Leafs would feel pinch

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:32 AM ET

I feel for the poor Toronto hockey fan because this lockout is not, and never has been, about them. It is not, and never has een, about their beloved Maple Leafs, successful bystanders to a crumbling National Hockey League.

No matter what happens to end this disagreement between players and owners, no matter what system is put in place to control costs, the Maple Leafs will be among those who lose what little competitive edge they previously had. Unless the players somehow win this fight.

Which, in itself, is a fascinating contradiction for the angry hockey fans of Southern Ontario, who polls show are anti-player. Strange as it sounds, if you're a Leafs fan, you should be a Bob Goodenow fan in this argument.

BASEBALL-LIKE

He wants a baseball-like system for the players. He wants revenue sharing and luxury taxes. His system would have the Leafs playing the part of the Yankees, only they would be the team without the championships.

The Leafs would be the team spending.

Much of the rest of the hockey would be like the Blue Jays. Sitting around. Searching for a bargain. Hoping. Waiting. Talking forever about tomorrow.

And we know how much fun has that been.

The real challenge for Bettman and NHLPA boss Goodenow, should either decide to remove themselves from their islands and actually negotiate, is to invent a collective bargaining system that none of the major professional sports currently utilize, one that is exclusive to the problems and challenges of the NHL.

The fan-friendly NFL concept of revenue sharing, salary caps and no guaranteed contracts works wonderfully well if a) you have billions coming in in television money and b) if you have a players union comprised of morons who allow player contracts to be discarded like yesterday's sports section.

Unfortunately, the NHL has neither the television money nor the union morons at their disposal. So they must move on.

The system in place in baseball creates rich and poor, contender and non-contender. It is why Carlos Beltran and Adrian Beltre can be free agents and hardly anyone makes an offer. If Joe Thornton and Jarome Iginla were available in free agency, you can bet the Leafs would be bidding, but the Nashville Predators would not.

Precisely why the Blue Jays haven't even made a phone call regarding Beltran or Beltre.

WORKS FOR PLAYERS

The system in the NBA works wonderfully for the players (despite Goodenow's claim to the opposite) just not wonderfully for owners, general managers, or fans.

The rules of the supposed soft cap meant the Raptors couldn't get better when Hakeem Olajuwon quit on them (or was it the opposite?) and Eric Montross couldn't play any more - because they would have been penalized for spending more.

So throw out what the NBA does and what the NFL does and what MLB does -- because none of those systems are acceptable to address the vast NHL problems.

The NHL is a gate-driven industry. It has little television revenue by comparison. It is is indisputable that it pays out percentage wise more in player salaries than any other big league sport.

Agreeing to meet next week in Toronto makes it all so friendly and nice -- can't you hear the optimism coming? -- but unless either side is willing to climb off from their finite positions and deal with some of the sorry realities of the business, the rhetoric war will continue to bloat on.


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