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If NHL players had to take 10% less across the board tomorrow? Horrors…

Look, I will be up front:  I don’t pretend to understand HRR.  I have no idea if the owners are all crooks and the players are all like Mother Theresa  (was) in their spare time.  I don’t have a clue if the offer from the owners this week was based on their public relations firm trying to “spin” a story and put public pressure on the NHLPA, or whether it was a genuine effort to close the gap.  I know some people in the industry, but I have no inside information.

So when I speak, as simply a long-time fan of the sport, understand that I probably am biased.  I try to think I’m not, but I’m probably biased toward the league and the owners who take the risks associated with running a big business like the NHL.

Similarly, I am loyal to one thing (hockey-wise), and that is the Maple Leaf crest.  Yes, I’m a fan of hockey.  At various times in my life I’ve followed everything from Canadian University hockey to Junior hockey and everything in between off and on for the past 50 years.  But primarily I follow the Leafs because that’s been my team since 1958.  I cheer for the history that is the blue and white, that legacy.  I follow Leaf players and am interested in how they play for my team.  I enjoy watching the truly talented guys in the league, and always have, dating back to the days of Beliveau, Hull, Howe, Keon, Ullman, Mikita, Pilote, Orr, Lafleur, Perreault. Gretzky, Coffey, Lemieux and all those that have come after them. (By the way, every one of today's players should give some of their salary to Bobby Hull, seen on the right the night he scored 50 goals for the first time in 1962.  He's the man that opened the salary floodgates for all players when he signed with the WHA in 1972...)

But that said, I could live without the superstars if I had to, as long as there was good hockey to watch and the Leafs were involved.  And I would have zero interest in a new league, for example.  If the very same players who are with the Leafs now suddenly started to play for a team in another league trying to compete with the NHL, I would not pay a nickel to go to the games, or watch them on TV.  Again, my rooting interest is abiding and deep—but solely about the Maple Leafs as part of the best hockey league in the world, the NHL.  Full stop.

I have had and continue to have all kinds of issues with the league, and with the Maple Leafs as an organization.  But that’s an ongoing thing.  I’ll take all that to my grave. But I acknowledge that that “background” does shape my current views on the so-called labour negotiations.  (I do not see the players as “labour” in my perception of what that term is supposed to mean…)

I listened to a spirited debate on the radio this week from a U.S.-based outlet about the latest back and forth between the owners and players in the ongoing NHL CBA dispute. One of the hosts made the point that, if (CBA aside) some rule fell down from the heavens that NHL players could only make, say, 90% of what they are now earning, would youngsters stop wanting to play the sport?

Of course some will say that’s a ridiculous question, because there is no such made-up “rule” and this would all be against free enterprise anyway.  But for me the question stands.  What would be so terrible about a sports world where really 'top' athletes made 5 million a year, rather than 10 or 20 (as already happens in baseball, football and basketball)?

Why, in this debate, do we never hear about all the little extras that players receive, in addition to their salaries?  You won't hear that from the NHLPA.  I’m sure this is all part of the “HHR” dispute (hockey-related revenue) but my point is this:  Players don’t just get millions of dollars through their contract—they receive all kinds of extra money through licensing and merchandize sales, hockey cards, all kinds of stuff.  And this doesn’t even take into consideration that these guys also receive (this is amazing) per diems.  So their food is paid for, their travel is paid for.  They accept under-the-table freebies on a regular basis. They have access not just to front-of-the-line medical treatment, but to instant medical treatment.  Many have major endorsement deals.  The “perks” are unbelievable.

Yet Don Fehr isn’t satisfied with the owners’ latest salvo (not that that’s a shock—we all understand that for him, this just gets negotiations started…Hey, didn't Jeremy Roenick say the players should take the offer?).

As we mull over the above, (and trust me, I’d rather be writing about NHL hockey than this stuff), here are some questions that I would love get your feedback on:

  1. All leagues like the NFL and NHL have “minimum” salaries under the CBA.  Would you support a maximum salary for individual players?
  2. What would be wrong if every NHL owner, independently, decided that he/the company no longer was willing to pay any player more than say, 5 million a year?  Is that collusion?
  3. Was the owners’ latest offer disingenuous, or a serious effort to make a deal and start the season?
  4. Do most fans realize that players are making their salary and all this extra money?
  5. Would kids stop wanting to play hockey for a living if they thought they could only make 90% of what current players are making?  What about 20%?  50%?
  6. If players aren’t happy, why don’t they start their own league?  (That’s a real question—if they think the owners are unfair, why don’t they set up their own league and run it themselves?)
  7. If the NHL minimum salary was $250,000 a year, would no one want to play any more?

The rest of the world has suffered a great deal through the economic downturn that has impacted thousands of businesses and millions of families since 2008.  The players somehow felt hard done by in the last set of negotiations.  But haven’t salaries risen astronomically since 2005?  Oh, right, that’s the owners’ fault—the owners who, if they tried to be reasonable and stopped handing out those salaries would be accused of collusion for suppressing a "free" marketplace.

Somehow, some are saying they support the players because the players are being taken advantage of by the owners.  I guess there’s a sense that players are part of a union, and many people identify with that.  But as much as I try to understand that sentiment, in my mind, the players could not be further from being an everyday union.  These guys are rich and their life circumstance is not even remotely—and I mean remotely—comparable to the hard-working individuals who work 48 to 50 weeks a year in a job and are part of a union in order to ensure that they receive adequate compensation and benefits.

Let’s be honest, the players work hard, yes.  And they are skilled, yes.  But they lead luxurious lives.  What do they pay for out of their own pocket?

I think fans (that’s us) are a huge part of the problem.  We criticize owners and GM’s who don’t pay huge money to get our team star players, then we rip the owners and GM’s who do for being “dumb” and paying out that big dough if and when the players under-perform, or the team doesn’t make the playoffs or come close to winning a championship. 

We can’t really have it both ways. 

I’ll be honest:  as much as I’d like the Leafs to spend enough to be competitive, I really want to see a team of hard-working individuals.  Some of my favourite Leafs of all-time have been the hardest workers:  Dave Keon, George Armstrong, Allan Stanley, Bobby Baun, Ron Ellis, Brian Spencer, Scott Garland, Rocky Saganiuk, Doug Gilmour, Gary Roberts.   I mean, if we built a team filled with guys who played their hearts out every night, like a young Jordin Tootoo—I’d be happy—and I’d be entertained.

Sure, you want and need some skill, but if my ownership said:  “Hey, this is our philosophy: we’re not ever going to pay out huge contracts.  No deals more than 4 years.  No player will make more than 4 million a year.  But we will draft, develop and build with these guys.  We’ll treat them great.  We’ll give them every opportunity to play in a tremendous city in a huge hockey market on the best hockey stage in the world.

If after they finish their second contract and they’re UFA’s and they’re not happy playing in Toronto, in front of the best fans in the world, where everyone adores them, we’ll let them go if their thing is making more money.  We want young, hard-working, team-oriented guys, not superstars with huge egos who only want to make ridiculous money.”

You know what: that I would pay to see.  But I have little interest in paying absurd sums to go to the ACC to see mediocre teams who are listless most nights (or for two-thirds of many games), and players who don’t give max effort night in and night out and always make excuses.

So I say, make a deal.  Now.  This week.  The owners don't "love" hockey.  They are greedy business people.  They are about making as much profit as they can.

But you always tell us you play because you love the game.  So get back to playing the game you supposedly love and don’t play just “for the money”.  (It’s never about the money, but it always is…)

The forum is here to have your say.  It’s your turn.


  1. "All leagues like the NFL and NHL have “minimum” salaries under the CBA. Would you support a maximum salary for individual players?"

    There is one in hockey. NBA too I believe.

    "What would be wrong if every NHL owner, independently, decided that he/the company no longer was willing to pay any player more than say, 5 million a year? Is that collusion?"

    Nothing wrong with that so long as it is independent. What the owners are wanting in these CBA negotiations is to legalize collusion (i.e. legalize artificially holding back salaries from free market levels).

    "Was the owners’ latest offer disingenuous, or a serious effort to make a deal and start the season?"

    I believe it was a serious effort to make a deal, probably their first serious effort. Aspects of it are disingenuous though like the making players current contracts "whole" in future years because it isn't owners making players whole it is players making players whole.

    "Do most fans realize that players are making their salary and all this extra money?"

    To me it isn't about the actual amounts. The players do make a ton of money, but the owners are crazy rich too. Why should we be capping players salaries and not owners profits? Why don't we guarantee owners will get collectively 10% of HRR in profits per year and the remaining money after non-player expenses goes to the players? I would love to see an NHLPA proposal offer this sort of arrangement.

    "Would kids stop wanting to play hockey for a living if they thought they could only make 90% of what current players are making? What about 20%? 50%?"

    No, that is not, and has never been an argument one way or the other. Might see more Russian players stay in the KHL though.

    "If players aren’t happy, why don’t they start their own league?"

    If the owners aren't happy with the players, why don't they find new players? If the owners aren't happy with what they are paying the players, why have most teams spent to the cap or at least in the upper half of the allowed range?

    "If the NHL minimum salary was $250,000 a year, would no one want to play any more?"

    No, but I don't think there is any dispute over minimum salary.

    The reality of this (and the last) CBA negotiation is that the owners want to artificially keep player salaries below market value (which under the previous CBA was closer to 70-75% of HRR). The NHL owners are asking for a mechanism to control salaries (essentially legalize collusion) that doesn't exist in any other business. Could the players still survive on $4.5M and not $5M? Sure. But the owners could survive and be profitable (as a collective) paying the players 57% and not 50% too.

    In Donald's Fehr's letter in response to the NHL proposal he wrote: "Given the enormous concessions players made in the last round, plus 7 years of record revenue reaching $3.3 billion last season, there is no reason for a reduction in the amount the players receive."

    He is perfectly correct in that there is "no reason" why the NHL needs a reduction in salaries, other than wanting to.

  2. Thanks for visiting David, I appreciate hearing your perspective.

  3. I think a lot of what you asked about kids/hockey players still wanting to play the game despite making a fraction of what NHLers currently make can be answered by the fact that guys plug it out in the AHL and ECHL for years upon years and make pennies compared to those guys. They all believe they can make it. So I think the NHL salary, whether it was cut by 20, 50 % wouldn't make a difference in that regard.

    I think the owners offer can be considered a bit of both. It killed two birds with one stone, a good PR move and a decent starting point for negotiation.

    And I think there is a maximum salary really. Players can only be offered a max percentage of the cap, correct?

  4. Michael,

    None of your ideas are awful, or would ruin the League or the game of hockey. I am just not sure why you continue to believe that the owners are the ones that should continue to get to have it both ways with respect to anti trust legislation. I believe that the players would be perfectly happy if hockey was treated exactly like soccer, no unions and no entry draft. And no horrible talk of collusion. Players go where they want to play and for whom will pay them the most money. Full stop. Imagine a world where Sidney Crosby got to decide where he wanted to play at 18. For the most money he could possibly get. I'm on board with this. I am sure that the owners would not be. Are you?

    1. There already is in the NHL. Its 20% of the maximum cap value. Has been this way since 2004.

    2. Nothing at all. Except the owners are incapable of independent thought. So this seems unlikely.

    3. The owners would seriously like the players to accept this deal.

    4. Of course. We aren't stupid. And its not that much money, the per diem specifically.

    5. Why not 1 or 2 %. Make them pay for their own equipment as well.

    6. I can think of no argument that leads me to believe that a collectively run league owned by the players as a trust would not be better for fans as well as the players. No dodgy accounting by our current owners, hiding profits and losses amongst other corporations. All the money goes to the players and paying expenses.

    7. Do I hear $25,000?

    The players do love the game. They prove this every time they step on the ice from the time they are little boys. Most players never make it to the NHL, let alone become millionaires. If they didn't love the game, why would they be willing to accept a salary rollback in a league that is increasing revenue every year?

    I know that we disagree. I wish I had a clue why you see the players as the villains. I would suggest to you that if you would watch the NHL without the stars. You can, its called the AHL. Let me know how the games are, I won't be watching.

  5. Good point about all those players in the minors striving for a shot at the next level, Ryan.

    My guess is the owners know exactly what they are offering (can you be part genuine and part disingenuous?) and are also well aware of the public relations part of all this, but maybe it will move the needle. I guess we'll find out shortly.

