The Slow Death Of The NHL

The Slow Death Of The NHL

“The Coolest Game On Earth”, so the saying goes. It’s a catchy saying, but it may soon need to be revised to “The Coldest Game On Earth”. The NHL is failing, and not just a little bit. Recent reports claim that only 4 of 30 NHL teams are actually making a profit (Toronto, Philly, Detroit, Colorado). It’s a sad time for the NHL as the current collective bargaining agreement is about to expire in the summer of 2004 and a bitter, long, and cold war is going to being staged that will either reshape the NHL or destroy it.

Have you been to a NHL game this year? Have you watched one on TV? The answers two both questions for the common fan are most likely “NO!”. The Boston Bruins are first place in the NHL, they average just over 11,000 fans per game. The Devils and Rangers are bitter rivals, and with the Rangers signing Bobby Holik away from the Devils in the off-season, many would think the rivalry would get that much nastier… Wrong. When the Rangers visited NJ a week ago, there were over 3,000 empty seats, a number that is totally unheard of! Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr just went head to head and less than 12,000 showed up to see Mario vs. Mario Jr. Teams didn’t sell out on their respective opening nights, ticket and parking prices continue to rise, and fans are just not showing up. ESPN cut back 40% of its NHL broadcasts this season because they said they didn’t want to “overexpose” hockey. Right. They cut the games because they weren’t getting the rating to sell ads, plain and simple. People are not watching or going to games, yet salaries continue to skyrocket, a dangerous and potentially deadly mixture.

Attendance is a huge problem with the NHL, but lets take a little deeper look into what is also slowly digging the NHL’s coffin. The Buffalo Sabres franchise was just sold for $60 million dollars to remain in Buffalo… The Rangers yearly payroll approaches $90 million. Something tells me that there is something just not right with that. The New Jersey Devils just found out that they could be more than $50 million dollars in debt after this season and that the new arena they want in Newark, NJ is anything but a sure thing. The Ottawa Senators had to take a lone from the NHL just to cover day to day costs last year. The New York Rangers spent $45 million on Bobby Holik over 5 years. Holik has never scored 30 goals in a season. $9 million per season is supposed to be for “special” players, not 2nd line centers. Fan bases are being eroded because small market teams can’t outbid large market teams to resign their star players. Look at Bill Guerin. Last year, Guerin leads the Bruins to a second place finish for the Presidents trophy. A Bruins ticket was a hot item in Beantown. Over the summer Dallas outbids the B’s for Billy services, and while the Bruins continue to win without him, no one goes to the games anymore.

The NHL has no choice to let the blood continue to gush for another 2 years until the CBA expires. But, come summer of 2004 there needs to be a choice. Option Number 1: Commissioner Gary Bettman plays softball with Bob Goodenow of the NHL Players Association. The NHL continues at the same pace, keeps the CBA relatively the same so that their isn’t a strike in 2004. There will be no salary cap, and salaries will continue to rise without control as the NHL slowly dies out. Option Number 2: Bettman plays hardball with Goodenow. There are no exceptions made. A salary cap is put into place so that salaries stabilize and fan bases get stronger again. Is a strike possible? Yes, in fact it is likely. A strike in 2004, possibly no NHL in 2004 is maybe the only way the NHL stays afloat by 2012. Eventually the NHLPA will realize that they have no choice. Let Jarome Iginla and Doug Weight play in Europe for 20,000 Euro’s a year and then have them come back and complain about $2 million a year.

The NHL has made changes, getting speed back in the game, making goalie pads smaller, trying to get scoring up, yet less and less people pay to watch our beloved league. The current state of the NHL looks something like the balance sheet of Enron a week before they collapsed. Rest assured, if changes are not made, the NHL will indeed collapse.

34 Responses to The Slow Death Of The NHL

  1. mikster says:

    “The Rangers yearly payroll approaches $90 million.”

    Huh? If you count bonuses and incentives the Rangers have close to a $75M payroll. Without bonuses and incentives, the Rangers have about $69M, just a million more than Detroit, and what’s there payroll including bonuses and incentives? Plus…their payroll could get higher once Federov re-signs.

