Sunday, October 12, 2003
Updated: October 15, 5:00 PM ET
CBA BLT: A simple meal
By John Buccigross
Special to ESPN.com
"To preserve and renew is almost as noble as to create."
You know, besides that nauseated knot in your stomach, that upon further regurgitation turns out to be a bad CBA BLT: Bettman, Labor and Talking head sandwich.
The NHL will catch a colossal case of the blahs this winter. As in "BLAH, BLAH, BLAH." Talking heads on both sides will slew foot you into submission with their crying and whining on how to split about $2 billion in revenues, while a family of four writes a check for $280 for four decent seats at a game. Unless, you are in New York, then it will run you about $800.
Your role is simple: enjoy the greatest game on earth and put pressure on the players and owners. Understand your power. Write letters, e-mails, perform ritual dances outside Bill Wirtz's house, and make large signs when you go to an NHL rink.
"You walk, I walk."
"Hey, Jagr, I paid $100 bucks for this seat. Make a deal! And for God's sake, stop doubling down!!"
"Tkachuk, what size is your head, anyway!? HEAD!!! MOVE!!!"
We won't spend too much time on the CBA in this space throughout the year, unless there is something worth reporting. For the record here's what I think:
Negotiators will hopefully take the words of Voltaire and the negotiation tactics of Benjamin Franklin to their expensive tables. At the conclusion of the American Revolution, Franklin mistrusted the British, much like NHL players mistrust NHL ownership. However, Franklin negotiated the postwar peace with England like Bobby Orr skated -- free, easy and on open ice.
Franklin proclaimed from the outset what he wanted and what would be good for both the British and the young Americans. This is what the players should demand from their representation. Unlike in 1995, it will take more NHL owners to approve a deal and fewer teams to reject one. That means a small-market, super majority will rule the day. If the deal means they can't make money, there will be no deal. NHL teams, every NHL team, should be able to make at least as much money as the highest paid player, shouldn't they? But the union will delay until the final minute to see if the owners will cave again and make a bad deal. Again, that likely won't happen this time because of the super majority needed to approve a new CBA.
The way I see it, salaries, like ticket prices are basically 15-20 percent too high. So, a player making $10 million, really should be at about $8 million. A player at $5 million should be at about $4 million. No big deal. New York Rangers salaries don't count. The color of the sky in their world is very different from the rest of ours. Considering current revenues, a salary cap of $35 million to $40 million is about right, with a floor of $25 million to $30 million. With little TV money (about $4 millon a team. In the NFL? About $80 million a team.) there HAS to be revenue sharing, specifically PLAYOFF revenue sharing.
Bob Goodenow doesn't want playoff revenue sharing. He wants Detroit, Dallas and Colorado to continue making Vegas-like, high-stake bets. "I'm betting with this expensive free-agent signing (Derian Hatcher, Bill Guerin, Teemu Selanne-Paul Kariya), I'll lose $10 million on the regular season but make $50 million in the playoffs." That thinking drives up salaries. Of course, there are only a few teams who do or can play that game. That squashes competition, which is precisely what professional sports teams sell. NHL teams are not in business to put each other out of business. McDonald's is in business to put Burger King out of business, but if the Rangers put the Penguins out of business, it's bad for the Penguins, their fans, the players, the league, other teams' fans and other players if the team had to fold. The more competitive teams there are, the more successful a league is (see: NFL).
A salary cap would save owners from each other. Like the players, they are competitive and vindictive. However, while Tie Domi can give Scott Niedermayer a concussion, when Mike Ilitch and Peter Karmanos (see: Sergei Fedorov offer sheet) or Jeremy Jacobs (see: Martin Lapointe signing) get into a spat, fans get a trickle down headache.
