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Is Gary Bettman the Worst Commissioner Ever Because He’s Not *Enough* Of An Owners’ Stooge?

[ 211 ] November 19, 2012 |

After a couple commenters brought it up, I was looking forward to reading Bill Simmons’s Gary Bettman rant. The problem is that his bottom line is completely wrong. In a lockout so obviously unjustifiable that it’s a rare case where both fans and (based on my anecdotal reading) the mainstream press has correctly blamed the owners, Simmons says that Bettman wasn’t pro-owner enough (or, more precisely, wasn’t pro-owner enough during the previous lockout):

We should mention that, in a vacuum, he’s correct about this particular lockout: The league’s financial model (already a mess because we have too many NHL teams, which is 100 percent Bettman’s fault, but whatever) can’t be sustained with such meager television revenue. Hockey depends on its attendance and the unwavering devotion of its zealous fan base. From a television standpoint, the league will always be handicapped by its lack of marketable stars (the biggest reason it can’t command anything close to the NBA’s television deal), a glaring problem that I noticed during my first year owning Kings season tickets, when I realized that it didn’t really matter who the Kings played from night to night. Sure, you always enjoy seeing the Malkins and Ovechkins, but it’s a much different mind-set from, say, LeBron playing the Clippers. Anyone who went to Wednesday’s Heat-Clippers game was thinking I’m going to see LeBron!, because they knew he was playing 90 percent of the game. In hockey, you don’t say “I’m going to see Ovechkin!,” because he might play one-third of the game if you’re lucky (and might not make a single meaningful play).

What evidence, exactly, is there that the NHL’s financial model isn’t “sustainable?” Plenty of teams are profitable, many of the teams that aren’t showing a paper profit aren’t losing money for the owners (many of whom benefit from windfall ancillary revenues given to stadium authorities or whatever rather than the team itself, as well as increasing franchise valuations.) And if you can’t make money in a nontraditional hockey market with a team that has no history of success, well (as Simmons concedes) I’m not sure how that’s the players’ fault.

At any rate, there’s nothing inherent to the nature of the game that makes it a bad TV sport per se (in Canada, where the NHL has a status comparable to the NFL in the United States, ratings are very high and tv rights therefore very valuable.) The NHL doesn’t get a lot of TV money from American networks because the NHL isn’t the number one sport anywhere and in many markets doesn’t even rise to the level of a niche. And nor is it true that the NHL doesn’t generate stars. This, of course, is why Simmons needs the qualification about how you can’t be guaranteed to see stars play most of the game and be a focal point. So what this is really about is another way for Simmons to make his point that the NBA is by far the greatest of the American team sports. Which is fine as far as it goes, but not a good way to think about a labor dispute. Obviously, the NBA is far more than any of the major sports dominated by front-line stars. To many, this is crucial to its fascination; to me, it’s the primary reason why the NBA is by far the least interesting of the major American sports. But this is a matter of taste (and I’m making it sound like a more rational dispute than it is; if I grew up in Indiana rather than Western Canada I’d be much more likely to see the virtues of the NBA’s star-generation rather than the NHL’s greater competitive balance.) But as an argument that the owners deserve to keep more money, it’s neither here nor there. What matters is not TV revenues or revenues generated by star marketing but revenues, period. And while Simmons won’t mention this because he no longer like the game, note that Major League Baseball, which dilutes the impact of its star players to a degree greater than the NHL, brings in much higher revenues than the NBA. The latter is much closer to the NHL than MLB.

So how do we end up with a salary system that allows Minnesota to spend $196 million on Ryan Suter and Zach Parise? And that’s not to pick on those guys — you could build a decent playoff team around them as long as your goalie didn’t stink. Just know that nobody is saying the words, “Suter and Parise are coming to town tonight!” It’s just not that kind of league. You go to hockey games to see quality teams, not quality players. There’s a fixed level of entertainment. Suter and Parise shouldn’t make that much money because hockey players shouldn’t make that much money. It has nothing to do with them.

I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I’m going to need more than bare assertion and null analogies here. I never like this technique of talking about the gross figures of lengthy multi-year contracts rather than the annual figures, which makes them seem far more burdensome than they actually are. Why shouldn’t a star player in league that generates more than $3 billion a year based on these players make $7.5 million a year? Why shouldn’t the value of players be determined through negotiations? The idea that it’s wrong for a premium player to make $7 million but it would be OK for them to make…what, $6 million? Five? It’s all completely arbitrary.

