SUN Hockey Pool

There's hope in a soft cap

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:14 AM ET

Some time this week, the season that has been wheezing uncontrollably will take one deep gasp.

Will it be the season's breath of life or the beginning of its death throes?

The National Hockey League is prepared to make an offer to the NHL Players' Association, one that will address a number of the concerns presented by NHLPA president Trevor Linden when he met with Calgary Flames governor Harley Hotchkiss last week.

This time, the league says it won't be revealing its plans to any of the TV networks in advance, but the whisper is that despite concessions, the new offer will contain "linkage."

If, when the links are all put together, there is still a hard salary cap at the end of the chain, the PA will have nothing to do with it. But if it's a form of soft cap, there is hope.

The difference is this. A hard cap says that a team cannot spend above a designated amount. End of story.

A soft cap says that limits are in place on a team's spending and if those limits are exceeded, then some sort of sanction is applied.

The league says it wants a hard cap to prevent all teams from spending too much.

The players say they want a soft cap so that teams which want to spend can do so and, in the process, give money to the teams which are disadvantaged.

Look at what is happening in the New York baseball market. The Mets are buying high-priced free agents and have paid $28 million US to get out of their existing TV contract so they can start their own TV network with the team as the focal point.

If there were a hard-cap system, they would not be able to follow such a course of action. But isn't it better for a sport if the large markets can be successful? That's where the big TV revenues are generated. Keep in mind that the Mets will have to pay a luxury tax to support the likes of Kansas City and Milwaukee.

It's a move that makes sense for the Mets and it also makes sense for the Royals and Brewers.

Linden and his friends say they are talented people selling those talents. Therefore, they want a free market. They don't want to stop teams from spending to acquire those talents. But at the same time, if a team should do so, it is compelled to help out the less wealthy teams.

If the league's proposal tries to link salaries to revenues, the season is in trouble for the simple reason that the league owners can't be trusted to submit all revenues.

One team, for example, has sold all its luxury boxes to another company. Therefore, it has no hockey revenues from those boxes, even though the boxes themselves bring in millions of dollars each year during hockey games.

But the company that bought the boxes is owned by the owner of the hockey team. He's still getting the revenue. He just wouldn't be reporting any of it to the NHL.

There are numerous examples of practices of this nature throughout the NHL, so the players don't want a link between revenues and salaries.

But despite the mistrust, at least the league is making an attempt to salvage the season. It should probably have been done more than a month ago, but there is apparently a feeling in New York that brinkmanship is a better course of action than negotiation.

Up to now, the NHLPA has made offers that, they say, will allow rational people to make a profit.

The league's response, in essence, has been, "Yes, but our owners aren't rational people. We want something that prevents them from doing damage to themselves."

If this week's offer softens that stance and allows owners to determine their own courses of action, there is hope.

But if the show is to be run by the New York office, there will be no show.


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