By Stu Hackel
It's the end of October and the owners' locks remain on the doors of all NHL facilities. The most interesting news from the battlefront so far this week is that NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr traveled to Minnesota on Tuesday to meet with players and review the stalemated CBA negotiations.
Reading some of the coverage of Fehr's visit, like this story from Bruce Brothers of The St. Paul Pioneer-Press, it's obvious that some of the players are angry, or at least bordering on it. And, as Michael Russo of The Minneapolis Star-Tribune wrote, some players are concerned about the long-term impact that the lockout will have on their careers. Those reactions are realities of the situation, but they don't seem to have appreciably dented the union's resolve.
"We're still standing firm. We know what's right," Islanders forward Kyle Okposo told Brothers. "We want our fans to know that we want to play. Right now, it's not happening, and we're just going to keep going and try to get this done as quickly as possible."
Defenseman Ryan Suter who, along with Zach Parise, signed a huge free agent deal with the Wild during the summer, is among those who have flirted with anger. He told Craig Custance of ESPN Magazine earlier this month of his feelings about Craig Leipold and all the owners after their CBA proposals that would not honor existing contracts. “It’s disappointing. If you can’t afford to (sign contracts) then you shouldn’t do it,” Suter said. “(Leipold) signed us to contracts. At the time he said everything was fine. Yeah, it’s disappointing. A couple months before, everything is fine, and now they want to take money out of our contracts that we already signed....Now, they’re trying to go back on their word. It’s frustrating, disappointing. It doesn’t seem like that’s the way you operate a relationship or business.”
Suter backed down from that sentiment while speaking with Russo on Sunday. “I thought a lot about since what I said. I don’t question Craig Leipold and Minnesota with regards to negotiating our contracts in good faith. I don’t question that. That might have come off wrong. I don’t question that. It’s just frustrating. We just want to play. We support Don in what he’s doing. Obviously you sign a contract, and you want to hold true to that. I think, and I hope, everything works out.”
The way it's working out now is that the players have lost over $177 million in salary according to the Sportsnet Lockout Clock, which tabulates only the players' losses and not those of ownership (perhaps not surprising considering Sportsnet's parent company is part of the Maple Leafs ownership group). A few weeks ago, we did a very rough calculation of the damages to that side of the equation. It was a very unscientific and certainly flawed effort (you can read our caveats in that post), but at least it gives a ballpark estimate of team-by-team lost gate receipts based on last season's ticket prices. Here's how those losses might look through the games that would have been played on Wednesday night, concluding the October's schedule.
Anaheim (5 games @ $634,407.56 per) — $3,172,037.80
Boston (6 games @ $1,035,281.10) — $6,211,686.60
Buffalo (5 games @ $728,241.75) — $3,641,208.75
Calgary (5 games @ $1,315.316.91) — $6,576,584.55
Carolina (5 games @ $776,714.40) — $3,883.572.00
Chicago (5 games @ $1.098,631.24) — $5,493,156.20
Colorado (4 games @ $731.444.34) — $2,925,777.36
Columbus (3 games @ $870.004.80) — $2,610,014.40
Dallas (4 games @ $555,033.40) — $2,220,133.60
Detroit (3 games @ $1,069,116.48) — $3,207,349.44
Edmonton (4 games @ $1,180,919.07) — $4,723,676.28
Florida (3 games @ $948,616.80) — $2,845,850.40
Los Angeles (5 games @ $940,686.56) — $4,703,432.80
Minnesota (5 games @ $1,131,348.32) — $5,656,741.60
Montreal (6 games @ $1,886,276.91) — $11,317,661.46
Nashville (4 game @ $873,447.52) — $3,493,790.08
New Jersey (5 games @ $808,282.50) — $4,041,412.50
New York Islanders (5 games @ $796,440.04) — $3,982,200.20
New York Rangers (0 games @ $1,204,840) — $0
Ottawa (4 games @ $1,063,183.03) — $4,252,732.12
Philadelphia (5 games @ $1,306,896.82) — $6,534,484.10
Phoenix (4 games @ $619,068.75) — $2,476,275.00
Pittsburgh (4 games @ $1,159,484.22) — $4,637,936.88
St. Louis (5 games @ $796,065.50) — $3,980,327.50
San Jose (4 games @ $873,358.26) — $3,493,433.04
Tampa Bay (3 games @ $745,469.34) — $2,236,408.02
Toronto (3 games @ $2,329,227.63) — $6,987,682.89
Vancouver (4 games @ $1,293,065.80) — $5,172,263.20
Washington (5 games @ $1,155,144.52) — $5,775,722.60
Winnipeg (4 games @ $1,474,443.08) — $5,897,772.32
That's an estimated $132 million worth of unsold seats -- at last season's prices. The Rangers weren't to have played a home game until November and their ticket prices went up this season 9.5 percent. Not only do the losses not include ticket price increases this year, they don't include any other sources of revenue from broadcasting, corporate sponsorships, concession sales and parking, licensing fees and other things.
