| The new face of the
How to right the NHL ship
2/16/04 - by Mike Chen
If a 2004-2005 NHL season
takes place-and that's a big if-it will be under a new playing field, on and
off the ice. Commissioner Gary Bettman has seen to it that sweeping rule
changes will accompany the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) to bolster
offensive play. The proposed rule changes range from the obvious (move the nets
back and expand the neutral zone) to the dramatic (the goaltender cannot play
the puck behind the net). While some goalies have cried foul, the new
goaltender rule changes will add a dimension previously unseen to their
According to Sharks GM Doug Wilson, the goaltender rule
change came down to either restricting goalie movement or allowing the goalie
to be hit outside of the crease. The GMs chose to go with the safer route and
disallowed the goalie to play the puck behind the net.
goalies don't seem to realize is that they can still go anywhere above the goal
line. Many of the situations where they normally go behind the net will still
be playable. It's just that there is suddenly a risk factor involved.
Some hockey observers have noted that this rule change will slow down power
plays, as goalies can no longer stop long dumps from the offensive zone. That's
not true. He's just gotta skate the 40 or so feet from the crease to the
endboards to stop it. From that spot, the goalie can attempt a breakout pass,
or he can dump it behind the net for a skater to pick up and begin a breakout.
There's no rule that says the goalie has to let the puck roll around the boards
while the crowd sighs in boredom.
What this rule change does is that
it forces everyone-from the players to the coaches to the traditional hockey
watcher-to rethink strategy. It might even kick start the power play on
occasion. If a goalie rushes out to grab the puck, he'll get to it faster than
if he just met it behind the net. From there, he can catch a resetting penalty
kill off guard with a quick pass, or perhaps catch the other team on a line
change. It won't happen every time, but even if it's just one time out 10,
that's another scoring chance that didn't previously exist.
normal (non-penalty kill) dump in situation, we will no longer see a puck shot
in while Martin Brodeur simply stops it behind the net and passes it back out.
This rule change presents every goalie with a choice: stay in net and hope that
a defenseman gets the loose puck or skate to the end boards and pass it to a
If a goalie elects to make the trip out to the endboards, he
faces the inevitable forechecker. For a team like the Sharks, with their hard
forecheck mentality, this is nothing but good news. The goalie is now pressured
to make a split second decision of where to pass the puck. These situations
will lead to the inevitable turnover and goal through bad passes and fast
Ultimately, this rule change does not take away from a
goaltender's puckhandling talents. It forces them to make a series of judgments
with a large penalty involved if a mistake is made. It presents an opportunity
for a normally routine play to become a turnover. It challenges goalies to
become better on-ice thinkers by forcing them to skate further to retrieve the
puck under pressure circumstances.
It will make for a more
entertaining product. Of course, it really won't matter unless a new CBA is
Like all negotiations, the NHL and NHLPA have spun their
respective rhetoric out into the press to try and influence public opinion. The
NHL's "woe is me" stance singles out greedy players and agents as the culprits
for driving up costs. The Player's Association points to stupid owners who
threw their money unwisely into free agency. The truth lies somewhere in the
middle of both accusations. And the final resolution will probably line up
somewhere in between what the PA and the league are proposing.
Currently, two offers stand on the table. The league wants "cost certainty,"
which translates into a link between revenues and spending limits. Its current
proposal is to have $930 million (a figure determined to provide cost certainty
from NHL accountants) dumped into a pool for all 30 teams to use for player
costs. This essentially means a hard cap of $31 million, even though Gary
Bettman used his lawyer rhetoric to claim that such a thing was never proposed.
The NHLPA proposal goes like this: a 5% across the board pay cut, a
luxury tax on a soft cap of $51 million, with the money going into a shared
pool for teams.
The NHL claims that player salaries currently take up
75% of revenues. They would like that value to be closer to 60%, as 75% is just
too much for a gate receipt league. The PA claims that the teams have not
reported all possible revenue streams and are lying on financial reports.
