Devil's Advocate: Goodenow is right, Bettman is wrong
Almost everyone who is on this site, including myself, any many others have been on the side of the owners and feel it is the players who have caused the most problems that eventually led to this lockout and cancelled season. But let’s look at it from a different point of view to play devils advocate. What really has Goodenow done wrong? The man is doing exactly what he was hired to do, get the best possible deal for his clients. he knows that a world with spending restrictions and linkage is the worst way to go for his players. So really he should not be blamed for the position and stance he is taking.
First of all, he is right in not choosing to trust the owners. Yes I am sure he knows that some owners are losing money, however, he also knows that some owners are not being very truthful in their financial statements. This is what makes defining hockey revenue to be very difficult. For example, Owners can use their own parent companies (like cablevision) to buy skyboxes and then sell them through their parent company leaving this out of hockey related revenues. So when this happens, how can he really know how much the owners are making and losing? He also had good reason to doubt the Levitt report as well. The reason being is that it was not a full audit done by Levitt but more of an overview of the numbers given to him by the owners. Yes the owners have said they are willing to open the books to the PA, however, do those books paint an accurate picture of the state of the teams? Goodenow may be on to something in not really believing the owners. There have been just too many holes in what the owners have been preaching to really find believable.
Secondly, he shouldn’t trust the owners because they refuse to share with themselves. Without any significant revenue sharing plan put forth by the owners, there is no other way to save all those problem franchises. Goodenow knows that the players can only give so much back and even that will not save all these troubled teams. Just look at one of the owners proposals to limit spending to between 34 and 38 million. With teams already losing money spending near 20 million rather than 30 million, how exactly will the players giving back be able to save all these teams? If teams need to spend within a salary range, yet still losing money spending below it, how will it help these teams to spend more? Where will the money come from? And how will there be the competitive balance the league supposedly wants when teams simply cannot compete spending wise even with a salary cap? if the players have to give in significantly on certain issues, the owners really have to find something that at least shows they are compromising as well, and their refusal to share revenues amongst themselves really shows which side is the greedy one. one side giving in on everything and the other side not willing to share is not a strong basis for any partnership.
Third, how bad are things really when there are still teams being sold out there? It would be rather stupid for people to invest in something that is a guaranteed loss. That is what the owners have preached from the beginning, that they are losing everything. Anyone who has the smarts to make millions or billions of dollars in their lifetime would not be that dumb to throw it all away and invest in something that will cost them money with no return. And it certainly is not the player’s fault that teams were sold to people like John Rigas who are now convicted criminals. When teams are still being bought up, even though they are supposedly beyond bankruptcy and teams are sold to a bunch of frauds, how can the players wilfully agree to be partners with such people? There is little wonder why the PA just does not trust the owners.
And in the early part of the last CBA, teams were being sold, moved and things were not working yet the league still renewed the CBA, continued to expand with 4 new teams in the late 90s and small market teams were offering top players offer sheets to restricted free agents (Carolina and Fedorov). So really it appears things are not as bad as they seem. and even if it was that bad, how can this be all the players fault? It wasn’t Goodenow who expanded to non-hockey markets, it wasn’t him who brought in criminals. This was all Bettman’s doing.
And the last couple of years the losses have not been as bad as they were the previous few years. This is because the owners and teams have finally showed some fiscal restraint. The owners and teams are finally learning to control themselves and their spending habits. so why cant this continue in the future? Why does there have to be an idiot proof system when most teams have found a way to control themselves? Owners should know how to run a good business and that is to control their own costs and set themselves reasonable budgets. i mean what kind of accountants forecast budgets that will produce losses for their companies? If the owners themselves took some responsibility on how they spent their money, they would not need the fool proof system they so desire. if the owners want an partnership with the players and have trust between the two parties, the owners first have to trust themselves. Quite frankly the owners don’t which is why the lesser teams need restrictions so that the big money teams don’t price everything beyond what the lesser teams can spend. The players again have good reason to not trust the owners because the owners don’t even trust each other. if that is the case, the players should not be blamed if one team makes money despite spending lots of it while other teams don’t. and again especially if the owners don’t want to share with each other to help each other’s cause.
And throughout the negotiations, which side has given the most? It has been the players. The players rollback offer was a unique concept that did help the owners bring back the level of spend to the mid 50% level of revenues (even using the numbers put forth by the owners). like mentioned above, with current spending habits being more responsible of late, how come the owners could not work with this especially if greater restrictions were placed on rookies, qualifying offers and a better arbitration system? though this move was not popular within the PA, it was very ingenious and significant give back by the players. But all the owners did was spin it for their own PR purposes without taking this as a significant offer which it was. That is not the players fault if the owners don’t think giving back a quarter of their salary is nearly enough.
And after spending the last CBA negotiations in the mid 90s refusing at all costs to accept any luxury tax, the players offered one. and though the proposal had limits and penalties that weren’t too restrictive, i am sure their numbers were negotiable and flexible. yes a 20 cent tax on spending around 45-50 million is not going to deter costs, but to say a luxury tax is not at all feasible is ignorant by the owners. with the right rates, such as a dollar for dollar tax, the owners could have found a way to restrict spending and a method to raise money to distribute to low end teams. to have the side that is giving in on something that does nothing but hurt their own cause is pretty unprecedented and should have been looked at by the owners. Again how can the players be blamed for the owners turning a blind eye? We have to go back again and see that the owners do not want to spend any more than needed and their unwillingness to pool any money to help out poorer teams.
But the biggest give back was the players accepting a salary cap. is 50 million too high? perhaps. but it was a cap nonetheless. Something that they have fought tooth and nail to never ever accept. yet goodenow went beyond his clients and made this offer and put it on the table. we could argue for days about which amount the cap should be at and what other restrictions are needed, but the bottom line is that this was on the table. Certainly they could have come up with something no? I certainly hope that both sides will get back to the table looking at this most recent offer rather than going back to their original positions of linkage vs. no cap.
so really, the argument can be made that it is really the owners side and bettman who are hurting the game and not goodenow. bettman has been the root cause with a grand list of horrific decisions like:
-selling teams to frauds (like John Rigas)
-moving teams to non hockey markets like Carolina and phoenix
-extending the last CBA deal
-expanding too much too quickly
-letting the on-ice product die thanks to his lack of knowledge of the game
Really all goodenow has done has been to do what is right for his clients. Salaries have risen to great heights the last 10 years and players are well taken care of. What was he suppose to do? be like Alan Eagleson? Sure it hasn’t been great for the league to see teams struggling to meet player payroll and earn a profit. Sure it hasn’t been great to see the game deteriorate and have the product become rather bland and boring. But that shouldn’t be up to goodenow. bettman should be responsible to make sure his side is working together rather than against each other and to make sure the league, if suffering, doesn’t suffer too long. He is after all commissioner of the league whose job is to look out for the best interests of all parties involved in the game.
So I think it is best to look at it both ways and see that really both sides can take fault in this and really the players should not be slammed for everything that has gone wrong.