The problem with the “owners can’t control themselves” argument

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It’s dangerous for a hockey writer to even appear on the side of the NHL owners these days, but after reading Kelly McParland’s column in the National Post titled “NHL again wants players to save owners from themselves,” I thought I’d risk getting killed in the comments section to play devil’s advocate.

A snippet from the column:

Once again the owners want wage concessions, which they will inevitably ignore. They want to tie salaries to league revenue, reducing it from the current 57% to the equivalent of 43%, end the arbitration system that sometimes works in the players’ favor, and limit contract terms to five years to stop themselves from offering more.

In other words, they want the players to accept rules that restrict their bargaining power, because the owners know they lack the resolve to protect their own finances.

Here’s the question I have to that argument: Do you really want the owner of your favorite team resolving to protect finances? Seems to me most fans want their team to keep its best players and be active in free agency. Unless I missed all the furious Preds fans when ownership matched Shea Weber’s contract and all the irate Wild fans after Ryan Suter and Zach Parise signed.

The reason those three players got such big contracts is because so many teams wanted them and a bidding war ensued.

Sure, all the owners could get together and agree to end the bidding wars. Oh wait, no they couldn’t, because that’s called collusion.

Lest we forget what was happening in baseball back in the 1980s.

From an Associated Press article, dated November 2, 1986.

Baseball’s annual free agent auction is on. Let the bidding begin.

What are we offered for Jack Morris, a 21-game winner last season armed with more victories over the last six seasons than any other pitcher in baseball?

How much is National League batting champion Tim Raines worth, after hitting .334 and stealing 70 bases? Or his teammate, Andre Dawson, who hit .284 with 20 home runs and 78 runs batted in?

How about third baseman Bob Horner, with 27 home runs and 87 RBI? Or Lance Parrish, the American League’s All-Star catcher, who hit 22 homers and drove in 62?

Who will open the bidding? Someone? Anyone?

Come now, gentlemen, there is top-level talent available here. Surely some team can use these players. Remember, the free agent marketplace has traditionally been an important way to improve your ball club.

Not last year. Not according to the Major League Players Association. Hearings resumed last week on its grievance, claiming management conspired to restrict baseball’s free agent market last winter.

“There’s baseball free agency?” player agent Doug Baldwin said sarcastically. “You’re kidding.”

Donald Fehr probably remembers those days since he was executive director of the MLBPA at the time.

Now, one way the owners can help the financially challenged teams without taking so much out of the players’ cut is more revenue sharing, and we’ll undoubtedly see that once this whole mess is over. That’s what happened in the NBA last fall.

But ultimately we don’t want a system where owners are resolving to protect their finances. We want a system where each owner is able to give management the freedom to go all out and assemble the best team possible without putting the business in jeopardy.

Related: Which side do you support in the NHL’s labor dispute?