Posted on: October 1, 2012 2:23 am

State of the Game, NHL lockout and the future

It's October 1st and usually we are on the verge of a new NHL hockey regular season, normally starting this week. A time for me, when I wonder if the Calgary Flames have done enough in the offseason to warrant a playoff run. I am a long time hockey fan and player in my younger days, and a huge Flames fan ever since they came to town. But we won't be seeing any hockey anytime soon. I don't think we will have a single game this season. Maybe this will be the demise of the NHL? Maybe that's what this league needs,...a complete breakdown, and rebuild. 

Now don't think I am anti hockey, or someone who wishes what I just said to become the truth, but unfortunately the writing is on the wall. And if you read on, I will fill you in as to the reason why I feel this way.

First off, many readers don't have the time, or the patience to get to the real situation, but despite how busy a guy I am, I make it my business when I lose a 'hobby', I want to know why. It is not uncommon to see fans on websites and blogs that really don't have a clue to the real issues. So for those, a quick lesson on the big issue, and the only issue, as it will be the one that causes another lost season.

The major roadblock is the hockey related revenue. It is anything that makes money from anything NHL related, from the gate receipts, parking, beer sales on game day, to the jerseys, memorabilia, or video games with the NHL logo or it's teams sold outside the arena. And in 2011/12 it was 3.2 billion. That is, according to sources, a 50% increase since the 2004 lockout. So,... that's good right? It shows that people are watching, and Bettman is selling it. The players are using this a flag to say,.. "hey what's wrong here? We should get some of that pie". Not to take sides, but the league is not healthy, and that is why the owners are digging in for a fight. Some reports say that 60-70% of the leagues teams are losing money at a huge rate. In the NHL, each team is an independant entity, and are responsible for their own expenses, from local taxes, arena land fees, players and employees salaries. The league attempted to help stop the bleeding by putting in a salary cap in 2004, which was designed to give the league parity, and hopefully fill the seats as every team has the chance to win, by spreading the talent pool around. And it did help, as people were starting to take notice, it made the game competitive and non fans started to watch, which put people in the seats, and led too higher exposure and bigger revenues. But that's where it ended. It was a band-aid, but now the bleeding has become a full on hemorrhage, and it needs a doctor, but everyone is standing around with knives.

In the NFL, they have a socialist point of view, and the league and it's product is the epitome of how a league should be run, regardless of your political point of view. This is sports, not government. Their athletes are rich, well protected, the fans are happy, there is parity, every owner makes money, and all is well. The reason? They split revenues with the players, but the owners share is split evenly amongst all the other teams. Except gate receipts that are split 60% home team, 40% away team. Boxes and suites are excluded, and that is exclusive pocket cash for the teams owner. Guys like Jerry Jones, (owner Dallas Cowboys), hates this system, as he had to foot the bill for his new stadium, and still share his gate receipts. For those that follow the NFL, his bitching was endless while his cash flow was focused on finishing his new monstrosity. But now that he enjoys the revenue created from his new seating capacity, he has a little more patience. (Their is an escrow system account now for new stadium building in their CBA). He hates to have the worlds most recognizable NFL franchise, that he payed millions for, only to have to share his revenue. It's supposed to be 'America's team', and everyone at one point or another has owned a Cowboys jersey, so why should he be interested in helping the Green Bay Packers stay in Green Bay? Because they are great fans, and rabid for the game, and the teams management rarely puts a bad team on the field, which keeps the fans coming, and the revenue expands, and Jerry Jones and every other owner gets a larger slice.   

