Columnist: NHL owners are hypocrites

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Lyle Richardson of Spector’s Hockey has written a passionate column called “The Hypocrisy of NHL Owners,” which as you might imagine doesn’t have many nice things to say about the group for which commissioner Gary Bettman works.

A snippet:

In its initial proposal, the league not only sought to reduce the players share of revenue from 57 percent down to 43 percent, but also five year term limits on contracts.

It’s difficult, however, to accept the league’s position at face value when the owners continue to sign players to expensive, long-term contracts in the midst of CBA negotiations.

The most notable example, of course, was the Minnesota Wild signing free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to identical 13-year, $98 million contracts.

Ordinarily, this would be considered quite the coup by the Wild, a club not known for making such expensive forays into the UFA market, successfully wooing this summer’s two best free agents.

No one should begrudge the Wild signing Parise and Suter to those contracts. Their front office deemed it was worth the price to improve their club, and they were operating under the rules of the current collective bargaining agreement. They saw an opportunity to land a couple of “hometown stars”, were willing to pay the big bucks to get them, and will now live with the consequences of those signings, good or bad.

What makes those moves galling, however, was Wild owner Craig Leipold, only three months earlier, decrying his club’s biggest expense was players’ salaries and calling for the system to be fixed.

The column’s making the rounds on Twitter, with high-profile agent Allan Walsh selling it as a “Great Read!”

Walsh is correct that it’s a great read because it’s opinionated and has people talking.

But the question I have is, what should the Wild owners have done? Should they have just let Parise and Suter go to the Red Wings or Flyers or one of the many other interested parties? Because it’s the “rich” teams that set the market, and if the “poor” teams want to participate in free agency, they have to pay the market price.

Now, that being said, there are ways to build a winning team on a budget. Typically it involves drafting well and making “Moneyball” type signings. In baseball, the Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles, and Pittsburgh Pirates are all currently in the playoff hunt despite small payrolls. But when was the last time a penny-pinching franchise won the World Series? Or, for that matter, a Stanley Cup?

Yes, some of the financial disparity between NHL teams could be solved with more revenue sharing, and that will undoubtedly happen. But it won’t solve everything. And remember, there are consequences to too much revenue sharing.

I don’t disagree entirely with Richardson’s take. For example, I think clubs could negotiate a little more aggressively with restricted free agents. (Though that does leave them vulnerable to an offer sheet.)

I just think it’s too easy to tell owners, “Hey, if you don’t want to lose money, don’t spend it.” Would you want to be a fan of a team with that attitude? Would you buy tickets to that team’s games?

“Listen,” Leipold said when asked to justify spending $196 million on Suter and Parise. “We’ve been losing money and the way we were going, we were going to have another year of ‘keep losing more money and more money and more money.’ So if I’m going to make the kind of financial commitment to keep this team and move this forward, I’d rather do it growing it.

“Ultimately that was the decision. As a result of this move, it’s not going to cause us to be financially stable. I believe it will be within a year or two. This is a move to get us out of the hole that we’ve been digging. And as I spoke with some other owners in the league as to why I did it, they totally get it. They understand it. At some point you have to make that kind of commitment in order to turn your franchise around. If we didn’t, then we would just keep losing more going forward without any plan of changing it.”

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