NHL a ticking time bomb – The high cost of salary increases

First published in the Lethbridge College Endeavour, Sept. 24, 2008

Four years have passed since the season-cancelling NHL lockout that forced fans everywhere to pretend the NBA is an admirable substitute to hockey. Where has the league taken itself since?

Is the game today more exciting to watch? Absolutely.

The days of the Todd Bertuzzis and Darcy Tuckers of the world being offensive leaders on their teams are over and that’s a major positive.

Speed and skill should rule and, as the Red Wings proved last year, they do.

But as exciting as the game is to watch lately, it might only be a matter of time before serious trouble lands in the laps of commissioner Gary Bettman, NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly, the players, and, most importantly, the fans.

When the owners faced off against the players in 2004, the issue was salary versus revenue.

The players were hauling in more than 60 per cent of the league’s total revenue, which was the most lopsided ratio for any major North American sport.

A $39 million salary cap was instituted after a very long and ridiculous process, and so back to the rinks they went.

Fast forward to 2008.

The NHL salary cap, after increasing every year since its introduction, now sits at $56 million.

In case you’re not an algebra expert, that’s $17 million more than the figure we had to miss 1,230 regular season games four years ago in order to institute.

The maximum allowable salary today is exactly what the top players made before the lockout. You can bet your sports-card collection an $11.25 million-per-year contract will be on the table somewhere the first time a GM with cap space fears his job.

I can’t be the only one whose jaw bounced off the floor this summer when Vancouver, a team whose chances of winning a cup this year rival that of a bunny rabbit’s in surviving a collision with a NASCAR, offered a 38-year-old, who has never even been in the Stanley Cup finals, $20 million over the next two years.

Mats Sundin is a great hockey player, but clearly there is something silly about that offer.

How about the New York Islanders shelling out more-than $4 million per season to former Habs’ defenceman/forward Mark Streit, whose 62 points were aided largely by the league’s best power play and highest-scoring offensive team.

And don’t even get me started on Jeff Finger.

We’re supposed to think everything is okay, just because the league makes more money than it used to? That’s like forgetting about global warming because it snows.

The proportions simply don’t add up. The NBA’s salary cap is $59 million. That’s only $3 million higher than the NHL, but the league’s total revenue for last season was $1.2 billion greater than its hockey rival.

Yes, that’s billion with a “B.”

I get that the NBA has half the players to sign than a hockey team, but $1.2 billion is $40 million per franchise more successful.

The average value of an NBA franchise is $172 million more than in the NHL.

A $3 million cap-difference between the leagues is laughable.

I’m fairly certain that if the NHL salary cap stopped skyrocketing for a few years, Jarome Iginla could still afford to fill the tank of his brand new SUV.


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