So the bleeding continues among the owners as well as the players. Apart from the money, of course, is the decline in the game's image and the loss of fan interest, both of which had been on the rise. It's no way to run a business, unless you want to run it into the ground.
Classic plea: We wrote on Tuesday about the NHL potentially cancelling the Winter Classic by Friday to avoid spending money it can't recoup -- and we updated the post later to include the information reported by Frank Seravalli of The Philadelphia Daily News that, “According to the contract, the NHL can cancel the Winter Classic up until the day of the event, pretty much without penalty." All it would lose would be the $100,000 it has already given to the University of Michigan and whatever expenses the school incurred.
The contract between the NHL and the University can be read here and the cancellation policies are on Page 2. The way it reads, with the league specifically protected in case of a lockout, the NHL really has very little financial exposure upcoming this week, or at all beyond what it has already paid the school. Last week, Gary Bettman said, "I'm not going to give you an exact timetable, but at some point in November we will have to commit many millions of dollars to get ready for the Winter Classic, so if there's still uncertainty, we're going to have to make a decision. And my guess is, we're not going to commit those dollars unless we have certainty." There may be other expenses involved, but nothing in the contract calls for that.
Damien Cox of The Toronto Star believes that this Friday presents the league with an opportunity, "a chance for the NHL to prove it can do something different. Run another play, as it were. Yes, there's financial considerations, and logistical ones, that make this Friday a meaningful deadline for this event....It will cost the NHL not to cancel, that we know. But after pouring millions down the sinkhole that is the Phoenix Coyotes for four years, why not make a small investment in the game and NOT cancel the Winter Classic? At least, not just yet.
"Don't cancel it, and in so doing, make it an olive branch held out to the players. Don't cancel the Winter Classic and simultaneously offer to sit down with the players for serious bargaining ASAP, something that hasn't happened at all yet. The league wants to negotiate off its last proposal. Well, the Fehr Bros. said this week that they're willing to talk about that. So talk."
Amen to that.
P.K. and the forecast: The NHL lockout puts people in unusual circumstances. Whether it's players skating in Europe or their coaches working with children, all who are connected with hockey are searching for things to do. Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban has used one of his talents -- his talkative nature -- and taken a stab at a different career: TV weatherman.
Subban showed up Tuesday on CTV in Montreal and it's pretty obvious that the cameras love the loquacious Pernell Karl as much in the studio as they do on the ice. Often accused by foes of being too chatty during NHL games, that trait stayed with him as he told viewers about the movements of Hurricane Sandy.
Hey, P.K.'s better than Al Sleet. This is the kind of thing where someone often cautions an amateur, "Don't quit your day job." But P.K is actually pretty entertaining. Don't know if he's got a future in the weatherman biz, but right now, he's not doing anything and it looks as if we could be in that holding pattern for a while.
Like the man once sang, you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
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