    Holik’s contract is not for over 5 years, it’s 5 years. That’s the best thing to do with UFA’s now, depending on the player. Let the UFA be part of the team for long-term, a short -term contract for about 3 years make him a rent-a-player.

    Is Holik worth $8.5M a season? No. Worth even $7M a season? No way. Devils or the Leafs would have overpaid him anyway, so why point fingers at the Rangers if they paid a bit extra? If he was going to get overpaid anyway, who really cares how much he got in the end. Right now Holik is 1st line center with Lindros as his right wing.

    As for the NHL ticket sales…well, i cannot explain it. It’s gone far too down. When the Devils come visit the Rangers though, it will be a big time sell out.

  2. SabresFanB says:

    I have no problem at all with not seeing any hockey in 2004 as long as a salary cap is put into place. What I don’t want to see is Bettman play hardball for one year then cave in the next. We also need to get rid of guaranteed contracts. The NHL is rapidly falling apart.

  3. MattNJD says:

    From the numbers I saw, If every Ranger get his bonuses their payroll will be around $86 million. I’m just reporting what I read. Also, I am in no way pointing fingers at the Rangers for over paying Holik. Your right, either NJ, TOR or NYR were going to over pay him, but that is the whole point of this article! Its out of control! I don’t care if Holik play lasted game centering NYR’s first line. He’s not a first liner and he will be the first to admit to it. He knows his role and he is an amazing 2 way second line center. Not worth more than $5 million a year AT THE VERY VERY VERY MOST! Someone was going to pay him and it ended up being the Rangers. It needs to stop or else bye bye NHL.

  4. mikster says:

    I’ll take a 50 million payroll, with luxury taxes.

    It won’t be easy for Slats to go down to $50M, but Bure, Richter, and Messier would decrease it to about $51M.

  5. mikster says:

    Where did you read that stuff about $86M??? Reports say $75M at the very most.

    I see your point, sorry. I thought you pointed a finger at NYR.

    Agents are a bunch of dorks. Look at Dafoe, Slegr, McLaren, Iginla…..

    They say “hey, you’re worth more than that.” But in their minds they say “i want more money”.

    Agents kill the game. I think UFA’s should get no more than $6.5M a season contracts. Aribitrators shoudl always favor teams, especially teams with financial struggles.

    If buh bye NHL….a new league will be formed, similar to NHL without homo Bettman. I’ll be all for that.

  6. Leaf_Expert says:

    This is where people who are bashing the Leafs about not spending money will come to realize that Leaf management is one of the best in all of sports…

    If there is a hold-out the leafs are already ready for it….

  7. UsedandAbused says:

    Officiating is the biggest problem I think the NHL has now. They are inconsistant. This frustrates the hell out of fans, and I know many who won’t even watch NHL hockey anymore because of the officiating. Another problem is they are making this into a wimpy sport. They have done away with the fighting all to much, which also takes much of the emotion out of the fans and the players. The next thing they have not done is stick to this interference shit. Why did they stop? The sport is more boring today then I ever remember. Atleast I can enjoy a good NFL game.

  8. titans says:

    I’m telling ya folks do what I did and just stop going! Go to minor league games. If you like hockey, but can’t stand the way the NHL is falling apart go to an AHL or ECHL game. For 10 bucks you can get a great seat and watch a buncha guys on the ice who work hard and actually care. In the NHL you could’nt even pay for parking for 10 bucks, let alone find a player on the ice who cares.

  9. MattNJD says:

    I have been to a few Trenton Titans ECHL games, and I must say that are very very fun to go to. The best seats are around $11 bucks, and parking is around $3. Never a bad seat, never a hassle with traffic. My passion for the NHL still burns though. I could never just stop going. My intrest in the NHL is to deeply rooted and I think supporting teams is one of the only ways of helping this league get back on its feet.