The bigger problem is the fact that the relative reliance of the NHL on attendance revenues means exactly the opposite of what Simmons thinks it does. In the NFL, where teams are cushioned by a massive national TV deal, you can field a terrible team and still expect to make money. In the NHL, you need to draw — and in most markets, this means putting the best team on the ice that you can. The Kings might have played to 100% capacity last year, but five years ago it was 91%, and less demand also means lower ticket price, fewer people actually using their season tickets and buying high-markup stuff at games, etc. And even in the markets (Toronto, Montreal, the Rangers, Vancouver) where demand for tickets is relatively inelastic, if (or in the case of the Maple Leafs, when) you don’t make the playoffs you’re leaving a lot of money on the table. Simmons can’t really believe that if the Kings replaced Kopitar, Quick, and Mitchell with generic players X, Y and Z that it wouldn’t impact the bottom line. Exactly how much should be a matter for owners and players to figure out in individual negotiations.

Simmons proceeds to a lengthy discussion of the AMC model, arguing that the network doesn’t hire stars except when it does and the NHL should emulate that. I’ll pass over that bit with only one point. It’s true that none of the Mad Men actors were stars when they were hired, and so AMC could get them cheap (sort of like how young, pre-arbitration NHL players are paid artificially low salaries.) But it doesn’t follow that the stars of Mad Men are fungible now. Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks certainly have plenty of leverage having become indispensable stars, so I think this analogy doesn’t prove what Simmons thinks it does. Moreover, teams are perfectly free to try the AMC strategy of eschewing star players if they want.

Bettman and the owners are completely and unambiguously in the wrong here. There’s no good reason for salaries to be further suppressed artificially. Most teams are in decent shape or better, and if the league insists on having teams in Phoenix, Nashville and Columbus while metropolitan Toronto has only one team (as the largest city in a country in which a city smaller than metropolitan Albany can have a immediately more valuable franchise) that’s not the players’ problem. The NHL’s Republican owners are classic contemporary plutocrats — they’re all for the free market until it punishes people who are powerful but incompetent, at which point it’s time for the taxpayers and employees to make them whole.  To hell with ‘em.

Comments (211)

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  1. actor212 says:

    If Simmons was anything close to right, the MLS would be a big sport in America.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Good point. In soccer, if the stars are healthy they play 90 minutes and are always involved in the play, but the interest MLS generates outside of a few key markets is miniscule.

    • Reg Dunlop says:

      Fuck Simmons with a broken stick. That bastard gave up on hockey and only started following the sport again during the Bruins cup run. Then he hops on the Kings bandwagon using his daughter as cover. Douchey front runner shoul stick with the Clippers.

      • Richard says:

        Right now, Clippers are the best team in the NBA even with Billups and Hill injured. Assuming no injuries to Paul or Griffin, they make it to the Western Conference finals

        • Reg Dunlop says:

          Simmons has had season tickets for the Clippers for something like 8 years and had to suffer through the Dunleavy era so it absolves him from the bandwagon taint.

  2. actor212 says:

    Scott, I think you’re right, and I think we broached this briefly on Facebook. The NHL marketing has been aboslute crap, and the expansion south into Florida and points west was perhaps the biggest blunder in sports history. American billionaires decided they wanted a sports franchise. Canadian teams were available cheap. It was a sweet litttle tax write-off, buffed and polished by incentives from local governments.

    • HG says:

      KMA with the “BLUNDER into FL” that blunder Kicked the NHL butt in 2004. Oh, you Canadians dont like that TAMPA BAY won the Stanley CUP? Yes, i know that since they LOCKED US OUT FROM DEFENDING THE TITLE. Now we have a chance to put a good team on the ice again? Result: LOCKOUT. BETTMAN sucks, but so do all you climatist hockey fans.

  3. Richard says:

    I’m as big a hockey fan as anybody (despite having been raised in Los Angeles and being absolutely oblivious to hockey until my son became a fanatic King fan in middle school) and certainly agree that Bettman is an ass, that the owners are in the wrong and that Simmons hasn’t made the case that the present financial model of the NHL is not sustainable. But I think he is right about tv and the star system.

    After having watched hundreds of games on tv and dozens of games in person, I can follow the game perfectly well on tv. But this took incredible patience and determination on my part. At first (for the first several years of watching starting with the 1992-1993 playoffs where the Kings made it to the finals) I couldn’t follow the puck at all. It just seemed like random motion. I have tried to enlist many of my friends into hockey fandom and have sat down to watch games with them but they give up, being unable to even follow where the puck is, much less understand the strategy of player movement. Its far different from baseball, football, basketball and soccer where you can very easily follow where the ball is.

