Every morning, I open the hockeybuzz website as well as other websites to get updated from the news around the NHL and around the world, and I see on TSN more and more players migrating to Europe, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about this migration.
Now a lot of people are on the player's side, often because they've been part of unions or strikes and have a history of dealing with negotiations where owners try to pinch every penny possible from their employers, and so they understand the dilemma of the players. This is but one of various reasons, but I had gotten into a discussion with one person who sided with the players and it was for that reason as if all owners have that fixed universal mentality.
Now a lot of people don't like Bettman and usually aren't quite sure what his job description is. Seems like he's the evil leprechaun of the NHL ownership trying to steal everyone's candy. So I'll quote what someone put on Wikipedia (because they phrased it well): The owners hired Bettman with the mandate of selling the game in the U.S. market, end labor unrest, complete expansion plans, and modernize the views of the "old-guard" within the ownership ranks.
The labor unrest has been the hardest part, and so people who want all the facts need to realize that the NHL has a very delicate agenda. On three points they need to balance.
1. They don't want to let the fans get off course through lengthy labor disputes. Is it their fault? Well, look at their next two agendas and judge for yourself.
2. They need to have some of the best players in the world in their league to help market the league and bring in revenue.
3. They need to expand the league into non-traditional markets and ensure parity within the league so that expansion is of any use... otherwise, the game remains stagnant.
Balancing 2 and 3 alone is extremely difficult, because players are proving with their migration to Europe that they're following money that's immediately made, and the NHL is made to seem like they're trying to pinch every penny. And they aren't always in tune with the ownership's agenda (actually, this migration suggests that they really don't care about it at all). They've never put forth any serious contract offers and Fehr knew that the NHL would reject what he put forth out of hand because they were extremely insulting.
I even read, upon the player's reaction to the Oct 15 proposal, that players had issues that they'd like seen to, like contraction. This one irked me.
I think what a lot of players fail to understand (because they bring this issue up) is that the bigger the league is, the more revenue each individual team gets in the long run, and the more revenue the entire league gets. Everything inflates itself. If they contract the league two to four teams, they shut down like 10% of their own labour force. If the NHL is still original six, are the Leafs still making as much money as they do? I can't answer that for certain, but the factors for it is that expansion keeps the game fresh and evolving, while keeping the same old format brings about the same old form of entertainment in which people will get bored of. Pseudo-realities are impossible to determine, but it just makes sense... the bigger the tree is, the healthier it'll be.
Also they should understand that if parity isn't in the league, that also stagnates growth for these smaller market teams because they're not competitive. If you're a baseball fan, would you pay more to watch the Yankees/Red Sox play, or a smaller market team?
Now I write a lot of these and it looks like I favour the owners. I don't. I favour the side that currently makes the most sense. I favoured the players in June when the owners made that ridiculous proposal because it was a transparent negotiation tactic that deserved a snort. Things got more real on Oct 15, but I remember the players saying, "It feels like a shakedown."
Now I see they aren't taking anything real seriously because many are migrating to Europe and Fehr's still not tabled any serious offers whatsoever (dealing with imaginary revenues in the future). I'm wondering if THIS is a shakedown and they're trying to get Bettman fired because he's really good at his job (without the past labour disputes, there's much less expansion if any at all, so he has up until now adhered to the delicate balance of his job description).
I favour being entertained. Parity entertains me, growth of the game entertains me, and when players are against these agendas, I start to criticize the actions they make to compromise the entertainment of the sport. I was heavily against Goodenow because I didn't want to watch the All Star Rangers and All Star Leafs and All Star Habs beat the living crap out of the rest of the league because I'm not a fan of leagues with no competition. I watch PGA, I watch NFL, I watch World Cup/Champion's League because these are highly competitive sports. I also love that about the NHL... seeing two different teams in the Stanley Cup finals nearly every year. Means when you're a fan of a team that makes a run, you appreciate how rare this might be because the league is so competitive. I wasn't a fan of the NHL in the 80s because the same teams were competitive every year and it was boring for me (though fun for a select few people).
Now not all owners make money, but all players make money, which is something a lot of people fail to remember. Some owners have to work for free (or pay to work) while the game tries to grow, and every six years or so, they try to give the NHL a better system to help the game grow so that everyone prospers rather than JUST the players, and they won't have it. Instead, they want to make the league smaller and they want to go to where offers the biggest paycheck from the looks of it.
All the owners want is a slight relief from player salaries so that they can go back to paying the players a lot more money in the future. A lot of them don't even mind breaking even because they love owning an NHL team. They do love to pay players money. And believe me, when the game grows, they'll be forking over even more money. They always have (at one point, players made 70% of revenues), since salaries became public that is, and they always will.
So right now, it's your judgement about who's really getting taken advantage of. Player agents shake you down for every dollar you're worth while giving you the ultimatum of not remaining a competitive team (and not generating fan interest, ergo revenues).
The whole point: they may not be able to balance these issues with the player's association being as difficult as they are, and the NHL takes the hit. Pay now and the game is stagnant, pay later and the game grows and everyone makes more money in the end... but choice b isn't an option until the players let up. That's why they're so hard to negotiate CBAs with.