SUN Hockey Pool

NHL's freefalling without a parachute

Nashville Predators defenceman Shea Weber of Team Nicklas Lidstrom shoots during the

Nashville Predators defenceman Shea Weber of Team Nicklas Lidstrom shoots during the "hardest shot" competition at the NHL All-Star hockey skills competition in Raleigh, North Carolina January 29, 2011. (REUTERS/Shaun Best)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:34 PM ET

Watching adventurer Felix Baumgartner’s spectacular freefall from the edge of space Sunday, a thought occurred: the only thing that would have made it complete for NHL fans with nothing better to do than watch was a sign on his back: “NHL season 2012-13, this way.”

Baumgarter landed on his feet after falling from a height of about 38 kilometres and reaching speeds faster than the speed of sound.

Anybody out there think the freefall the NHL season is in right now is going to end in anything but a Wile E. Coyote-type cloud of dust at some point in January or February?

Anybody?

Right now the NHL is in its own freefall and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr don’t have their hands anywhere near the parachutes. They don’t even know where they are.

There are talks scheduled for Tuesday, but no expectation the “core economic issues” will be a topic. With each passing day, the ground is coming up faster. The money being lost is climbing steadily and hope for this season is disappearing like Baumgartner did when he stepped off his capsule.

Through Monday night, the NHL will have missed 26 regular-season games (2.1% of the season). Based on the announced cap of $70.3 million, that’s a collective loss of close to $40 million in wages.

But, for those fans thinking the ticking of the regular-season clock is going to put some pressure on the top players as their fat paycheques fail to materialize, consider this: many of those players and their representatives were sharp and got the bulk of their 2012-13 wages paid out in the form of signing bonuses.

In another vivid example of how NHL owners just can’t help themselves and have to keep going to the players to ask for help in saving them from themselves, Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider made it a lot easier for defenceman Shea Weber, who would have been the NHL’s highest-paid player this season at $14 million, to stay on his feet.

Weber’s compensation this season was to have been $14 million under the terms of the offer sheet given him by the Flyers and matched by the teeth-grinding Nashville Predators. Given the big market teams will do what they can to fork over big money contracts to free agents and, in a manner of speaking, fork over small markets, Weber got $13 million of that up front in the form of a signing bonus as the Flyers front-loaded their offer sheet to make it less appealing for the Predators to match.

But they did.

So Weber’s actual salary this season, according to capgeek.com, is only $1 million. He’s actually guaranteed $68 million in the first six years of his deal regardless of work stoppages or salary rollbacks. Brad Richards of the New York Rangers, who was to be the second highest-compensated player this season at $12 million, got $8 million of that in a signing bonus. Go on down the line. Buffalo Sabres defenceman Tyler Myers is tied for second in compensation this season (think about that for a couple of minutes on its own) and got $10 million up front.

Still, there’s plenty of money being lost, but most of it by the guys who can afford it the least, the rank and file.

In the first year of their last proposal, the owners wanted the players’ share of revenues to drop to 49% from 57%, but if growth had been somewhere around the 7% the league had experienced over the life of the last CBA (a standard upon which the players based most of their last proposal), that would have meant the players would have received almost the same piece of the pie last season. The players received $1.88 billion of the $3.3 billion in hockey-related revenues last season. With 7% growth, revenues would be $3.531 billion and 49% of that is $1.73 billion, right? (feel free to help me out here). That’s a difference of $150 million.

With about $40 million in compensation gone in the first five days of the season, the players are going to lose more than what the owners asked them to give up in Year 1 of their proposal just in the lost first month of this season.

That’s one way to look at it.

Oh, and speaking of point of view: that’s the ground coming up fast.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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