A Guaranteed Ending To The Labor Dispute

Today the NHLPA and NHL rejected each other’s plans to solve their labor dispute leaving the season basically in ruins for 2004-05. It could be argued that the two sides couldn’t be further apart philosophically.

The NHLPA offered a dramatic 24% cut to salaries and offered a luxury tax. The league came back with a more detailed salary rollback that is more kind to the players who make less and a salary cap. Both sides publicly said it will be our way or the highway. No new talks are scheduled.

In explaining the situation to my girlfriend in non-hockey speak I suggested this weekend as we were looking at a new car for her that the process could be summed up right in the dealership. “Imagine you walked into the dealer looking for a convertible. In fact you have been dreaming and saving you whole life to own a convertible and now is the day you might buy one. The salesman greets you and spends a few second qualifying you. Immediately, he start to sell you a station wagon with a big sunroof. He tells you it is 24% off and that is a great deal because you know cars have 5 to 7% profit margin in most every car sold today. BUT you came to the dealer for a convertible. What do you do?” She responds “I walk out of the dealer.” And she is right however with cars you have a fully elastic product. Where we live you can find another dealer right around the corner. With the NHLPA they don’t have anywhere to go. Europe – yes some will go but with average salaries in the 500k range – it ain’t the NHL…

The players and PA need to get something through their thick Jofas REAL SOON. Unless your name is Mario Lemieux, YOU DON’T OWN THE TEAMS! Period. You have no CBA and decreasingly no say in the deal. What you DO have is incredibly highly paid contracts that are on the verge of being flushed down the toilet when the NHL breaks the NHLPA union. Players like John LeClair stand to lose 18 million dollars over 2 years. Yahsin will lose even more. The players also have the responsibility of protecting the game they are blessed to play for future generations. Their in ability to negotiate a salary cap like the ones found in the FAR MORE SUCCESSFUL leagues known as the NFL and NBA is criminal.

Putting aside how Gary Bettman could have done his job better (that is an entirely different, yet equally frustrating topic) the reality is the NHLPA should be trying to hang on to whatever they can keep of their current contracts while negotiating as high a cap as they can get. This should include all sorts of changes to the game, arbitration, free agency and more.

A few predictions:

1. The NHL will go from a 2.1 billion dollar business to a 1 billion dollar business at BEST – by the time the puck drops next September.

2. The NHLPA will be broken if they do not accept a cap.

3. Players WILL return to play in the NHL at greatly reduced salaries. You will not see minor league teams dressed in NHL jerseys come next fall.

4. The NHLPA will most likely come back to the table and accept a cap at the last moment to try to save face next fall when they could have worked one now and save the business of the NHL.

5. If another auditor came it to redo Levitt’s numbers he would find the same results. Levitt is HIGHLY respectable, highly successful and have NO reason in the world to lie or cook the books as Goodenow suggest that he did.

I am no fan of Gary Bettman’s performance over the last 10 years but to see the NHLPA suggest that it is the owner’s fault completely that prices for players have skyrocketed is INSULTING to the fan. Have you ever met an agent? I have an entire floor of them in my office building and I can tell you they are a special breed. They will do ANYTHING to get their client their money which is their sole purpose. How does a big market team like Philly come back to their championship starved fans and say “We deiced to let 4 time 40 goal scoring John LeClair go because $9,000,000 a year for 4 years is too much money?” Their would be a revolt on Broad Street. Salary aribtration in the NHL as it currently stands is a joke and the agents use it against the teams to get the most for their players. With a cap, this problem is far less severe. Yes more players move from team to team but you don’t have the disparity between franchises.

In the end – the players will get what they deserve which is FAR less than a 24% roll back. They have NO other market to go to in order to get the money they lust for. Sadly, the player’s unwillingness to work inside of parameters that have proven HIGHLY successful for other leagues, will set the business of the NHL back 15 to 20 years leaving young, promising players out in the cold. Sadly, their lack of compromise and utter, disgusting greed will ruin the spirit of the game leaving it at best behind PGA golf, NASCAR and maybe even Arena Football in the hierarchy of pro sports.