Make no mistake, the owners made this financial bed. But, again, they are competitive and need protection from each other and any future ownership that comes in and offers big contracts to players for a try at a quick championship and increased value in a team and arena (HELLO, TOM HICKS!!). The players need to realize that a salary cap will likely ensure 30 healthy teams and at least 690 jobs -- and they will STILL be millionaires. I wonder if a secret poll was held and players were asked, "Would you take a 20 percent pay cut to get a deal done? Then any future salary caps, like the NBA and NFL, will be adjusted based on revenues. More revenues, higher cap figure, more money." Would that pass? Of course, some don't even have to take a 20 percent cut. They already have long term deals and are in danger of losing 100 percent of their salary next season and maybe part of the next.
Most important: Is the NHL's figure of roughly $2 billion in revenue accurate? Players argue some owners hide their revenues because they also own entities that do "business" with the team (TV and radio stations, arenas, concessions, etc.). In his book, "May the Best Team Win: Baseball Economics and Public Policy," economics professor Andrew Zimbalist writes that if former Florida Marlins baseball owner Wayne Huizenga's financial statement was adjusted for related-party transactions and bloated costs, what appeared to be a $29.3 million operating loss following the Marlins 1997 World Series was actually an operating profit of $10.8 million.
And this, ladies and gentleman is what the entire issue is centered around: how big is the pie? And will Byron Dafoe sneak in and take a bite while no one is watching?
In the end, I look at this with my simple mind and believe it's not that complicated. It's simple math. The hurdle is getting the players a set of numbers they believe, and getting enough players to understand the issues and to understand what's at stake: the health of the game, the reputation of the players, and the hearts, minds and wallets of the fans.
In the name and spirit of Benjamin Franklin, I say there will not be a work stoppage. The players will pressure Bob Goodenow to use his gifts of persuasion and negotiation to get the actual revenues figures from the NHL. Then, for the sake of the loyal NHL fan in the 30 NHL markets, a system of revenue sharing and a salary cap will ensure the league will move forward without a work stoppage.
Sacrifice, honest effort, and an understanding that anything less then a civil process and timely agreement will be a slap in the face to you.
SHOT OF THE WEEK
Every week we will present an NHL photo and I'll provide a caption. E-mail me your suggestions (include your name and hometown/state) and next week we will use best ones and provide a new photo.
Mario Lemieux to Ed Olczyk:
"Whatever you do Edzo, do NOT puke here. I'll keep the Ivan Hlinka stall open for you."
No. 1: Has anyone ever told you that you look like James Woods?
Jeremy Roenick: All the time.
Jeremy was born January 17, 1970, in Boston, five months before Bobby Orr's post game-winning goal flight against the Blues on May 10.
No. 2: Tell me about your first NHL goal.
Roenick: I know it was in Minnesota against the North Stars and Kari Takko was in net. I was just brought up from junior and I was the only one on the ice who had a jersey with a number AND NO NAME. I was No. 53 or No. 51. I looked pretty ridiculous out there. Brian Noonan threw the puck at the net and it was just sitting there and I skated by and poked it in.
Kari Takko played 142 NHL games, all but 11 for the North Stars. And according to the Chicago Blackhawks media guide, J.R. wore No. 51 and the Hawks beat the North Stars, 4-2, on Feb. 14, 1989.
No. 3: The red line: Should it stay for offside or should it go? Would it help the NHL game?
Roenick: I don't think it would hurt the game. There really is no need for it except for icing. Nobody knows what would happen if you take the red line out, so take it out. Who knows? Maybe it will improve it. You can't find out unless you actually try it. Don't be Neanderthal. Change it.
Jeremy was selected eighth overall by the Blackhawks in the 1988 draft.
No. 4: What could be the result?
Roenick: What would happen is we would be able to dump the puck in earlier. We'd get over the blue line, throw it in and get high on the fore check. We can't do that now.
Jeremy has played in eight All-Star games.
No. 5: What is keeping the league from trying it?
Roenick: It's that word I used before -- Neanderthal. We can't change classic hockey. Sometimes it's what's holding our game back.
