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ESPN story triggers 31 thoughts (take that, Elliotte) on the NHL lockout

A couple of recent Leaf posts for your review...

  • Why Luongo is not the answer for the Leafs
  • Is it time for Burke to get daring again?
  • What moment triggered you becoming a Leaf fan?


I came across a recent piece, I think by Pierre LeBrun via ESPN/TSN, that included an interview with former Buffalo Sabres President Larry Quinn.  If I understood Quinn’s comments accurately, he basically said the following:
  • Regardless of whatever the details of the new CBA are, players will always get their money
  • It is the players who will ultimately “lose” out
  • He’s not sure about the advice the players are receiving
First, apologies if I have in any way misconstrued LeBrun's piece, or Quinn's comments.  But I believe I have captured the gist of the article.

Now, we can simply dismiss Quinn as a “company” man (albeit “ex” company man, in his case, as he is no longer affiliated with the Sabres or any NHL team to my knowledge), someone who simply  embraces the League view, is anti-player and a guy who sounds typically NHL-executive condescending, a la Jimmy Devallano, toward the players.

But I think we’d be missing the point if we did that.

Quinn was, in my view, simply saying what I’ve said here in various posts.  The players will always get their money.  They always do—regardless of a new CBA.  Oh, they may get kicked in the shins a lose a bit here and there if they accept any kind of rollback, but generally speaking they all more than make it up in the long run.  That said, missing another year of an NHL salary, well I'm not sure sure if anyone ever really makes that up. I'm no accountant but that seems like a bad idea over the question of a rather shaky "principle".  But I'm not in their shoes, I acknowledge.

(An aside about Quinn.  When he was in charge of the Sabres, under various owners, he was criticized along with Darcy Regier, their General Manager, for not spending enough to make the team competitive.  Under a new regime, with billionaire Terry Pegula as the friendly, wealthy, "I want the Sabres to win again" owner, the team spent big money in the summer of 2011.  Then, they did not meet expectations last season, despite the significant infusion of money and talent.  Predictably, they were chastised by many fans for wasting all that money.  Can we (fans) have it both ways?)

With that as a backdrop, here are some across-the-board thoughts on a lockout that likely will take us at least to the 2013-’14 NHL season…and maybe beyond that:

But first another sidestep (as meandering as this is, it's not like we're in a rush to get to a game or something!):  I used to follow professional wrestling with each of our sons somewhat religiously...well only the three oldest ones, actually.  Our youngest came a little later and missed this "bonding" time.  But if you're still reading after this wresting admission - thanks.  The truth is, the best sporting event I ever took any of them to was a "dark" (non-televised) wrestling show at the CNE in Toronto in the late summer of 1996.  It was a day of fun for us "boys"- autographs, a softball game, great memories and an outdoor show/event that was even better than expected, unlike many Leaf games over the years. A few years later, I recall watching a WCW wrestling broadcast with our second youngest.  Dean Malenko was known as the guy with a "thousand moves".  A then very young Chris Jericho, still on his way up the industry ladder, took the mike one night and said he had in fact stayed up the previous night counting all of his moves and there were in fact 1,003 moves that he used in the ring.  We thought it was a hilarious bit at the time. You had to be there, I guess.

For the record, lest everyone think how terrible a Dad I was for allowing them to watch something as ridiculous as wrestling, they have all gone on to be good, thoughtful, (very) well-educated individuals, fighting for underdog causes along the way, the wrestling years didn't damage them too much, I hope!

