By Colby Cosh - Saturday, February 2, 2013 - 0 Comments
Phil Birnbaum, who along with “Tom Tango” is probably one of Canada’s two great gifts to quantitative analysis in sports, has been studying the NHL over the past few weeks. It was only after a second or third reading of his series breaking down luck versus skill in the NHL standings that I was able to really grasp what he was saying. I’m a fluent speaker of basic stats-ese, but not a native. Phil is a pretty approachable explainer of things (including some of the things devised by Tango), so usually I don’t have to bash myself over the head too hard with his findings. But I didn’t see how interesting the message was until now.
Probably all hockey fans know instinctively that the introduction of the shootout has injected a fair amount of randomness into the year-end NHL standings. Birnbaum, looking at the shootout-era data, has now shown just how much. In the old NHL that still had ties, it took an average of 36 NHL games for a team’s actual talent to become as important to its standings position as sheer randomness. “Talent” is defined here as repeatable ability, ability relevant to prediction: after 36 games, your team’s distance in the standings from .500 would be about half luck and half “talent”, and that would be reflected in your guess as to how they would do in the next 36 games (assuming nothing else about the team had changed). Over a full season, we could be confident that there was little randomness left in the ordering of the teams in the league table.
But in the new post-ties NHL, Birnbaum notes, the standard deviation of standings points has shrunk from about .2 per game to .15. Continue…
By Scott Feschuk - Friday, January 18, 2013 at 3:00 PM - 0 Comments
The NHL commish is sorry, writes Scott Feschuk. So all is forgiven, right?
Gary Bettman says he’s “sorry.” Sorry for the lockout. Sorry for the whole “no hockey” thing. Sorry for Russell Crowe’s singing voice in Les Miz. Any more sorry and the NHL commissioner would be legally required to submit to a two-part interview with Oprah.
Jeremy Jacobs—the man who owns the Boston Bruins, serves as chairman of the NHL board of governors, and is so cheap he would fistfight a hobo over a nickel—would like it known that he, too, is sorry. In fact, he’s so sorry that he’s “truly sorry.” Jacobs went on: “Our only interest now is to focus on what this great game can provide to the best sports fans in the world. Now gimme that five cents, Boxcar McGee!”
Jacobs is not alone. Pretty much all NHL owners are saying they’re sorry for doing that thing they did for 113 consecutive days and planned to do for a year before that and will probably do again at the next possible opportunity. It’s not an emotion—it’s a marketing strategy. Real hockey fans know Gary Bettman hasn’t truly been sorry since Gap Kids stopped making his favourite blazer. (An aside: he’s been commissioner for 20 years, but when they show Bettman at a game, I always imagine him whispering to his guest, “What’s ‘icing’ mean?”) Continue…
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Three times now, the commissioner has locked out his players. Three times now, he’s delivered a win
For Gary Bettman, one suspects it’s the equivalent of winning the Stanley Cup. That instant when the ultra-competitive commissioner of the National Hockey League finally puts his signature to a new collective bargaining agreement. After months—sometimes years—of preparation, gamesmanship and horse-trading, there’s got to be a fair measure of joy and relief. And more often than his critics and many hockey fans would like, an extra-large helping of triumph. Three times now, since taking over the league in February 1993, Bettman has locked out his players. And three times now, he has delivered his bosses—the 30 team owners—a victory.
On the first go-around, the 103-day shut-down that pared the 1994-95 season down to 48 games, it was just a partial win—limits on rookie salaries and tweaks to free agency. Then at the cost of the entire 2004-05 season, a rout, imposing the toughest salary cap in pro sports and all but destroying the players’ association. And now on the heels of a 113-day lockout that ended with a tentative deal struck in the wee hours of Jan. 6, another big boost to the bank balances of his proprietors: reducing the players’ share of league revenues from 57 per cent to 50 per cent. On the basis of the NHL’s record-setting $3.3-billion 2011-12 season, that’s a transfer of $230 million—the equivalent of a new network TV deal or expansion fee. And over the course of the 10-year agreement, the shift should be worth closer to $3 billion than $2 billion if the business continues to grow at its current clip. Continue…
By Colby Cosh - Monday, January 7, 2013 at 8:56 AM - 0 Comments
The conventional wisdom on the NHL lockout, usually delivered with a sneer, is that Canadian hockey fans will belly-crawl back to the league uncritically now that all the bickering and all the tantrums have ended. Like all conventional wisdom, it is conventional because it is quite a safe bet. I know I’ll crawl with everyone else: I’m capable of intellectually segregating my fondness for the game of hockey from my loathing of the existing institutions of hockey. (It’s not all that difficult! Nor is it shameful!) What’s different about this lockout is that in the meantime I took the bait of regular-season NBA basketball with enthusiasm for the first time ever. Continue…
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 2:37 PM - 0 Comments
Jonathon Gatehouse explains why the end of the lockout is hardly a cause for celebration
Even by the diminished standards of sequels, The Lockout 3 was lacking.