    The other problem is that when you watch a hockey game either live or on tv, its hard to pick out the stars. Not only do they only play a third of the game but with the head gear and the bulky uniforms, you cant see the face of the players. Yeah, its sorta the same thing in football but in football, you can pick out people by position (especially quarterbacks) where, to the unitiated, hockey looks like a bunch of generic guys skating around in circles (except for the goalies who are so enveloped in clothes and masks that they all look identical). Plus, given the nature of the game, you will never see something like Peyton leading a team downfield for ten minutes at a time. I dont buy the argument that you can just replace Kopitar and Quick with generic fungibles and it will have no effect on attendance and popularity but the nature of the game is such that you wont have stars like in football and especially basketball that will totally dominate a game in such a way that is observable by the casual fan.

    • Corey says:

      At first (for the first several years of watching starting with the 1992-1993 playoffs where the Kings made it to the finals) I couldn’t follow the puck at all.

      I’ve never understood this. It’s a black disc on white ice. There’s literally no higher contrast available to us.

      What people usually mean when they say they can’t follow the puck, as I’m sure you probably understand, is that they don’t know the game. If you know what the players are doing, you don’t even really need to see the puck to know where it is. So yeah, hockey has a learning curve. But American football and baseball are orders of magnitude more complex and average joes watch those sports all the time.

      • Craigo says:

        This. If there’s a scrum in the crease, then of course you’re going to lose the puck – just like you’re going to lose the ball in an NFL pile. But otherwise, not only should you be able to see the puck easily, but it’s usually not hard to tell where it’s going next – the net, or the closest open man.

        • JKTHs says:

          I don’t always watch hockey, but when I do, I can follow the puck pretty easily.

          Seriously, I don’t watch much hockey but I don’t have any trouble following the puck.

      • Murc says:

        I’ve never understood this. It’s a black disc on white ice. There’s literally no higher contrast available to us.

        No, it’s a small scuffed up black disc with a logo and a ton of gray on it bouncing around really fast on dirty white ice that also has a lot of gray in it, viewed through a camera some distance away, surrounded by burly men.

        What people usually mean when they say they can’t follow the puck, as I’m sure you probably understand, is that they don’t know the game

        I played hockey for fifteen years, boy and man. I usually can’t follow the puck unless they put a dot on it without paying much, much closer attention than I have to exercise in, say, football. I’m nearsighted, but otherwise have normal vision.

        • Richard says:

          Agree. Following the puck takes a knowledge of the game plus real attention to what is going on. In televised football, following the football takes neither.

          • JoyfulA says:

            I went to an ice hockey game with thoughts that I could see the puck live, but I couldn’t, just as I couldn’t see it on TV.

            I played field hockey in high school, so I sort of know what’s supposed to be going on in ice hockey, but I’ve written it off as worth watching in any circumstances.

            • actor212 says:

              If anything I found it harder to follow the puck live than on TV, where at least the camera guy had a clue. So I ended up watching the stuff going on away from the puck more and learned a lot about the game

        • BobS says:

          I somewhat agree. Nowadays there’s no excuse for not being able to follow the puck on a 50″ HD television. But, back in the day…
          I grew up on skates in the same neighborhood as a family named Howe and played hockey from a very young age (not to mention watching my dad play in pick-up games) so I was pretty familiar with the game, but trying to follow the puck watching Hockey Night in Canada on our small black and white tv with rabbit ear antennas was pointless- I think I learned to infer where the puck was much of the time by simply watching what the players were doing.

      • ralphdibny says:

        You have to pay attention in a different way. When I first started watching foreign films, I assumed that the major obstacle to my understanding would be having to spend my time reading subtitles instead of watching the action. But it turns out that reading subtitles is an amazingly quick adjustment. The big obstacle wasn’t the verbal language, but the filmic language. It made me realize how much I can turn my brain off when watching an English-language film, because I know the conventions of English storytelling without knowing that I know them.

        Hockey is the same way. It has a rhythm all its own, one that takes a while to become comfortable with. You can intellectually know the rules of the game and yet be uncomfortable with how the action takes place.

      • mpowell says:

        Yeah, I have to disagree with this. For the casual viewer it’s a big deal. Was it Fox that used that green streak to try to help viewers follow the puck? There is a big difference, though between 90s era and earlier standard definition sports broadcasts and modern HD broadcast. I think the feed may have actually literally dropped the puck from the picture at times in standard definition and the upgrade going to HD is huge.