So to "honour" that particular moment with my son, I will play off not only Jericho's classic line but also  Elliotte Friedman's weekly and immensely popular "30 thoughts" column by beating his number of "moves" with...31 thoughts. (Hey, I have to humour myself somehow, if I'm going to try to keep producing content here during a never-ending lockout...)
  1. I’ll add this to the Quinn reference above:  beyond the point that many have made in this space in the comments section—that the players will never get back the money they lose in this dispute—my question is: so what if the earlier-signed contracts, including some agreed-to as recently as this past summer, are not made entirely “whole”? Yes, the owners should "honour" their deals, but the players will get their money anyway over time, if they start playing soon.  Elite players will always make big money, under any CBA.
  2. Yes, to be clear:  of course owners should honour contracts that they offered and were signed in good faith.  But if I'm a player, I want to play.  Principle is important, no question, but someone had better determine soon if we're talking about principle - or ego and never-ending entitlement.
  3. Even if players (yes, again, I realize) have to give a little something back in a new CBA, in virtually all cases, these individuals are being paid ungodly sums of money anyway.  Would it really and truly be a huge crink in their “lifestyle”—or those of their great, great, great, great grandchildren—if they didn’t receive every last cent of a mega-million dollar long-term contract?
  4. I saw a tweet from Jeremy Roenick on the weekend that said:  just get in a room and get it done.  Hey, he has a platform a lot bigger than mine.  But I’ve (and a lot of others) been saying that here for some time.  Where are the cigar-smoking marathon bargaining sessions that break through the logjam - and lead to striking a deal?
  5. The average NHL salary is, if I’m not mistaken, almost 2 and ½ million dollars a season.
  6. I believe the “average” salary for individuals is around $60,000 annually.
  7. Players are uniquely skilled.  They are the entertainers.  They draw the crowds.  They take significant physical risks.
  8. In the same breath, they make a completely free choice to pursue a career in professional sports.  They were and are free to pursue other, safer, perhaps less lucrative careers that also last much longer.
  9. Hockey players often say that their careers are “short”.  What is the number—4 years on average?
  10. If so, that means than the “average” NHL’er, playing an average amount of time (4 years) would make 10 million dollars in their career in salary alone.  This does not count other significant revenues  (or the constant freebies) that they receive.  Given the four-year average “window”, these “average” players would retire well before they are 30, giving them years to earn more in a second, lengthy career of their choosing—after already earning the 10 million, minus taxes. Hard work, yes, but a heck of a return, eh? (By the way, as I've said here before, who ever told these guys they should expect to put their feet up for the rest of their lives after they stop playing hockey?  Some of them talk like they might have to actually work for a living after hockey as though that's a shock.  Are they kidding?  Nowadays, who receives more in-career and post-career advice, support and counselling than athletes?  It's available to them every step of the way- they just have to take advantage of what is available to them.)
  11. Owners pay absurdly high salaries to star players, yes.  But we need to assess why exactly they do this.  Is it because they are just, say, stupid?  Or might it be because they want to build a competitive, successful team, to be a "winner"?  And yes, also to generate even more “revenues” and to create fan interest (which ties into higher revenues)?  Might it also be that they are responding to the demands of their fan base?
  12. When this approach succeeds, owners and General Managers are applauded.  When it does not, fans turn around and criticize them, usually well after the fact (after cheering the signings initially) for making lousy business decisions.  The media often do the same.
  13. Players, naturally, are only too happy to accept the largesse of the owners.  We all would do the same.
  14. Owners and players do not “owe” us, as fans, anything.  The NHL does not have to operate, though I am among those who think it odd—from the perspective of their own self-interest—that they pull their product off the shelves for prolonged periods every few years.  That’s not typically the way to operate a customer-oriented “service”/entertainment business. But hey, I don't have an MBA.
  15. That said, it hasn’t killed the NHL yet, somehow.  It’s still around, and in other than a few U.S. markets, seems to be thriving.
  16. Again, though, fans should not expect the NHL to have games just for us.  It’s an optional entertainment vehicle.  If they are unhappy, players can withdraw their services; conversely, owners can lock out players and cancel games.  Again, it’s not good customer relations, but it’s their business, and the players’ decision as well to fight for what they want in a new contract.
  17. Are small business owners being hurt in the 30 NHL cities?  Yes.  Are many individuals who sell souvenirs, work as street vendors, etc. and are employed in-stadium on game nights in related fields hurt by the lockout?  Yes.  That said, again, we can say it is unfair, but in reality, in a world of choice, the owners and players hold this choice.  They don’t “owe” the game to any of us, as sad as certain individual outcomes might be.
  18. “Employees” (players, in this case) have the right to fight for what they believe they “deserve” in a new contract.  Owners have the right to negotiate a deal that they believe will ensure significant profit, league growth and sustainability over time.
  19. When those desires/opinions/needs collide, you have what we have now:  no production, and no product.
  20. I realize that players are frustrated that there is no season.  But constant harping at Bettman via Twitter comes across, to me, as bitter, childish and silly.  At least do what Ryan Suter did - go after your own owner.
  21. I think I fully understand why so many fans are tired of the seeming disingenuous approach to negotiations from Bettman and the owners.  But it is their business.  The players are not the owners.
  22. There was a time in the 1950s and early ‘60s when players were in many ways abused, if that is the right word, by NHL owners.  That’s absolutely true. They were threatened, paid pretty poorly in a lot of cases for “elite” athletes in their day.  They received lousy (or no) pension, no benefits, etc..
  23. But we’re not talking about that kind of unfair treatment now.  Not even close.
  24. I’m shocked that so many fans seem to identify with the players, almost having sympathy-pains for NHL players as fellow "employees" being treated unfairly by the "man".  But NHL players are so far from living in the world of everyday people like many of the rest of us.  Their talent and celebrity provide a lifestyle they now feel entitled to. Anything that takes away from that, they fight like kids who have had their favourite toy (among many toys) taken away.
  25. While on one level I get that people support the players, I also know that, over the past few years, millions of people in North America have lost jobs, lost homes and seen their circumstance change pretty drastically because of the recession.  Yet player salaries in most cases have skyrocketed—even taking into account the 24% roll back from the last CBA.
  26. If the players are unhappy, they have choices.  They could, say, start their own league.
  27. But does anyone really believe the players have the business savvy to start their own league?  The answer is:  no, they don’t.  They would never take the risk. 
  28. I raise that point, not because that possibility is necessarily on the table now, but simply to reiterate something I‘ve said for a long time:  could any of these players make one-tenth the money they make as hockey players doing anything else? 
  29. That being the case, it’s interesting that they are so reluctant to recognize how privileged they are to earn the income they do, even if it’s only for a “few” years.  And my point is, if they truly feel the owners are unfair, well, they do have the option to a) play elsewhere—which many of them are doing in Europe while taking away the jobs of individuals who need those salaries much more or b) as I noted above, starting a league of their own—which relatively few fans would pay any attention to or c) do something else for a living. (Maybe the many wealthy -and whiny - agents out there would like to start that new league...)
  30. My guess is that, after a few years of not making three million or more a year, most of these players would welcome a return to making huge money for playing a sport they claim to love.
  31. Final comment, and I would like the always-thoughtful readers here to respond honestly to this, because it ties in to some of the points above:

Brian Burke joined the Leafs in November of 2008.  He tried to inject life—and a winning attitude—into a franchise that had lost its way since Pat Quinn was removed as GM of the team in the summer of 2003.