The plot was far too familiar. The jeopardy forced. The actors simply going through the motions.
So while it’s a relief that the NHL and its Players’ Association have finally come to their senses, resolving a labour dispute that never had to happen after 113 days, it’s hardly cause for celebration. The tentative deal, struck in the wee hours of Jan. 6, isn’t that much different than the one the league and Commissioner Gary Bettman haughtily walked away from a month ago. Nor, is it greatly changed from the solution the two sides might have drawn up over beers at the cottage last summer: A 50/50 split of revenues—just like the NBA and NFL have. A 10-year term, with both sides enjoying an opt-out provision after eight years. (The deal that expired on Sept. 15 ran for seven.) A salary cap of $64.3 million for the 2013-14 season, and a floor at $44.3 million (down from this year’s projected $70 million/$54 million ceiling and floor under the old agreement.) The players get $300 million of “make whole” money to help ease the transition to the lower revenue split. Bettman gets a 7-year limit on free-agent contracts—eight if the player resigns with his current team—and limits on how much compensation can vary from year-to-year as part of his efforts to stop his owners from signing stars to ridiculously lengthy contracts for stupid money. (Although none of that will stop GMs from making disasterously bad decisions. Just ask any Montreal fan about Scott Gomez.) Rich club to poor club revenue sharing increases to $200 million a season—or five Phoenix Coyotes if you rather—with the promise of more as the bottom line improves.
But none of this is earth-shattering, or even vaguely transformative. All of it, incremental gains and losses to the existing system. The kind of “tweaks” Bettman talked up over the last season or two before he shuttered the league yet again last Sept. 15.
So who’s to blame? You can argue it’s the Commissioner, but really he was just doing his job as the front man for the owners’ baser instincts. Is it Don Fehr, looking to tack on a career-ending victory over the NHL’s small fry to his real legacy—a two-decade beatdown of the infinitely richer and more powerful men who control Major League Baseball? Hardly. He was just doing what the players wanted.
Nope, it’s the fault of the media and the fans. Particularly those of us here in Canada, which provides the NHL with one-third of its revenue, half its players, and most of its passion. As the old saw goes, those who do not learn from history and doomed to repeat it. Again and again.
As I outlined in my book, the great lesson the NHL and its players learned from the 103-day lockout in 1994/95, and the debacle that was the lost 2004-05 season, was that the market wouldn’t punish them. Sure, there was the odd team that took a short-term drop at the gate, but on both occasions, fan anger dissipated like morning fog on a sunny day. The media transitioned effortlessly from outraged columns and phoney phooey-on-hockey sentiment to season previews and training camp news. And the business bounced back stronger than ever.
And so it will be this time. The NHL and the NHLPA will indulge in the hockey equivalent of morning-after flowers, maybe a “Thank-You Fans” message etched onto centre ice, and some new charitable endeavours. The antsy sponsors will finally get to air those feel-good commercials they’ve had sitting in the can since last summer. And by the start of the playoffs, all this unpleasantness will have been forgotten.
The thing is that without a real, sustained fan backlash—like the one baseball owners and players experienced after the cancellation of the 1994 World Series—there is nothing to stop it happening again when this CBA expires after the 2019-20 season, or should it run its full course, 2021-22.
Of course, even that’s not an original thought. Many others wrote the same thing in early 1995, and then again a decade later.
Pro-hockey’s fans have become the league’s enablers. Just like the filmgoers who flock to theatres to watch the latest iteration of a once mildly funny comedy, or clapped-out superhero franchise.
That’s unlikely to change. But it’s something to keep in mind when you find yourself complaining about The Lockout 4.
By macleans.ca - Friday, November 23, 2012 at 11:55 AM - 0 Comments
Toronto hosts the 100th Grey Cup and lunar phases have no effect on incidences of psychological problems
A pale horse coming
It’s hard to imagine a better Grey Cup matchup: the surging Calgary Stampeders versus the hometown Toronto Argonauts, whose presence will turn the 100th-anniversary game at the Rogers Centre into the promotional extravaganza the CFL hoped for. Look for white-hatted Stamps fans to invade Hogtown (and for the Royal York Hotel to keep a shovel in its lobby), while we keep a keen eye on the mayor’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford, who marred the announcement that the Grey Cup would be held in Toronto by declaring his wish to bring the NFL to town. Hop on the CFL bandwagon, Doug. There’s plenty of room.
The proper prescription
Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq got it right this week when she refused to ban the generic version of OxyContin, resisting pressure from addiction groups and the Ontario government. Yes, the drug is a magnet for addicts, but when used properly, it’s a safe alternative to raw opiates like morphine. The cabinet of your local pharmacy has scores of drugs in the same class as oxycodone. Instead of banning them, provinces must do what they’re legally empowered to do: control them. Continue…
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 3:47 PM - 0 Comments
While the league and its players sweat the small stuff, the NHL wastes its potential
For once, everything seemed to be going the NHL’s way. The league had clinched a hefty new TV contract with a big U.S. network. A major-market American team captured the Stanley Cup, creating lots of buzz. Blue-chip companies were lining up to sign sponsorship deals. And revenues were at an all-time high. Then the owners and Gary Bettman got together and locked out the players.