 That's why it works. I suppose from the fact that the NFL has been through all this before helps. They have had labour disputes through the decades that have laid the groundwork. Plus, perhaps a sense of unity that the system brings. The players and ownership honestly believe in the product, and realize that there is nothing bigger than keeping the game popular. I site 2 examples of this. One was the recent lockout of their own in 2011, which looked bad from the outset. They hammered out an agreement in four months, that saw a reduction in the players cut, but gave them insurances. Stronger rulings to protect them on the field, better free agency, and higher base salaries. These are things that are all for the future, and not the present, and it seems the NFLPA saw the bigger picture, knowing they can still make millions in salary. And that really is what the players of any pro sport should focus on. Secondly,..look at the recent referee lockout, and the realization from Roger Goodell that despite the fact he didn't want to pay the leagues regular referee's more money, he had to bow to the pressure of college and high school linemen and referees putting a bad spin on the game, and taking away from the image of the league. He quickly put and end to the impasse, and got the NFL referees back on the field. It took some dramatic examples of how good the real referees actually are, but at least he recognized the revenue the league creates, he had to get the calls on the field right, and I am sure the ownerhshp reminded him of that. If one aspect of the game falters, the whole is affected. 

The NHL is in trouble however, as the owners who are not making money, are spending it in an attempt to make themselves viable. They have a salary cap ceiling, which no team can spend over, but they also have a basement that they have to spend up to. They hire GM's who have the responsibility to make the team good enough to be competitive, yet they don't seem to be held to any ground rules, and as a result are spending beyond their teams means. This is giving the players and the fans the image that everything is alright, when teams that don't have the cash flow sign players long term outrageous contracts that they can't afford. This is not healthy for the league, and contracts like this should not be allowed for the good of the game. Revenue and finances are the modern key to succes and failure of an entire sports league, not just one franchise, as players are making more and more, as they expect more and more when their lives and livelyhood are coming into question. Concussions, suicides, and abhorrent behaviour is something both the NFL and NHL are currently dealing with. The NHL and it's salary cap was well meant, but it is ultimately making a bad situation worse. It did help the smaller market teams compete with the higher spending teams, but the rift still appears to be widening.   

So, what is the answer?  A combination of many things,.. I think. Move teams from non hockey markets despite Bettman's arrogance. He has always wanted hockey to succeed in the south, but these markets need to win, and that always can't be gauranteed. Tampa, Florida, Dallas, Phoneix, Carolina, Nashville and all the California teams have shown that success has brought the fans, but they are quick to leave again when it's not repeated. Why do the Toronto Maple Leafs always sell out when they are often, and recently the bottom 10 of the league or lower? History? The league needs to reorganize, or suffer through a contraction and lose a few franchises. Giving out all those expansion teams in the 80's and 90's was a huge mistake at the wrong time. 

A new sophisticated revenue model for the ownership that mirrors the NFL is needed. That way the healthy stay healthy and the lower teams can stay competitive while they get through some growing pains. Most current owners in larger markets will never agree to this. Why should they? They have a steady revenue flow. See Jerry Jones. Either this, and/or contraction.

And thirdly, exposure, exposure, exposure. Which is where most of this new found revenue is coming from, and can hopefully save some of these lesser teams who are suffering from a lack of fans in the stands. It's unfortunate that T.V. contracts have been getting larger, but these work stopages are conflicting with this growth, and it will be more difficult to get new agreements with the larger networks in the future unless things are put right with this CBA, or future ones. Not a good scenario, and ultimately means we are in for a long work stoppage. If the two sides manage to get something patch work CBA out in time to save some games, it will only be a scenario that will need major work in the future. 

In the end, it's not the players fault, but they are not seeing the big scene,.. they are players,.. not managers. Their union and it's leader should focus on his players, not how it's run, and realize that they have a take a smaller piece of pie, as it will help make the league healthy. It's not the owners fault, they are just trying to stay competitive, but they should be managing their teams better. Less ridiculous contracts please. Maybe a limit to length and price of future contracts in this CBA? It's not even Bettmans fault, however, he did create the problem. In his defence, he was only trying to make the game more popular and better by selling it too fast. It blew up in his face. 

Now, we as fans sit here with the game we love to watch, in shambles, thinking eight years ago was supposed to be the last time we would have to suffer this lockout BS, but here we are again. Waiting,...