For example, he signed Mike Komisarek to a mega, long-term contract.  Burke despises cap circumventing deals, so he says.  But he wasn’t against throwing tons of dough at an OK NHL defenseman.  And in fairness, this was not a cap-circumventing contract.  Yet, it has been an albatross around the team’s neck, most would agree, right up to this day.  Komisarek is a solid individual, a player with character, and a tremendous locker-room presence.  But he has not been worth 5 million plus a season or whatever he’s getting on a team that has played nary a playoff game since he arrived.

Burke has made other free-agent signings that have turned out poorly.  But my point is:  should he have not tried to improve the team?  Is he “stupid” because he handed out huge money to what turned out to be undeserving or under-performing players?

Is MLSE one of those “dumb” owners fans and media carp about, because they allowed Burke to spend outlandish money to sign certain players?

The point, again, is that as fans (and again, the media is part of this as well…), we want our teams to spend to get better, to be competitive every year.  But then we criticize the contracts that see, say, Brad Richards go to New York rather than here, because they (the Rangers) were willing to pay even more over more years. I criticize Lamoriello all the time for what he paid to Kovalchuk.

We always want it both ways—to be able to demand that our teams spend to stay competitive, then criticize those teams when it doesn’t work out.  We then say the owners are “dumb” for handing out the money.

(I said here recently, and I meant it, that I’d be happy if the Leafs just “went young”.  Build a young, hard-working team.  By all means pay the kids well but not insanely.  Then, when they hit free-agency, if they want to go elsewhere for silly money, let them do it.  If that’s the case, then they don’t really want to be Leafs, don’t really want to play in the best hockey city in the world in front of the most loyal (if a bit frenetic and moody) hockey fans in the world.

Personally, I cheer for the crest and the history of this great franchise, not just the individual players.  If you don’t want to play here, goodbye.  That’s partly why I respected Sundin and Kaberle.   In a world of players changing jerseys routinely - and believe me, it is always about the money, regardless of what the players try to claim - they wanted to be here  and wanted to stay here, as Maple Leafs. But this is a debate for another day…)

But back to the issue I raised:  Is MLSE (and by extension, Burke, the man they employ to run the business) just stupid?  Or were they doing exactly what we expect good owners/management to do - trying to make the team better?

And beyond the Leafs, are all owners who pay out huge money just stupid?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts….


  1. As an aside to the player always getting thier money I read an article (can't remember where) that talked about how players salaries have gone up since the last lockout. To take 2 players from the Maple Leafs
    1. Joffery Lupul'e salary has expanded by more the 300% even after factoring in the rollback.
    2. Tim Conolloy has seen 4 contracts since the lockout each time his salary increase has been in double digits with one being at around 90%.

    As for Burke he is not stupid for trying to improve the team. Where he is at fault is in his constant mis-reading of how good his team really is. He has also constantly been wrong about the direction the league itself is going. By signing big tough slow defensemen when the league is clearly moving to a mobile puck moving era. By drafting big tough marginally skilled players in the first round ( Tyler Biggs). The last couple draft shows that he has finally figured it out by drafting a slick puck moving dman ( Rielly) and solid mobile but good first pass dmen (Finn and Percy). Unfortunately, this comes 2 years late.

  2. Thanks Willbur. I think that is a fair criticism of Burke - that he vastly over-rated the roster when he took over, and built unrealistic expectations because of his public comments about not having patience for a five-year re-build. As I've written here many times, it became clear over the last year or so that the "re-build" would in fact take even longer than that.

    Many are high on Reilly, Finn and Percy, but I'll hold off on judgement for a while yet.

  3. I with you on the youngsters Michael. They all have potential but it doesn't matter until they show in the NHL. At least now Burke is drafting the type of guys who seem to be succeeding and at least have the best chance of reaching that potential with thier style of play.

  4. I stopped reading this column months ago when it seemed the author was a stooge of the owners. I should have stayed away, as it seems nothing has changed, if anything, his position has become even more owner-friendly.

  5. MIchael,

    I have come to learn that sports is a mess of contradictions. As fans we contradict ourselves all the time. I am generally ok with this aspect of being a fan, and tolerating it in other fans. We cheer out of loyalty and love of team, not out of ability or intelligence. I don't get paid to follow the Leafs. I do so for many reasons, a couple I even understand.

    It is completely reasonable to hold the people who own and run the team to a different standard. Is MLSE a dumb owner? In some ways yes, and in some no. They are stable, have lots of money, and never threaten to move the team. From that standpoint good owner. As an ownership group able to identify good managers and talent evaluators, terrible owners. Each and every team that they own, has sucked on an ongoing basis. More importantly not one of them shows any signs of being better any time soon.

