NHL shoots for what NFL has | TheUnion.com

NHL shoots for what NFL has

Listen up area hockey fans.Both of you.

OK, seriously, this is my first official column concerning the National Hockey League – although it really has very little to do with the actual game itself.

In fact, at this point, we’re not exactly sure whether there will ever be another game played in the NHL.

“When we ultimately make the deal that has to be made, we will see whether or not there is time for a season or some semblance of a season,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told ESPN.com Thursday. “If there is, great, and if there isn’t, then we’ll deal with the next season when it comes along.”

Doesn’t exactly have you speeding down to San Jose to stand in line for Sharks’ season tickets, now does it?

Of course, the lockout imposed unanimously by the league’s owners Thursday is all about money. The owners say they’re tired of bankrupting their budget to meet their overpriced payrolls.

And sure, it’s not such a tough task to paint the players as the poster boys for greed. After all, the average player salary is $1.8 million per year.

But really, who is at fault here?

Isn’t this simple economics?

Supply and demand?

The owners say the players want too much money and the players say they’ve earned it. Both sides are right, and if the owners ever want to make real progress on implementing a salary cap, they’d be better off admitting that sooner than later.

Yes, the fact that the Colorado Avalanche’s Peter Forsberg and New York Rangers’ Jaromir Jagr were each paid $11 million last season may seem pretty excessive – just as is the case with the multimillion dollar deals dealt to professional athletes in the NBA, NFL and MLB.

But can you blame them?

If I offer you a million bucks to do your job, are you going to turn it down? (This is assuming you are not a pro athlete currently eligible for salary arbitration). That’s how this happened, of course.

The very millionaires or billionaires who say player salaries are bankrupting their franchises are the same millionaires or billionaires who, apparently at some point, agreed to sign those pay checks.

I feel for the owners, though.


I look at their situation very much like that of my own right here in the western Nevada County real estate market. Sure, the average cost of a home here seems pretty excessive as well. But, though I can dream, it’s not like I expect those prices to fall when people are still willing to pay. I also don’t envision the homeseller, much like a pro athlete, turning down the top-dollar offer.

But the owners of pro sports franchises have an advantage over us prospective homebuyers. It’s much easier to set the market price, when there are only 30 or so of you funding that market.

And that’s exactly where the NHL owners are today strong-arming the players union to get salaries under control by capping the amount each team can spend.

The players, though, aren’t ready to kill their cash cow.

“Until he gets off the salary-cap issue, there’s not a chance for us to get an agreement,” union head Bob Goodenow said.

Bettman said the owners won’t back down – this time.

“The union is trying to win a fight, hoping the owners will give up,” he said. “That will turn out to be a terrible error in judgment. They are apparently convinced that come some point in the season, the owners’ resolve will waver and I’m telling you that is wrong, wrong, wrong.”

The best-case scenario?

All professional sports leagues follow the lead of the NFL and implement a true salary cap, with penalties in place for exceeding it. There’s no question in what the cap has done for pro football across the country, with teams being capable of going from worst to first in the matter of one offseason – as each franchise finds the best use for the same amount available for player salaries.

Look around the NFL, each team – except, of course, the Arizona Cardinals -seemingly starts the season with a real shot at the Super Bowl. That means each city across the country has reason to be excited about their team’s chances.

And each fan then is more likely to plunk down $40 per seat, believing that this just might be “their” year.

Even area hockey fans.

Like both of you.


Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. He may be reached via e-mail at brianh@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4240.

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