Tuesday, January 18, 2005

One way or another, it's up to players

Forget all the rhetoric and back-and-forth about who is to blame and who needs to concede what. The NHL and the players union are run by the two biggest obstructors to peace on ice since Bob Probert and Tie Domi. Both sides are to blame. Blame is irrelevant. What matters is what can be done, and what must be done, to save the NHL.

There is one group of men who can forge a deal that will save the league. (Hint: It's not the guys who wear suits and ties and watch games from luxury boxes.)

Only the players have to power to end this whole sorry affair. Because they're the only ones who care.

Let's face it: The owners are rich, and probably will stay rich whether or not the NHL goes under like the Rangers on a playoff run. Gary Bettman will tell you how much he loves the game, how much it hurts him to not be playing hockey. But the fact is, Bettman doesn't play hockey. Probably never has. Hockey may provide him with a title and a lot of face time, but the fact is, he collects a paycheck no matter how long the NHL rinks stay empty. For most of the owners, it's the same way.

To the extent that their teams are successful and money is in their pockets, the owners are fans of the game. But money is decidedly flowing out of their pockets, right into those of the players. Which means they can and will wait as long as it takes to reverse that trend. And that tells you all you need to know about the extent of their interest in the great sport of the frozen pond.

The players, on the other hand, have a couple of incentives to get the league going as soon as possible. First, they have a livelihood to think about. Most are young, naive, not particularly well-educated, with young wives and families to think about. They play a game they love and are well-paid for doing so. Even with the possibility of alternate North American leagues or pro teams in Europe, they must realize that the type of money to be made off the prestige and popularity of the NHL is unmatched anywhere else in the world.

Second, the players are hockey players. Say what you will about the greedy, jaded athlete of the 21st Century -- when it comes down to it, these guys know they are living a dream come true. Today's NHLers grew up idolizing stars like Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, and Patrick Roy... And now they are wrecking the chance to build on that legacy, all in the name of an ancillary million here or a few thousand there.

Even in the face of a stern, wagging finger from NHLPA head Bob Goodenow -- who if nothing else has been a remarkable champion for the NHL agent -- it's becoming clear that some of the game's stars won't stand by while their boyhood game is destroyed.

Brendan Shanahan organized a summit on rules changes that could improve the game. Jeremy Roenick spoke out about the need for a deal to get done soon. Trevor Linden spurred on a new round of labor talks which he hopes will bridge extensive gaps in the two sides' bargaining philosophies. And remember: It was the players who took the first step towards reconciliation, offering a 24 percent salary rollback in December.

No one is criticizing the union for bowing under the enormous pressure of the fans, the owners, and the skeptical players themselves; and no one should if and when they do crack. The players must come to the realization that it is they -- not the owners -- who have everything to lose by sitting out. The owners are not the ones uprooting their homes and leaving their families to play pro hockey in places like Italy and Norway for $1,000 a week. The owners will retain their millions, NHL or not.

The only question left is, How long before they come to their senses? How long before the players grasp the harm they are doing to their careers and the game they love by haggling over a few million dollars? How long can they shoestring it out working on farms and selling printer ink while the owners uncaringly flip through stacks of money?

Their resolve is admirable, but their sensibility is not. Eventually someone surely will realize the owners have no impetus to return the game to the ice unless a deal is in place that guarantees them an opportunity to advance their position on the Forbes 500 list. And when that happens, no amount of Goodenow posturing will prevent the avalanche of support the players will receive. In the end, the players have the opportunity to come out looking like the good guys. It's an opportunity they'd be foolish to pass up.

62 Comments:

  • At 2:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    hey mike, are you sure your last name is casey and not milbury---you sound like a shil for the owners. the owners agreed to pay these guys their contracts(no guns to their heads)any other business run as badly as the nhl should fold. blame slats and msg-- see what he did when sacic was a free agent--- that escalated the entire pay structure and the other owners couldn't keep themselves in check(no pun intended)--- the forbes mag had it right they're hiding plenty and they want to hide plenty more!!!!!!! on the backs of the players.

     
  • At 2:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

     
  • At 2:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

     
  • At 2:29 PM, Blogger Bassett said…

    love how people will say a whole bunch of junk behind an anonymous post...

     
  • At 6:53 PM, Blogger Mike Casey said…

    Mr. Anonymous, thank you for your comments. However, I'm afraid you missed the point of my blog. No one is heaping blame upon the players for what is going on. I'm simply trying to promote the understanding that the owners have no impetus to return the league to the ice. They are all millionaires and billionaires as it is, so it makes no sense to them to continue spending money on a venture that loses them money. They will wait as long as they have to. The players, on the other hand, have much more to lose. Which is why I believe it's ultimately up to them to make a move... Because the owners just are not going to budge -- they have no reason to.

