To the governing body that looks over the sport I love dearly:
I have been incredibly loyal to your brand for over twenty years. Now, I get in the grand scheme of things, that’s not a long time, but bear in mind that I was born in raised in Dallas, TX. When other boys were surrounding themselves with football and baseball, I was studying Mario Lemieux and Martin Brodeur.
In 2005, the hockey world was rocked to its foundation by becoming the only sports league to lose an entire season due to a labor dispute. That following season, I was there for the season opener between the Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings. The new rules didn’t take long to present themselves, as Dallas fell behind 4-0 going into the 3rd period. The Stars ended up winning, 5-4. The “New NHL” was finally here.
The game opened up. Scoring was up. Attendance was up. Naturally, revenues have gone up. I believe I’ve seen numbers in the area of 54% increase in revenues since the lockout. Much of that stems from the television contract the league signed with VS/NBC Sports. That’s hard to believe, seeing how the network relegated a potential Cup-clinching game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals to their cable partner while NBC showed re-runs of Betty White’s skit show and Law and Order on the network side of the stations.
But, I digress. Going into the final season of the current CBA which was agreed upon back in 2006, I felt there was no way the league would allow for a work stoppage (at least an extended one). They learned their lessons, right? The NFL and NBA just came out of a year of strained labor negotiations which saw the NFL narrowly work in their entire season while the NBA played a packed, abbreviated schedule.
The draft came in the NHL and nothing was in place. Ok. I accept that because most of those kids won’t fit into the CBA except maybe the top-20 who would fall under the ELC rules. Before we knew it, July 1st rolled around and like in the past few years, the checkbooks flew open and the number of zeros that were being tossed around was staggering. Most notably was the signing of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to mind-blowing 13-year, $98 million contracts.
Then, last Friday night, the first shot came across the bow coming from the guns of the NHL. Player share to be reduced from 57% to 46%. Maximum contract lengths to be capped at 5 years. A player must be in the league for 10 years before becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Now, other than the eye roll and chuckle I belted out when I first read this, I didn’t give it any thought. Social media outlets had differing reactions. I tried to quell the “doom-and-gloom” by reminding people you never buy a car or house and immediately go in with asking price. You low ball and hope to negotiate a figure both sides will be comfortable with.
But late last night, Philadelphia Flyers owner, Ed Snider, may have given a loaded gun to the NHLPA. By submitting an offer sheet to Nashville Predators defenseman, Shea Weber, he told the Players that some of the owners, at least in their hearts, didn’t agree with the offer. Sure, all the owners want to make more money; that’s why they’ve invested much of their wealth into their franchises. But to say the players (who when it comes down to it, do all the work and are the ones we, the fans, pay to see) need to take an eleven percent revenue cut and limit their contracts to just five years, then offer one man a 14-year contract worth in upwards of $115 million goes to show that not all the owners want to play by the same rules.
To put some of the numbers in perspective: the amount of money offered to Weber in the first five years of the offer equates to 63% of the TOTAL WORTH of the Nashville Predators.
So, when it all comes down to it, it’s not really the owners versus the players. This fight is the owners of Phoenix, Columbus, Tampa Bay and maybe even the Dallas Stars against the league’s “muscle teams” of New York Rangers, Philly and Detroit. The owner’s refusal to pool the money and more evenly distribute amongst the “lesser” teams will put padlocks on the arenas and many people out of work.
Personally, I’ll have to explain to a two year old little boy who is madly in love with the sport why he hasn’t gotten to see the “hockey men” in a long time. I guess I’ll have to start by telling him that in the “real world,” enough really isn’t enough. Unfortunately for the owners in the NHL, the fans have been raised to think differently. After 2005, the fans came back. In 2012, with all the minor league teams that have popped up in the last 5-10 years, enough will be enough.