Not every money-losing owner is a Leipold

24 Comments

Let’s start off with a little math:

If each team in the NHL had spent just enough to reach the salary cap floor in 2011-12, 57 percent of hockey-related revenue would’ve gone to the players.

Last year, 57 percent of hockey-related revenue was $1.87 billion.

On the other hand, if each team in the NHL had spent to the salary cap ceiling in 2011-12, 57 percent of hockey-related revenue would’ve gone to the players.

Last year, 57 percent of hockey-related revenue was $1.87 billion.

Sometimes it seems like not everyone understands this. Or, they’re choosing not to publicly.

“We’re agreeing to pay our players a certain percentage of our revenues. That’s a fixed dollar amount,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly told FAN 590 earlier in the week.

Again, “That’s a fixed dollar amount.”

In the new, yet-to-be-negotiated CBA, the NHL wants a reduction in the percentage of revenues going to the players because the league thinks 57 percent is too high. Such a reduction would result in the loss of salary for players via escrow, which is used to reconcile any “shortfall” or “overage” to the players as it relates to the revenue split.

Losing money to escrow would not be a new thing for the players. Five times since the 2005 CBA was introduced the players haven’t received as much as their contracts said they were supposed to receive.

Of course, twice they received more than their contracts said they were supposed to receive. You just don’t hear them talk about that very much.

Not once have the players received the exact amount their contracts said they were supposed to receive, because another contract – the CBA – overrides all.

So to those arguing it’s the damn owners that are paying the players too much, the owners, as a group, don’t have a choice. Last year, the players were going to get $1.87 billion, regardless of what total player salaries added up to on paper.

As individual teams, however, the owners have a choice. Take the case of the Minnesota Wild, which now boasts one of the league’s highest payrolls thanks to the massive contracts the club awarded Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

That, for lack of a better term, may have been dumb. Minnesota is a mid-level market; it’s not Toronto or New York.

“Some clubs may spend poorly,” admits Daly.

But Wild owner Craig Leipold believed it was the kind of investment that needed to be made in order to reconnect with fans, get the team back into the playoffs and kick-start future revenue growth. And the only way he was going to get those players was to give them the kind of front-loaded deals the NHL wants to do away with.

Absolutely Leipold was hoping to claw back some of that salary in a new CBA. Was it distasteful? Perhaps. But Parise and Suter knew the score. So the players can spare us with the babe-in-the-woods routine (h/t FBI agent in Goodfellas).

From a public-relations standpoint, what Leipold did looked awful, and you can bet Gary Bettman wasn’t pleased. Most everyone would agree that owners who take massive financial gambles should have to feel serious financial hurt if they don’t work out. That’s business. And no owner should be guaranteed a profit every season.

But it’s unfair to throw Leipold in with all the other small- to mid-market owners that adhere to their self-imposed budgets. It’s those owners that need help, be it through more revenue sharing or reduced player expense. Chances are it will be through both. To which degree of each is the question.

Ultimately a new CBA won’t guarantee every team a profit, and nor should it. If an owner spends his money poorly, then that owner should lose money.

But as it stands, there are owners that could spend their money well and still lose money, and that’s not a sustainable model.

Fortunately, a deal is possible — this isn’t a broken industry.

Which is what makes all this so frustrating. We can see the deal through all the rhetoric and posturing and pandering to fans.

It just needs to happen.

Expansion Golden Knights are officially in first place (Update)

Getty
2 Comments

Just like we all predicted in September, the Vegas Golden Knights are sitting in first place in the NHL.

The Golden Knights’ 5-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes allowed them to collect their 65th and 66th points of the season, which moved them one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning for top spot in the league (both teams have played 46 games).

PHT’s Adam Gretz wrote a terrific piece about Golden Knights’ amazing first season to date.

It’s only fitting that Vegas got a good amount of production from some of their most pleasant surprises tonight. Jonathan Marchessault, Colin Miller and James Neal also found the back of the net.

As you’d expect, the Golden Knights’ Twitter account is having fun marking this occasion.

“Maybe a little unexpected, right?,” Marc-Andre Fleury said of his team’s success, per NHL.com. “It’s been a lot of fun. We started this team from scratch and chemistry was built very quick between us. Every night, all the guys bring their best effort. I’m proud of our team to be where we’re at right now.”

We’ve had over three months to come to grips with everything the Golden Knights have done, but it’s still amazing to see how some of the players on their roster have produced during Vegas’ inaugural season.

 

43 points in 43 games for Marchessault? 25 goals at the midway point of the season for William Karlsson? Nobody saw those things coming. What makes this even more impressive is that they’ve had to roll four goalies (Fleury, Oscar Dansk, Malcolm Subban and Maxime Lagace).

“Early on in the year, I think we surprised some teams. Now I think every team will get up to play us. It’s just something that will be another test for this group,” Miller told NHL.com.

Now the question is, how far can this pesky expansion team go?

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Struggling Lightning lose Ondrej Palat for indefinite period of time

Getty
1 Comment

The Tampa Bay Lightning have been going through a difficult stretch lately and things got a lot more difficult on Sunday. The team announced that Ondrej Palat is out indefinitely after taking a spear from Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon on Saturday night.

The Bolts, who are on an eight-game road trip, have confirmed that Palat will head back to Tampa on Monday for further testing. He’s accumulated eight goals and 30 points in 46 games this season.

