Player anger, plea to save the Classic, more green spilled, and PK’s forecast

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PK Subban

The NHL forecast calls for more stalemate, lost revenue, no Winter Classic, and scrambling for side jobs. Loquacious Canadiens blueliner PK Subban may have found his calling. (Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

By Stu Hackel

It’s the end of October and the owners’ locks remain on the doors of all NHL facilities. The most interesting news from the battlefront so far this week is that NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr traveled to Minnesota on Tuesday to meet with players and review the stalemated CBA negotiations.

Reading some of the coverage of Fehr’s visit, like this story from Bruce Brothers of The St. Paul Pioneer-Press, it’s obvious that some of the players are angry, or at least bordering on it. And, as Michael Russo of The Minneapolis Star-Tribune wrote, some players are concerned about the long-term impact that the lockout will have on their careers. Those reactions are realities of the situation, but they don’t seem to have appreciably dented the union’s resolve.

“We’re still standing firm. We know what’s right,” Islanders forward Kyle Okposo told Brothers. “We want our fans to know that we want to play. Right now, it’s not happening, and we’re just going to keep going and try to get this done as quickly as possible.”

Defenseman Ryan Suter who, along with Zach Parise, signed a huge free agent deal with the Wild during the summer, is among those who have flirted with anger. He told Craig Custance of ESPN Magazine earlier this month of his feelings about Craig Leipold and all the owners after their CBA proposals that would not honor existing contracts. “It’s disappointing. If you can’t afford to (sign contracts) then you shouldn’t do it,” Suter said. “(Leipold) signed us to contracts. At the time he said everything was fine. Yeah, it’s disappointing. A couple months before, everything is fine, and now they want to take money out of our contracts that we already signed….Now, they’re trying to go back on their word. It’s frustrating, disappointing. It doesn’t seem like that’s the way you operate a relationship or business.”

Suter backed down from that sentiment while speaking with Russo on Sunday. “I thought a lot about since what I said. I don’t question Craig Leipold and Minnesota with regards to negotiating our contracts in good faith. I don’t question that. That might have come off wrong. I don’t question that. It’s just frustrating. We just want to play. We support Don in what he’s doing. Obviously you sign a contract, and you want to hold true to that. I think, and I hope, everything works out.”

The way it’s working out now is that the players have lost over $177 million in salary according to the Sportsnet Lockout Clock, which tabulates only the players’ losses and not those of ownership (perhaps not surprising considering Sportsnet’s parent company is part of the Maple Leafs ownership group). A few weeks ago, we did a very rough calculation of the damages to that side of the equation. It was a very unscientific and certainly flawed effort (you can read our caveats in that post), but at least it gives a ballpark estimate of team-by-team lost gate receipts based on last season’s ticket prices. Here’s how those losses might look through the games that would have been played on Wednesday night, concluding the October’s schedule.

Anaheim (5 games @ $634,407.56 per) — $3,172,037.80
Boston (6 games @ $1,035,281.10) — $6,211,686.60
Buffalo (5 games @ $728,241.75) — $3,641,208.75
Calgary (5 games @ $1,315.316.91) — $6,576,584.55
Carolina (5 games @ $776,714.40) — $3,883.572.00
Chicago (5 games @ $1.098,631.24) — $5,493,156.20
Colorado (4 games @ $731.444.34) — $2,925,777.36
Columbus (3 games @ $870.004.80) — $2,610,014.40
Dallas (4 games @ $555,033.40) — $2,220,133.60
Detroit (3 games @ $1,069,116.48) — $3,207,349.44
Edmonton (4 games @ $1,180,919.07) — $4,723,676.28
Florida (3 games @ $948,616.80) — $2,845,850.40
Los Angeles (5 games @ $940,686.56) — $4,703,432.80
Minnesota (5 games @ $1,131,348.32) — $5,656,741.60
Montreal (6 games @ $1,886,276.91) — $11,317,661.46
Nashville (4 game @ $873,447.52) — $3,493,790.08
New Jersey (5 games @ $808,282.50) — $4,041,412.50
New York Islanders (5 games @ $796,440.04) — $3,982,200.20
New York Rangers (0 games @ $1,204,840) — $0
Ottawa (4 games @ $1,063,183.03) — $4,252,732.12
Philadelphia (5 games @ $1,306,896.82) — $6,534,484.10
Phoenix (4 games @ $619,068.75) — $2,476,275.00
Pittsburgh (4 games @ $1,159,484.22) — $4,637,936.88
St. Louis (5 games @ $796,065.50) — $3,980,327.50
San Jose (4 games @ $873,358.26) — $3,493,433.04
Tampa Bay (3 games @ $745,469.34) — $2,236,408.02
Toronto (3 games @ $2,329,227.63) — $6,987,682.89
Vancouver (4 games @ $1,293,065.80) — $5,172,263.20
Washington (5 games @ $1,155,144.52) — $5,775,722.60
Winnipeg (4 games @ $1,474,443.08) — $5,897,772.32