    I don't comment on Burke's ability to generate market growth for the Leafs, or his ability to increase sales of luxury boxes and corporate suites. I don't care about that aspect of his job. I am interested in whether or not the Leafs make the playoffs and win Stanley Cups. I am not willing to give management any credit for trying, they can get their participation trophy somewhere else. I don't see spending money on less talented players as trying anyway. I see trying as something more than that in any job. I thought that he was being paid primarily in a hockey sense to evaluate talent, acquire it, and then mold it into a championship team.

    For this reason, and this reason alone. The ownership and management of the Leafs has failed miserably. In some respects a lost season would do the Leafs a world of good. All of the youngsters get another year developing where they are. No pressure to play in the ACC. Burke has less albatross contracts going forward if a season is missed. Perhaps, he can even acquire some players that would fit into what we know of Carlyle. Lastly, the media silence on the part of management is preventing Burke from making more pronouncements reinforcing how unable he is to deliver what he promises.

  6. It's funny, to Cameron and those who find my position on the NHL CBA talks out of touch, somehow offensive, or just plain wrong: I almost included, at the top of this post, a "disclaimer" (wrong word, really) that you should not bother reading any further.

    I don't work for the owners; I have in fact worked with a number of NHL players and coaches over many years. I, as you would expect, don't consider myself a "stooge" of anyone.

    If you're pro player, great. I'm not. Nothing I've seen, read or experienced over the years personally or professionally has created any sympathy for modern-day players. I like them on an individual level, but as a moaning, whining group that has a never-ending sense of entitlement, not so much.

    That said, are the owners sympathetic figures? Do they they conduct themselves with genuine concern for the welfare of the sport? It would be hard to support that claim, though there may be some fine individual owners out there (Illitch in Detroit? Pegula in Buffalo? These individuals seem to genuinely care about their fans and players.)

    I most enjoy this space when I write about the Leafs, especially past and even the present. But even there, I've lost readership, I'm well aware, because of my views on Burke and what I have long perceived (well pre-dating his time in Toronto) as his rather stunning hubris. As a GM he is vastly over-rated, as his record in his two re-building projects in Vancouver and Toronto demonstrates (1 playoff series win in 11 season.). As I've said here before, he talks like he invented the position of General Manager, and talks more "Me", "I" and "My" than any management person in the sport.

    So if you don't like those or other views and opinions, and you find them un-informed, wearisome, negative or just plain stupid, you are quite right, like Cameron, to stay away. There are many fine sites out there, quite a few that focus on happy Leaf talk and some that make the owners out to be terrible people. That's the beauty of having the freedom to choose what we read.

    Most people gravitate toward writers they agree with. I get that. So there is a risk every day, even on a blog site like this, that the moment I say something, or express a point of view that a reader disagrees with, they will be offended. Fair enough.

    We all have the right to walk away and not return.

    All things being equal, I hope to continue to provide my perspective here - and that's all it is, mine, though the many thoughtful posters here round out the overall site perspective quite a bit. As I've said many, many times, I welcome different points-of-view, and are generally open to shifting mine. All I have asked from those who post here is that they be respectful.

    I'm not sure "stooge" qualifies, but I thought it important to respond.

  7. Jim, we sometimes (always respectfully) disagree on this CBA mess (owners/players and all that) but I was nodding throughout your entire post today.

    I agree, the case for being a fan is something we can't even fully explain ourselves sometimes. And what we want/expect from our team can vary from fan to fan, though I'm pretty sure most of us, at the end of the day, want wins and Stanley Cups as part of our fan experience.

    I believe your response to point 31 is an absolutely fair one: the team lost its way years ago, as a franchise, and while Burke has no doubt tried to turn things around (and it still may happen), we certainly have not seen the results yet, four years into his stewardship.

    MLSE (since the days of Peddie as the power broker), as owners, have done a terrible job identifying management talent. They thought they hired a basketball genius years ago in Colangelo and the team has only gotten worse. TFC is, sad to say, a joke under Anselmi's direction. We all see the Leaf results since Peddie decided Quinn should no longer be the GM of the team.

    By the way, I, too, am relieved that the CBA management silence invoked by Bettman has ensured that Burke says nothing more to create expectations. When and if NHL hockey returns, hopefully we will just be able to see the team improve, rather than be subject to regular missives promising this and that...

  8. Michael,

    When I was a little younger, my friends, family, even strangers and I would sit around and discuss things. It was just that, a discussion of differing viewpoints. The object wasn't solely to change another persons opinion, it was a way to challenge your own ideas as well. I find that we don't do that as much as we used to. I missed discussing sports a lot, the relative merits of one idea vs. another. I am glad that I found your blog, I got something back that I was missing. Talking about my favourite team, without it degenerating into a name calling contest. So thank you for that. I know that we don't always agree, I believe that our discussions are always polite and stay on point, without getting caught up in winning the war. I personally think Cameron was out of line and I am sorry I took so long to say so in this comment.

  9. Thank you, Jim. I appreciate your taking the time to say that.

  10. @Michael - Points 1,2,3,5,6,10,23,24,25,28,29,and 30 are the same and could have been placed under one statement.

