Truths be told, Bob did okay

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

Today's truth is yesterday's heresy, with a little breathing time added in.

It was 11 years ago that Bob Goodenow was being roasted for negotiating a one-sided CBA that gave the owners just about everything they could imagine. Now, after a 301-day lockout, many of the same observers, already proven incorrect, are saying the same thing.

There are a handful of popular beliefs swirling around the soon-to-be ratified deal. I called around to some of my favourite contrarians, inside and around the game, to gauge whether the latest slew of unassailable truths was just that.

Unassailable truth No. 1: This is a terrific victory for the owners.

Bottom line: It was a reasonable correction of the market.

"I think you're overstating the supposed drubbing the players took," one general manager said.

Players making the league minimum will see substantial wage increases thanks to a new bottom of $450,000 US. Thirty million, a rough midway point between the upper and lower cap, divided by 20 players means an average salary of $1.5 million, only $300,000 removed from the untenable days that led to the lockout.

Liberalized free agency means stars such as Rick Nash and Sidney Crosby will be unrestricted free agents when they are 25 instead of 31. The deal is unpalatable only if you take Goodenow and the players at their word that they would not accept a salary cap. What matters is how much money you keep and I'm having a hard time seeing where the players were steamrolled. Especially when you consider...

Unassailable truth No. 2: Players who are bought out are taking a hit.

Bottom line: Puh-lease.

"Some hit" an agent said when asked about the possibility of Derian Hatcher being bought out so the Detroit Red Wings could keep Steve Yzerman and Nik Lidstrom in the fold. "He will end up making $16 million for one season, plus whatever he signs for this year."

Same deal for Owen Nolan, who would still garner about the $3.5 million of the $5.6 million left on his contract with the Maple Leafs. Unless you are a player with serious injury issues -- Alexander Mogilny and his bad hip come to mind -- the buyout means you can double dip. Plus, since the buyout money does not go against cap, it amounts to a complete windfall for the players.

Unassailable truth No. 3: There will be a new level playing field for all NHL teams.

Bottom line: Don't believe it.

"I'm guessing about 10 teams, maybe fewer, will spend up to the cap," a GM said.

In other words, the big-market teams such as Philadelphia, Toronto and New York, will still have an edge over the Nashvilles and Edmontons. Off-ice marketing opportunities mean the larger, well-established markets retain an advantage. Plus, teams with deeper pockets can compound that advantage by offering longer term contracts than smaller clubs working on a smaller margin.

Unassailable truth No. 4: The fewest players you have under contract, the better off you are.

Bottom line: Maybe not.

Teams will have 10 days after the ratification of the deal, expected next week, to sign their protected players. Then comes the free-agency sweepstakes some time after the July 30 draft. That doesn't leave a lot of time for cool thinking

"Good luck signing 15 players in just a couple of weeks," a GM said.

SMARTER MONEY

Instead, the smarter money may have been spent by Philadelphia Flyers GM Bob Clarke, who inked many of his most valuable players just before the lockout and saw a 24% windfall knock down those salaries further.

Unassailable truth No. 5: The game will take years to recover and players will never see their escrow money.

Bottom line: Hold on.

"Well," the agent said, "since Bob Goodenow endorsed the agreement, you have to believe he liked what he found when he and the league went over previously undisclosed income."

In other words, revenues, such as luxury box fees and the like, discovered and shared by the players and now wrapped into their 54% share of league revenues will help cushion the blow. Does anyone really think people will stop coming to hockey games in the league's top 10 markets? People aren't going to the games in the bottom 10 anyway, so maybe the league's projected revenue of $1.8 billion isn't so crazy after all.


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