Both proposals have more details regarding rookie contracts and free
agency, but for the big issues, these are what stand. Here is a fair compromise
that Shark Sandwich believes will be close to the final CBA.
cap at $37.5 million:
Since the league wants to lower
player/revenue ratios by 15%, let's start with that. The current average NHL
payroll is $44 million. Lopping 15% off that gives us with $37.5 million.
There's your cap point.
A dollar for dollar luxury tax:
Simply having a soft cap doesn't account for small market teams
still losing money, and big market teams dumb enough to pay gigantic dollars.
So let's institute a dollar for dollar penalty on big spenders, with the extra
cash going into a pool. Let's take the Colorado Avalanche, for example.
Assuming they want to keep their core team together, they'll have a payroll of
roughly $60 million. In actuality, though, they will be spending an additional
$22.5 million for a final payroll of $82.5 million.
While an extra
10-20 million may be too rich for many team's blood, some teams own a cable
network and/or the arena the team plays in. The hockey team may lose money as a
sole entity, but it is the anchor for many indirect revenue streams to offset
that red ink. Why else would the New York Rangers (owned by Cablevision) or the
Philadelphia Flyers (owned by Comcast) be willing to spend ridiculous dollars
on teams that haven't won Stanley Cups? Why else would the Phoenix Coyotes hold
all of their hopes on Glendale Arena, where they can take in all revenues from
concerts and other events?
A weighted revenue sharing pool
(including the luxury tax money):
So while we've established the
motivation for some teams to spend big on their franchise, it doesn't help out
the small market teams with bad arena deals, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Let's take a percentage of revenues, along with the luxury tax money, and divvy
that up. The distribution of funds depends on salary amount under the cap and
team attendance. With the current team salaries, this system provides $290.7
million into the luxury tax pool. Along with a small percentage of revenue
sharing, this averages to an extra $10-12 million a team.
these distribution averages to favor teams with smaller payrolls and high
attendance (take THAT, Bill Wirtz) could ultimately give teams like the
Minnesota Wild an extra $20 million a season. Thus, big spenders are penalized
by paying the tax as well as giving money to their competition. The league can
have its cake and eat it too: owners dumb enough to give Bobby Holik $9 million
a year can do so, but it will most likely cost $18 million a year, and that
money goes directly to a team like the Calgary Flames so they can keep Jarome
Unrestricted free agency at age 29:
lowering the UFA age, this gives the players more of the market freedom they
desire. This also allows teams more freedom as to which free agent they pursue.
However, history (and the New York Rangers) have shown that team play can beat
any single talented player and a big name free agent does not always give
proper returns. That, along with the rule changes emphasizing speed and puck
pursuit, means a long term contract to a 30+ player isn't necessarily as
appealing as it was ten years ago.
This proposed compromise allows for
a free market (which players want) under restrictions that penalize the dumb
team and help the smart team (which owners want). GMs have started to realize
over the past three seasons that the marquee player may not do much to help a
team once he passes the age of 30. I'd like to think that GMs are smart enough
to learn from the mistakes of the past ten years.
Why would players
and owners compromise in their final agreement? Almost everyone in hockey
acknowledges that any loss of a season could be catastrophic for a league that
is already on the mainstream fringe. Rhetoric regarding lockouts and missed
seasons is all well and good when posturing for public support, but the reality
of the situation is too obvious to miss, even for single minded folk like
Bettman and NHLPA boss Bob Goodenow.
One of the great lessons learned
over the past ten years is that the Stanley Cup can be won in many different
ways. Teams with medium payrolls have bested teams with large payrolls, and
vice versa. Ultimately, the sport of hockey is a team game, and by realizing
this, the NHL and NHLPA should come up with a compromise that allows for player
freedom, but also a system of checks and balances that helps out the small
market teams and penalizes stupid roster transactions. When that is settled,
then the fans will be able to enjoy the new face of the NHL, on and off the
Contact Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org
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