  10. Robert says:

    NHL has screwed up so much, a salary cap is seriously needed. Lower tickek pices, less teams, and if you still want the 30 at least move some where there is great fan base waitying. Quebec, the team will no doubt sell out every game and create rivalries with Montreal and Toronto,. Winnipeg, never should have lost theirs. Even a team for one city in the maritimes, that would create a fan base fom NFLD, NB, NS, and PEI. There is also better american cities then the ones they have now. NHL should take a long and hard look at football and basketball, every team has a fair chance to compete, expansion are succesful in the near future, and rookies usually have a instant impact. One thing the league messed up this year is calling too many penalties. let a few hits go, let the teams all pile up after whistles, this creates tension and great emotion and rivalries. Look at the leafs and Isles game, hitting, fighting, that is a rivalry for years to come.

  11. Tradedude says:

    I heard from THN weekly newspaper that bettman would put a cap in the nhl. and it would be 32$ regardless of there current cap. and only 10 teams are under that amount. my suggestion is to divide the player’s current salary by the payroll of the team and times it by 32,000,000. it would make sense because players would be making a good amount of money and its just fair. no routeene to it. so if Pavel Bure made $10,000,000 this season, i would divide that by $69,400,000 (rangers current payroll) and that would equal the % of money he makes out of the 32 mil then i would times that by 32 million and i would get $4,610,951 rounded to the nearest number. i dont know what they would do in the offseason when the players pay increase + more free agency. so im not really sure how that would work out. again. my suggestion.

    Reality Rules


  12. Robert says:

    not bad. I think 32 maybe a little too low too son. 40-45 would be better.

  13. Tradedude says:

    i think bettman will slight increase cap each yr

  14. cwhockey says:

    While I don’t necessairly agree with the gloom and doom sentiment of what you said, I do agree that the NHL has a huge problem that must be corrected. The financial woes of many teams are a mixed bag of thier own individual troubles and the mis-management of the NHL.

    In whatever form, the league has to stabalize itself. If and when that’s accomplished, the teams will at least have the chance to see some prosperity. With the league in a state of flux, that hint at prosperity is nearly impossible.

    The question is: how does the league stabalize itself? That is an amazingly complex question that has several hundred ever-changing factors to it. Even to list the most important points would take too long. But the new CBA is a place where some of that change can occur. Over the last several months, I’ve heard many good suggestions here about a new CBA, ones that have a real chance at working and making the league better than it is now.

    Unfortunately, adopting those changes isn’t that easy. We all know that hammering out a new CBA is a time-consuming and complex task. But in my experience, a task such as this involves so much more than is seen by the general public. And to make matters worse, both sides seem dead set on what they want, making the process that much tougher. Compromise has to be made by both sides (and it will be) if there is to be a resolution. For us fans, that compromise needs to come sooner rather than later.

    Bettman said something about it being better for the long term health of the league if it has to suffer a bit in the short term. It’s pretty easy to see something very wrong with that statement. But wouldn’t it be better to ease the suffering both short and long term? Of course it would. Some of us will always be fans, but if the suffering is forced to continue over any period of time we just might be the only ones left as fans. Make no mistake, the NHL is gonna be different in a couple of years. That’s already set. The league and the players have to decide if they what that change for the better, or for the worse.

  15. titans says:

    Whoo Hooo! Another person who has seen the light of the Trenton Titans!!

    GO TITANS!!!!

  16. Tradedude says:

    All Bettman wants is less money being payed and im again (exagerating, like always) he wants bowling scores. like he just can’t accept the fact the goalies these days are amazing. it’s really tough to score when you have legendary goaltending almost on all 30 teams.

  17. Rushing says:

    I see the teams you listed but where is Minnesota? They had a $12.1 million operating profit.

  18. habsoverserver says:

    In a lousy economy, it’s not good to be the worst team in the least popular sport. Wait until the economy improves, then attendence will improve.

    If the league wants TV ratings, then they need parity. Parity only comes with a salary cap. It worked for football. It could work for hockey.

    If they want they can shut down the league for a year, hire Europeans and minor leaguers. If they play hard, no one will notice the difference.

  19. MossRocks says:

    And what is their payroll? $25million? Imagine if they had a competitive payroll of $35-40million? Then they would be broke like every other team. They are on their way back down to the bottom of the standings. It was good while it lasted. They need to get some more tips from the Twins on how that ‘smoke-and-mirror’ thing really works.