        • Craigo says:

          Oh god, the glow puck. Yes, that was Fox.

          Not only did it often make it harder to see the puck, but they added a garish red comet tail for shots.

        • Richard says:

          I agree that its easier to follow on HD and most, if not all, hockey games are now available on HD. But I’ve sat my brother, a sports fan, in front of HD hockey games on several occasions to try to convert him to the joys of hockey and he is oblivious to those joys, telling me that he simply can’t follow what is going on. The learning curve for enjoying and understanding hockey on tv is just greater than the learning curve for baseball, basketball and football

          • gorillagogo says:

            I agree that the learning curve is greater, but I think it has more to do with the fact that many rules are not obvious to casual fans that never played the game. I fit that description in the late 90s and early 00s, and I can tell you that my enjoyment of the game became much greater once I understood things like what the blue lines meant and why it was legal to hit a guy one moment but a penalty to hit him at some other point in time.

            • Craigo says:

              I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a huge fan – I was a small child in Mario’s heyday, so the timing was perfect – so here’s a question for someone who can remember that time: Is icing really as difficult to grasp as people make it out to be?

              • gorillagogo says:

                The only thing that I found hard to understand was why refs would sometimes wave it off.

              • Wheezy says:

                I think it must be like the dropped third strike in baseball. To the layman it makes absolutely no sense. Once you get it, you have it. Not a *hard* bit of knowledge. But on the surface seemingly illogical and thus confusing.

              • Richard says:

                I think icing is easy to grasp (and much better than the off side rule in soccer). But what I find non-hockey fans questioning is why have it – why try to prevent fast breaks? Wouldn’t it be more fun to send someone down the ice and hit him with a long pass and let him go in one on against the goalie?

                • Craigo says:

                  I think the primary purpose of icing is to prevent overly defensive play – teams used to dump the puck solely to get a line change, or to force the other team to waste time chasing it while playing from behind. Officials can wave it off if they believe it was an intended pass.

                  I’d agree that more rushes would be a good thing, but it might be better to modify or eliminate the offside rule.

                • Richard says:

                  Yeah, you’re right. My comment was more appropriately directed at the off sides rule. (Lack of hockey this season caused me to forget the difference between off side and icing.)

                • Captain C says:

                  Basically what Craigo said, plus eliminating icing would in fact pretty much make sure that a) there were no fast breaks as teams would always have to have people defending or ready to defend their own end at a moment’s notice (and therefore not helping with the offense), and b) the game would become a lot more boring as teams moved to a defense-first model that would make the ’90s Devils look like the ’80s Oilers.

                • actor212 says:

                  I dunno. The elimination of the two line rule seems to have sped up the game quite a bit. I wish they’d stop tinkering with the rule where in one season, it was an immediate offside if you dumped the puck in while teammates were in the zone and in the next, it wasn’t offside if they were already on their way out (this would be preferred, of course)

                • Craigo says:

                  I think it sped the game up for a while, but we’re now about .1 goals per game above where scoring was in 2003-2004. To the extent that eliminating the two-line pass worked, it’s been overwhelmed by other variables.

                  There are lots of little things that could be done: Eliminating own-zone hand passes, forcing teams to clear the puck on delayed penalties instead of merely touching up, or tag-up offside like you suggested. But the trend has been inexorable – I think tweaks can slow it or maybe stop it, but not reverse it.

                • actor212 says:

                  I know one thing I’d like to see adopted, and that’s the international icing rule, where no touch up is required, just the puck crossing the opposing goal line from your own end. I’ve always liked the idea that you don’t get to exhaust a defenseman by making him skate the length of the sheet needlessly. Couple that with the recent “no line changes on an icing” and you really put pressure on a team to create passing opportunities.

      • NonyNony says:

        But American football and baseball are orders of magnitude more complex and average joes watch those sports all the time.

        Football and baseball are interesting examples because they both involve sports where there’s a lot of action for a short period of time, followed by a lull where everyone can catch up and figure out “what just happened” before something else happens.

        Hockey, soccer and basketball do not have that kind of luxury and so require more of a learning curve because it’s more difficult to learn the sport as you’re watching it. In the US, basketball gets an edge because it’s the sport that everyone starts playing in their elementary school recess/gym class due to the fact that it’s easy to install basketball hoops in a gym where it’s not easy to install an ice rink or have a large field dedicated for soccer. So every elementary school has hoops and surprise – people learn enough about basketball to follow it if they want to.

        • John says:

          It’s not easy to have a large field for soccer? I mean, certainly that’s true in some inner city schools, but I’d guess that the large majority of Americans went to an elementary school that had a field where soccer could be played.

