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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Lockout Did Much More To Save Than Enslave: There Is Little Excuse For Failure

Ken Campbell of The Hockey News has been known to "stir the pot" with his penchant for taking on controversial topics.  However, in his latest incarnation of "Campbell's Cuts", where he cites Atlanta's troubles concerning Ilya Kovalchuk's potential trade which leads him to a conclusion that the NHL lockout was "a farce" and the CBA "a sham", may be one of the most ill conceived works from any hockey writer that I have ever read!
"If the Atlanta Thrashers do end up trading Ilya Kovalchuk over the course of the next month or so – and with every passing day it looks as though they will – it will set this franchise further back than ever.

It will also go a long way toward proving the collective bargaining agreement was a sham and that we missed a year of hockey for a whole lot of bupkis.

Think about it. Wasn’t the season-long lockout and subsequent CBA supposed to prevent this very thing from happening? Didn’t the league sit out the 2004-05 season so struggling non-traditional hockey markets wouldn’t be forced to trade their superstar players at the primes of their careers? Wasn’t the mere presence of a salary cap supposed to even the playing field for everyone?

Yes and yes. Has it turned out that way? No and no. The reality is there remains a huge division between the have and have-not teams in the NHL, which is a major reason why the Thrashers will almost certainly be forced to deal Kovalchuk prior to the March 3 trade deadline."
Is this a joke? Why not blame the lockout and the current CBA for cancer, WWII and all natural disasters as well?

Consider that prior to the lockout, seven teams had a payroll of $60 million or more, led by Detroit's whopping $77.8 million expenditure.  Conversely, five teams had payrolls of less than $30 million, bottomed out by Nashville's $23.2 million.

Of the high spending teams, all but the Rangers were made the playoffs.  Of the low spending teams, only Nashville made it.  The Predators actually had to play the "money is no object" Red Wings in round one and lost.  Do you think that Nashville felt like they were in a fair fight being on the short end of a near $55 million payroll deficit?

The concept of the NHL's cap was to move the financial structure of the game away from the Yankees-Pirates model of MLB and move it towards the supremely profitable and viable example of the NFL. Was this successful? Without a doubt,YES! 

Ask yourself this: Did anyone believe that the Oakland Raiders had the same chance to get to the Super Bowl as the Colts? No way!  Did they have the same opportunities to become contenders? Yes they did! Can the same be said of teams in Major League Baseball? Negative.  But is is the case in the post-lockout NHL! What would have been an impossibility in 2003/04, came to fruition the last two seasons: A Pittsburgh/Detroit Final.

The Atlanta Thrashers problem is exactly what Campbell does state, but completely ignores the rest of the way through the article:
"...there isn’t a financial system or enforced curbs on spending that can overcome incompetent management and ownership... Who knew? It turns out there’s no CBA in the world that can protect a team from bad drafting and developing, poor player personnel decisions and ownership wars that seem to keep the franchise in a constant state of chaos."
With that statement, he invalidates the entire complaint!

The Thrashers problem, is their ownership, The Spirit Group. They also control Philips Arena and the Atlanta Hawks.  The group wants to own a NBA franchise, and cares little for their NHL entity... and it shows.  One needs to look no further than the recent Forbes Magazine's "The NHL's Best (And Worst) Fans" study.  Based on Atlanta's NHL worst attendance, next to worst local TV ratings and lackluster merchandise sales, they "earned" 29th place of 30 teams!

Honestly, this study is less an indictment of the teams' fans than it is of their management. This club has done little to create a bond with their market. With a new arena, a history that has included megastars like Kovalchuk, Heatley and Hossa, in a town of more than 5 million residents, there has to be a way of interesting 18,000 people in your team, and THAT has been an abject failure.

The lockout and CBA gave them a fair playing field and they have squandered their opportunities.
With all apologies Ken, the lockout and new CBA saved the game. The NHL can't force all teams to be successful at their endeavours, just simply provide them with an environment to be successful.


  1. Good writing. What he also fails to mention is the disastrous gming of this team by don waddell. By mortgaging the future to lose 4 in a row in the playoffs a couple years back that robbed the thrashers of the pieces they need to help kovie. Oh and lets ignore the fact that the thrashers had to trade Dany Heatley because of the accident. Better GM moves by the Thrashers Brass and it would be a much different picture.

  2. yeah, absolutely ridiculous. good piece by you.

  3. The lockout was about exactly what is happening with Kovalchuk. If you reduce free agency ages - as was done in the CBA negotiated in the lockout - you will see more players moving as free agents when they are young enough to make a difference.

    Before the lockout, some teams bought a lot of free agents, but unless they already had a good young core to win already, it didn't help. You got teams like the New York Rangers leading the league in payroll and missing the playoffs 8 years in a row. The Rangers (and other big spending teams had no advantage at all. They couldn't buy wins.

    Sure teams that drafted well eventually wound up with big payrolls by keeping their talent as they matured, but they got the chance because they drafted well and not because they bought a winner. It looked like any market could do this - Denver, Dallas and East Rutherford did - while New York, Toronto and Los Angeles could not. In 2004, the best guess was Tampa Bay and Ottawa might rule the future and that was bad for the NHL. Nobody cared about Tampa and Ottawa. Big cities had to dominate to get media interest. New York had to be able to buy a winner. Reduce free agency ages and they could.

    Sure it came with a salary cap. That made the smaller markets who were giving up a chance to win happy. They could make more money.

    A salary cap means the Rangers cannot buy all the free agents, but they don't have to. They only have to buy one Kovalchuk (or Crosby, Malkin etc when they come available) and that makes a huge difference. Those big markets will always get the premiere free agents. They can offer opportunity that small markets cannot. Kovalchuk (for example) makes more in non-NHL related advertising in New York than he ever could in Atlanta. Its the same way Gretzky got ads and a saturday Night live appearance in Los Angeles that he never could have got in Edmonton.

    The NHL CBA has accomplished some things. Tampa Bay and Ottawa were broken up. The recession has hurt the ability of smallest market teams financially - but they are better off with this CBA and its revenue sharing. The best players have yet to come onto the market in part due to much longer contracts than expected (that takes Ovechkin off the market).

    Players like Ilya Kovalchuk coming to the big markets was an intended consequence. That is why free agency ages dropped.

    The NHL was full of misinformation about why the lockout occurred. There was no intention to let small markets keep teams together. Salary caps cannot accomplish that. They force more player movement. Reducing free agency ages cannot accomplish that. It forces more player movement. This CBA was not intended to keep Kovalchuk in Atlanta. It has no mechanism to do that and many to prevent it.

    The CBA is doing what it was supposed to do in this case. Here it is being judged by its ability to perform the lies that was promised with it that were never intended to be delivered.

  4. Yeah a few bloggers are touching on this issue. Money rules no matter how you try and stop it, players go where the money is. Who knows, maybe Atl will end up with a few good prospects out of the deal.
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