Of course, that was back in 1994. A fleeting moment when hockey seemed poised to break through into the American sporting mainstream, which ended up being washed away by months of bad press and cancelled games. That damage was only exacerbated when the owners again locked out their employees a decade later in an even more rancorous dispute, becoming the first—and so far only—pro sport to scuttle an entire season. In fact, in many ways, it’s taken 18 years for the NHL to get back to where it once was. And now, on the heels of last year’s landmark TV deal with NBC, in the wake of the L.A. Kings’ cup victory in June and after seven straight years of record revenues, the league again seems intent on skating backwards. Unable—or unwilling—to come to terms with the players on a new contract as “Lockout III” enters its sixth stultifying week. It is, as the saying goes, déjà vu all over again.
The fans are angry. But maybe the more appropriate response is sorrow. Sadness that those who run the game, and those who play it, can’t break a cycle that continually wastes its potential.
By Scott Feschuk - Friday, September 28, 2012 at 11:30 AM - 0 Comments
Let us take a moment to consider the upside of the NHL lockout
So here’s the thing: I’m enjoying the NHL lockout. I’m actually enjoying it a lot. I’m fine with it lasting another three or four months—even longer if that forces a desperate CBC to give Don Cherry a primetime cooking show. OK, so listen and everything, this is how you do a good dinner! [Opens can of Alphagetti]
The key is making the best of our forced hockey hiatus. Put another way: When life hands you lemons, you do what the NHL owners do—force their butlers to make lemonade, then throw the glass into the fireplace yelling, “Dammit, I wanted a Coke!”
It’s not as if the lockout puts an end to hockey as we know it. If you’re missing the game, you can watch minor hockey or the junior leagues. If you’re missing an air of despair and futility, well, the Toronto Raptors also play at the Air Canada Centre. Sure, no hockey means you can’t spend hours obsessing over your fantasy team—so now what are you supposed to do at work? But here are six things to enjoy about the lockout:
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Monday, September 24, 2012 at 11:43 AM - 0 Comments
In conversation with Jonathon Gatehouse
For hockey fans, there’s something depressingly familiar about the current battle between the National Hockey League and its players. The lockout, which began at the stroke of midnight on Sept. 15, is the third in the past 18 years, all of them overseen by commissioner Gary Bettman. And the issue is the same as it ever was: money. In fact, the only significant difference this time around might be who is leading the players. Donald Fehr, the new executive director of the NHL Players’ Association, led pro baseball’s union for a quarter of a century, before riding to the rescue of his defeated and demoralized hockey brethren. Tough and determined, he’s every bit as stubborn as the man he’s facing across the table.
Q: In the run-up to the lockout, there have been proposals, counter-proposals, and a lot of numbers thrown around. Just how far apart are the league and the players?
A: It comes down to this. The players made enormous concessions in the last lockout, and took a 25 per cent salary reduction, which worked out to more than $3 billion over the life of the agreement. And the league has experienced seven straight years of record revenue growth. So then we came into bargaining, and the owners’ initial proposal called for another 24 per cent reduction, or $450 million a year, assuming revenues never grow. It was way over the top, and way outside the bounds. The equivalent from the players would have been for us to say we want 71 per cent of all hockey-related revenues (HRR). So now the owners have said they only want a reduction of 17.5 per cent, and that they’ll phase it in a little bit, but it’s still well over $300 million a year. So we’re hundreds of millions of dollars apart on compensation.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
The NHL commissioner brought hockey to its knees, twice. Get ready for the third period.
As talks between the NHL and its players’ association over a new collective bargaining agreement sputter and the owner-imposed Sept. 15 deadline looms, another hockey lockout seems all but certain. It will be the sport’s third work stoppage in the past 18 years, although the issues are the same as always: “money and envy,” writes Jonathon Gatehouse in The Instigator: How Gary Bettman Remade the League and Changed the Game Forever. After winning the toughest salary cap in all of pro sports the last time around, team owners are now pushing for further gains—redefining what counts as revenue, limiting the length of contracts and, above all, reducing the players’ share of the pie. Despite record revenues of $3.3 billion last season, the men who run the game claim that the economics of hockey still don’t work. Donald Fehr, the new executive director of the NHLPA and the man who crushed the resolve of Major League Baseball owners, is openly skeptical. And the issues are so complex that they may well take months to negotiate—once the two sides return to the table. Bettman, who will celebrate his 20th anniversary in the NHL’s top job this winter, is facing a formidable foe. But the commissioner shouldn’t be underestimated. Now the single most powerful figure in the history of pro hockey, he’s a man who drew some sharp lessons from his rocky start in the job. And when push comes to shove, he’s more than capable of dealing them out too. Fans trying to make sense of the present dispute best look back at what really happened in 1994 and 2005.
