Friday, February 04, 2005

Don't give up, don't give in

That is my message to the NHLPA today. I've posted a few times before on the NHL contract dispute, and I thought I was mostly done. But yesterday I spent 2 hours listening to sports radio in the car, and counted 14 consecutive calls or emails that supported the owners' side. Enough.

First of all, when the season is cancelled momentarily, the NHLPA ought to fire Bob Goodenow. Not because he's wrong, and not because he can't defend the PA's stance (obviously he can, and has to the players, or we would have seen many more of them breaking ranks). But he and his staff have failed miserably at winning support from the public.

I'm aware that the public isn't voting on this, and nobody has to like him as long as he gets the best deal for the players. But public opinion is so firmly behind the owners right now, it has obviously emboldened them, and that has hurt the PA members - and cost us fans the season.

And what a shame, because there are numerous questions Bob could pose himself, or plant in the media, that might make Mr. Average Fan question his/her biases. Like, say:

1) Why is it in the long term interest for the NHL to protect poorly-managed franchises in weak markets?

2) Under a hard salary cap system, NHL revenue growth would be initiated less by individual franchises and more by NHL management, and central groups/committees. Why would this be better for growth?

3) Out of the 30 NHL franchises, how many would be better off if their owner was Gary Bettman, and their management was replaced by senior NHL management?

4) Is there an accomplishment in the past 5 years that demonstrates that the NHL central management should be given extra responsibility managing and promoting the growth of the NHL?

5) Dallas and Miami are cities of roughly equal size in warm-weather football states. Why are the Stars a large-market team and the Panthers a small-market team?

6) Would the NHL be in a better state right now if the Stars had been managed over the past 10 years in the same way as the Panthers?

7) Do you care how much Julia Roberts gets paid to make a movie, or how much the ticket and snacks cost?

8) Which is more important to you: how rich Jerry Seinfeld is, or whether you are getting good value for your cable bill?

9) If you were responsible for determining what the maximum salary in the NHL should be, how would you defend your decision?

10) The NFL has no guaranteed contracts, no arbitration, and virtually no restricted free agency, so player movement between teams is pretty much unimpeded. Does this hurt support for the NFL and its franchises?

11) Fully half of the players in the NFL make the league minimum salary. Is this a positive or negative consequence of a hard salary cap?

12) The NBA has a not-quite-hard cap, (some veterans exceptions & a severe luxury tax for going over the cap), as well as a league maximum salary. Presently 32 players make $12M to $15M, while only 21 players make $8M to $12M. Half the league makes under $2M. Is this distribution of player salaries something to the NHL ought to imitate?

13) Who is most likely and able to respond to the needs and demands of fans in your city:
  • a) Gary Bettman
  • b) a committee composed of owners, GMs, coaches, and players from a variety of teams
  • c) the owner and management of the franchise in your city

14) What principle of justice is it that says NHL franchises should make money even if they're not successful on the ice?

15) Bill Bidwill (owner of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals) and Donald Sterling (owner of the NBA's L.A. Clippers) have made lots of money over the past 20 years despite fielding rotten teams nearly every year. Has this benefitted NFL/NBA players and fans?

16) The NFL has a short season, only 8 home games, plays at the same time every week, and is ideal for gambling, not to mention that people really like football. What % of the NFL's success do you think should be attributed to their hard salary cap?

17) Chicago and Detroit are cities of roughly equal size in huge Original Six hockey markets. Would the NHL be better off today if the Red Wings had been managed as "responsibly" as the Blackhawks over the past 10 years?

18) What evidence can you point to that demonstrates that the NHL would be more popular if there were fewer consistently excellent teams? Were the consecutive Habs, Islanders, and Oilers dynasties bad for the NHL?

19) Were the Flames lucky last year, meaning they won't repeat their success, or were they good, meaning that wise coaching and management can overcome differences in player budgets? This one's for Darryl Sutter: pick one, please.

20) Say the owners get the cost certainty they want. What is a fair rate of return on an investment with virtually no risk? Is there any reason why it should be significantly higher than my chequing account?

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There's 20 questions right there; I don't think any particular one of them is a loud Gotcha!, and I'm sure a supporter of the owners could dissect a couple of them and argue I'm missing the point, etc. - but the NHLPA has to try.

Fans are predisposed to support the owners, because we can't prove (or know intuitively) that they won't go out of business if they give in. Conversely, we all know that every player in the NHL could survive on half their present salary. And since we all want hockey to start again (and our own franchises to stay put), taking the owners' word for it is the path of least resistance.

I can't do it though. The players are 60% right, and the owners are 100% wrong. The idea that the Flames player budget might be dictated in part by the fact that people in Miami don't like hockey, or that Bill Wirtz doesn't care if the Hawks suck, is so ridiculous to me that I can't support any linkage proposal. Ted Saskin, Trevor Linden, and all the rest of you - stick to your guns.

P.S. I changed my mind - there is a question above that boils it all down, and it's #17. The correct answer is Hell No. How about #17A: based on their observed performance managing their respective brands, whose business model should be the freaking last one outlawed, not the first?
  • a) Mike Ilitch
  • b) Bill Wirtz
  • c) Gary Bettman

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