It's a nasty and viscious circle, and of course, there will be casualties. Too bad, I think the NHL and the game of hockey has something to offer. At least we have the NFL to watch.

Category: NHL
Tags: Lockout NHL
Posted on: October 22, 2011 9:28 pm

NHL, concussions, and equipment

I have been watching hockey since I was a kid. If you don't know me, that was a very long time ago. I grew up on it. I played it, in fact,...wanted to play pro. But it was not to be. So needless to say, I know the NHL and pro hockey.

When I used to watch the Saturday night games in the '70's, the hair was long and flowing with no helmets to stop it, crude equipment by todays standard, and less than perfect 'athletes'. I remember hearing stories about Guy LaFleur smoking in between periods, but never had that story substantiated. It was more like the movie 'Slap Shot' than not.

In those days, you crossed the center ice with your head down, or you looked the other way, you were flattened. Plain and simple. No penalty, no further review with possible suspension. The crowd lept to their feet as fast as if it was a game winning goal. The 'receiving' player, some times came up bloody, some times crossed eyed, some times couldn't get to his feet, but it was part of the game. And you never picked up a newspaper the next day and read about concussions, and a player being medically held back because he got his bell rung. You weren't tough enough for the big game if you couldn't take it, there was always other players out there that could take your place. And I very much doubt that many of those hits were concussions, but I am sure there were a few.    

Many out there are now saying I'm a dinosaur. Not growing with the game, or caring about the athletes. That can't be farther from the truth. My question is, how come all of a sudden, in the past 10 years we have become so anal about the seriousness of these hits? Concussions are serious stuff, affecting more than just your future hockey career, but your future life period.

I can tell you why, and I can't take credit for it. Donald S. Cherry has the right idea. These ridiculous shoulder and elbow pads are like hard plastic casings you find on power tools. You strap these on with the intention of keeping your body parts intact, you come across the ice and clock someone with an elbow, your going to scramble the guys brains. 

I don't understand why the NHL and Brendan Shanahan don't see this? It i so obvious. In the old days, the pads I wore, and saw on the pro athletes of the day, were soft stuffed paddings designed to deflect the puck, or sticks from giving a deep bone bruise. And if a guy hit you, or vice versa, there was some give, and the head stayed intact, instead of running into a brick wall. 

Wake up NHL, and get back to some retro hockey gear, that doesn't do any damage when guys make contact, instead of turning it into the ice capades.

Category: NHL
Posted on: May 16, 2011 7:44 pm

Possible Winnipeg Jet revival

I don't blog often, but when I do I have a lot on my mind. But with regards to the possibility of a new Winnipeg team, I wanted to sound off, so here it goes.

First off, I find it strange that the NHL keeps pushing hockey down the throats of markets that they WANT to be in. I am sure in their infinite wisdom, they do research, but it doesn't take a genius to determine that once a franchise leaves to move to another city, why would you think that it will work the second time round. Oh sure, your sitting out there saying what about Minnesota? Well, in all fairness, that's probably the next on the block a few year down the road. They support their team, only if they are successful. Which pretty much includes Tampa Bay, Florida, Dallas, L.A.Kings, Anaheim, Phoenix,....did I miss any? I am sure there are fans in these cities that would totally disagree with me that love their hockey, and I apologize. But how can you sell a product to people that have no inherent knowledge of the game? That's no insult, trust me, I don't understand basketball, and probably never will, because it was never around when I grew up, I never played it, and it wasn't on the TV. There were no pro teams in the area, so I grew up ignorant to the game, and still don't understand it. Probably never will, and I am sure in the southern states, that feeling is prevalent about hockey.

The old monicker, if at first you don't succeed,.. try, try again, is not really a way to run a professional sports league. And to give the Atlanta region the Thrashers expansion was a head scratcher for me. There were cities out there with deep pocketed investors in Canada willing to take in a franchise, and you know it would have been successful. Not to say that I don't understand that opening a burgeoning American market to a sport hoping the flood gates for fans willing to sacrifice dollars to go through the turnstile, as there is dollars to be made with TV rights, and merchandising. But to come and see and learn and understand a sport, when baseball, and football are the Kings, is a pretty tough sell. I know IF I lived in a city with the four major north american sports, I would probably spend all my time and money trying to get NFL tickets.