    I don’t know if you were trying to make a point that the league was in good shape, buit it didn’t work. Five or six viable teams out of 30 still does not bode well.

  20. MossRocks says:

    What’s wrong with pointing a finger at the Rangers? They won the stupidity contest for Holik, that’s all. That makes them the stupidest team of the three. I still don’t see how your argument absolves the Rangers of this stupid move. If he was signed somewhere else, he would be getting less. If the Rangers weren’t involved in the bidding, his price might not have gone up so high either.

    Arbitrators almost always find in favour of the players. However, what are you supposed to do about this? Your suggestion means that they aren’t arbitrators, by definition. Perhaps you could put a cap on the maximum salary to be declared by the player? Maybe let the arbitrator use his mind? Right now they have to choose one offer or the other. The team bids really low, the player bids really high, and then the arbitrator has to choose. He should be able to conjure up any deal he feels is valid – i.e. split the difference, or do something intermediate.

    Players, agents, owners are all equally responsible for the decline of this game. All three are hopelessly greedy and we get to pay for it.

    I am quite positive that officiating is not the problem. Remember these guys have jerks like the GM’s re-writing the rulebook twice per year. Make a final rulebook, let them call the game and no more decrees from above. After 1-2 yrs of this re-evaluate the officials. Most of this anti-referee crap just comes off as whining and poor sportsmanship. (If Poti makes the play properly, there is no debate on this site. You wanted a soft defenseman and you got one.)

  21. MossRocks says:

    Too much interference from the league office. I disagree with the evaluation of officials – they are trying their best. This is the fastest major sport, remember? They should be given a final rulebook and then be allowed to call the game. These guys are being given new ‘interpretations’ twice a year!!! It is ridiculous.

  22. MossRocks says:

    As the resident ‘Chicken Little’ on this site, I applaud your assessment. I have posted a few articles on this site and the debate around the issue suffers from typical socio-political bias. People have to realize that the NHL is the business and the teams are simply subsidiaries. Some wackos seem to think that salary caps were devised by Karl Marx. This is not the case and if so, then every major sport on the continent is Marxist. The other majors have revenue sharing and salary caps and they are more successful. Hockey will have to follow suit. All it takes is some creativity to form a system that works for all of the teams. It is possible to penalize the extravagant without overly indulging the spendthrifts. Recent baseball negotiations and trades indicate that there are some smart men involved. It’s time to use those brains in hockey for more than greed.

  23. Rushing says:

    Do they need it? Look how good they are doing right now!!!! This is last year’s numbers as well. So imagine that their attendance is probably up as well and selling more memorabillia and pulling in more money. Hello.

  24. Sundinfan says:

    This is a stupid question, but I was wondering if canadian teams pay their players in canadian dollars or american dollars. also if when the fans come in if they pay in canadian dollars or american dollars. if they do this salary cap thing, canadian teams would suffer. especially if the fans pay in canadian dollars. If the salary cap is enforced, would their cap be enforced in american dollars or canadian dollars? and, if the cap were to be increased every year as somebody said in a previous response, it’d be different and more complex, pending inflation for both country and exchange rates.

  25. mikster says:

    Rangers needed Holik more than the other two teams. In the long-run, it will be a good acquisition. Right now people say it was a dumb acquisition when the guy played just two 100% healthy games.

    Who’s the stupid one there when Holik is still a Ranger for 4 more seasons?

    Arbitrators favor players too many times, i thikn teams should get favored now.

    It’s all greed in the world now, in every sport as well.

    Officiating is part of the problem. You follow the rule book. Did the guy trip him in front of your eyes? Yes. You must make a call on that play, so why don’t you? Did the guy touch the goalie after he was slashed twice, and on estick up in his mid section? No, but the goalie got him twice. Why should you give both players penalties?

    That’s the problem. The retards call more penalties that they are not so sure of than not calling the obvious dives, trips, holding the sticks, and so on.