Although the video isn’t the clearest, this is the play that led to the injury:

The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time, as the Lightning have been slumping badly of late. They’ve dropped three games in a row to Calgary, Vegas and Minnesota.

Their once giant lead atop the Atlantic Division has dwindled to three points over the Boston Bruins, who have a game in hand.

“We’re just out of synch, it’s unreal,” head coach Jon Cooper said, per The Tampa Times. “The guys didn’t forget how to play hockey in the last week and a half. We’re just out of synch. One guy zigs, the other guy zags. It’s crazy that in the last week and a half, we kind of lost our swag.”

The Bolts will continue their road trip in Chicago, Nashville and Philadelphia before the All-Star break. On top of their difficult schedule, they’ll also be without number one defenseman Victor Hedman for the next few weeks.

Their spot in the playoffs isn’t in any danger, but the number one seed in the league (Vegas is coming in a hurry) and top spot in the division is in doubt.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Konecny’s OT goal lifts Flyers to another win, puts them back in playoff spot

4 Comments

The Philadelphia Flyers are on some kind of a roll, and now they are back in a playoff position.

They were 2-1 winners in Washington on Sunday afternoon thanks to an overtime goal from Travis Konecny, giving the Flyers their seventh win in their past eight games.

Sunday’s win helped the Flyers jump over the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers for a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, while also bringing them to within a single point of the Columbus Blue Jackets for third place in the Metropolitan Division and just two points of the New Jersey Devils for second place.

Considering that this is a team that lost 10 games in a row between Nov. 11 and Dec. 2 it is a pretty remarkable turnaround.

Since that losing streak came to an end the Flyers are 15-5-1.

The driving force behind the turnaround has been the trio of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier. Those three were relatively quiet from an offensive perspective on Sunday (Couturier did get an assist on Konecny’s winner) but the Flyers were still able to come away with the win.

The big difference maker on Sunday was goaltender Brian Elliott thanks to his 27 stops. He was at his best in the first period when he made a handful of stellar stops on Alex Ovechkin, including this point-blank stop when the game was still scoreless.

Elliott was in need of a game like this because he had not played well over the past few weeks, giving up at least three goals in each of his past seven appearances. Only once during that stretch did he record a save percentage higher than .900 in a single game, and even that game was only .903.

Ovechkin did end up scoring his league-leading 29th goal in the second period, scoring on a power the play, but it was the only shot the Capitals would get behind Elliott.

Michael Raffl also scored for the Flyers in the win.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Golden Knights keep getting better, more powerful

Getty
6 Comments

Here is a sentence that would have been laughable to even suggest back in October: If the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday night they will move into sole possession for first place in the entire NHL.

At this point the Golden Knights, the NHL’s latest expansion team, are no longer just a fun story: They are a contender, a legitimate one, and they only keep getting stronger as the season progresses. There is a pretty convincing argument to be made that they actually are the best team in hockey at the moment.

Entering play on Sunday Vegas is on a 15-3-3 run since Dec. 1.

What is even more impressive than the record itself is the way they are starting to dominate games.

When Vegas found its initial success it was easy to kind of downplay it as a team that was simply riding a wave of hot goaltending that would, inevitably, regress. Whenever that regression happened the expectation was that they would start to play like a regular expansion team and start losing.

For a while, there was a lot of evidence to suggest that was going to be the case.

In that first month Vegas was losing the shot bottle, it was losing the possession battle, and with Marc-Andre Fleury sidelined it was relying on a patchwork group of goaltenders to somehow steal games.

But take a look at what has happened in each month since looking at their Corsi percentage (shot attempts at even-strength) and PDO (even-strength shooting percentage plus even-strength save percentage).

The slow start is understandable. It was a new team with what was thought to be an undermanned roster that had never played together.  Since then they have steadily gone from being one of the worst possession teams in the league in the first month that got by on what was mostly percentage driven good fortune, to a team that has been, at least in January, the absolute best possession team in the league.

If you look at December and January together (the aforementioned 15-3-3 stretch) the Golden Knights are the the seventh-best possession team. They have only been outshot five times in those 21 games, and only three of those teams outshot them by more than five.

[Related: Revisiting the trades that built one of the NHL’s best lines in Vegas]

By comparison, Vegas has outshot nine teams by at least five, including seven by at least 10 shots during that same stretch.

There is still an element of some percentage driven luck here, especially when it comes to the goaltending. Fleury is not going to maintain a .945 save percentage for the rest of the season, and William Karlsson still can not miss when the puck is on his stick. He may have deserved more of a look in his previous stops in Anaheim and Columbus, but he is also not a 26 percent shooter every season.

But the fact the Golden Knights are starting to drive possession and control the overwhelming majority of the shot attempts is not only incredibly impressive, it is extremely encouraging for their outlook for the remainder of the season.

They are not just getting the results at the moment, the process driving the results is sound as well.

From the very beginning absolutely everything has clicked for them. The goaltending has been sensational, their top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith has found immediate chemistry, and they are playing a fast, aggressive style of hockey that is starting to overwhelm teams.

Even if Vegas played the remainder of the season at the level of a normal expansion team (let’s say a .400 points percentage) they would still finish with 94 points on the season. There is nothing to suggest they will play at that level. Instead, if they keep playing the way they have been for the better part of the past two months they are going to be giving Tampa Bay, Boston, and Nashville a run for the Presidents’ Trophy. In their very first season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz