Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Winter Is Cancelled; Come Back Next Year

No one can feing surprise that the brinksmanship in which the NHL owners and players engaged resulted, finally, in the the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 NHL season. But that doesn't make it any less depressing for those of us who actually help to put money in the coffers of NHL owners.

The above-linked article doesn't reflect comments made by an NHL spokesman and broadcast on NPR last night, which suggested an irrational truculence. The Times article quotes the final decisive discrepancy as being about $6.5M per team. That is, the players had accepted a salary cap, one not linked to revenue as the owners originally proposed, and the owners came around as well. But the final cap offer by the union was $49M per team, while the owners refused to go above $42.5M per team. On NPR last evening, a representative of the owners observed that the $6.5M difference per team amounted to a nearly $200M difference between the sides when multiplied across 30 teams.

That math is all fine and good, and I'll even grant that such a cap would tend to draw even those teams with the lowest payrolls up to meet it. This would, of course, have the salutary effect of creating parity, except perhaps for the Rangers, who haven't been able to win lately spending twice the cap on players' salaries. And parity might improve turnout and thus revenue. But my biggest problem was with the spokesman's observation that the $200M gap approached the amount of money allegedly lost by owners in the past couple of NHL seasons. What makes no sense about this is that a $200M gap between the sides could have occurred after any degree of compromising, and any consequent lowering of the bar. If, instead of $42.5M vs. $49M, the sides had bound up over $22.5M and $29M, the gap between the sides still would have been nearly $200M, which still would have resembled the alleged losses of the owners en masse, but of course the owners would have gained $20M per team in concessions in moving down to that level.

I'm no accountant, and there are many numbers in play here of which I know nothing. But comparing the $200M gap between the sides to an utterly irrelevant number and then suggesting that bogus analogy was a decisive factor in canceling a major league sport's entire season over a labor dispute for the first time ever has no explanatory power whatsoever, and can't possibly in any way satisfy the fans that the parties involved in these failed negotiations did everything they could do to reach a compromise and let the players play.

And we have nothing to do but be jealous of the fans of the European teams for which more than half of NHL players are competing this season. It's a shame. It really is.

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