SUN Hockey Pool

It will be a puzzling end

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

It would appear that this is the week.

At some point, the National Hockey League season will be cancelled, and few people in the hockey community can figure out why that is the case.

Sure, there are half a dozen hawkish team owners, who never intended to have a season and have pressured commissioner Gary Bettman to accede to their demands.

But among people who understand what's going on -- which unfortunately excludes a lot of fans -- there is a communal scratching of heads. They just don't understand why there will be no hockey this season.

Some of the owners, those who did well under the old collective bargaining agreement and would be rolling in money under the new one, don't understand it.

The agents don't understand it. They're complaining that the rollbacks offered by the NHL Players' Association will have a major negative impact on their salaries.

Because they live off commission, their incomes will be cut by 24% off the top. But furthermore, the removal of the pressure points that cause inflation has some of them hopping mad.

Ever since the NHLPA's offer was presented, they've been trying to devise ways to quickly ratchet up the salaries if and when the league comes back. And they can't do it.

And the players, the most important segment of the hockey community, don't understand it either.

They made an offer that they genuinely believed was workable, in many cases at considerable personal cost. They chopped a minimum of 24% off their salaries. But the league won't take it.

And you don't get any real explanations from the league's people. They said they wanted a deal that would reduce the average salary to $1.3 million US.

The players gave it to them. They rejected it.

They said they wanted an end to runaway inflation. The players gave them a system to do that. They rejected it.

When Bettman used to hold news conferences instead of hiding behind his security people, he tried to provide some answers.

At one point, he said the league needed a new deal because: "From our standpoint, we have seen the economic problems. We have seen the (Buffalo and Ottawa) bankruptcies."

But at the time of the Buffalo situation, he said: "What's interesting in both Ottawa and here in Buffalo is that in Ottawa, the financial underpinning or strength of the franchise was Ogden/Covanta and they went into bankruptcy (protection), having nothing to do with the hockey team.

"And here, Adelphia went into bankruptcy (protection), and that's where the money was coming from to support the club, having nothing to do with the hockey team."

In Tampa last year, it was put to Bettman that the 12 conference finalists over the past three years have been 12 different teams, therefore there was no economic disparity.

Bettman agreed, but said such success was costly: "I think in Carolina's case, their payroll increased by 33% or something like it after they went to the Stanley Cup final."

In fact Carolina's NHL roster payroll went from $30.5 million to $33.75 million, an increase of 10.66%. The team's total NHL payroll, including the farm system, bought-out and injured players, went from $43 million to $46.1 million, an increase of 7.06%.

When the NHLPA made its Dec. 9 offer, Bettman said it was "fatally flawed."

He made a number of assertions regarding Exhibit 13 which showed its inflationary nature. The union held a conference call to show that those assertions were wildly inaccurate and Bettman hasn't been heard from since.

It's clear now that the season will not be played. Soon, the league will announce its cancellation. But wouldn't it be nice to know the reason? The real reason, that is?


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