Hockey

SADLY, THE PUCK COULD STOP HERE

J.D. June 7 2004
Hockey

SADLY, THE PUCK COULD STOP HERE

J.D. June 7 2004

SADLY, THE PUCK COULD STOP HERE

J.D.

HOCKEY FANS will have to savour this Stanley Cup final. Based on what commissioner Gary Bettman and players association boss Bob Goodenow have been saying lately, this is the last fans will likely see of the National Hockey League for some time. The two negotiators are miles apart on how to divide up the league’s US$2 billion in annual revenues, the gulf a measure of their mutual distrust. Bettman’s mandate from team owners is to achieve cost certainty-a salary cap, for instance, in conjunction with revenue sharing among teams. The players, who earn an average of US$1.9 million per season, and Goodenow say they’ll never accept a cap. History suggests both the owners and the players will wait for the other to blink, and that could wipe out the entire 2004-05 season.

The combatants have their points. The players contend that no one forced teams to overspend on salaries, and that some owners have overstated their financial woes and hidden sources of revenue. And as

Calgary and Tampa Bay have shown, good teams can be assembled on comparatively tight budgets within the framework of the existing collective agreement. Then there’s the obvious point: none of the players are interested in taking a pay cut.

But the owners argue that every other major North American sports league has needed some form of salary cap or payroll tax to flourish. While small-budget NHL teams occasionally excel, they can’t do it consistently without pumping up their payrolls. And the league backs its tale of woe with what Bettman described as a “super audit,” released in February, in which former U.$. $ecurities and Exchange Commission chairman Arthur Levitt found that the NHL’s 30 teams suffered a net loss last season of US$270 million. “Our problems, which I think are indisputable, need fixing,” Bettman insists. Who knows when that fix will be in. J.D.