    On the "max" contract notion, you're right, yes. I'm more thinking. I guess, about what I would consider a real-world max (not one based against a high cap), like 5 million a year....I'm dreaming!

    Thanks for visiting, Ryan.

  6. Thanks Jim. Even when we disagree, I enjoy hearing from you! (To your soccer/Crosby point, my Dad made that very argument back in the early '70s. He also always thought the whole "draft" thing was contrary to individual rights, and would be thrown out if a player challenged it in court...)

    I know, by the way, that any time I write and try to make certain points on this topic, many readers here will vehemently disagree. The option is not posting at all about the lockout. But I have continued to do this, in the absence of NHL hockey, in part to provide a forum for people with thoughtful views to be able to express them freely.

  7. Hi Michael,

    While our views are often the same we share differing opinions as to the risks that NHL owners are taking.

    I have been a member of a union and I have also been, and still am, in management. I am a capitalist and very pro owner when it comes to business. To me, if you open a restaurant or any business for that matter, you are taking a risk. If you fail there are very real, life altering, implications.

    To me buying an NHL team does not fit into that category. These guys are not working two jobs to feed the family and scrape together enough money for a down payment on the Toronto Maple Leafs. They are either corporations looking for an investment or they are rich people with massive egos looking for a big toy to play with.

    If I buy an NHL team I am going in with eyes wide open. I have a pretty good idea as to what my returns or losses will be.

    Now, does that mean that they should have to take a hit? Of course not. They should be able to make money just like everyone else. But they do not have my sympathy. If you have been following the story in Edmonton you have to shake your head and wonder where these guys get off expecting taxpayers to foot the bill for everything. If you are unhappy sell the damn team and go away.

    But I digress.

    "All leagues like the NFL and NHL have “minimum” salaries under the CBA. Would you support a maximum salary for individual players?"

    Absolutely. Unlike other sports the NHL is pretty much gate driven, with the exception of the recent NBC contract they do not have networks and sponsors showering them in money.

    "What would be wrong if every NHL owner, independently, decided that he/the company no longer was willing to pay any player more than say, 5 million a year? Is that collusion?"

    Not at all. I would go so far as to call it common sense.

    "Was the owners’ latest offer disingenuous, or a serious effort to make a deal and start the season?"

    While I trust nothing that Bettman says or does I would have to believe that it is a starting point. Having said that, it is pretty obvious that it is designed to make the players the bad guys if they reject it out of hand.

    "Do most fans realize that players are making their salary and all this extra money?"

    Probably not.

    "Would kids stop wanting to play hockey for a living if they thought they could only make 90% of what current players are making? What about 20%? 50%?"

    Still beats 9 to 5 and saving up to buy a car.

    "If players aren’t happy, why don’t they start their own league? (That’s a real question—if they think the owners are unfair, why don’t they set up their own league and run it themselves?)"

    Like most employees they wouldn't have the stomach for it. It's a whole different world.

    "If the NHL minimum salary was $250,000 a year, would no one want to play any more?"

    Where else would they get that type of money? KHL? Have a blast.

    As always Michael, thanks fo taking the time to bring us your blog each day.

    Take care


  8. That's a very fair (and accurate) point about ownership being a different kettle of fish when we're talking about the NHL, Brad (cbh747). You're right. (And yes, the Edmonton mess is quite a portrait, agreed, and no doubt sheds light on what most of these guys are like...)

    Still, I'm surprised so many people seem to have so much apparent sympathy for the players. Like your point about ownership above, players aren't remotely, to me, like other individuals in most unions. Why they generate sympathy confuses me, but we all have our own views. I get it.

    I'm getting kicked in the shins a bit on this one today, here and via e-mail so I appreciate your thoughtful approach.

    We all bring our own life experiences to these chats, and we don't all see the world in the same way.

    Thanks for your kind words well, Brad. Take care.

  9. 1. Not really. Let the market bear what owners are willing to spend. Mind you, get a Cap system that does not have loopholes. That way rich owners can’t buy up all the best players.