Now, the Jets, (or whatever they may be called in the future) would be GREAT to see another team in Winnipeg. Why? I'll give you two reasons:

1) Move either Columbus, or Detroit out of the West conference, and move them to East. Saving much travel time for one of those teams, and the rest in the West 

2) The Winnipeg fans a rabid dogs for hockey. I will always remember the intensity of the fans, their collective unity with the same colored shirts and the towels spinning, screaming and yelling at the top of their lungs. Oh sure, this is done all the time in the playoffs, but in the first game of the season? Those people LOVE their hockey, and they deserve another franchise. There was never an empty seat, and a city/arena/lease struggle cost them the Jets the first time. Plain and simple. The owner then couldn't get them out of Winnipeg fast enough after the community wouldn't foot the bill for some of a new arena, so,... Phoenix here we come,...and the NHL helped them pack their bags.

 I would like to see the West Canadian coast connection again, with the Oilers, Flames, Canucks, and Jets,...with Minnesota thrown in for good measure, back in one division. 

Good times. It's not what the NHL wants, but it will be good for the game.

Category: NHL
Posted on: December 7, 2010 10:56 pm

Going up in Flames

What is wrong with the Calgary Flames? Living in the city, being a fan,... being surrounded by fans, I think I am pretty well versed on this team, and I suppose I am the only CBS blogger that covers the Flames. And although many in the league, or on this website really could care less, is a mystery to the fans of the Flames, how these guys have gone from a Cup appearance in 2004, to currently riding the bottom of the Western conference as of December 7th. So, I sit down to write about the trials and tribulations of the Calgary team known as the Flames,...for those that in fact do care.

Is there any one single thing wrong with this team? I would say not. Trying to be biased as possible, I believe on paper they are one of the most talented teams that have worn the jersey. Seriously, kidding. Not since the late 80's have we had a more prolific group of guys to play the game. We have one of the best defensive cores in the league, (although the GA's don't support that statement), combined with a world class goaltender in Kiprusoff, we in theory should be the best in keeping the puck out of our own net. Plus, I have too say, they are giving an effort night in and out.

Up front, however, is a different story. Scoring has always been a bane to Calgary teams, even in the past. We have never had a collection of goal scorers that put fear into the opponents goal tenders. (Exception,..maybe '88 with Gilmour, Nieuwendyk, Macinnis, and Fleury to name a few). And with last years effort coming up second last in overall goal scoring in the entire league, there is an obvious hole. With Iginla getting older, how is he expected to carry this team into the future?

This brings me to another point of contention. This team has, and perhaps always will, be in the eternal hunt for the power forward to play with #12. I can't count how many good solid players, and draft picks have gone the way side in an attempt to bring someone in to help Iggy put more points on the board, and become one of the top scorers in the league. Oh,...the draft picks. The Flames have had 3 first rounders in the past 4 drafts, and 2 second rounders in the past 8 years. Now, I am not a NHL GM, but it doesn't take an expert to realize, if you don't get high draft picks, you don't have much of future. Albeit, many drafted players never make it to the NHL, but you have to get some youth in your lineup from somewhere, because your not going to get that young goal scorer from another team, they seem to tend to want to keep them.

So, the Flames, and generally Daryll Sutter's philosophy is too cough up draft picks, to get players in to play with Iginla, which seems to me just as much a gamble as taking your draft picks, and selecting some good young prospects, and trying and develop them. Both Tanguay, and Jokinen cost us 2 draft picks each, plus players. That's four players they mortgaged their future on, for winning now, and matching up with Iggy. Seems like a lot to sacrifice considering the Flames went to the Finals in 2004 with bit players like Conroy, Nilson, Nieminen, Donovan, and especially Martin Gelinas. This was a team put together with chemistry in mind, by a GM who is no longer with the franchise.