        • Emily says:

          I learned the rules of baseball going to games with my Dad. I went to COUNTLESS of my brother’s soccer games and never learned the rules or the strategy the way I learned baseball. And don’t get me started on football.

          I think the games you enjoy watching in any format are the games you know and understand. Most boys seem to grow up in the US being taught to understand the rules of basketball, baseball and football by watching TV games with adults if not by playing, and learn the rules of soccer by playing (then maybe get into watching it on TV). At least this seemed true when I was growing up in the 80s/90s.

          People just don’t grow up engrossed in hockey in the US and that is the difference. Most sports are difficult to impossible to watch on TV if you don’t know the rules and/or don’t really care. And most of us learn the games we know and love as kids, when learning all kinds of random stuff is fun and exciting. Whereas once we’re adults it’s easier to just say “meh, who cares, not gonna learn something new.”

    • Anonymous says:

      I believe that the fact that “hockey looks like a bunch of generic guys skating around in circles” is why they wear those big numbers on their uniforms.

      • Richard says:

        Seeing those numbers is really hard on tv. Its not like they stand still, like they do in football every twenty seconds, so you can identify the players who handle the ball on every possession.

        • Sherm says:

          While people can pick nits over the reasons, suffice it to say that hockey is a game which is far superior to view in person than on television whereas football is not.

          • Richard says:

            Fully agree. I became a full out fan (rather than just following the game because my son was interested) after a live game between the Kings and the Ducks fifteen years ago where the Kings broke a tie game (which they needed to advance to the playoffs) with about thirty seconds in regulation. The tension and then the exultation with the score was just incredible – plus you could see the strategy of player and puck movement much better live than on tv.

    • efgoldman says:

      But I think he is right about tv and the star system.
      The other problem is that when you watch a hockey game either live or on tv, its hard to pick out the stars. Not only do they only play a third of the game but with the head gear and the bulky uniforms, you cant see the face of the players.

      Funny, this was one of the loudest arguments the players made against wearing helmets, back when the league made them mandatory. Yup, I’m olde enough to remember when nobody in the NHL wore a helmet, although they did so in college.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      I’m not saying, exactly, that he’s wrong about the star system. Certainly, the NHL generates fewer marketable stars and stars have less impact on the game than is the case in the NBA. I also agree that the NHL is better in person. My argument is that the whole argument is a non-sequitur, because star generation isn’t the only issue with revenues (and, indeed, because the NBA’s star system represses competitive balance it’s a drag in many respects.) You’d think from this analysis that the NBA was comparable to the NFL rather than a distant third in revenues.

    • Bloix says:

      I can’t watch hockey at all on the dinkey TV at my house. At the house of some friends who have a 70-inch HD TV, it’s thrilling.

    • bluefoot says:

      Part of the problem with watching hockey on tv is that in many cities the camera work is nonsensical at best – the production team has to understand the game and how plays develop. I’ve been a hockey fan since the 70s, and boy was it painful to watch hockey when I moved to CA in the 90s. One of the small pleasures of subsequently moving to an Original Six city is that the local sports tv broadcasts are *excellent*.

      • Richard says:

        You may be right about the camera work (dont know because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a televised hockey game in an Original Six city) but the tv play by play announcers for the Kings (Bob Miller and Jim Fox) are superb. Miller never got the acclaim here in LA because hockey wasn’t as big as basketball and baseball and because we were spoiled by Hearn (until his last few years) and Scully, who is still wonderful, but Miller is one of the best ever.

  4. Corey says:

    Also, lol, he manages to slip a reference to Los Angeles as a “hockey hotbed” in there. Not a homer at all, are you Simmons.

    • janastas359 says:

      Yeah, I noticed that too. For what it’s worth many of the fans here in the New England area only started caring about the Bruins when they got good again.

      • Corey says:

        Speaking as a (southern) American hockey player and fan, that’s just what hockey is in the US. They had to give away cars at Red Wings games in the early 90′s to attract “Hockeytown” residents, the broons couldn’t draw shit until they got good, the Devils can’t draw anything even now as a decent team. Exceptions go to Minnesota and Buffalo, but those two cities are basically in Canada anyway.

        • Murc says:

          As someone who lives in upstate New York and goes to Toronto regularly, trying to suggest that Buffalo is more culturally similar to Canada than any other generic city in the northeast is both factually untrue and something that offends Canadians, as they don’t want to be held responsible for that hellhole any more than we do.

