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NHL's money-loser mirage, Rangers-Flyers hurricane relief game, more

Florida Panthers The Florida Panthers are regularly portrayed as an NHL basket case. (Elliott Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

By Stu Hackel

What is this lockout about? That is something that the NHL's team owners have never clearly articulated, but one thing we've been led to believe is that while a group of established clubs are generating huge revenues, many more are not and some are losing boatloads of money. One franchise that is frequently cited as drowning in red ink is the Florida Panthers, which Forbes Magazine pegged as having lost $7 million last year. During the last nine years, Florida supposedly took a $68 million bath, about $7.5 million annually.

But in a new post, Johnathan Willis of The Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey blog writes about how he hunted down and examined publicly available documents of the Panthers' parent company's finances and they show a much different and more complicated picture. Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, which owns the team and controls its arena, actually showed a profit of $117.4 million between 1998 and 2012, including a stretch in which the Panthers missed the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons.

Willis believes that the finances of these parent companies, or sister companies -- and there are many of them in the NHL -- can be structured to show less favorable results for the hockey team while it, as the anchor tenant of the arena, drives all the other events and business. Part of his evidence is that the parent company had its lowest profitability during the 2004-05 lockout year "That’s either an incredibly interesting coincidence, or evidence that the Panthers themselves help make the arena as profitable as it is," he writes. Add a sweetheart deal with the local government to operate the building, as the Panthers and other clubs have, and owners can really jack up their revenues.

His conclusions: 1. NHL teams are gateways to favorable arena deals, and thus greater revenue; and 2. Hockey Related Revenue is defined in such a way so as to maximize the appearance of losses on the sport's side.

We discussed Hockey Related Revenue during the summer and how it excludes all sorts of streams the players cannot share. "The bottom line," Willis writes, "is that the Panthers’ current ownership did not get into hockey to lose money, and according to the county auditor they haven’t lost money. Florida, commonly presented as one of the league’s have-not teams, and an example of the dangers of over-expansion, is nothing of the sort: it’s a healthy business, carefully presented to appear like a money-losing operation."

Friday marks Day 62 of the lockout. Feel free to once again ask why.

PLAYERS PLAYING FOR OTHERS: NHL CBA talks are going nowhere -- and more on that below -- but that doesn't mean NHLers are asleep.

Earlier this week, we surveyed how the hockey community was responding to the massive destruction along the Eastern Seaboard caused by Hurricane Sandy. This event could be the most significant response yet: members of the locked-out Rangers, Flyers and others from the league will skate in a charity game at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Saturday, Nov. 24 at 7 PM.

Caesar's Palace in Atlantic City has, apparently, helped put this effort together and proceeds from the game, called "Operation Hat Trick," will go to the American Red Cross, the Empire State Relief Fund and the New Jersey Relief Fund. The  and the American Red Cross. Tickets are priced from $25 to $100 and can be purchased at the Boardwalk Hall Box Office, ticketmaster.com, all Ticketmaster locations, or by calling 800-736-1420.

A Facebook page for the game has been created and you can visit that page here.

Among the players who have committed are Rangers Brad Richards, Brian Boyle, Steve Eminger, Taylor Pyatt and Jeff Halpern; Flyers Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Jody Shelley and Wayne Simmonds; plus James Neal (Penguins), Bobby Ryan (Ducks), James van Riemsdyk (Maple Leafs), Ville Leino (Sabres), Dan Carcillo (Blackhawks), Simon Gagne (Kings), John Carlson (Capitals) and Steve Downie (Avalanche). The list of players will likely grow.

“We’re not playing, but we feel a sense of responsibility to our communities,” Richards told Larry Brooks of The New York Post. “It’s a privilege to be in this position, really.” Richards participated in a youth hockey fundraiser on storm-ravaged Staten Island on Friday with at least a half-dozen of his Blueshirt teammates.

“We are all overwhelmed by the damage and destruction caused to our area by Hurricane Sandy and as professional hockey players, we wanted to come together to help those who were victimized by the storm,” Richards told The Philadelphia Inquirer's Sam Carchidi. “While we know the road to recovery is long, we hope a hockey game featuring some of the top players will help rally additional support for the three great organizations that are committed to helping rebuild our area.”

Richards lives in lower Manhattan and lost power during the storm. He's been among the athletes who are active in relief efforts on Staten Island.

Carchidi quoted Hartnell as saying, “The lives that have been touched by the devastation are people in our own communities and the communities of our fans.” He also said that it's "an honor" to participate in the event and told Tim Panaccio of CSNPhilly.com that he will captain one team and Richards the other on November 24.

“Hockey is a small world,” Hartnell said. “We thought of this. Atlantic City got hammered. There were some people putting out feelers and we jumped at the opportunity. We’re a great group of guys. It’s like our own All-Star Game. This is going to benefit those affected by Hurricane Sandy and it’s going to be a great night in Atlantic City.