     
  • At 6:59 PM, Blogger Mike Casey said…

    Also, one correction on Anonymous' comment: I believe Joe Sakic was a free agent following the 1997 season, at which time Neil Smith was the Rangers' GM. Smith, not Glen Sather, was the one who made the $7 million/year offer to Sakic -- which was ultimately matched by the Colorado Avalanche.

     
  • At 9:21 AM, Blogger Season tkt Hostage said…

    At first thought, I supported the owners in this lock-out situation, because things need to be fixed in this league. Then as the lock-out dragged on I really began to reflect on the situation, and realized that the owners have absolutely nothing to lose. They are sitting on the season ticket money that they recieved from the loyal fan base, collecting interest on that money. They are still making money from their teams with whatever apparell and other team related items they sell, and if they are fortunate enough to have other events at the areanas in place of the cancelled games they are still making money. So I feel that the fans should go on strike.....refuse to purchase anything related to NHL, it is a small gesture and the fat cats who run the league probably won't care, but at least we would show them that we are not taking this laying down. You want economic certainty, next time you are about to throw a paycheck to someone for 100 million stop and think how that would effect you in the long run, and stop blaming the players for your apparent economic incompitence.

     
  • At 11:02 AM, Blogger maydog said…

    I HATE idiots who say fans should strike. Yeah keep believing that will make a difference, tool...

     
  • At 11:27 AM, Blogger Andre said…

    I agree with Mike, but there is much more to this then this Lockout than the financial situation of the game.


    In 1980 a group of 20 young men took a moribund Country, mired in sadness and confusion, and displayed courage, sportsmanship and strength of character. Together, with great coach, these Hockey players, played a role in changing the fortunes of a nation struggling with its identity.

    In the 25 years since the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Olympics, Hockey is largely forgotten in America. We are now a nation that is amazed by auto racing, baseball, football and basketball. These are all fine sports. I happen to be a fan of baseball and football, not so much the others. That aside, where did Hockey go?

    You would think that after the event in Lake Placid, the youth of America, Canada, and other parts of the world would take interest in the game. Afterall the game has speed, grace, and requires ability unlike any sport played throughout the world. We can all run, many of us can catch a ball of some kind. But Hockey, requires the abilty to skate, shoot a puck, stop an opponant from scoring a goal, sacrife for your team.

    None of this has been Marketed properly. Instead, Hockey has been allowed to become publicized as a game of violence. Fighting. Anger. A "Blood and Guts" game where players look to cause injuries.

    Now, in the midst of a lockout that seems to have no end, the game is nearly forgotten.

    Who's to blame for all of this dispare?

    All of us.

    The NHL never took the necessary steps to create a strong and continuous marketing campaign to promote the game. They never capitalized on the glory on 1980. Throughout the years, players and coaches were reluctant participants in interviews, and other fan interaction events which kept new fans from learning about, and loving the game.
    The Players, Coaches and GMs seem to just want to play the game. That's fine. But they may want to consider where the salary they earn comes from.

    The Owners never forced the players to be accountable. They just continue to pay the saleries, higher and higher they go. Players who may not even be good enough to play in the NHL of the 70s and 80s are now making millions of dollars. I am a long-time fan of the New York Islanders. Some of the players making $1 million plus couldn't even make the Islanders of 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982. And, that team would be impossible to put together for less than $100 million in salary. The same could be said of the Edmonton Oilers of the same era. Who would have thought that a 25 goal scorer in the NHL would be worth $2 or $3 million per year?

    Back to the Players--it never seams to be their fault. They sign their $5 or $6 million contract, and then underperform. Then, they blame the coach, or the players around them. Maybe its the fans fault. What a bunch of babies. They wonder why the game has been sliding in to lethargy? In case a player chooses to read this I have a tip; We pay your salary. At $65-$75 per ticket, you may want to occasionally support our needs. Sign an autograph or two. Sit down and make yourself available for interviews. Let us interact with you. And for you Management wonks: make the players take the time to promote the game. That should be part of the strategy to reconnect the sport with the public.

    Back to the NHL--when you hear the constant barage that Hockey is violent, its no good--say something to prevent people from thinking that it is. The suspention of Todd Bertuzzi is great. But, more must be done to change the image of the game. More must be expected of the players to prevent these types of events from taking place. It is contingent of the NHL to embrace the players in a dialogue to prevent the violence from being the central debate about Hockey.