        • BobS says:

          You’re right about the cars, but you’ve got the wrong decade. The Wings hit the skids in the 70′s under the ownership of the Norris family (personally, I think it was the bad karma attached to letting Gordie Howe leave). They moved from The Olympia to Joe Louis Arena, a building with much less character, in the 79-80 season, and Mike Illich bought the team in 1982. Attendance had definitely waned, but hockey’s popularity never died in the city, as can be attested by the many NHL players that came up through the area’s youth leagues in those decades. The car thing was Illich applying his Little Caesar marketing skills to his hockey team. They’ve missed the playoffs twice since the 82-83 season, so attendance really wasn’t an issue in the 90′s.

      • Craigo says:

        The Bruins had one of the worst attendance records in the league in the middle of last season. Outside of Canada, only Detroit and maybe Chicago are true hotbeds.

        • Craigo says:

          Last decade, not season. I think they were at nearly 100% last season.

        • KCA says:

          No coincidentally, the NHL has been in those cities a long time. And I’m guessing the Kings can sustain a fan base for the same reason. They’re actually one of the oldest NHL teams after the (falsely named) Original Six.

          • Thlayli says:

            The “Second Six”, the 1967 expansion teams: Dallas (formerly Minnesota), LA, Philly, Pittsburgh, St Louis. The sixth one, Oakland, folded in the ’70s.

            • Richard says:

              Oakland was originally the San Franciso Seals. Went to one of their games at the Cow Palace in 1968

              • ResumeMan says:

                Oakland used to have a team? Damn I wish we still did. I like going to hockey games, but not enough to drive all the way to San Jose. Whereas you’d basically have to pay me to go to a NBA game, and the Warriors play 10 minutes away. I’ve always wished we could trade franchises ;)

                • Anonymous says:

                  As of this season, you can go to the Cow Palace and watch the newly minted ECHL San Francisco Bulls. They’re having a great season so far, and signed a SJ Sharks prospect who should be fun to watch.

              • actor212 says:

                And let’s not forget the original San Francisco Sharks.

        • Walt says:

          Philly has always drawn steadily, even though hockey is the fourth sport.

        • Rob in Buffalo says:

          If these figures are correct, 21 of the 30 franchises had average attendance above 95% of capacity last year.

          I think simmons is right that there are probably 4-5 too many teams (Columbus? Phoenix?) and the owners (and/or Bettman) made a huge blunder in 2004 not getting a limit on contract length.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            I think simmons is right that there are probably 4-5 too many teams (Columbus? Phoenix?)

            Does anyone dispute this? The dispute is over whether this means that players should be paid substantially less than they’re worth.

            • Rob in Buffalo says:

              I don’t think Simmons makes that argument. In any case, my point was that it’s hard to listen to the owners complain about some teams losing lots of money, and thus having to be subsidized by the “richer” teams, when the league keeps trying to put franchises in obviously inappropriate markets. As I understand it, that (the revenue sharing with financially weaker teams) is what is driving the big teams to try to reduce the players’ share, the logic being that the players should pay for the owners’ putting a franchise in West Virginia (sorry, Columbus).

    • Richard says:

      There is actually an incredibly dedicated group of hockey fans in LA who have sustained the Kings during all the down years. My son is one of them, living and dying with the Kings. (It was incredibly gratifying to me for this reason alone when the Kings won the Cup this year – my son was able to go to games three and six of the finals). Simmons actually wrote some great articles about hockey last year as his young daughter (seven or so years old as I recall) became a devoted Kings fan. Particularly memorable was the one about taking her to the fourth game of the finals where she expected the Kings to win the cup but had to endure the heartbreak of the loss

      • Corey says:

        There is actually an incredibly dedicated group of hockey fans in LA who have sustained the Kings during all the down years.

        Definitely (I’d describe myself as a member of the equivalent Capitals fan group). My point is, this group exists in Florida, in Columbus, in Phoenix, and in any NHL city you care to name. A dedicated group does not a hotbed make, nor does a huge group of bandwagoners.

        Simmons actually wrote some great articles about hockey last year

        Writing, as you mention, as the Kings were on their second-half tear to the Cup.

        • Richard says:

          The dedicated fan base in LA is probably greater than in Florida and Phoenix undoubtedly because we have so many more people.
          Its hard to see how hockey can keep going indefinitely in Florida and Phoenix.

          Then again, it took a long time to build up the base in LA. Jack Kent Cooke originally brought a team here because he had been told that there were 500,000 transplanted Canadians in Southern California. After years of miserable attendance and millions of dollars lost, he was asked about this and replied that the Canadians in Los Angeles had moved here because they hated hockey.