As 1994’s training camps wound down and the league’s deadline loomed, the players began to chafe. And the message they decided to send out to NHL fans across North America was anything but subtle. In Montreal, Habs defenceman Mathieu Schneider skated onto the ice for practice with a piece of white stick tape plastered to the front of his helmet on which he’d scrawled the words Bettman sucks. Joe Sakic, the quiet young captain of the Quebec Nordiques, suggested the new commissioner “knows nothing about hockey and doesn’t care.” Cam Neely, sitting in the Boston dressing room in his long underwear and an NHLPA ball cap, predicted a dire future for any league that would dare to lock out its players: “They’re not shooting themselves in the foot, they’re shooting themselves in the head as far as I’m concerned.” And even Wayne Gretzky, a man so averse to controversy that he invited Alan Thicke to emcee his wedding, weighed in. Wearing a suit, tie and sour face, he met the media at the LA Kings’ practice facility to make it clear that if the season didn’t start on time, there would only be one man to blame. “I’ve played this game for 30 years, and for someone to come along who has only been in our sport for one year and tell us that we’re not going to play is very frustrating and extremely disappointing,” the Great One said. “I’ve worked too damn hard to help push our sport … Hopefully it doesn’t all come down because one person wants to change the format.”
By Charlie Gillis - Monday, October 3, 2011 at 9:40 AM - 0 Comments
Even today, racism creeps into the NHL
Time was, Canadians looked upon race-baiting in the U.S. South with a sense of bemused pity, smug in our belief that such attitudes could never take root here. Today, we might consider the following question: where in contemporary America would a fan think it funny to throw a banana at a black athlete?
The hockey world was suitably revolted last week after someone did just that during an NHL exhibition game in London, Ont., in a bid to rattle Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds, who was taking his turn in the shootout. “Disappointing,” “despicable” and “disheartening” were the labels chosen by former goaltender Kevin Weekes, who is black. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman insisted that the unidentified culprit “is in no way representative of our fans.”
Well, not all of them. Simmonds, who grew up in Scarborough, Ont., told reporters afterwards that he’d experienced racism in the game before (ironically, he is alleged to have used a homophobic slur in play five days later). Weekes himself was the target of a banana-tossing incident in Montreal in 2002, while junior hockey crowds in Quebec have been known to mock Aboriginal players with war whoops and bow-and-arrow mimes.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Monday, July 18, 2011 at 10:20 AM - 0 Comments
Jeffrey Pollack’s newly created poker league aims to turn players into pampered sports celebrities
Jeffrey Pollack has a pithy way of describing his career: “I specialize in things that haven’t been done before.” Like starting the first trade paper devoted to the business of sports. Or creating the Emmy-winning pastiche of in-car cameras and onscreen telemetry that makes NASCAR watchable. Or transforming the World Series of Poker from a Vegas sideshow into an “anyone can enter, anyone can win” big business. And now, if things go his way, catapulting card sharks into the ranks of pampered sports celebrities.
Epic Poker, Pollack’s newly created professional poker league, will host its inaugural tournament at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas next month, promising to turn top players into a gaming elite. “In any other sport there are platforms, brands or associations that are focused on the best of the best. Poker doesn’t have that,” says the 47-year-old entrepreneur and half-brother of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. (Joy, their late mother, married Pollack’s father Howard, an accountant, when Gary was 11.) “We’re going to celebrate skill and strategy above moments of luck.”
Players will be ranked by performance and earnings as in tennis, and awarded “cards” as in pro golf, providing them with entry to Epic’s events for three to five years. All of the US$20,000 entry fees will go into the prize pots (traditionally organizers take a 10 per cent “rake” off the top), which will be sweetened by the league with US$400,000 for regular tourneys, and $1 million for the annual championship featuring the season’s top 27 performers. And players, long used to paying their own way, will receive free food, drinks and hotel suites. “It’s elevating the service level that the pros are used to,” says Pollack.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Friday, June 17, 2011 at 11:00 AM - 5 Comments
What he thinks of future franchise relocation, the Aaron Rome hit and the culture of the game
A franchise move, a new discipline czar, a controversial hit, and a see-saw Stanley Cup final; it’s been a busy couple of weeks for the National Hockey League’s commissioner. Prior to Game 5, he sat down to reflect on a season of wins and losses.
Q: Not presuming any outcomes, but what would a Canadian team winning the Stanley Cup after such an extended period of time mean for the game of hockey?