    - "The players are making too much money"

    And which I disagree. Why is there a belief that NHL players are overpaid? Is that based on the average Ontario household income of $60,000 (Note:"Household").

    Why not base the players salary against other professional sports? Would that not be a fairer comparison than comparing it to an average household?

    Other sports share the revenue 50/50, and what should have been the biggest obstacle to the owners, reducing the players share to 50%, was given up day 1.

    The players only ask that its done over a couple years so that they don't have to take pay cuts to the contracts the owners signed.

    Talk about asking for the moon.. <- sarcasm

    Final thought - If the owners keep getting everything they want, what will stop them from locking the players out again next time?

  11. Hi Michael,

    That was more like "31 nasty thoughts about the players".

    As you are aware I have no sympathy for either party. I was "pro owner" last time around because I saw the need for change. I am "anti-owner" this time because they got what they wanted before and they proceeded to violate the spirit of the agreement to their detriment. They expect to fix this by taking more back from the players.

    I have no doubt that this lockout has been planned since the last CBA was signed. I think that the owners lack integrity. I believe that the contracts that the players signed in good faith were put forward by the owners with the understanding that they were going to discounted or rolled back during this bargaining session. The optics are not good at all.

    To your point about signing players to overpriced contracts, I would never advocate that Burke go after a Kovalchuk or a Richards, not at the price or term that others were willing to pay. These guys just aren't worth it. If anything, the Leafs are guilty of taking very average players and paying them like they are the second coming of Bobby Orr.

    Should players be paid so much? No way. Unless, of course, you create a salary floor and tie it to league revenues. Then you have no choice. The NHL agreed that this was fair and would result in parity. Anyone with a calculator could have worked out what might go wrong. But, as I said, I think this was on the list of things to claw back at the next scheduled lockout.

    I do agree with a lot of your points, this is a bit of a mess. In my opinion both parties have to give a bit in order to fix it. The "negotiating" seems one sided at present. We are all frustrated by what is going on.

    I have a proposal. As fans we are always feeling left out in situations such as this. We wish we mattered but, in the end, we only matter when they want our money.

    I have a fix for that. Once hockey returns, if indeed it does, we as fans should lock out the league and players. We don't attend games, we don't buy their paraphernalia, we don't subscribe to their channels. The short term effect would be to send a loud message, a long lockout would impact player salaries and franchise values. Perhaps this would make both sides more eager to find solutions without always resorting to extremes. And make them less likely, on both sides, to take us for granted.

    A pleasure as always Michael, thanks for taking the time to bring us our daily entertainment.

    Take care,


  12. Hi Chuck - yes, I was aware that several points could have been pulled together! I was just having fun, as I tried to indicate by the tone of the tee-up portion of the post, by stretching it out to 31 points.

    Hey, you support the players. I get it. Many do. Thanks Chuck.

  13. Thanks Brad (cbh747). I don't think I intended this post to be nasty, but I realize any time you stick your neck out with an opinion, it may sound that way! I rarely expect people to agree with me, whether it's my view of these protracted negotiations or the state of the Leafs. But I do try to provide a forum so that, even if people disagree with me, they can make their points thoughtfully in this space.

    I like your lock-out notion. By doing those things, it would indeed send a message to ownership and the players that a lot of their much-debated "revenue" comes from us, the fans. Our protest may not have the impact we desire, but it would send a little reminder, at least.

    Well said, thanks Brad.

  14. Michael
    Some comments:

    13.Players, naturally, are only too happy to accept the largesse of the owners. We all would do the same.

    Just to add some perspective let me relate a true story, though names are changed to protect the innocent. A scene from the posh Country Club of the South Bar in suburban Atlanta some 8-10 years ago between an Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman (call him Herman) and a golf member (call him Bill).

    Bill: Herman, I hear you are a holdout.
    Herman: Yes, I am.
    Bill: Herman, you are not worth $600.000 (remember this is 10 years ago).
    Herman: Well, Bill, you are probably right, but my buddy got $550,000 from the Saints, and I am better than he is.

    This appears to describe the situation that owners face, in most cases created themselves, as they try to compete and hopefully can pass on the costs to the fan.

    Is MLSE (and by extension, Burke, the man they employ to run the business) just stupid?

    In pure business terms, MLSE is certainly not stupid. They are the highest ranked hockey franchise in $value, they just sold the company to Rogers/Bell for a significant amount. The fact they can't produce winning teams has not been a problem.

    On the surface, Burke does not appear to be stupid, but his performance suggests he is having problems keeping up with his bluster. After following this blog for a few months, it appears like there is no concrete plan (The Flip-Flop?)
    It seems like Burke (probably correctly) has determined that acquiring players at the trade deadline and via the free agent signings is not a great plan. Certainly, Leafs record has been mediocre for journeyman players and the franchise type player does not come to a losing team.

    The Draft. This is a reasonable long term plan, but with 30 teams the talent gets spread around quickly. The best approach seems to be that the team should be abysmal for a few years (look out for Oilers).

    Trades - Burke has had some successes with this approach, but limited assets restrict the ability to use this method. Sam Pollock, Montreal Canadiens used this method as he traded assets for number 1 draft choices, and built a dynasty.

