Fans boost bottom line

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

Maybe the 'Thank You Fans' signs that are slowly disappearing from ice surfaces across the league should make a comeback.

It would be fitting when you consider a comeback is what the NHL seems to be making.

If league revenues -- due partly to better-than-expected overall attendance -- continue on their current pace, you will likely see a higher salary cap and lower escrow next season, according to reports coming out of the board of governors meetings in Arizona yesterday.

Players, who were forced to give up a bundle to end the year-long lockout, are pleased to hear the new partnership is panning out.

"The positive thing is hockey came back strong. Us as players, we're happy with that," said Calgary Flames defenceman Jordan Leopold. "It's a happy forecast that things are on the upswing. I think after all that ended up happening, at least projections are positive."

In addition to rollbacks, the players were hit with a 12% escrow tax -- which is being deducted from their paycheques -- to start the 2005-06 season.

It now looks as if some of the dough will make its way back to the players. The escrow was set assuming revenues of $1.8 billion but reports now suggest a projected total upwards of $1.9 billion. Should the total reach $2.05 billion, the escrow will be refunded to the players in full, with interest.

Flames d-man Andrew Ference says it's apparent the partnership is working when both the players' association and the league are happy with the same results.

"That's what this whole deal is all about, it's good for everybody," said Ference. "It's kind of nice when the PA can have their meetings, the NHL can have their meetings and both of them can say good things. In the past, it was if the NHL was doing well the PA was probably slipping and vice versa. It's probably the first time in a long time both sides are happy at the same time."

The current $39-million salary cap is also expected to rise to between $40-45M next season.

Tony Amonte is relieved things are working out well on the business side of things after suffering through the darkest months in NHL history.

"Gotta feel lucky that we could rebound like we did. Thank our lucky stars we're in the position we're in," said Amonte. "It's definitely a start. The game is still growing even after a year off, (which alienated) hockey fans and everybody around the world. It's definitely a positive sign. We'll get the salary cap increase if things keep going the way they are. Hopefully, the game will keep growing."

Ference agrees bigger and better things likely lie in the NHL's future, thanks to the combined efforts of all involved.

"It's a partnership in more ways than one," said Ference. "We're both tied to the same dollar but also in the fact that we're both tied to making that dollar bigger. Having Ted (executive director of the NHLPA Saskin) at the meetings is good. Having players involved directly with teams now, whether it be through marketing or rule changes or whatever.

"Having that co-operation was unheard of. Now it's obviously going to cut through all the red tape that might have happened before with new ideas. It's going to lead to better ideas and a better product."

Flames forward Jason Wiemer is also thankful fans have come back so quickly. But he's keeping a level head regarding finances.

"It's good that the fans came back and they're supporting us," he said. "We don't want to get too excited about everything until we find out the final numbers and then we can kind of go from there. But it's nice to see the projections are up."


Photos