Oilers have blueprint for the league

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 6:36 AM ET

"Our team should be the blueprint for the league." If that sounds like Patrick LaForge or Cal Nichols extolling the virtues of the fiscally responsible Edmonton Oilers at a time when the pay-now-think-later mentality of too many NHL teams has left fans holding the bag, while Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow try to sort out a financial fiasco, it isn't.

No, those are the words of veteran Ethan Moreau, a card-carrying member of the NHLPA who says the league wouldn't be in the money mess it's in - and demanding cost certainty and a salary cap - if more teams did business like the Oilers.

"You police yourself," Moreau said yesterday, talking about how the Oilers have stuck to a modest budget. "If you want to turn a profit, this is how you operate your team.

"I think the only thing that's lacking is that we haven't had a huge amount of success on the ice, but you can look down the road for that. Edmonton's and Calgary's teams operate responsibly. They know what the bottom line is."

The Oilers operated with a player payroll of about $34 million last season and played in a building that was filled to more than 99 per cent of capacity.

"They want to turn a profit and they want to put a good product on the ice. We do all of those things," Moreau said. "What's wrong with that? They use the system to their advantage.

"If you want an argument, you don't have to look very far. You can look at the way our team is run. It's that simple. If you want to run it intelligently, like a business, you can do it."

The problem, of course, is that the Oilers will show a profit of only about $2 million for the 2003-04 season, and most of that black ink is the product of the Heritage Classic, a one-off event that padded the bottom line.

If the Oilers have it right, year after year refusing to spend like fools while exhausting every possible stream of revenue, then how come Nichols says they've lost money in four of six seasons since the Edmonton Investor's Group took over in 1998?

Doesn't that lack of return for the EIG prove that the economic structure in place now, one in which player costs eat up 75 cents of every dollar, according to the Levitt Report, doesn't work?

"We realize that," Moreau said. "That's why we've made our proposals to change the CBA. We recognize there needs to be a correction. That's why we feel we made a helluva proposal. It's not like we're not willing to give back at all."

The NHLPA offered a four-point plan that includes a five per-cent wage rollback on existing contracts, changes to entry-level contracts, a tax on team payrolls above an agreed-to level and a revenue-sharing plan. It was rejected by NHL governors.

"Contrary to what they say, if you listen to Gary he comes across as saying we're not ready to negotiate and we won't listen to their solutions. It's not true at all," Moreau said.

"Our proposals are numerous pages long with numbers we've run and all our projections. They come back with a page with six options on it and they're all salary cap options.

"Our model works. Our proposals are going to make that even better. There would be a lot of money going back to the owners if they would consider what our offer is."


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