    Build a Farm system - Perhaps, the Marlies are building assets, but so are many other teams (understand Charlotte team (Carolina Hurricanes) has best record in AHL. It would seem that with Leaf resources ($ and coaching??)over time they should be able to build the #1 farm system. Example: While the Atlanta Braves have not won the World Series lately or often, they have remained competitive for 20 years. The reason is a farm system that continually produces quality pitching that can be utilized or traded.

    Perhaps Cameron should indicate what hockey blogs are better than this one? The combination of the broad range of issues you post and the knowledgable responses you receive make VLM my choice.

  15. Thanks for chiming in on this one, RLMcC.

    Your illuminating story about the Atlanta offensive lineman rings true. The numbers are higher nowadays, to be sure, but the principle is the same. Owner "A" pays a player "A" x amount; Owner "B", if he wants to acquire player "B", need to up the ante. Players naturally think they deserve more than the next guy. Inflation rules, driven by a lot of factors- and not just greed, I realize.

    Many readers are convinced I'm simply anti-player. Mostly, I'm trying to raise a perspective that isn't out there much that there may be reasons (maybe not always good enough reasons, I acknowledge) why owners act as they do in handing out extravagant salaries. They feel pressure to be competitive. It comes from their GM's, it comes from their own players, it comes from their fans, it comes from the media. It's not just that they are always "stupid", at least in my mind.

    I remember, RLMcC, back in the late 70s, when my Dad was still alive. Bruce Sutter, the fine relief pitcher, was holding out for a new contract. He wanted something like $800,000 a year. That was staggering money for a relief pitcher in those days. Sutter basically said, "I need the money to take care of my family". I talked about this with my Dad, who worked hard all his life but never made more than $6,000 a year. We laughed and shook our heads. Sutter was not only a great pitcher. He must have been a lousy financial planner when it came to running his family budget.

    To your (very good) point on the Braves: they have been drafting and developing players so well for so long that they are able to replenish their "system" constantly. The Leafs are a ways from getting to that point!

    By the way, I appreciate your support of VLM. You have been around for a long time and have plenty of options, like everyone else, when it comes to what you want to spend your time reading. VLM is not everyone's cup of tea, I realize, but as I mentioned above, I try to provide a thoughtful forum that people can participate in, whatever their point of view.

    Thank you.

  16. One question I've been asking myself: why don't the players form their own league? After all, as you say, they're the draw. Exactly why do they need the owners any more?

  17. My position, Gerund O', is that they wouldn't have the business acumen and/or would not be prepared to take the investment risks involved in setting up such a complicated endeavour.

    That said, maybe I'm very wrong.

    Personally, I would not have any interest in a "new" league. My interest in hockey would not be the same. My passion has been linked to following the best league in the world, and specifically the Leaf franchise -and crest- lo these many years (the past five decades).

    If that changes, I'm done.

    Thanks Gerund! I appreciate your contributions here.

  18. I apologize for using the word stooge, that was unnecessary. I do, however, think the players are on the side of the angels in this particular dispute, as opposed to previous work stoppages where I thought there was plenty of blame to share on both sides. A few hardline owners seem determined to destroy the league, at least in the US. Maybe contraction is the best long term solution, and some of these weak sisters in the Sunbelt should fold. I realize that means fewer players in the NHL, but I won't miss the marginally skilled ones.

  19. Cameron,

    I think we all write things (I sure do) that, upon reflection, we might have chosen a little different way to express. Not to worry, thanks for taking the time to say this.

    I recognize that I seem "anti-player" in some of my posts here. I guess some of that is based on certain personal/professional experiences over the years, and some of it is a reaction to the incredible sense of entitlement so many (not all, I realize) seem to feel - and are seemingly quite happy to convey publicly. I certainly recognize that a handful of owners are running the show - at least it certainly seems that way.

    A little humility rarely hurts any of us, and sometimes the players have to deal with things they don't like.

    I, weeks ago, broke a vow to myself not to discuss my views on the lockout on this site. Yet I have and perhaps shouldn't have. It just seems to polarize people/fans all the more, including some readers/followers/contributors here at VLM that I value very much.

    I guess this is the risk a person runs whenever they take on this kind of endeavour. I'm trying to provide content when, frankly, there is no NHL content. This site is about the Maple Leafs, past and present. But the vast majority of visitors here want "current" Leaf talk. That's pretty hard to generate, in the absence of real news, games and activity. The Marlies are already being covered to death elsewhere, so I generally leave it to those more expert than I to comment on that front.

    To your point on contraction, I've actually presented that notion here a few times, but most observers seem to think it's not realistic. But I'm not sure why a strong 24-league team where no cap is required would be worse than a 30-team NHL with half a dozen teams who lose money and can't afford to pay their bills.

    Thanks for checking back in, Cameron.

  20. It is unfortunate that we find the need to have apparently ‘taken sides’ in the present CBA dispute and, thereby, risk losing both the love of the game, the players/owners and the respect of our peers (who are made into our foes by the zero sum game being foisted upon us as we are continuously confronted by the polarizing aspects of a ‘players vs. owners’ perspective).

