SUN Hockey Pool

Anyone for Hardball?

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:05 AM ET

How does Curling Night in Canada grab you? Given the fact NHL players are locked out today, get used to such a concept.

While news of the labour stoppage hardly created a ripple here in midtown Manhattan yesterday, fans north of the border were bemoaning the prospect of an entire winter without the likes of the Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Senators.

If it means anything, John Ferguson, Eugene Melnyk and George Gillett claim to share the country's grief.

On the other hand, all three emerged from the NHL board of governors meetings yesterday insisting the league had little choice but to play hard ball in quest of a new CBA.

Yet how does an entire league cry poor when one of its marquee franchises, the Leafs, commits $60 million US to player salaries for the coming season?

"We are lucky that we have such great fans and such supportive ownership," Ferguson said. "We work hard to give them a great product, but even in our market there is a necessity for change."

ESCALATING FASTER

The Leafs GM said payroll figures are escalating faster than revenues, even for a lucrative franchise such as Toronto.

Under one of the proposals submitted by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, the average player salary would drop about $500,000 US to $1.3 million. Spread throughout a 500-player league, that would bring in an additional $250 million in revenue.

But why would the players buckle to such a concept when it is the owners who keep driving up market prices?

"We're trying to do this to ensure we have competitive balance for the Montreal Canadiens," Gillett, the Habs owner, said. "We have the greatest fans in the world and it's a sad day for them. It's a sad day for all fans."

Melnyk, the Sens' owner, was asked what his message would be to Ottawa fans.

"You just tell them you tried your best, but we can't keep going the way it's going," he said.


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