A: I think it would be tremendously exciting for fans of the Canucks. But in the final analysis, who wins the Cup isn’t as important as how good the final was—how exciting, how dramatic, how entertaining, how skilful. If you’re a fan of the Canucks—or Bruins—you’ll be excited beyond belief if they win. If you cheer for somebody else, you’ll be more interested in how good the hockey is.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Monday, June 6, 2011 at 9:40 AM - 12 Comments
It took a new arena, US$170 million, and Mark Chipman’s persistence
There’s something about the intersection of Portage and Main that only Winnipeggers get. Two busy roads ringed by tall commercial buildings that offer no shops or attractions that might make a visitor stop and linger. But somewhere deep in the city’s DNA, it is imprinted as a gathering place on momentous occasions. Most especially in relation to hockey. It’s where Bobby Hull signed his million-dollar deal with the World Hockey Association’s Winnipeg Jets. Where fans feted the selection of the great Dale Hawerchuk as the first overall pick in the 1981 NHL draft. And where the desperate vigils were held as the franchise started to slip away in the spring of 1995.
And so it was on the morning of May 31, 2011, when big league hockey finally made its long-awaited return to Canada’s heartland. There were kids playing road hockey on a strip of sidewalk complete with goalies and nets. Jersey-clad men, waving Jets flags and hoisting a replica Stanley Cup. Even a couple of guys who had brought along red chairs from the old Winnipeg Arena. But the crowd of around 1,000 mostly stood and watched a press conference being beamed onto outdoor TV screens from the basement of the MTS Centre down the block. Waiting for the words that would set their fandom free.
The preamble took a few minutes, but finally Mark Chipman, the chairman of True North Sports and Entertainment, made it official. “I am excited beyond words to announce our purchase of the Atlanta Thrashers,” he said. “We received the call we’ve long been waiting for.” It’s not a done deal—the purchase still needs the approval of the NHL’s board of governors and is contingent on the organization selling at least 13,000 season tickets over the next three weeks—but close enough to touch off celebrations around the province and across the country. A couple of weeks of frenzied deal-making that continued right through the final night, and then Winnipeg’s civic pride restored at a reported purchase price of US$170 million—US$110 million for the fractious owners of the Thrashers, and a US$60-million “relocation fee” for the league.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Monday, April 11, 2011 at 11:32 AM - 39 Comments
Death threats, hate mail, conspiracy theories. Welcome to hockey night in Phoenix.
The clock is ticking for the Phoenix Coyotes. Down 1-0 to the St. Louis Blues with less than three minutes left in the first period, the team is fiddling away a two-man advantage. The wingers are having trouble controlling the puck, and the one shot Keith Yandle manages from the point misses the net by a country mile. When a fumbled pass results in a short-handed rush for the Blues, the boos rain down in Jobing.com Arena. It’s surprisingly loud given the size of the crowd—10,977 tickets sold or given away, but at least a thousand fewer actual bums in the seats. On a Tuesday night in late March, matched up against a team bound for the golf course instead of the playoffs, hockey is a tough sell in Phoenix. Hand it to the fans who do show up, though—they’re as apt at expressing their displeasure as any in the game.
The chant that rises out of the upper bowl during the second period isn’t quite as lusty, but perhaps even more telling. “Goldwater sucks! Goldwater sucks!” NHL catcalls aren’t usually directed at libertarian think tanks. Then again, nothing about the saga of the Phoenix Coyotes is business as usual.
By Philippe Gohier - Friday, March 4, 2011 at 6:48 PM - 23 Comments
When it comes to extracting money from local governments, the NHL has it down to a science
What is it about the NHL that makes local politicians so desperate for its approval? Whatever it is, Gary Bettman, Pierre-Karl Péladeau, and Matthew Hulsizer have managed to parlay that desperation into cheap, low-risk contracts with local governments that hold the promise of hundreds of millions in assets in return. Of the three, Bettman’s act may be the most impressive, if only because he’s performing it in two cities at once. But it’s hard to neglect just how well Péladeau has played his hand in Quebec City.
Consider where Péladeau now stands on the Nordiques file: the municipal and provincial governments in Quebec City have now formally promised to build an NHL rink in the provincial capital using public money. All the while, these same governments that are shelling out hundreds of millions to give this hypothetical franchise a home seem only tangentially interested in actually acquiring a team. It’s easy to see why: it wouldn’t be theirs anyway. The team would belong to Péladeau.
Péladeau has managed to become the presumptive owner of the Nordiques by committing next to nothing in the way of actual funds. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 31, 2011 at 10:04 AM - 13 Comments
Speaking over the weekend in Carolina, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman addresses the question of a team for Quebec City.
“I don’t want anybody getting excited,” said Bettman. “The fact of the matter is, over the last couple of years, there have been lots of stories suggesting a building in Quebec City is a done deal, that the money has been raised. Nobody has told me that, and in the conversations that I’ve had with a variety of people, including the mayor and the premier, we have said, ‘We’re not planning on expanding, we’re not planning on relocation, so we cannot promise you a franchise.’
“If there’s a new building separate and independent from us for whatever reason and the opportunity presents itself with respect to a franchise, it’s no different than what I said about Winnipeg. But we don’t want people building a building on our account expecting that there is going to be a franchise, because we’re not in a position to promise one right now.”