    2. Collusion is not fair or legal. Mind you, I would have liked the owners to live within the “spirit” of the CBA, even if the wording allowed for loopholes to be exploited. The rich long-term contracts signed just before the CBA negotiations began proved that some of the owners will always put their own team ahead of the good of the NHL.

    3. I think the latest offer was a very serious attempt to get a deal done. Fehr better be careful how hard they counter-offer, because if the negotiation battle continues too much longer, the players will never recoup the losses they incur this season alone.

    4. Most fans forget about all the extras that players get, but it certainly should be publicized more. Understandably we don’t hear players talking about these perks at all. Ironically the players have scrutinized HRR and expenses on the owners side, but never mention their own.

    5. Players love to “play”. Yes, they want to get paid for their abilities and get paid fairly compared to other professional hockey players. However, how much they get paid is all relative. Players are eagerly playing in the KHL and elsewhere at far less money. So it’s obvious they are willing to “play” for less.

    6. That has been tried before with limited success. To start up a new league now takes huge dollars and huge risks. The generation of players today are too busy enjoying the riches of playing hockey, and lack the business courage and savvy to get a league going on their own. Not to be harsh, but many of the players today are simply spoiled kids.

    7. As long as kids can make more money playing hockey than they can working in the real world, they will accept whatever they can get. Personally I see no need for a minimum salary, but $250K sounds fair enough. Keep in mind there are hundreds and hundreds of players playing in leagues below the NHL and getting paid very minimal salaries. Many of those players will play their full hockey career in those leagues. They do it because they love to play, and can make more doing that than working in the real world.

    I worry that Fehr has blindly convinced the players that their position is so just and fair that accepting any less would be surrendering to the owners. The players should consider what they will lose, compared to what can be gained by fighting a longer battle and missing pay cheques. I'm convinced Fehr will cost them more than what he will gain for them if they don;t work out a deal soon. The majority of the players will not reap the rewards of what he is now fighting for, especially when they consider what they are about to lose in lost wages.

  10. Thanks Don (TML__fan). All well made points.

    The players often speak of fighting for those that come after them, and that's true.

    I do wonder, to your last point, how many players from the lack lockout never worked again in the NHL? How many won't this time? Or won't last long under a new agreement?

    They are fighting for a principle, I guess. But when you already have it really, really good, I wonder sometimes if that notion trumps common sense.

  11. Hi Michael,

    You and I have also disagreed, and frankly, the above posts make many of the points I would make, so I won't reiterate it all.

    But, and this is not directed at anyone specific, I wanted to share my observations on your point that so many folks seem to side with the players, or union, in this.

    I think everyone acknowledges both sides make a lot of money, and it all comes out of the fans' pockets. It's kind of a hollow argument to worry that a player makes $5MM or $7MM or $2MM, because we also know that a team like the Leafs sees a 78 cents costs and 22 cents profit split for every dollar of revenue - the pie is more than big enough in other words.

    The thing is...
    I think everyone feels that 04-05 was a definitive win for the NHL.
    The NHL made the point over and over that the 04-05 deal provided cost certainty.
    The NHL maintains weak markets. Of course, the union also benefits from additional jobs, but contraction as you mentioned has been something people want, and the NHL resists.
    Revenues have grown. As a whole the league is making stronger and doing better. Again players have benefit, but so have owners.

    The general sense is that overall, the system worked. Yes, some teams struggle, but most people feel those teams would struggle in those markets anyway, regardless if you paid the players $1MM max or not. The proposals put forth by the NHL help all teams equally... so the ones who are doing well make more, but there's no mechanism to increase revenue sharing. So there's a charade of using the weak teams argument, but then saying "only not with the other owners' money".

    The optics of the thing is that the owners have decided that they simply don't like the split. It's not about "we need to change the model because we need to keep business alive", it's "we just think we pay you way too much, and we don't like that".

    The NHL appears to have decided a lockout was the right negotiating strategy, and proceeded as though it was a foregone conclusion.

    Add now the image of ownership... the circus in Arizona where the city isn't even interested in keeping the Coyotes... Katz in Edmonton trying the old "give me more or I move" thing... Chicago spending huge money then blowing the team up... guys like Jacobs and Snider who are not hurting for money by any stretch... the ownership chain in Toronto, where you went from Ballard to OTPP to Rogers/Bell, all pretty much hated entities...

