SUN Hockey Pool

Alberta's crying shame

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:47 AM ET

Should the National Hockey League tailor its next collective bargaining agreement to the needs of the Nashville Predators, Atlanta Thrashers and Florida Panthers?

Most Canadian fans would suggest that it should not.

Should the NHL tailor the next CBA to the needs of the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames?

Most Canadian fans would suggest that it should.

This apparent contradiction has to do with a number of factors, the most obvious being that as Canadians, we want Canadian-based teams to survive.

And there is the matter of heritage. The people in Alberta understand and love the game. They deserve their teams.

But on the other hand, the NHL is trying to be a major league. Even though it is undergoing difficulties at the moment, it was once a major league and could be again under the proper circumstances.

However, the proper circumstances do not include catering to franchises which claim they can't exist in anything more financially demanding than a glorified minor league.

The owners in Edmonton and Calgary know they can't go to the people who run Major League Baseball and demand that a financial structure be established in order to guarantee the participation of their cities. Yet, they have no problems demanding that the NHL do just that.

Unfortunately, anyone who suggests that the Flames and Oilers should be a little more self-sufficient encounters a barrage of ad hominem arguments. Even if you used to live in Calgary, would go back there in a heartbeat, and think Alberta is the best province in the entire country in which to reside, it matters not. No one from outside of Alberta, it seems, is allowed to call the Oilers and Flames what they really are -- the league's biggest whiners.

The guys who run those teams, Cal Nichols and Harley Hotchkiss respectively, are two of the most hawkish governors in the entire NHL.

They insist over and over again that the new CBA must be created with their well-being uppermost. The rest of the league must fall into place or they'll shut down their operations, they say. Both have threatened to do just that.

Where is the kind of independence that made Alberta what it is today? Where is the determination and self-sufficiency that is legendary among Albertans, the heritage of which they are justifiably so proud?

The Oilers say that if there were a level financial playing field, they'd be right on top. Was it a shortage of money that made them pay a washed-up Adam Oates almost $2 million US? Was it a cash crunch that got them to draft Steve Kelly ahead of Jarome Iginla who was playing in their very city?

As for the Flames' inability to compete because of money woes, two names: Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Martin St. Louis.

Alberta is by far the richest province in the country. Surely a display of that traditional Albertan resolve would be a better course of action than pleading poverty.

In Pittsburgh, it appears that the Penguins will be saved by the state's allocation of slot-machine revenues to the team. Alberta has slot machines. Lots of them. It also has casinos.

Couldn't the province establish a lottery with proceeds to go to the teams? Oil prices are running around $50 US a barrel and there's more oil in Alberta than in the entire Middle East. Couldn't some of the oil companies be talked into propping up the teams?

Albertans like to say that Green Bay has a National Football League team, so they should have hockey teams. Of course they should. No one is suggesting anything to the contrary. Under no circumstances do we want to see either team leave Alberta.

But the NFL doesn't revolve around Green Bay. It revolves around the big-market teams and Green Bay finds a way to compete successfully without whining.

If only the Flames and Oilers would follow their example.


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