Players remove all the excuses

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:33 AM ET

When it was finally made public, it turned out to be a brilliant and stunning proposal from the National Hockey League Players' Association.

It takes NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to exactly the place where he has said he wanted to go. It just follows a different path to get there.

Bettman said he needed an average salary level of $31 million US per team. The players' proposal, thanks to its immediate across-the-board 24% rollback, gives him exactly what he wants -- a $31-million salary level. Without a hard cap.

Bettman has said that he needs systemic changes to allow the owners to maintain those levels. Once again, in his system, he could come up with nothing better than the unbending, unimaginative and unattainable hard cap.

The players' system proposes entry-level rollbacks, luxury taxes, reverse arbitration (which allows the team to keep a player without meeting the normally mandated levels of qualifying offers) and even shrunken qualifying offers.

After the two sides met yesterday, Bettman stood before the assembled media hordes and said again and again that he couldn't comment upon the players' proposal.

It was too large a document for him to comprehend in such a short period of time, he said. Again and again.

What he should have said was, "Wow! Where do I sign?"

With this proposal, the players have taken away all the owners' excuses.

"Salaries are too high," they complained. Not any more. They're now at the level you asked for.

"Small markets can't compete." Well they're now going to get the benefits of a luxury tax, and the NHL, which ranks fourth among the four major sports in revenues shared, is entering the real world and acting as a group with a common cause rather than a bunch of avowed enemies.

"Kids are making too much in the early stages of their careers." Not any more, they're not. They'll be limited to $1.7 million US and even then, they'll have to collect all their bonuses to get that much. Their maximum salary will be $850,000 and they can earn no more than a matching amount in bonuses.

"Players can take us to arbitration but we can't take a player to arbitration." You can if this proposal is accepted .

"Even if we get the across-the-board reductions, there's no guarantee that salaries won't creep up again." Ah yes, we've finally come to the jackpot complaint.

Bettman and his domesticated orcs wanted a hard cap because it would protect the owners from each other. It would prevent them from being the total idiots they have been in the past.

If the hard cap had been in place, the New York Islanders wouldn't have been able to trade Jason Spezza and Zdeno Chara for Alexei Yashin, give Yashin a $90 million US deal and then complain that the players earn too much.

Space restrictions prevent the presentation of dozens of other similar examples but if you're a hockey fan, the mere mention of names like Paul Kariya, Sergei Fedorov, Keith Tkachuk, Jaromir Jagr, John LeClair and Pavel Bure makes the point adequately.

The owners got themselves into this mess because they spent money they didn't have for players who weren't worth it and had no leverage other than public opinion.

That's why Bettman wanted the hard cap. It prevents his owners from continuing their folly.

Last year, when most of them finally showed some common sense because they knew the lockout was coming, the average salary, which had risen exponentially for nine consecutive years, rose only two per cent.

All of that brings us to the biggest drawback of the NHLPA's proposal as far as Bettman and his owners are concerned.

In economic terms, it gives them everything they asked for.

But it doesn't give them brains.


Videos

Photos