          • Deadmarsh's OT winner says:

            Attendance and enthusiasm for the Kings ebbs and flows fairly drastically. They were the hottest ticket in town during the Gretzky era and then couldn’t give away tickets for the last couple of years at the Forum. There was an uptick after the team moved to Staples and made the playoffs again. Then another big drop off until 2010 or so. There has always been a dedicated core of hockey fans (many transplants) but it is not that large relative to the population of metro LA.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          I’d describe myself as a member of the equivalent Capitals fan group

          Yeah, I’ve been to several Caps games on trips to DC and have been surprised by how knowledgeable the fans are, and they draw quite well. Having actually grown up in one it would still be a real reach to say that D.C. is a “hockey hotbed.”

      • janastas359 says:

        Well, I think every team has a group of dedicated fans, regardless of popularity. I hink that’s different from saying that it’s a “Hotbed” though. I think Simmons based his label on his own experiences going to Kings games when they were having an up year.

        • Richard says:

          I’m sure thats true. Also Simmon’s office is right at LA Live, the entertainment complex that is across the street from Staples Center so he regularly sees the hoopla and excitement before each Kings game. Nevertheless, I think LA has a real good hockey environment.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Yeah, I left out that low-hanging fruit. It’s not even the best hockey market in California for Chrissakes.

      • Richard says:

        Based on what? Kings sold out every game last year and averaged 17,900 a game. Far better than the Ducks and better than the Sharks.

        • Fighting Words says:

          No. I would say that over the past several seasons, the SJ Sharks have consistently had higher attendance figures than the LA Kings – in a far smaller metropolitan area.

          • Richard says:

            Not true. For the last two seasons, the Kings and the Sharks sold out all or nearly all their games but the Kings arena is slightly bigger than the Sharks so the Kings drew more fans. For the several seasons before that, the Sharks outdrew the Kings because the Kings failed to make the playoffs for like seven straight years while the Sharks made the playoffs every year . They’ve only missed the playoffs one year since 1997-1998.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          If you compare the teams over the last decade, San Jose seems clearly like a better hockey market. LA is better than Anaheim — and again, allow me to not that the NHL is two teams in the LA area and one in Toronto.

          • Richard says:

            I dont think that comparison holds. As I said above, San Jose made the playoffs every year while the Kings went six years without making the playoffs, one of the longest streaks in the NHL. Plus the Kings face competition in the same area from the Ducks, the only region outside New York where this is the case. If you consistently fail to make the playoffs, attendance will always suffer (with the possible exception of a Montreal or Toronto where hockey is a religion). The Ducks drew great when they were going to Stanley Cup finals and winning the cup. Its tanked now since they’ve become mediocre. If San Jose started missing the playoffs, their attendance would go down significantly.

            Both San Jose and LA seem have good hockey bases (I’m not going to use the term “hotbed”) . I don’t think you can say one is better than the other (unless you see what happens if San Jose stops making the playoffs)

          • L2P says:

            To second what Richard says, the Kings sell out almost every game they play the Ducks, no matter how terrible the Kings or the Ducks are. If the San Francisco Orcas played 40 games a season the Sharks wouldn’t have nearly as fanatic a base.

            That said, think the Kings have drawn 16,500 people a game for the last 20 years, no matter how terrible they were. Not that many teams can draw over 16,000 fans to see a 30 win team year after year after year. Even the ice dogs sell out most of their games.

            • Richard says:

              Where are the Ice Dogs now?

              • Richard says:

                If you mean the Long Beach Ice Dogs, they closed shop in 2007 after having failed to attract even a minimal fan base.

                For most of their life, they played at the Long Beach Arena at the Long Beach Convention Center. I have been the counsel for the management company that runs the Convention Center for a long time and worked on the contracts that initially brought the Ice Dogs to Long Beach and the agreements by which they eventually left. Their owner lost millions on the team.

                If there is another minor league hockey team in SoCal using the Ice Dogs name, or any other minor league hockey team at all, I would love to know because I would sorely love to see some hockey this year.

                • Titans Hockey says:

                  Ontario Reign (ECHL) in Rancho Cuacamonga.
                  $10 for cheapies to $50 for seats on the glass
                  UCLA, USC, CSUN and CSUF all have teams if you get really desperate.

  5. janastas359 says:

    Your first mistake: Thinking that anything written by Bill Simmons on labor negotiations would be enlightening. When the NBA locked out every Simmons article was along the lines of “Both sides need to come to the table and compromise, and the way to do that is for the players to give up every meaningful concession.”