    The fans play a role in this too. We have not been loud enough to prevent the kind of behavior we have been seeing from the NHL, the owners, the players. We hold the cards in our hands. We buy the tickets, the merchandise and watch the game we love on television. We must be more vocal in our support and our censure of the game and its participants as needed.

    So what can done?

    This shouldn't be a moan and grown session.

    What suggestions are out there that can fix this game?

    Well, I will start the ball rolling, even though some of you may think I am nuts.

    #1) Players should accept a salary cap at $45 million per team. Signing bonuses should be eliminated. Free Agency should be allowed at 29 years of age rather then 31. No Rookie should earn more then $850,000 in their first 4 seasons.

    #2) Enlarge the ice surface to Olympic size. This will open up the game significantly and allow skill players to shine.

    #3) Raise fines on "intent to injure" penalties. A "3-strikes" system may be a good way to go.

    #4) Fighting must be banned from the game. I know its kind of fun for us old time fans, but it is going to difficult to get the next generation into the sport if all it is is fights.

    #5) The NHL MUST hire a first class sales and marketing team to promote the game, the star players, etc.

    #6) The talent pool is dwindled because there are too many teams. It is over expanded and time to contract. Carolina, Columbus, Nashville, Phoenix are all seemingly weak franchises.

    #7) Salary balance between Canadian teams and American teams must be created. This is very difficult to do, but I believe for the NHL to have success, the league must do something.

    #8) Engage high-power people to promote the game. John Kerry ran for President and is a big Hockey fan. The NHL should capitalize on that. President Clinton attended Capitals game during his term. That must be promoted.

    These are just some loose thoughts. By all means, add to the list.

    We can all contibute to a new Miracle on Ice, if we make enough noise. Let the NHL and its players know we care. Write letters to the Editor, the NHL. Let 'em know your out there.

     
  • At 3:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm not a hockey fan, I should state up-front. But I've been thru the labor agreement blues as a baseball fan. And the thing is, salary caps are un-American. In our capitalist society, if you can't run a business to make money, you go out of business.

    Except, obviously, when what you sell is truly a necessity--NOT a necessity for happiness or peace of mind. But really necessary. Like food and air.

    If Kansas City doesn't support its team, then they voted on not having a team.

    Salary caps are owners saying to the players: Hey, swear off making money above a certain point because we can't trust ourselves to pay you within what we can afford to pay. It's institutionalized collusion.

    Yes, I work for a living. I prob'ly couldn't afford to take, say, a coupla kids to a hockey or basketball game. But I don't want to hear that these many-times ungrateful athlete--that's a different issue; if you don't like them and don't want to pay them, stop watching the games, either in-person or on TV--aren't worth their salaries. Neither are movie stars.

    Police, firemen, and teachers--I'm not any of those--are the ones who ought to be paid like superstars. And doctors and nurses are of more value to us. The real list of valuable workers goes on some before you reach where it says "pro athletes".

    But it's plain wrong to ask them to volunteer to limit their earnings because franchise owners, as individuals, can't discipline themselves.

     
  • At 12:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    As a hockey player and fan, and also a volleyball player, I have seen what can happen to a lucrative pro sport that cannot find a significant tv fan base to support its payroll.
    Does anyone remember the AVP, Association of Volleyball Professionals? There was a time when it seemed everyone was into beach volleyball. It was going to be the next big thing. Salaries jumped, superstars were marketed, movies were made, the Olympics made it a medal sport and hot ticket (live hot ticket I might add), and then what? Where is it today?
    There are similarities between the AVP and NHL., fans of both sports LOVE the game, it's just that there are not alot of people who care enough about it or know enough about it to make it a casual interest sport, one you can just turn on and be interested in.
    Hockey has always portrayed itself as the 4th major sport, and I have always defended that, due to my love of the game, but realistically no one seems to care if there's professional hockey or not. The TV ratings are horrible, newspaper coverage is at times non-existent, Tampa wins the Stanley Cup and then disappears (just like Orlando in the AHL)?
    Come on guys get it together and figure out how to play, now. You're getting paid for playing a sport we love, even if we are a minority, realize what you have and decide if it's worth throwing away.
    I have a hard enough time convincing people here in Florida about how great hockey is, I need live games to take them to.

     
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    Anyway, I was speaking to a techi guy at work who gets to know all the latest stuff and he uses the free Link Referral Program at http://marketingexperts.wordpress.com.

    His website on seo workshop amongst other stuff has seen traffic explode since he started using the Link Referral Program - consequently his affiliate sales commissions and business sales went through the roof PLUS his website increased in google ranking which was an added bonus!!

    If anyone else has any good ideas for driving more traffic to blogs/websites then please share with your online business blog buddies. Ta ;-)


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