    By the way, great game last night against the Cats!!!

  26. MossRocks says:

    The teams collect revenue in Canadian dollars (obviously, we don’t use your money here) and pay all salaries in American dollars. Yes, they get the shaft.

    I don’t understand your concern on the issue. It is a simple currency conversion, what’s the big deal? I see no added complexity. If the exchange rate changes, their revenue changes. So what? It’s pretty easy to convert all salaries and revenue to American dollars for the purposes of both salary caps and revenue sharing.

  27. MossRocks says:

    Yes, elbowing, tripping, hooking, roughing, spearing, boarding and charging are all pretty cut and dry. All of the interference penalties have been mucked with many, many, many times and actually high-sticking has been played around with too. There are no longer 5min majors for high sticking because refs always choose the double minor if the player is cut.

    It is a fast game and they make mistakes. They make the same mistakes on those situations you mentioned that they have been doing for 20 yrs. The real problem is that they keep playing around with other parts of the rulebook and that leads to even more mistakes and is ruining the game. (Lemieux loves it because he gets to play on the PP all the time, but there is no way the game is better.

  28. Sundinfan says:

    after thinking about it, i dont understand my concern about it either, made sense at the time.

  29. MossRocks says:

    Their attendance can’t be up. I think they’ve sold out every game since the team returned to the Twin Cities. 41 sellouts every year. (That’s why the Stars never should have left. Ziegler did the Gund brothers a little favour back then and it was probably illegal) As for merchandise – who would buy that crap? They should have been the North Stars if you ask me. The colours are OK, but the name and logo sucks. (Despite this, they probably sell a little more thanks to Gaborik)

    You’ll notice that they are on their way back down to Earth in the standings. Edmonton, Colorado and even Vancouver started slow in their division. Edmonton has already caught them, Vancouver is past them and Colorado can’t stink forever and isn’t too far behind. They are still a solid team, but I don’t see them in the playoffs in the West. If they want to contend they will have to spend some money, but not right now. This team is being built properly by Doug Risebrough and their payroll will go up eventually as they develop. (I’m not saying they aren’t a well-run organization – I’m just saying they are an exception to the rule in the NHL)

  30. MossRocks says:

    Well, you probably were thinking that the Canadian teams are getting double-fucked right now (and they are) and the salary cap/revenue sharing thing would make it worse. But as long as all of the units (US Dollars) are the same, the numbers will work out.

  31. MossRocks says:

    We seem to disagree a lot… Bettman’s statement was just posturing for negotiation. He’s saying that the NHL is committed to fixing the problem by any means necessary and that includes a strike. Goodenow will trot out the same crap in the next couple of months. Obviously both sides would like to avoid both long-term and short-term suffering.

  32. Leaf_Expert says:

    This is where people who are bashing the Leafs about not spending money will come to realize that Leaf management is one of the best in all of sports…

    If there is a hold-out the leafs are already ready for it….

  33. DG says:

    Very well done.


  34. vasko says:

    Mossrocks has got part of it right. The league does interfere too much. However, the officiating does suck. Take last week’s Flyers/Rangers game – The Flyers picked up two “tickytack’ penalties on Mathew Barnaby; while at the other end offensive threats Gagne and Recchi were being held and tackled throughout the game with no calls.

    To me players like Barnaby, Fedoruck, Mccarthy and Brashear need to mugged before they should get a penalty called against them.

    And yes, there should not have been a penalty shot. Another bad call.

    In the Flyer/Devils game earlier in the week, Brashear awakened on a shift late in the game and began hitting anything that moved. The Devils responded in kind. As the game was gaining in intensity and interest, a penalty was called on Brashear for clean hit against Scott Stevens against the boards (see Barnaby, Fedourek comment above.)

    The bottom line is that too many officials have no feel for the game.

    I’ve been a Flyer season ticket holder for 34 years and have absolutely no intention of re-upping no matter how far they go in the playoffs.

    I thought they would continue to call the interference penalties at least until Christmas. It lasted 2-3 weeks!

    Price is not the predominent reason, lack of hitting,

    no intensity and poor officiating are.

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