So, I guess through all this, I have pointed the finger directly at Daryll Sutter. After all, it's not all entirely his fault. He did get and sign Kiprusoff. But with his inability to look into the future, and disregard draft picks as something that can't help the team, and his inability to find a coach that can show some originality, and work within the confines of the new NHL. Case in point,...Mike Keenan to me was embarrassment for the franchise, as he was a successful coach, but was a dinosaur in the new game, and had a habit of alienated the players on his teams. Add on the fact he hadn't worked in four years previous, that hiring set the franchise back. 

Bottom line, this team, and it's management have a created a great team,....for 10 years ago. There is no one who is terribly fast, and that is a buzz word in the NHL with it's new rules. Speed kills, and no Flame is a real speedster. Defense is still key, but they also must be moblie in this game, and have the ability to get the puck up the ice fast. I have to give this one to Daryll, and one of the reasons he brought Jay Bouwmeester into the fold, and yet another semi-bust. As he has never really looked comfortable in the Flaming C jersey. Plus, we have only a handful of prospects for the future, so the rebuild that is coming and inevitable, will be a long painful road to recovery. So, unfortunately, I don't think a GM change will do this team any good immediately, it is necessary before Daryll does some more damage. 

And I believe to expedite this new era after the new GM is in place, is to shop Iginla. Yes, I said it. While he still has some value in the league, and we can get a couple of good players or picks. I loved the rumour of a couple of weeks ago, that Iggy was going to LA Kings for Brayden Schenn for example. Don't get me wrong, I think Iginla is a great player,...but how about give him a cup, as I think if there was ever a guy that deserved one, it would be Jarome. So send him somewhere he is likely to get one.

But what do I know?




Category: NHL
Posted on: November 28, 2010 8:02 pm

Single Season Goals Record in the NHL

I was looking recently at the single season records for the NHL. Among them, obviously, is the single season record for goals. Many of the players on the list, I watched as they put together hall of fame careers. But for some reason, the top four of this list appeared to be untouchable. Especially Wayne Gretzky's 1981-82,... 92 goal season. That to me is amazing.

 At a goal a game + pace, I am sure many of those came at the expense of my Calgary Flames, who were in their second season in the city at the time. And I unfortunately did not see the legendary Gretzky for what he was, but a thorn in my teams side instead. And the soon to be unstoppable Oilers overwhelmed the new Southern Alberta counterparts on a regular basis. 

Anyways, with all that prolific scoring coming from Mr. Gretzky in that season, where ever, or whomever the opponent was, I find it difficult to imagine anyone duplicating that feat. What with the opposition these days being faster, bigger, and stronger. And the goalies being quicker, and padded heavier than a member of the bomb squad. Plus, these modern day NHL alumni train hard, and are finely honed athletes, unlike the counterparts from decades before. I remember reading a story about Guy Lafleur, for those that don't remember, was a Montreal Canadien sniper, who used to sneak a smoke in between periods.

 Plus, with everything else, you have to take into consideration the increased technology going into the equipment. The skates these days are finely tuned, single piece, ceramic blade, computer designed skating machines. In the old days, it was a boot,.... with a blade nailed to it.

 In conclusion, it would seem to me, that the days of 70+ goals in a single season are over, and certainly no one will ever eclipse the current record holder of 92. I think that Crosby, and Ovechkin, as good and talented as they are,...will never break that record. But one never knows. Then of course there is hope for Steve Stamkos, who I think, has a natural goal scoring talent, may some day take a run at Wayne's old record. Regardless, when that day comes, and a goal scorer in the NHL comes along that has the skill and ability to actually overcome everything that I have laid out here,...I hope that I am in the stands, or at least watching the highlights, and truly appreciating a remarkable feat in the sporting world.

 92+ goals in a single season in the NHL.

Category: NHL
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or