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.