    In the end, it just looks like 30 greedy owners who decided the money looks better in their own pockets, and if it means shutting down the league and beating the union into submission again, then they will.

    Maybe that's tinged with my own perspective, but it's the feeling I get from various outlets as to why there's a lean to the players' position.

  12. Mark, you've expressed very well some of the reasons why many people don't support the owners' "stand". And I can that that side of things.

    I'm on a bit of an island today, I guess!

    Thank you.

  13. I imagine that if the players started a 'league of their own' - people like you and me would miss the history a little too much to be interested in such new teams and leagues (I wasn't interested in the WHA either and those teams only mattered to me when they joined the NHL). Perhaps there aren't as many of us who feel that way as I think!

    What if the NHLPA decided to buy a new expansion franchise (or bail out the Coyotes situation) giving them a voice on the owners' side!

    Better yet, what if the NHL made provision for future revenue sharing discussions contingent upon the players/NHLPA becoming owners of a team in the league.

    If they bought the Coyotes (and had to submit to the league's perspective on keeping them in Phoenix or moving the team) we might see (as their funds diminished, presuming they didn't buy the Leafs, Montreal or Rangers), such invested individuals would learn of the costs (and benefits) of team ownership! Perhaps then, the players could derive extra profit (or Loss) from running a franchise from which their 'extra' revenue could be derived!

    Given that Don Fehr has already brought his triune proposal to the table (before I wrote this), I was not surprised they would seek to protect the contracts already signed (moreso than the 'make whole' clause would do). However, I was surprised that the NHLPA was willing to eventually settle on a 50/50 solution (actually reaching any final number incrementally was not a surprise).

    If I were NOT being disingenuous, I would have pounced on that willingness to reach 50% and say 'we have the workings of a deal in there.'

    I am disappointed to note that Bettman's crew only focused on what they didn't want to see - as if such a counter proposal was an affront to their magnanimous gesture.

    This 10 minute consideration-and-departure from the meeting may lose the owners some significant/big PR points gained on Tuesday, and makes me wonder if they hope to completely break the union, making its existence moot. A lot of players and fans will find this offensive.

    Most people don't feel honoured with a 'take it or leave it' option, when so much is riding on either perspective... they want to be heard and honoured. In this regard, the owners just failed miserably.

    In my world, the owners would have expected a 'stepping down' provision and had another one ready to keep the process moving. Lines in the sand too often encourage unnecessary conflict.

    I can't believe the owners really thought Fehr wouldn't come back with a counter proposal and I feel they should have been ecstatic that the NHLPA was actually willing to get to 50/50. ARRRRGGGHHH...

    Unless the players cave and direct the PA to accept, it looks far more likely we're out for a substantial time... and my interest is waning.

  14. You've done a nice job of trying to look at both perspectives fairly here- owners and players - InTimeFor62.

    I wonder if our initial reactions to the "latest" CBA news are often rooted in the first blush (usually negative) response from one side or the other, and how they portray the latest offer or counter-proposal.

    Was the owners' Tuesday proposal just to make themselves look good- and put pressure on the PA? It sounded "fair" on the surface, until Fehr said it wasn't really.

    Today, the PA responded. The owners walked. PA was claiming they are offering what the owners want- 50/50. But the owners have balked.

    Was something crucial missing in today's NHLPA proposal, something, a kind of acknowledgement, that owners needed to see?

    I agree that in any negotation, the "other" side needs to feel heard and honoured. But maybe there is a lack of respect on both sides, neither really addressing what the other side wants.

    I'm as confused as anyone. Thanks InTimeFor62.

  15. I think the whole confrontational nature of collective bargaining breeds posturing and a lack of respect/honour on both sides... hence the 'time outs' for each side to 'recover' for the the next window of opportunity/ pressure point.

    As you indicated, perhaps we weren't told precisely why the owners walked so quickly... it just doesn't 'look good'. Who knows, maybe it was a quick NO with a view to a later 'maybe if you come closer still' - should we hope?

    I suspect any of us who dared hope there was a light at the end of the tunnel just feels like they're trapped therein with a train whistle blasting down the track at us!