NHL Hockey: Enjoy it while you can

02.13.04

That’s the prevailing theme these days among hockey fans, as we watch this season with the knowledge that next season might not happen. A lockout is looking likely, cause the players and the owners can’t seem to even sit down at the table together to talk, let alone come to an agreement.

The key issue is the players’ union’s absolute refusal to tolerate even mention of the words “salary cap”, and the owners’ insistence that some sort of salary regulation is necessary, as the situation is getting out of control. A strategically-timed report released today suggests that 76% of revenues were used to pay player salaries last season, and that most of the teams lost money – a total loss of $273 million.

If the owners lock out the players, they’ll be the bad guys. And the players really do hold most of the cards here, because they can play elsewhere – Europe for example – while the owners spin their heels. But that doesn’t make the Players’ Association right.

A salary cap won’t put any players in the poorhouse. Far from it. All it will do is keep salaries at a semi-reasonable level for those superstars that are making obscene amounts of dough. Talent is talent, but the game would be much more exciting if the small-market teams could afford to sign the top talent as well. (Mind you, recruiting big-name stars at high salaries hasn’t exactly paid off for the Rangers…) But paying what the market will bear is one thing. Engaging in bidding wars that end up awarding guys like Jaromir Jagr $11 million a year. $11 million??? What can you buy with 11 that you can’t buy with 10? A salary cap would allow all teams to have a fair shot at obtaining top talent, making the league more competitive and the seasons more exciting.

Sure, maybe this report was released a bit too conveniently to sway public opinion. But frankly, I think the players are going to have to face facts sooner or later. I hope they come to their senses before a lockout costs us fans the 2004-05 season.

In the meantime… Go Habs Go!

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