“This all kind of came out of the blue,” he added. “Talking with people who were affected by the hurricane and you see images on TV. A few of us got together and said, 'Maybe we can do a hockey game with all the benefits going to those areas in New York and the Jersey shore.' The American Red Cross did such an incredible job trying to put back these towns hit so hard. We want to help.”

GEOFFRION OUT OF HOSPITAL: Canadiens prospect Blake Geoffrion, who suffered a depressed skull fracture last week, was released from Montreal General Hospital on Wednesday after emergency surgery last Friday night. Playing at the Bell Centre for the Habs' Hamilton AHL team, he was hit by Syracuse Crunch defenseman Jean-Philippe Côté on this play, a clean but explosive hip check:

Geoffrion skated off under his own power, but was rushed to the hospital. Not only had his head hit the ice hard, he came down on Côté's skate, which cut his forehead. Surgeons had to remove parts of Geoffrion's skull from his brain and replace a hole in his skull with titanium mesh, but the procedure was successful. "We're lucky he's alive," Blake's father Danny told Josh Cooper of The Tennessean.

Geoffrion was able to walk around on Montreal's streets briefly after his release and a complete recovery is expected. The Montreal Gazette's Brenda Branswell reported that because Blake has suffered concussions in the past, one of the surgeons suggested that Geoffrion should consider sitting out the remainder of the season

The 2010 Hobey Baker Award-winner as the top college player in American while skating for the University of Wisconsin, Geoffrion is a fourth-generation pro hockey player. The grandson of Canadiens Hall of Famer Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion and the great-grandson of another Habs Hall of Famer, Howie Morenz, Blake was raised in the Nashville area where Danny (who also played in the NHL) settled. Blake was acquired by Montreal last season from Nashville and has played in 55 NHL games for the Predators and Habs.

Danny Geoffrion was a teammate of Côté's father, Alain, when both played for the Nordiques in the last season of the WHA, 1978-79.

“You ask me, ‘Is he going to be raring to go in a year from now?’ Yeah, absolutely, probably if everything goes well, probably in eight months to 10 months, I feel like he’ll be a race horse ready to hit it again,” Danny told Cooper. “But now you can’t just look at that aspect of it. You have to look at quality of life when he’s 50 years old.

“Now, we need Blake to be back 100 percent strong."

LOCKOUT'S LATEST: Word filtered out on Thursday night that Gary Bettman had suggested to Don Fehr that the owners and players take a two-week break in their stalemated CBA talks. That makes it four Fridays in a row in which we've had bad lockout news (and here are our thoughts on the preceding three).

It's still uncertain as of this writing whether the negotiations will actually take a hiatus, (RDS reported Friday night the NHLPA had formally requested a re-start) but the idea of a break was roundly condemned by players and observers. “Two weeks is a waste of time. It’s something we shouldn’t be doing,” Rangers captain Ryan Callahan told Mark Everson of The New York Post at his teammates' charity event on Staten Island. “We want to negotiate. Why take a two-week break? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“I don’t think that gets us anywhere,” said Ranger Marian Gaborik. “We have to get back to the table and get a deal done.”

An exasperated Dave Shoalts wrote in The Globe and Mail,"Yes, figuring out how to divide record revenue of $3.3-billion so that all concerned get rich is such an onerous task, such a Gordian Knot of a problem that the NHL commissioner feels a nice little break is in order. No sitting around boardrooms amid mouldering tuna sandwiches for this guy, trying to deal with the inscrutable Donald Fehr, no sir-ee. Let's all reconvene to the bar, shall we, and check the flight schedules to somewhere warm where they serve drinks with little umbrellas in them."

Stalling the process would force the players to miss paychecks and shrink the season to the point where the whole thing could vanish, a tactic aimed at forcing them to agree to a deal that they find unacceptable rather than trying to negotiate one that both sides can live with.

While the sides have gotten closer over time on a number of issues, including revenue sharing and a general idea of how to split Hockey Related Revenue, they remain apart on the "Make Whole" provision, a misnomer if there ever was one because the owners have never proposed or agreed to honor in full the contracts they signed prior to the lockout. And while the sides have reached understandings on many player contracting rights, the owners aren't moving on some of the most crucial, things like free agency, salary arbitration, signing bonuses, the entry level system and length of contracts.

What progress has been made has come through talking, not through not talking.

Meanwhile everyone loses money, not just the players. Ken Campbell of The Hockey News reported on Friday that the owners are risking more than their gate receipts. "According to a source with a good knowledge of the NHL’s business workings," he wrote, "the league has a deal with its major sponsors that will pay it 100 percent of its money if the league plays a schedule of 61 or more games. If the schedule dips below 61 games, the league will receive only 75 percent of its sponsorship money. That percentage continues to decrease down to 50 percent if the league only plays a 41-game schedule. So by pushing things back by two weeks, Bettman is putting millions of dollars of sponsorship money into jeopardy."

And the fans continue to lose interest as this self-destructive behavior threatens to put the negotiations, the season and the entire business in limbo, if not in danger.

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