October 29, 2004

Memo to the NHL and the NHLPA

Commissioner Bettman, NHL club owners, and members of the NHL Players’ Association:


Let’s face the facts—professional hockey in the United States is the fourth-tier sport. I live in a hockey town. I live in a hockey town that is home to a Stanley Cup-winning team. Granted, I also live in a town where football is king, and the NFL team has won five Super Bowls. But still, our hockey club is the only other team in the metroplex to have won a championship in its league. You would think that the fact they are not playing right now would be news.

I remember during the last baseball lock-out the near-daily updates on the negotiations. Yes, for the general public to continue to be made aware of the situation, you guys must be at the bargaining table. No bargaining means no agreement, and no agreement means no playing. No playing means NO FANS. No fans mean hockey remains the fourth-tier sport. Maybe even falling to fifth-tier, if Major League Soccer continues to draw fans.

Players, let’s be brutally honest: the vast majority of you are incredibly overpaid. You get paid to play a game. Most hockey fans would love the chance to do for free for a week for what you get paid to do. I realize the competition is fierce. I realize it is an incredibly demanding game, both physically and mentally; this is one of the reasons I love the sport. But it’s still just a game. You get paid to play a game. You should fall on your knees and thank Almighty God every morning and every night for such an opportunity.

Do not take this to mean that I am in the owners’ favor. I do not wish to see the players get screwed so the fat cats get fatter. But let’s face it—a lot of the players are fat cats, too. Both sides have room to budge. The fact that hockey clubs are losing hundreds of millions of dollars says that not all owners stand to make big bucks by the players agreeing to a salary cap. A cap has certainly not dampened the NFL or NBA. Major League Baseball has gotten away with no salary cap thus far, but then again, it’s Major League Baseball, America’s game. The NHL—the league office, the owners, and the players—cannot think to compare itself to Major League Baseball. The two are not in the same, well, ball park. Notice how no one says “They’re not even in the same ice rink.”

If the NHL—the league office, owners, and players—want to see the NHL pick up more fans, see more games on television (How about holding ABC/ESPN to their original contractual obligations, Mr. Commissioner?), and see the sport at the same level as the NFL, the NBA, and Major League Baseball, there has to be a season.

Put aside your collective pride. Meet at the bargaining table. Hammer out the details of a new collective bargaining agreement or agree to a salary cap. Get the players dressed out, on the ice, and playing hockey. Right now, you’re just giving sports fans more of a reason to watch McNabb and Shaq, and I’m bored with them. And basketball season hasn’t even started.

Posted by retrophisch at October 29, 2004 10:44 PM | TrackBack