February 10, 2005

So Much for That Old-Time Hockey

SIMON FROM JERSEY, who is a devoted hockey fan, has written a smart essay on the National Hockey League lockout. Among other things, Mr Einspahr notes the general irrationality of the NHL Players' Association, which is being stubborn at the negotiating table. He writes:

The owners aren't budging....NOT NOW, NOT IN 2006, NOT IN 2009. At worst, the NHL will dissolve and some semblance of a league will reform WITH A CAP. Either the players can come along and play ball, or FUCK 'EM. This is what the players don't realize, or seem willing to accept. The NHL, as much I absolutely love it, is not on the same page as MLB, the NBA, and the NFL. Golf, Tennis, even the WNBA are more successful. The players and owners need to find common ground and figure out how to fix the game or no one will be making any money at all. What's 42% of nothing? That's what I thought. The longer the game sits on the shelf, the more the essential casual fans the league is desperately trying to convert will disappear forever.

Mr Einspahr writes as this year's NHL season is pretty much in its death throes; even if it were salvaged, the league would hold a pathetic 28-game season and then, of course, the playoffs. We daresay they might as well kill it now and save everyone all the bother.

After all, as Mr Einspahr points out, most folks are not wailing and gnashing their teeth at the league's absence. At its best, top-level professional hockey is America's No. 5 Sport, falling behind football, baseball, basketball and, of course, auto racing. Although hockey has become successful over the years, it still has that faint aura of an unfortunate import which just didn't take off, kind of like an Isuzu Stylus sedan. And now that hockey's gone, Americans have reacted much like they did when the Stylus sedan went away -- that is, by not minding.

Like Mr Einspahr, we too wonder just what the devil's going through the players' minds. We are not unsympathetic to their hatred for a salary cap; after all, were hockey to enjoy a renaissance, this probably would limit their earnings potential. But on the other hand, we don't see how they can do anything but accept the owners' proposal for one.

For the players' backs are against the wall. Since the league says it has lost $500 million over the past two years, and will continue to lose money if nothing is done, it makes perfect sense for the league to do everything in its power to fix things before the ships sink. If that means playing with replacements, they'll do it. If that means putting ads on the jerseys and naming the men's rooms after sponsors, they'll do it. It's much easier to pay good players an average of $500,000 per year than it is to pay great players close to $2 million. And since athletic talent is a renewable resource, it's not as if the present crop of players offers a skill set that can't be duplicated eventually.

So the owners will win -- the only question is when the players will realize that. We have absolutely no idea when that might be, but if this year's season is finished, we would guess that would happen around this time next year. We'd also guess that by then, the NHL would have started using replacement players.

For while many athletes are savvy with money, there are many who aren't; and as TIME magazine recently reported, in Europe, players aren't exactly making what they were making here. As time goes on, some will undoubtedly feel the financial pinch, and more will realize they had a pretty good deal going. When that happens, they'll start coming back into the fold. The only other question, though, is whether they'll do so while hockey fans still give a damn.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at February 10, 2005 11:43 PM | TrackBack

Yeah, I'm pissed.

Posted by: simon from jersey at February 11, 2005 05:06 PM

I can tell -- you didn't mention the Clever Inside Joke I'd put in the essay!

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at February 11, 2005 05:49 PM

Man, and did you realize they dissolved the IHL in 2001?

Posted by: Jesse Kepple at February 13, 2005 12:32 AM

Yeah. That bit.

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at February 13, 2005 07:47 AM


Posted by: simon from jersey at February 13, 2005 10:18 PM

Jesse, atleast the K-Wings survived...albeit in the bush league UHL......

Posted by: simon from jersey at February 13, 2005 10:19 PM

YEAH! Go Simon! (I know, I just learned that about the K-Wings today, if you can believe it).

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at February 13, 2005 11:30 PM