Cybernaut 

Hockey is dead — long live hockey

Oh hockey. Poor, sweet, ridiculous hockey…

Regardless of whether you support the owners, the players, or wish both of them had to join the rest of us working nine to five for a dose of reality, it’s a shame it all had to go down this way. So close – just $6.5 million separated the $49 million salary cap the NHL Players Association originally said it would never accept, and the $42.5 million salary cap the league said was its final offer. Former player/owners Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux tried to turn the tide at the 11 th hour by splitting the difference, but even two of the greatest players ever to lace up a pair of skates couldn’t keep the game alive.

Putting that $6.5 million into perspective, the maximum size of an NHL roster is 23 players, not including farm teamers and back-ups, which means that the $6.5 million difference works out to $283,000 per player.

That’s a big pay cut – unless of course you consider that the average NHL salary was $1.8 million last year and that the players themselves were ready to agree to a 24 per cent rollback of their salaries to keep the game going this year. Twenty-four per cent of $1.8 million is $432,000.

Which is just one of the things I find strange about all this. Obviously the players, who clearly don’t trust the accounting of the owners, formed a union to represent their collective interests – not the interests of a few superstars making considerably more than the league minimum, whose rising salaries forced the owners to lock out the players.

My understanding is that the purpose of any union is to represent its least members, the rank and file employees rather than the upper echelon types that make the most money.

Incidentally, the players with the highest salaries are also the players that can afford to weather a long strike, while the players making the least are in rougher shape. Obviously those players have to be concerned about their future earning potential, but I defy you to find one Junior A player with NHL potential who would quit the game if the most they could make in a season is the league average of $1.8 million.

Obviously the star players bring in fans, and they get their teams into the playoffs where extra ticket sales and broadcast rights bring their owners more revenue. They do deserve to be paid more, and are rightly under more pressure to produce. But where do you draw the line?

The league is to blame for all of this. They started it. They expanded the league, they pumped up the player salaries, and they haven’t always been honest or played fair with their employees. They started the bidding wars on star players that pumped up league payrolls, and created a climate where teams are under pressure to re-sign star players or risk losing them to other franchises. Teams like Calgary and Tampa Bay have proved that you can’t buy a Stanley Cup, but that hasn’t stopped rich teams like New York, Toronto, Detroit and Colorado from trying to corner the market on every star free agent.

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