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 2:45 PM - 0 Comments
As our Paul Wells reported yesterday, the Prime Minister has broached the subject of an NHL team for Quebec with league commissioner Gary Bettman. And as our Philippe Gohier noted, the proposed arena for Quebec City would be run as a crown corporation. The federal government’s initial contribution to that effort would be $175 million.
The last time Forbes magazine produced valuations for the NHL’s 30 franchises, it put the Edmonton Oilers at $166 million. That was nearly a year ago, but it is unlikely the Oilers have appreciated significantly since, so for perhaps the same amount of federal money that would go toward an arena for a privately owned NHL team, the Harper government could purchase its own hockey team and run that as a crown corporation (or perhaps as a public trust, borrowing from the model of the Green Bay Packers).
The current roster includes a number of young and promising players. With wise management—General Manager Stephen Harper?—the team could be will set-up for sustained success going forward. Indeed, from that standpoint, this would seem a good buying opportunity.
Alternatively, perhaps the Prime Minister could offer to buy any of the six struggling American franchises that are valued at less than the Oilers, with designs on moving that team to Quebec City. In either scenario, why would we settle on owning the arena in which a professional ice hockey team plays when we could own the professional ice hockey team itself?
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 6:08 AM - 0 Comments
“The grievance is denied.” That’s the concluding sentence of arbitrator Richard Bloch’s Monday ruling on the 17-year $102-million contract Ilya Kovalchuk signed with the NHL’s New Jersey Devils last month. When the NHL deregistered the contract, whose terms would have seen New Jersey pay Kovalchuk 97% of the total amount in the first 11 years of the deal, the Players’ Association naturally objected.
Sure, the NHLPA argued, there were years tacked onto the far end of the deal that neither Kovalchuk nor New Jersey expect the player to be in the NHL for. Those years are priced below the likely league minimum, and are obviously in the contract for the sole purpose of lowering Kovalchuk’s average salary-cap hit in the present. But what of it? Nothing in the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and the PA specifically forbids this behaviour, and several similar “backdive” deals, though less extreme in every respect, have already been registered by the NHL and played under.
Bloch rejected this argument, granting a clear outright win to the league. The CBA contains a general “anti-circumvention” provision, but the guidance offered by that provision was less than clear:
No Club or Player shall enter into any Player Contract, Offer Sheet or other agreement that includes any terms which are designed to serve the purpose of defeating or circumventing the intention of the parties as reflected by the provisions of this Agreement, including without limitation, provisions with respect to the Entry Level System or Restricted Free Agency. However, any conduct permitted by this Agreement shall not be considered to be a violation of this provision.
Now that’s an odd paragraph, wouldn’t you say? Because there is no rule in the CBA that would in itself forbid the Kovalchuk deal, the NHLPA leaned on that last sentence, which basically says “anything permitted by this agreement is permitted by this agreement” and seems, in its plainest reading, to deprive the first sentence of all its potential force. Well, hell, no arbitrator’s going to go along with that—i.e., to read a paragraph completely out of a contract prepared and vetted by professionals representing both parties, as if he were physically Liquid Paper-ing it out of the document.
Bloch had little choice but to conclude that there must be some reason for a general anti-circumvention rule—and that reason, he concluded, was to allow the league to block contracts like Kovalchuk’s, which violate the spirit of the CBA rather than its letter. Nothing specific about Kovalchuk’s contract—the amount, the end date, the degree of frontloading—is forbidden by the agreement, Bloch conceded. Perhaps no single factor is even unique to it. But, taken together, the components have a vague tendency to offend the “no circumvention” concept. Supposedly.
Bloch’s decision includes an observation that is, after all, very hard to disagree with: “A contract term covering a Player’s NHL services to age 70…is not expressly prohibited by the CBA. But the parties to that SPC may not reasonably be found to be seriously anticipating its fulfillment.” Bloch would have created a serious problem for the NHL if he had found the anti-circumvention sections of the CBA to be meaningless. If he had ruled in favour of the NHLPA, you can bet your last nickel that someone would have been signing one of those age-70 contracts in July 2011. Or even sooner.
But Bloch has created a serious problem, too: as a consequence of his ruling in defence of the CBA’s spirit, it is no longer clear exactly which frontloaded contracts are kosher and which are treyf. Kovalchuk and the Devils returned to the negotiating table Monday night in an attempt to save the contract by tinkering with the math. What principles ought to guide them? What changes must they make to render the contract acceptable in the eyes of another arbitrator—one who wouldn’t even be Richard Bloch? (The NHL and the Players hire arbitrators for the duration of only one grievance; experience in the sporting world has shown that owners will inevitably and instantly fire any “permanent” arbiter who rules against them.)
