press. ďI
know they want a cap and we're not going to take a cap, so figure it out from
there because that is the only issue.Ē
don't think the owners, and I certainly know the players, can't afford it, so
they've got to figure this out. There are teams that just opened brand new
buildings and, as much as they say they're losing money, without revenue they
can't pay on their new buildings. So they've got to have something coming in to
help them. They need to play just like we need to play.Ē
they'll put the egos aside, both sides, and they'll work it out, because this
league cannot afford a lockout.Ē
lighter note, there are at least a handful of teams who are doing their part
when it comes to salary issues. One of them is the storied Edmonton Oilers, who
appear to be playing hardball with their star centre Mike Comrie until he comes
to his senses. Another is the Ottawa Senators, who are simply being careful not
to spend Eugene Melnykís money faster than they can get it, as they offer Martin
Havlat what they feel heís worth, not what his agents feel heís worth.
markets aside, even the Detroit Red Wings felt Sergei Fedorov wasnít worth what
he wanted (although he didn't make much of a case for himself, more to come), so
they allowed him to clip his wings and become an Anaheim Mighty Duck. As for
the Ducks, they want to make it back to the Stanley Cup finals, but not at the
rate Paul Kariya wanted, so he bolted to Colorado. Minnesota is taking a
similar stance with Marian Gaborik.
boils down to this: the teams have the money, but why spend it all on one
player? The common consensus seems to be getting the salaries under control
now, not later. However, part of the problem is the agents these players answer
to. I mentioned Martin Havlat in Ottawa. This young man is well
worth the price of admission any night of the year, but at what expense? Havlat
wants to play in Ottawa, and Ottawa wants to have him on the team, yet his agent
Allan Walsh has slammed the Senators for ďnot making a serious offerĒ. Ottawa
offered $1 million per season plus bonuses, yet the Havlat camp headed by Walsh
appears to be looking for a deal similar to what Brad Richards signed in Tampa Bay, which would be closer to $3
million a season. Thereís no doubt Havlat is worth the money, but the situation
Ottawa is in is much more unique than Tampaís. The Lightning actually need a
star player like Richards if theyíre going to be successful, but the Senators
wonít need Havlat to succeed. They already proved this to Alexei Yashin and I
have no doubt theyíll prove it again. You can expect the Senators will once
again stand pat and wait this one out, just like they did last year with Karel
Rachunek, and Yashin before him.
Itís interesting to note Allan Walsh is the same agent who also
represents Marian Gaborik in Minnesota. Gaborik remains unsigned as well. John
Muckler, general manager of the Ottawa Senators, doesnít understand Walshís way
of thinking. As he put it, when you want to get a deal done you communicate,
but apparently Walsh wonít return Mucklerís calls! Itís something Muckler says
heís never seen in all of his years in hockey. Kind of makes one wonder whoís
more to blame for escalating salaries, the players or the agents?
Mike Comrie situation in Edmonton is an interesting one. Comrie wants to make a
deal and wants to be with the team (and I for one want to watch him play!). He
even showed up for training camp, only to be turned away until a contract is
signed. Again, both sides appear to be about $2 million apart from making a
deal. Then again, Kevin Lowe has realized some of the potential talent he has
down on the farm and is willing to give them a chance first. This way the
rationale is Comrie will come around and want to play so bad he will sign on the
dotted line before the playoffs roll around, assuming the Oilers qualify.
Sergei Fedorov, recently he came out of his shell and spoke about the real
reason he left Detroit behind to play for Anaheim. Apparently it wasnít about
the money, it was about his ex Anna Kournikova. After their bitter breakup,
Fedorov says he couldnít focus properly on the job at hand and a change of
scenery is just what the doctor ordered. Apparently he told the Red Wings
general manager Ken Holland he was dealing with personal issues which kept him
from mentally honing in on contract numbers. I imagine the feeling must be
mutual as far as Kournikova is concerned, because she has dropped like a brick
in the worldwide tennis rankings, even though she stated in a recent Maxim
interview the breakup with Fedorov was the best thing that could have happened
to her. Itís a classic case of he said she said, and I can speak from my own
male experience when I tell you the last thing Fedorov will ever do is admit he
had any wrong doing in the souring of the relationship. In fact, itís been
reported Fedorov not only left Detroit, but also the Octagon company, his and
his exí former agent, holding them responsible, among other things, for
introducing Kournikova to her latest flame, none other than pop star Enrique
Iglesias. As for Anna, she is expected to retire from tennis due to recurring
meantime, Paul Kariya bolted to Colorado to be reunited with the Finnish Flash,
Teemu Selanne, and so far the dynamic duo appear as though they still have the
chemistry they had when they led the Ducks in scoring a few years ago. Throw in
the added punch of Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Milan Hejduk and the Colorado
Avalanche all of a sudden go from first round doormats to legitimate Stanley Cup
contenders, but only if their goaltending situation works out. David Aebischer
has to prove himself as a number one goalie and Colorado has to do well out of
the gate or else the second guessing will begin long before the All-Star break.
One thing you definitely wonít see is a return of Patrick Roy a la Dominik Hasek.
finally, in probably the best story Iíve heard all month, it seems the hockey
team everybody loves to hate is living their own real life Rodney Dangerfield
movie, they canít get any respect, even overseas in Sweden. As you all probably
know by now, the Toronto Maple Leafs held the beginning of their training camp
in Stockholm and played exhibition games against three of the Swedish Elite
teams, Jokerit, Djurgarden and Farjestad. The Leafs won on the ice as they
pummeled their competition, but off the ice the local newspapers stopped at
nothing to give Toronto a bad name. One paper in particular published a column
accusing the team of inappropriate conduct in a local pub. The report said a
few select Leaf players harassed a waitress. Upon further investigation from
the league it was found the players had done nothing wrong. The team is
apparently taking legal action against the newspaper and reporter.
And in more news from Hogtown, the Air Canada Centre could temporarily
lose their liquor license after they allegedly sold alcohol to minors with fake
identification. As I always say, only in Toronto could something like this
happen. I know in Ottawa I still get carded at the Corel Centre, even though
Iíve been of age for eleven years.
folks, only a few more weeks to go until the regular season gets underway. Does
Colorado have enough to win another championship? Will the Devils repeat? Can
Ottawa finally bring the Cup back to Canada? Does Hasek still have what it
takes to be an elite goaltender? Was the Mighty Ducks run to the finals a
fluke? All these questions and more will be answered in due time. Stay tuned
for a review of the seasonís hottest video game from EA Sports, NHL 2004, and
more stories from the ice as I will once again tell it like it is right here.