That’s an estimated $132 million worth of unsold seats — at last season’s prices. The Rangers weren’t to have played a home game until November and their ticket prices went up this season 9.5 percent. Not only do the losses not include ticket price increases this year, they don’t include any other sources of revenue from broadcasting, corporate sponsorships, concession sales and parking, licensing fees and other things.

So the bleeding continues among the owners as well as the players. Apart from the money, of course, is the decline in the game’s image and the loss of fan interest, both of which had been on the rise. It’s no way to run a business, unless you want to run it into the ground.

Classic plea: We wrote on Tuesday about the NHL potentially cancelling the Winter Classic by Friday to avoid spending money it can’t recoup — and we updated the post later to include the information reported by Frank Seravalli of The Philadelphia Daily News that, “According to the contract, the NHL can cancel the Winter Classic up until the day of the event, pretty much without penalty.” All it would lose would be the $100,000 it has already given to the University of Michigan and whatever expenses the school incurred.

The contract between the NHL and the University can be read here and the cancellation policies are on Page 2. The way it reads, with the league specifically protected in case of a lockout, the NHL really has very little financial exposure upcoming this week, or at all beyond what it has already paid the school. Last week, Gary Bettman said, “I’m not going to give you an exact timetable, but at some point in November we will have to commit many millions of dollars to get ready for the Winter Classic, so if there’s still uncertainty, we’re going to have to make a decision. And my guess is, we’re not going to commit those dollars unless we have certainty.” There may be other expenses involved, but nothing in the contract calls for that.

Damien Cox of The Toronto Star believes that this Friday presents the league with an opportunity, “a chance for the NHL to prove it can do something different. Run another play, as it were. Yes, there’s financial considerations, and logistical ones, that make this Friday a meaningful deadline for this event….It will cost the NHL not to cancel, that we know. But after pouring millions down the sinkhole that is the Phoenix Coyotes for four years, why not make a small investment in the game and NOT cancel the Winter Classic? At least, not just yet.

“Don’t cancel it, and in so doing, make it an olive branch held out to the players. Don’t cancel the Winter Classic and simultaneously offer to sit down with the players for serious bargaining ASAP, something that hasn’t happened at all yet. The league wants to negotiate off its last proposal. Well, the Fehr Bros. said this week that they’re willing to talk about that. So talk.”

Amen to that.

P.K. and the forecast: The NHL lockout puts people in unusual circumstances. Whether it’s players skating in Europe or their coaches working with children, all who are connected with hockey are searching for things to do. Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban has used one of his talents — his talkative nature — and taken a stab at a different career: TV weatherman.

Subban showed up Tuesday on CTV in Montreal and it’s pretty obvious that the cameras love the loquacious Pernell Karl as much in the studio as they do on the ice. Often accused by foes of being too chatty during NHL games, that trait stayed with him as he told viewers about the movements of Hurricane Sandy.

Hey, P.K.’s better than Al Sleet. This is the kind of thing where someone often cautions an amateur, “Don’t quit your day job.” But P.K is actually pretty entertaining. Don’t know if he’s got a future in the weatherman biz, but right now, he’s not doing anything and it looks as if we could be in that holding pattern for a while.

Like the man once sang, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Rickie Lee, too.

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  • Published On Oct 31, 2012

    You write about the possibility of players getting angry but what about the owners? How long until the owners in small or non-traditional hockey markets, or with otherwise shallow pockets and bills to pay, begin to apply pressure on Bettman? If this happens, where will the cracks first appear? How long before it begins? Has it already begun? Fehr has shown great skill and foresight in rallying his union. Does Bettman have the necessary skills to do the same with ownership?


    Stu, I appreciate the perspective you bring on how much this is costing the players and owners as the lockout drags on, but can we get a word in on behalf of all the non-NHL who are being fiscally devastated by this? Bar and restaurant owners, parking lot attendants, ushers, concession workers, security personnel, all taking an enormous hit in an already difficult economy. The NHL and the players will eventually recover and recoup ... one has to wonder how many of the people on the periphery will.


