NHL needs fans to heat up the ice
By Mark Howard, Commentary
July 05, 2005
Kiss and make up already!
A collective bargaining agreement between the National Hockey League
Players Association and the owners is about to be forged. More
importantly, it will finally end a lockout that erased the 2004-05
season and left a black mark on the once proud sport that will take a
long time to erase.
By all accounts, the new deal should be announced before next Friday,
and this new deal will bring a new world order to the NHL. The
smaller market teams will be able to compete on more equal footing
with the larger, free-spending franchises.
The numbers vary depending on who you're talking to, but most agree
there will be these major changes:
Salary cap somewhere between $33-40 million per team.
Minimum payroll in the high 20s of low 30s for each club.
One-time 24 percent rollback in player salaries.
Salaries tied to between 54 55 percent of the revenues.
All of the above could end up being great for the Predators.
But when the NHLPA and commissioner Gary Bettman finally seal this
deal, it will not only end one ordeal but also mark the beginning of
another, more difficult one winning back the public.
After lining up behind NHLPA president Bob "Don't Call Me General
Custer" Goodenow, the union insisted they would absolutely,
positively, never accept a cap. Of course, now the players are taking
this one on their knees and many are not happy about it. "The whole
thing is a farce," Detroit Red Wings goalie Manny Legace told Booth
Newspapers. "We basically sat out for nothing."
The two sides don't need a mediator, they need Dr. Phil. Sure the
players got faced in this deal, but we tried to tell them. There was
no money then and there is even less now to fight over. Don't forget
ESPN pulled its puny television deal off the table, which means
unlike in the National Football League and Major League Baseball, the
NHL owners will get chump change or less in network TV revenues.
We tried to tell the players to accept the take it or leave it $42.5
million cap offer in February, which would have saved the season. But
they left it on the table, and now come out of this looking like the
bad guys. According to the occasionally smart Philadelphia Flyers
forward Jeremy Roenick, "If we would have signed that in February
we would have looked like heroes. Right now we look like a bunch of
The public would not disagree on that point. The players have to
understand in a hurry that most of the people who pay to watch them
play also work hard for their money and won't be holding any pity
parties for them. They didn't just burn bridges with the fans, they
napalmed the river and rebuilding that trust will take time and
effort on their part.
At the same time, the fans have to understand that like children in a
divorce, they often get caught in the middle when a collective
bargaining negotiation gets nasty. Predators fans in particular
should be clued into the fact that they go into this new world order
in better shape that most teams in the NHL. They not only have a low
payroll, but they also have a bevy of young talent on their roster
and percolating up from the minor leagues.
In addition, with the impending salary cap, many teams will have to
dump some high-priced talent. This means the Preds, who will actually
have to spend to reach the minimum payroll number, can get some great
bargains on the free agent market. All of this will give them an even
better chance to compete.
But this isn't a complete cure-all. Many teams like the Red Wings
won't blink in paying the dollar-for-dollar luxury tax to go beyond
the cap. And teams will have to fill the arenas, which won't be easy
especially in Nashville. Many are convinced that apathy and anger
among fans will lead to empty seats, which could sink a number of
franchises already teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. There's no
doubt that many fans who would normally buy tickets have been turned
off and might not ever come back.
But now the game will be coming back. And in our city, it's hard not
to argue that all of these labor pains will be worth it.