    I have suggested before that a co-operative approach/model would be far more beneficial, if honour, honesty, integrity and equity were the foundation of negotiations. Perhaps it would be helpful for the participants to recognize their proper and honourable roles in our society.

    Both players and owners play roles that the other cannot. Both take risks that the other does not.

    Would it not be wise NOT to overvalue the contribution of either?

    Here’s the model I would prefer in a negotiation… owners should more greatly value the contributions of the players AND players should more greatly value the contributions of the owners (coming into negotiations knowing that they could still play - but without the same pay - unless they realized their role is not the same as the owners'.

    This is the point at which I would ‘broaden perspectives’ for both parties and remind them about the fans who love the joys and risk the heartaches of following the players who work for owners within the context of a beloved team that the fans support.

    While honouring one another, balance all of that with those who provide the historical context and revenue for your enterprise – the fans and the retired players who provide the building blocks for your success.

    Add to that, the game itself and the venues where you play, then look at the 3.3 Billion and ask, do I have any responsibility to anyone (other than myself)??

    The answer will show us what kind of people you are.

    If you care about others, then risk making less in order to heal the game, your relationship with fans (and with the taxpayers who provided the arena in which you play) and the whole of society at large.

    If I was an elite player on a TEAM, I would rather make an average salary in order to ensure I had a strong team surrounding me… one that would allow for success beyond the monetary value I could place upon my skills alone. What if we could assemble a team of players who think like that!?

    Oops – forgot the agents, the envy, the one-upmanship, the greed…

    It was nice to FANtasize for a while…

    BTW, I think the ‘make whole’ provision coming out of the player’s share, highlighted an apparent divide-and-conquer technique that would have the contracted players being made whole on the backs of the players seeking contract under the new CBA. Hence, it appears unfair, even if it highlights some greed pertaining to the players already contracted vx their uncontracted union bretheren.

    Yet, in the hope of delineating a means to solve the CBA I suggested that player contracts should be honoured… it is clear that those contracts are subject to the CBA and BOTH parties were aware that they could/would change under a new CBA.

    Since they didn’t resolve the CBA using the suggested framework, I now say… Fix the game, provide a fund to pay for/upgrade the stadiums in which you play, cut both of 'your share'(s) and make whole the retirees and the injured while you’re at it!

    There are rumblings of ‘teams moving’ and ‘expansion’ that I believe would have played a role in the ‘make whole’ provision. Moves/expansion would have eliminated costs and brought in fees that could have increased the pie (and I believe that was the plan).

    However, since we don’t any have mutual trust in the NHL community… there is/can be no disclosure of intent (or there would be more fighting over the 'new revenue stream') – not that I agree with further dilution of the product on the expansion front, just believing that an announcement would be forthcoming after the CBA is signed.

  21. As usual you have delivered a reasonable and broad-thinking approach to this discussion, InTimeFor62. Would that both sides harkened back not just to negotiating "tactics" but to concepts that you cite- such as honour...

    Your post made me think back to the NFL and the 1960s. It took leadership from owners in some of the league's biggest and wealthiest markets (like Wellington Mara in New York), who were instrumental in being willing to share that wealth and pushing for revenue-sharing that allowed tiny markets like Green Bay to survive and actually thrive.

    Trust? You're right, it's not there.

    Thanks, InTimeFor62...

  22. Michael
    It is difficult to keep all the people happy all the time. To be honest, I find it more interesting looking at the big picture of the business of hockey as opposed to how a particular player performed last night.

    I believe Gerund gave you a very interesting topic "What would happen if players set up their own league.....?

    Just to give you a start:

    I am sure that you have a much better idea about what the current situation is, but in my day most players capable of playing in Junior A, let alone the NHL had to sacrifice education for hockey at 16. Most were known as Rink Rats. One buddy who played Junior A in K/W from 16, said "Have you ever thought about how do we go to school and be on the ice at 7 P.M. in Ottawa. Something has to give". While some players are getting education? at NCAA schools, having seen how it works in other sports I wonder where emphasis is. While street smarts is great, running hockey teams takes more. They would have to hire qualified help just as any owner needs to - looks like Mario Lemieux understands this.

    Probably players have a better idea of real value and salaries would drop, especially when it is their check book. They would be able to save 10% on agents.

    You may wish to go back to comment that I made about forming a cooperative based on base salary plus incentive system that I am sure better players would require.

    I suspect that existing NHL teams have rights to the existing arenas - this would put a crimp in plans. Atlanta is available, and understand Quebec and Markham will have NHL ready arenas.

    Perhaps this issue will help with the view that you are anti-player?

    Have a good day y'all.

  23. Thank you for the follow-up, Ralph (RLMcC). Yes, it would be awfully difficult for players to start their own league. (I do recall your earlier posts regarding the concept of salary plus incentive.) In addition to funding the start-up of franchises and building and managing rosters, finding a place to play would be a challenge, as you mention.

    Bottom line, I wish both sides would negotiate with some common sense- and with some of the principles that InTimeFor62 stressed top of mind.

    Thanks RLMcC. I appreciate your support.

  24. Michael, great site, but as a life long Leaf fan I am getting to my breaking point with this current lockout. I'm weary of the commentary on the owners verses the players. I was originally more on the side of the players, but I don't care anymore. The NHL has been ruined by greed.

