Fan Fuel: NHL lockout – Fringe players suffer the most

October 12, 2012, 1:32 PM


In part one of this two part series I illustrated how most NHL owners do not need their NHL teams to be successful to survive. While fans, players, TV analysts etc. cannot comprehend a season without hockey, financially anyways, the owners are under very little pressure to get a deal done. The simple reason for this is that most owners made their billions before buying a hockey team and therefore do not rely on its success for financial gain. They have their day jobs for that.

The players have a much different landscape. While most owners made themselves billionaires in ventures that had little to nothing to do with hockey, the players are millionaires because of hockey. The average NHL hockey player makes about $2.4 million according to Bloomberg. The reality is that the overwhelming majority of hockey players are qualified to do very little else besides hockey and almost nothing that would earn them the same income that they do playing in the NHL.

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My guess is most NHLers wouldn’t be able to trade their high school diplomas in for anything other than an average paying job that would require thirty years of service to pay off a mortgage just like 99 per cent of the population. For those players who think that a lockout is going to put pressure on the owners or that digging their heels in is for the good of the union, I have to laugh.

For the players, this lockout, and any lockout, is all about the players like Brad Richards, Alex Ovechkin, Roberto Luongo or Sidney Crosby. It’s not about the Joey Crabbs or the Matt Bradleys or any other third/fourth line NHL guy who needs the income lost this year to help set him up for the future. The stars of the game have long and lucrative careers. Most will play over ten years in the league and probably haul close to a $100 million. Losing a season or two to a lockout will sting a bit for them but certainly not cause any panic. If the players get what they want, then future superstars can make even more money. Most players though only have a limited amount of time to make significant money. While I don’t believe that I should feel sorry for any player who has to get a real job because he didn’t make tens of millions playing hockey, I definitely would want to make as much money as I could so that I could avoid that scenario if I were in their situation. Who wouldn’t?

For those players on entry level deals or close to retirement, the lockout really won’t deprive them of a lot of salary because of the entry level cap on rookies limits what they make anyway and veterans have already made their big money and will never have to work again. On the other hand, for those players making less than the league average, and who likely will never make much more than that, every game lost can make an impact. In addition to this reality, young players emerging from the lockout as improved hockey players, can and will cause these fringe players to get lost in the shuffle when the lockout ends.

I think of a player like Joey Crabb who at 29 years old has never played a full season in the NHL and never made over $200,000 on his AHL contract. I don’t know his financial details but I think it’s safe to say that Crabb isn’t as well off as Ilya Kovalchuk. Crabb was due to make $950,000 on a one – way contract with the Capitals. This was his first ever one way deal which meant that NHL or AHL Crabb was going home with almost a million dollars. At 29 years old this could very well be his last contract and the one that sets him up for life. Should this lockout last another year, Washington prospects such as Kusnetzov, Tom Wilson or Filip Forsberg will be one year older, one year better and cheaper options with more upside than Crabb and a very real threat to his job. It’s very possible that Crabb does not get this same offer a year from now and has played his last game in the NHL. How does anything the players hope to gain in this lockout make up for what players like Crabb will lose?

Of course the real, undeniable losers in this whole situation are the staff of an NHL team. There are people who literally rely on selling beer and collecting parking fees to pay their bills. With no hockey these people have zero income or in the case of those who work for an arena housing multiple sports teams and events, now have a reduced income. People who run pubs and bars that profit from games lose income. Cable companies etc. also lose income. Contrary to all the melodrama the fans don’t suffer. We miss hockey and we get frustrated but ‘suffer’ is too strong of a word. We love our hockey but need to remember that hockey is entertainment. It’s a reason to get together with the boys on a Saturday. It’s something to watch with your kids on a weeknight and if you can afford it, maybe even take your family to a game once per year. We as fans miss being entertained but we don’t suffer.

I also question the player’s strategy of refusing to move from their 57 per cent share of revenues and my reason is not philosophical but rather mathematical. Last year, the NHL experienced record revenues of $3.3 billion; with every passing month fans in small markets care less and less. The longer this lockout goes on the more the total revenue pie shrinks so even if the players were to ‘win’ their 57 per cent share, it would likely be 57 per cent of a lot smaller total revenue pot. Essentially the question then becomes whether or not 50 per cent of $3.3 billion-plus dollars is better than 57 per cent of a much smaller, and possibly shrinking pot, that could emerge after a long work stoppage.

I am not saying that the players should take whatever the owners offer because I am not a lawyer and I do not have access to all of the information. I’m saying that players simply might have to take what is offered because in the war of leverage between millionaire players who rely on hockey and billionaire owners who don’t, I like the odds of the billionaires winning out.

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