Bloch hasn’t really said what kind of deal meets the no-circumvention test. He didn’t even give the parties the reassurance that existing frontloaded contracts are definitely legal and could be safely imitated. In fact, he specifically said the opposite. Which puts the league under no apparent obligation to even treat like contracts equally, or two different teams consistently. All that the Devils and Kovalchuk can really do here is to seek Commissioner Bettman’s advice in advance of signing, or make another deal and cross their fingers that either the Commissioner will like it or the next arbitrator will uphold it.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t appear to offer the team and the player any freedom to sign a contract without some degree of league interference—which raises the question, what good is the CBA at all if we’re going to have a “Bettman decides everything” system? (And, more particularly, how did the Players’ Association get manoeuvred into signing an agreement that doesn’t protect its rights very effectively?)
By macleans.ca - Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 11:00 AM - 15 Comments
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman can think of a lot of reasons why his league should not participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics, to be held in Sochi, Russia.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman can think of a lot of reasons why his league should not participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics, to be held in Sochi, Russia. Most fans can probably think of only one reason why it should—it would be great fun to watch. That lopsided score is bad for hockey.
In a meeting with Maclean’s editorial board late last year, Bettman put forth a comprehensively gloomy view on the prospects for NHL participation beyond the Vancouver Olympics this month.
February is a problematic month for the league, Bettman noted: “We’re about to hit the stretch runs. Teams are firing on all cylinders.” The Olympic break, he claimed, diminishes playoff momentum. Olympic rosters can have a significant impact on some teams, with the possibility of injury or fatigue. Flying time to Russia is another problem, as is the time difference. And Bettman said some owners, likely those in unprofitable southern U.S. cities (although he wasn’t specific), complain that for the NHL to “go dark” for two weeks reduces interest in hockey.
By Charlie Gillis - Monday, February 15, 2010 at 7:00 PM - 3 Comments
Will the NHL let its players compete in the next Winter Games?
Imagine for a moment that we went back to the old way of doing things. Instead of getting jacked up this week about a potential gold medal showdown between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, hockey fans would be making do with—let’s see—Alexandre Giroux and Sergei Mozyakin. Both are respectable journeymen: Giroux is a 28-year-old Canadian who ranks among the top American Hockey League scorers; Mozyakin, also 28, stars with Atlant Moscow in Russia’s Kontinental League. But potential protagonists in a future Olympic rivalry? Not quite.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 6:11 PM - 34 Comments
Shortly thereafter he clarified just how seriously.
“Today,” he said, “we are calling on the government to establish a Royal Commission on violence in sports. We need to look at all aspects and all of the causes, from equipment to social trends, coaching and officiating. This is our game and we need to protect our players.”
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 at 12:23 PM - 52 Comments
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Canada, the ‘covenant’ with fans, Gretzky and on trying to do the right things
In 16 years as NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman has shaped pro hockey in numerous ways—U.S. expansion, two lockouts, rule changes, the salary cap, the participation of NHL players in the Olympics. The past year, however, counts among the most troubled of his tenure. The league’s tug-of-war with billionaire Jim Balsillie for control of the Phoenix Coyotes put Bettman at odds with many fans, highlighting the combative side of the commissioner’s personality. Earlier this week, he discussed the fallout of Phoenix, fan antipathy toward him, and other hockey-related matters with the Maclean’s editorial board.
Q: It’s been a tumultuous couple of years for you, at least publicly. Do you still enjoy your job?
A: I love the job. I’m passionate about the game, and the people around the game, the way we as a sport connect with our fans. Every job has challenges, things that make the job interesting. I’m not exactly sure, by the way, that I buy into your characterization of tumultuous. That seems to be a little dramatic, perhaps media-centric, as opposed to the reality. But every business has day-to-day challenges, and that’s part of what gets those of us who work going every day.
Q: We want to give you a chance to respond to the broad perception here in Canada that you feel the future of the game lies in the United States—and that the real reason the NHL was in court this summer was to keep Canada from getting more teams.
A: I’ve got to ask you a question about your question. Where does that perception come from? What is it based on? Give me any factual basis and I’ll answer the question. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, October 5, 2009 at 6:45 PM - 33 Comments
The Scene. We are—as a people, as a political class, as a town quite bored with itself—easily impressed. So it is that the Prime Minister’s overt display this weekend of something approaching personality is being roundly hailed as something approaching significance. Mr. Harper played the piano and sang. In public. And such is the state of things that, were you to judge only the reaction, you might assume he’d personally negotiated the surrender of the Taliban, or at least convinced Gary Bettman to move a hockey team to Hamilton.
By those same standards, similar huzzahs are almost certainly due to the leader of the opposition, who, let the record show, stood in the House this day and asked a question that was almost not entirely rhetorical.