    A quick note before my point. Stu, I admire your ability to remain mostly neutral through all of this. I, like all fans, am angry. So angry I probably won't go back to watching the NHL for the foreseeable future. Maybe I'll return someday, but like I've remarked to many, "I'm done with this abusive relationship." Yes, I side with the players. But should the players even get everything they ask for, I won't be watching there once they're back in action. So, kudos to you as a journalist for not showing such anger. 


    Onto my initial point.


    At this point, can the NHL's position of non-negotiation be a tactic? To get fans and players and the NHLPA so riled up that when management does come to the table, the other side will simply be relieved that the NHL made any move at all they'll relent in areas? That's just a thought I had while reading your article. 


    It's kind of amazing that I put this much thought into something I won't be actively participating in. Despite my neighbor's implication that I will come back, I won't. I love the college game and I will be moving to Oregon within the month and am super excited to watch the Portland Winterhawks. 


     @JamesLandonJones Those are the owners that DON'T want to make a deal until they get concessions.  The small markets are getting killed by the height of the cap floor.

    Stu Hackel
    Stu Hackel moderator

     @JamesLandonJones Absolutely, James, Bettman has strong leadership skills. Plus, he has a few big advantages that Fehr does not. First, he has a far smaller group to keep in line -- 30 compared to 700-plus. Secondly, he only needs a handful of owners to agree with him. The commissioner cannot be over-ruled by the owners on labor relations matters unless more than 3/4 of them disagree with him. That means he only needs seven of the 30 owners to agree. It's hardly the same for the players, who operate on a simple majority in their decisions. And the owners have a gag order and cannot say very much publicly about the lockout without Bettman's consent. When it comes to trying to determine which owners favor and oppose the lockout, that's all guesswork because of the gag order.


    Now, I don't think Bettman is immune from internal pressure coming from owners who disagree and he certainly has fires to put out, as does Fehr. If the tide of opinion among the owners was against him, even if short of the 3/4 threshold, I think he'd be smart enough to modify his thinking on things. But he's still got a much easier task than Fehr.


    Stu Hackel
    Stu Hackel moderator

     @DougSanders You are absolutely right Doug and I have discussed this before, as early as August, if I recall, but it's hard quantifying how much these people are losing. Most of the estimates I've seen in various newspapers have been that the average NHL game brings about $1 million a night of business into a city, so that's money not being spent, not just in the areas you mention, but also things like hotels, where visiting teams and fans stay, and transportation expenditures. In some cases, the loss of that income can be devastating to a particular business or individual. Other than anecdotally, however, I'm not sure how else to get a more detailed grasp of the impact at the moment in order to write about it.

    Stu Hackel
    Stu Hackel moderator

     @matthewstrubel Thanks very much for the kind words, Matthew. Not everyone believes I am neutral in this (and the comments section in some recent posts reflect that), but I've tried to look at everything with an open mind and evaluate each step of this as it comes and try to make a dispassionate judgement on what is transpiring and give my opinion based on what I know and the information available. I owe that to the readers and it doesn't serve that end to get too angry on these posts. I'll disclose to you that I got an email today from a reader that said I was losing credibility because I wrote "Each side claims it is the one that has made concessions and it accuses the other of wanting the lockout and being unwilling to compromise." And he demanded to know what concessions the owners made and, I suppose, wanted me to blast them because they hadn't made any. Well, I was just reporting what each side claimed but that wasn't good enough for him. I have in other posts addressed this particular issue of concessions, but I'm not crusading on this blog; I'm just trying to follow the story.


    As for your question, yes, I certainly do think that not negotiating is a tactic on the part of ownership, perhaps right now their main one, in part for the very reasons you state and also because they may believe that not reaching an agreement will cause players to worry about missing paychecks and time in their careers, also contributing factors in their hope the players will relent. It's something that any athlete in a strike or lockout faces and I'm certain Fehr addresses with them in these meetings like the one he had this week in Minnesota.


    I understand completely your distaste for all this and why you will abandon being an NHL fan. I don't think anyone who loves the game can feel much other than disgust for the way this has proceeded. Everyone has their own opinion on who they think is to blame, and some believe both parties are, but the result is that only the sport suffers. And losing fans like you is the best evidence of that. Good luck in Portlandia.


     @Stu Hackel  Just say it - you're not neutral, you're pro-player.   I'm sure you don't come by it unreasonably, but what the heck good does it do us fans for players to be multi-millionaires while there's constant franchise instability, difficulty finding new owners and the profit pool, even if shared 100%, just isn't big enough to erase the financial issues of the league?