Friday, September 17, 2004
A new meaning for fantasy hockey
By Terry Frei
Special to ESPN.com
The sound you just heard was National Hockey League higher-ups checking and then re-applying the locks on the rink doors.
Perhaps that might seem like a mundane task for higher-ups, but those folks have to have something to do as they continue to collect their paychecks with no bargaining sessions scheduled. Plus, many of the league's foot-soldiers who might be entrusted to do such checking have been furloughed, without pay. Given the league's $300-million strike fund, that's a cynical gesture, especially in the wake of the marathon hours many of those folks put in at the World Cup.
But life goes on.
NHL players have some options, and not all of them involve tee times. The four-on-four carnival of Original Stars Hockey League. The World Hockey Association, whose business model is based on -- how's this for irony? -- controlled costs and a salary cap. European leagues, involving escape-hatch contracts.
So as the players consider their choices, what will we do to get our hockey fix?
Here are some suggestions:
FANTASY LEAGUES: No, we won't have "real" statistics to plug into the rosters, but this is even better.
This time, it can be real fantasy leagues.
Those of us on the wrong end of the generational ice to naturally pick up computer and video-game intricacies -- "Pong" and "Pac Man" were about the
limits of our comprehension -- can consult the 11-year-olds in our midsts. Then we can dive into one of the computer hockey simulation games on the market.
One hint: If Francis Lessard is leading the league in goals after the first month, we did something wrong and need to call the technical-help line and sit through the three-and-a-half-hour hold time waiting for the next available service professional to get this resolved.
And if we want to do it another way, we simply play the season in your mind and put it on paper. Get the original NHL schedule, have a 15-person league, and assign every game to a member. The member writes a 200-word story and a scoring summary for the assigned game. Circulate the stories via a daily email and compile statistics. Make it real whimsical stuff: Imagine and write about games without clutching and grabbing, the trap, disc jockeys on microphones in the crowd during stoppages, "kiss-cam," and please-cheer-now begging on the scoreboard.
ALTERNATIVE PURCHASES: Season-ticket holders can use the money they save to buy Porsches.
ALTERNATIVE VIEWING: Watch games on ESPN Classic and before long, become accustomed to the tiny goalie pads, markedly slower skating and even -- if the game is of the right vintage -- hair flying.
EXPAND HOCKEY HORIZONS: Doesn't it drive you nuts when some guy whose brain has been addled by too much hairspray talks about "hockey going away" or "the game shutting down"?
The NHL is only the top of the food chain.
During the lockout, we can discover, rediscover or become further immersed in hockey on other levels. Wander down to a rink and watch drop-in, pee wee,
high school, Tier II, college, major junior ... whatever is available, whether our kids are playing or not. If an appropriate league, try to put up with the obnoxious boors among the parents, or simply tell them they're making fools of themselves and let the kids play. In the United States, take a USHL road trip to watch, say, the Waterloo Black Hawks, who don't televise their games locally, either; or the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. In Canada, check out the Rimouski Oceanic schedule and catch Sidney Crosby in person.
READ BOOKS: Pick up Ken Dryden's classic, "The Game," in either the 20th anniversary or the vintage edition; Roy MacGregor's brilliant novel, "The Last Season"; or any of the many other quality works on hockey. Come to think of it, we also could draw for names and order Christmas gifts for everyone involved in the lockout: "Hockey for Dummies."
MEDIATE A SETTLEMENT: It would be easy. Or it should be. Since it's not just about dollars, but semantics and line-drawing in the sand, here's one way it could be done.
The NHL won't accept a luxury-tax based system.
The NHLPA won't accept a salary cap.
So the NHL and NHLPA agree to adopt a "payroll parameter" system. It includes annually negotiated and adjusted threshold figures, with both a floor and ceiling. Teams can go above the ceiling, but they pay an additional $2 for every $1 they go above that threshold. One dollar goes to a general league fund, to be dispersed to all teams above the "floor" minimum, and $1 goes to either Hockey Canada or USA Hockey, the governing organizations for North American grass-roots hockey.
It walks like a duck and it talks like a duck, but it is neither a salary cap nor a luxury tax. It is revenue sharing and a "nurture the game" subsidy, not placing a cap on salaries -- but providing considerable incentive for franchises to stay below the ceiling. Plus, creative accounting won't be allowed.
Anybody else have ideas?
Have Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux be at the forefront of the negotiations from the owners' side, because of the weight they carry with the players?
Bring everyone to a Chicago airport hotel, post "Hockey Gladiators" contestants at doors, and not let the NHL and NHPLA reps leave until they reach a settlement?
We'll have plenty of time to pass around other ideas.
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of the just-published "Third Down and a War to Go," and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon
Coming," recently reissued in paperback.