This was, mere months ago, his trademark: an insistence that Question Period be something other than an exchange of slanders. Alas, since returning this fall, with a new mandate of opposition to justify, he’s been less reason and inquiry and more piss and vinegar. Take, for instance, the first of his questions on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of last week. Continue…
By macleans.ca - Thursday, June 25, 2009 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Plus a week in the life of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman
Face of the week
Ricky Barnes reacts to his missed birdie putt on the final hole of the U.S. Open. Lucas Glover (right) went on to win the tournament.
A week in the life of Gary Bettman
The NHL commissioner has had a hectic few days. At the NHL awards in Las Vegas, he addressed player representatives irked by a falling salary cap, shaky franchises and dubious TV deals. Good news came Monday when Chicago businessman Jerry Reinsdorf confirmed plans to bid on the Phoenix Coyotes. But within 24 hours, Bettman found himself trying to broker peace between the two feuding owners of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Oren Koules and Len Barrie.
Rising petroleum prices have pumped new life into the Alberta oil sands, and that’s good news for Canada. Yes, pricey oil makes for expensive fill-ups. But Canada needs oil-patch jobs, and with a $50-billion deficit, our government needs the tax revenue that oil sands generate. Moreover, plans to renew the North American auto industry are predicated on the development and sale of smaller, fuel-efficient cars, so pricier gas may prove to be the industry’s friend. If these twin engines of our economy—energy and auto-making—get running again, everyone benefits.
A sweeping proposal from Egypt has the potential to raise talks between Israel and the Palestinians to a new and promising level. Under Egypt’s plan, an end to the blockade on Gaza would be followed by a prisoner exchange between the two sides and the formation of a Palestinian unity government, ending Hamas rule in Gaza. The deal includes safeguards to ensure aid isn’t appropriated by militant groups—a major roadblock to reconstruction efforts in Gaza. The approach may appear ambitious, but it addresses a persistent impediment to deals between Israel and the Palestinians: no sooner have you resolved one irritant than another raises its head, shattering the agreement you’ve worked so diligently to reach.
Tennis is cracking down on screamers and grunters, and thank goodness. Up-and-coming star Michelle Larcher de Brito was told in advance of Wimbledon she could be docked points for the prolonged shrieks she makes when hitting the ball. Occasional grunting may be unavoidable in a sport where a powerful stroke wins games. But tennis legend Martina Navratilova was right to label the excess noise “cheating, pure and simple.” If Martina could win 18 Grand Slam titles without moaning on every shot, the lesser lights can do without it, too.
After 300 years of Danish rule, Greenland reached a new self-government agreement this week with Denmark, setting the stage for eventual independence. The move brings decision-making on governance and natural resources closer to Greenland’s 58,000 inhabitants, and may indirectly benefit Canada. Ottawa had been at odds with the Danes for years over Arctic sovereignty, and the more Copenhagen loosens ties with Greenland, the more tenuous its Far North claims become. Not to put too fine a point on it, but we’d much rather deal with a pragmatic neighbour than with its distant and nostalgic European parent.
Price of war
The Department of National Defence is straining Canadians’ patience and credulity by refusing to release the estimated future cost of its mission in Afghanistan, citing security issues. DND has already said that annual costs in the conflict are topping $1 billion, so how does releasing the projected spending on the conflict in 2011-2012 help the Taliban? More likely military brass censored the information to bolster the security of government, which has already signalled it will pull troops out at the end of 2011. If a change of heart is under way, Canadians have earned the right to participate in the debate. We have faced up to the real costs of the mission: the deaths of 120 soldiers and one diplomat. We have a right to know the price tag. We can handle it.
Pluck o’ the Iris
Iris Evans, Alberta’s forthright finance minister, knows something about raising kids. The former nurse and one-time minister of children’s services raised three sons through financial difficulties. So when she offhandedly remarked that good parenting requires one parent to stay home (at considerable financial sacrifice, she noted), she knew of what she spoke. Evans was expressing an opinion, not setting government policy, but you wouldn’t know it from the outrage. She offered grudging regrets, saying she “would have preferred not to have initiated the debate.” But we’re glad she did, and she owes no one an apology.
Picking your battles
French President Nicolas Sarkozy fell into a familiar trap this week when he labelled burkas “a sign of debasement” and declared them unwelcome in France. Time and again, Western politicians have fuelled Islamic anger by fixating on the personal choices of Muslims rather than what really matters: respect for the rule of law and basic civil rights. Fortunately, Sarkozy counted among the few leaders in Europe who responded forcefully to election-rigging in Iran and the brutal suppression of pro-democratic protestors. That’s the kind of intervention Muslims can use.
Ain’t that American?
Several cities in the U.S. have cancelled Fourth of July fireworks this year because of tight budgets. Regrettably, and perhaps unintentionally, at least one Canadian town has stepped into the void. Officials in Kenora, Ont., located near the U.S. border in the province’s northwestern corner, have decided to bump their “Canada Day” fireworks to Saturday, July 4, saying they hope to boost attendance by drawing in the weekend cottage crowd. Shrewd perhaps, but not wise. No one would consider moving Christmas, so why Canada Day?