DNA from the bones of a Neanderthal baby who died 29,000 years ago offers further evidence that Neanderthals are cousins rather than ancestors of modern humans.
No. 6: When you come down on a breakaway, what goalie DON'T you want to see? A guy who is in your kitchen and who you can't seem to beat?
Roenick: Nikolai Khabibulin. Because he is one of the quickest and one of the fastest and he covers the net as well as anyone. I played with him on my own team and I hated to practice against him.
Jeremy played with Nik in Phoenix.
No. 7: What's the best road city in the NHL?
Roenick: Chicago. My old hometown and still the best. Sweet home, Chicago. Some of the best restaurants, some of the best nightlife, some of the best people.
Chicago has over 6,000 restaurants and a population of over 9 million people.
No. 8: How often do the players talk about a possible work stoppage next year?
Roenick: Every day. There isn't a day that doesn't go by that there is not a question, comment or conversation. And I think it's more of a fear of our game getting thrown in the tank than it is the money. I really feel it's not a money issue with the players. It's our game and we're very proud of it. We all feel it would be a devastating blow to our game.
Thank you for your tremendous article about the events that have transpired over the last week and a half. When I woke up a week ago yesterday, to have my mother tell me that Danny Snyder (she always called him Danny) had been critically injured in a car accident, I was blown away. I have known Dan Snyder for as long as I can remember. We grew up together, went to the same public schools in Elmira, and played on the same Woolwich hockey teams together as children. In fact, we were linemates for a number of those years, and despite always being the smallest guy on the team, he was always the one with the most heart and determination. The last year I played with Dan, he carried our team on his shoulders all the way to the All-Ontario Final. It was with deep sadness and tremendous heartache that I had to be the one to tell my mom on Sunday night, that Dan had passed away from his injuries.
You will hear accolades from the hockey community, I'm sure. My hope, though, is that your words penetrate the "immortal youth" consciousness, causing someone to drive more carefully than they would have, or just say "I love you" to their mom or dad.
Jerry and Kim
Neil Sedaka pays me five bucks an hour to make hockey predictions. Otherwise, I would just be ignorant in the privacy of my own home.
Picking the Avalanche to finish no better than sixth in the West is not only incredibly ignorant (perhaps the worst prediction in the history of sports prognostication), it is down right insulting. Honestly, does somebody really pay you to make your predictions?
Your analysis of the game of hockey parallels the average American's understanding of the game of soccer and, dare I say it, hockey, itself. Columbus ahead of the Blackhawks and Minnesota? Not funny. If Neil Diamond were here, he'd smack you in the mouth. Leave the predictions to people who've played the game or, heaven forbid, know something about it.
Yours, forever, in battle,
The Hockey Police
In my book, Darcy Wakaluk makes it into the Hall of Fame on generosity alone. When Darcy got traded from the Sabres organization to the Stars organization he gave a goalie friend of mine the rest of his remaining goalie sticks, a couple dozen or so. To this day, my friend hasn't had to buy any sticks! He's still working through Darcy's old stock!
Richter and those other guys were/are OK too, but Darcy's number one in my book.
Ryan M. Smith, TA
Only if I can change my name to John Gatwood. Gatwood?
Just read your article with your picks for the West. I must say that I've always enjoyed your work (both on air and on computer screen), but I shall now consider you the best ever since you quoted my favorite band's lyrics (The Cure) with my favorite team (The Sharks). Is a marriage proposal out of the question? Ken the Otter could be our ring-bearer...
Will you say hello to my brother for me? He is now on the USS Enterprise with his pals, Navy Prowler Squadron VAQ137. Between the prospect of at least five more months at sea, working the night shift on the flight deck, and getting sick from anthrax and smallpox vaccinations, David could use some cheering up. My cookies are already on their way!
Tell them all to log on to ESPN.com and know they are never forgotten here. And, Tess, if you have any extra cookies ...
John Buccigross is the host of NHL 2Night, which airs on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is email@example.com.
Ft. Collins, Colo.