    I'm not sure if I will go back much like the base ball strike in the 90's, I think this might be the end of it. And I'm sick of giving my money to corporations like Rogers and Bell. The OHL games are great, so I think I will be going to a lot more Generals games this year. Maybe some Toronto Rock too!

  25. Thanks for posting, Greg.

    I know that, as fans, we often say we won't go back to watching hockey - and we usually do return to the sport we love - but I do wonder if the frustration that you feel this time around is reflective of a broader malaise that will settle over a lot of fans. And I further wonder if even some long-term, passionate fans may have hit a wall.

    A number of people have commented to me that they are truly fed up with turning on the TV or radio and listening to talk show after talk show and also reading article after article in the newspapers commenting on the lockout. It's impacted me here. I've spent far too much time on this subject, when people would much rather be talking about the Leafs and what's going on on the ice. I think it is just annoying people to no end, regardless of our personal "opinion" on who is most responsible for this mess.

    We do have alternatives and thankfully we can all pursue those interests. And maybe, as Brad (cbh747) suggested above, fans should consider not purchasing merchandize when the games return. A mild, but important, protest...

    Thanks Greg.

  26. It is ironic to me that a deep pockets team such as the Leafs has struggled so badly when a cash poor team such as Nashville has had, in comparison, a run of successful seasons. One only needs to look at the stable and competent management situation in Nashville (and other successful teams)to understand their success.

    I have had difficuly with Leaf ownership since Harald Ballard became majority owner. Ballard left a legacy of enriching the franchise monetarily and bankrupting it competetively.
    The Leafs only had six winning seasons in Ballard's 18-plus seasons (1971-1990). They
    never finished above third in their division. In Ballard's last 13 seasons, they only finished above fourth once and won only two playoff series. Ballard's tight fisted (cheap) policies drove many players away and greatly angered the fan base.

    I had high hopes when Stavros gained control and even though he reluctantly inherited Fletcher as his GM the combination seemed to work well. 1992-93 and 93-94 were the most exciting seasons since the Sittler - McDonald teams. The Leafs were competetive under Stavros - Fletcher and then Stavros - Quinn.

    The present day problems started mostly post lockout. Stavros sold majority interest to the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan and Richard Peddie called the shots. The Leafs looked like a ship without a rudder. Although MLSE tripled its value under Peddie's direction his hiring of Ferguson as GM was disastrous to the hockey team.

    There has been an underlying feeling for some time that the bottom dollar,not the success of the hockey team, was the primary motivation of management.

    Burke's hiring was supposed to bring stability (and the playoffs). His tenure has so far disappointed. He has made some good trades but his free agent signings have been disastrous. I haven't felt good about any of his drafts unlil this year.

    I feel that Burke is desperately trying to fix the Leafs (and his reputation) but he has created a situation where there are too many cooks stirring the Leaf broth and the ship, while not rudderless, has too many hands on the wheel. It may be too late but he has to implement his stated blueprint and make sure he and Carlyle are on the same page. I don't feel that the present owners will give him much more time.

  27. The Ballard ownership era was largely awful, agreed, PeteCam. While he created headlines and some players evidently liked him, he ensured that he received a ton of attention himself - and not in an effort to distract attention from his team in a good way, as coaches sometimes try to do.

    That early '70s Ballard takeover after Stafford Smythe's death sent the organization into a downward spiral, as you well know PeteCam. Ballard didn't believe the WHA would make it, and we lost a handful of key players before the 1972-'73 season. Jim Gregory, hired by Smythe, had to keep re-building.

    The Stavros era was a good one, as you said. But since Tanenbaum and Peddie took over, and Quinn was removed from the GM's seat, things have spiralled again.

    Your Nashville example is one I think is relevant, too. Despite sometimes weak ownership, they have managed to build gritty, competitive teams in the tough Western Conference under the stable guidance of the same GM and coach since the day they joined the league.

    Burke has changed gears a lot, and while he seems to have some prospects in the system and in the junior ranks, the reality is most every other NHL teams has excellent "prospects" as well. The Leafs are not special in that regard.

    Thanks PeteCam.

  28. Of course Burke did the right thing, in principle, to try and improve his squad. Getting Komisarek seemed like the right policy at the time, although he got paid half again as much as he should have. I didn't mind at the time, because it was a signing instead of a trade. In hindsight, Komi has gotten well over more than reasonable, so Burke sucks. Sucked a bit at the time, sucks much more in hindsight.

    Getting Kessel? Burke gave up too much. He sucks. Having Kessel feels, at times, pretty good. In our darkest hours, Kessel's nowhere to be seen. I also think Seguin will, over his career, score much more points more than Kessel, so Burke sucks.

    Coaching? If Wilson was as useless as Burke commented on hindsight, a useful GM would probably have caught on to it much earlier. So Burke sucks.

    In conclusion, Burke's rep has been way overblown by a Cup someone else won. He has tried to do the right thing, and he has failed. Someone else deserves a shot.

    Honestly, I love the Leafs. I love it when they win. I hate when they lose. And Burke has not brought more "win" into the system. He can talk, sure, but that's about it.

  29. I understand what you're saying, CGLN. Hopefully the improvement we all hope for is not that far off....