It's a good day to be an NHL hockey fan. The first such good day in 301 days as the longest labour war in sports history is approaching it's conclusion. The buisness of hockey is about to take a backseat to the game of hockey for the first time in nearly a year. The next couple of months will be dominated by the ultimate real-life rotisserie league as fans dream about who will be coming to their teams. What will the new rules be? Will the NHL rig the draft so that the Knicks can grab Ewing... er the Rangers can grab Crosby? In Calgary, the Western Conference banner will finally go to the rafters, while Tampa will finally get to defend their Cup.
Expect to be the victim of a massive publicity campaign, with the once hated players at the forefront, as everybody and their dog (no word on whether Modano's dog will be strong enough to go on camera after the starvation diet Mike had to put him on) will be talking about how this deal is good for the fans, and how it is all about getting back on the ice. It isnt about the money.
And then, cutting through the euphoria like a knife through warm butter, one spoiled player reminds me why we had to wait as long as we did for this day, and why we ended up with the deal we did.
Scott Niedermayer is not happy. In fact, he blames his fellow union members for not having the guts to go through a two year lockout to avoid a salary cap:
"We were told what to expect, and if a player didn't feel he could handle what we were told would happen, he should have spoken up last summer. Then this deal would have been in place and we wouldn't have lost the season," Niedermayer said.
"I'm a little disappointed in that. You have to be committed. It's hard, but you have to be honest with yourself."
First of all Scott, several players did speak up last summer. And last fall. And last winter. They were all pressured into backing down or retracting their statements by your union brothers.
The fact is, Bob Goodenow and the NHLPA executive should never have even contemplated a strategy that involved missing at least two full seasons. Such a plan constituted little more than reckless endangerment of hundreds of NHL carreers. But then, the NHLPA's strategy was never about helping the rank and file. It was about the stars. Stars like Scott Niedermayer.
The average NHL carreer lasts just 5 years. Any player, agent or fan who seriously expected the likes of Mike Commodore to give up 40-60% of his NHL carreer so that stars like Scott Niedermayer can continue to make $7 million a year was delusional. Such a strategy offered the lower tier and fringe players nothing. The NHL, however, gave them everything they could possibly want.
The minimum salary will skyrocket to $400,000 now, and will be at a cool half a million by the end of the deal. Not only that, but a hard cap should ensure that the NHL remains a 30 team league well into the future. The jobs will still be there for guys like Commodore, and they are guaranteed a very healthy paycheque. The stars, like Niedermayer, however will have to make due with less as teams try to fit 25 players into their budgets. Unfortunately for Niedermayer, there are a lot more lower tier guys than there are at his level.
And so, 10 months after it began, the lockout will end as the NHL successfully split the union down economic lines. Guaranteeing the lower paid majority will retain their healthy paycheques removed the will to fight from the majority of the union. While they will still be taking paycuts in most cases, at least they will still make a kings ransom to play hockey, and they dont have to give up another year of their short carreers so the stars can retain their fat paycheques. Afterall, why should Nolan Pratt care if Jaromir Jagr can only afford one ferrari this year instead of three?