    The guy is a decent sportswriter in many ways but he has a serious deficiency when it comes to financial stuff, but still acts like a big expert anyway.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      IIRC, he used the same strategy of non-sequiturs: “some GMs have signed bad players to long-term contracts, so if the owners keep more money GMs will magically become more competent because…look, it’s Halley’s Comet!”

      • Joshua says:

        Remember how Simmons howled in agony once the stupid owners went right back to handing out terrible contracts after the NBA lockout was resolved?

        He rails about stupid owners all the time and hasn’t yet figured out that the system can’t save stupid owners without turning it into the pre-Miller MLB.

    • Rob in Buffalo says:

      I have stopped listening to my local sports radio (WGR 550) guys about the NHL strike because they are so relentlessly pro-owner. They just can’t get past the “some non-great players make a TON of money” level of “analysis”.

      • Sherm says:

        That’s what a lot of sports radio listeners want to hear, and that’s one reason why it is enjoyable discussing sports among the progressives here.

      • Rob in Buffalo says:

        One of the guys actually said something like, “Come on – if all of the players’ salaries were cut in half, how many of them would stop playing hockey”?

        Jesus, there’s a nice theory for setting salary levels – no one should make more than the minimum amount that will keep them from changing careers in mid-life.

    • Anonymous says:

      When the NBA locked out every Simmons article was along the lines of “Both sides need to come to the table and compromise, and the way to do that is for the players to give up every meaningful concession.”

      Sounds like the Star articles by Damien Cox on this NHL lockout.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Yeah, I actually got into a bit of a back-and-forth on twitter with Cox about this. Like Simmons he doesn’t seem to be reflexively pro-owner or politically reactionary, but he ends up in the same space as the Bill Paschkes of the world.

        • Anonymous says:

          I sincerely hope that you put the boot in. I don’t think he’s a bad man or a stupid one, just an illustration of how some people can say colossally bad or stupid things. He reminds me of a dear uber-left friend of mine who sees no moral difference in a fight between a housebreaker and the homeowner, cuz they’re both bad to use violence, ignoring that one of the two is a villain trying to steal.

        • Anonymous says:

          This sort of neutrality, transferred to sports writing:
          http://seeker6079.blogspot.ca/search?q=middle+east

    • Anonymous37 says:

      I give him credit for bringing in Charlie Pierce to give the other side. Simmons says and writes dumb stuff, but his ego (or what I can see of it through his podcast and Grantland columns) isn’t big.

      • Richard says:

        Even if I disagree with Simmons, I enjoy reading him. And bringing in Pierce was great and Klosterman, although incredibly stupid at times, can be quite funny.

        What I never get on Grantland is the pieces on rap rivalries. Do the people who read the site for the sports stuff ever read the rap articles?

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          The sports stuff on Grantland is very good. Simmons may ignore baseball now but he has really good people writing on it. Katie Baker is very good on hockey. Barnwell is superb on football. Charlie of course. The entertainment stuff is more uneven, but the site as a whole has turned out to be a lot better than one could have expected.

          • Anonymous37 says:

            Yes, and let me clarify one thing: when I wrote that Simmons “says and writes dumb stuff” I did not mean that he only says and writes dumb stuff. I meant that he occasionally says and writes dumb stuff.

  6. mpowell says:

    Simmons is simply incapable of quantitative analysis. He thinks it makes sense to talk about salary figures the way he does because he is fundamentally incapable of understanding anything except an argument in narrative form. But you are absolutely right in that he doesn’t even get the narrative right in this case because winning matters to a large degree in the NHL and players are probably paid reasonably close to what they’re worth. But Simmons doesn’t know what they’re worth because he doesn’t actually know anything about hockey.

    To me, the only thing that really matters here is whether the teams are making money or not. And since the players are unlikely to simply cave (since they do actually have alternatives unlike NFL players, for example), whether this lockout is justified or not is closely tied to the question of whether it is a smart move for the league (ie, are teams making money or not under the current deal?) Frankly, I won’t claim to know. But it awfully suspiscious that they couldn’t get this worked out the last time around.

    • mpowell says:

      I will add that he is probably right that if the NHL felt they needed a hard cap, not including a limit on contract length was a terrible oversight.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Although I think he’s overstating it. Taking a cap hit on old players isn’t exactly an unqualified good. It’s just not as big a deal as he’s making it out to be — long-term deals dilute cap impact in the short-term but also carry pretty substantial risks for the team.

        • Craigo says:

          Like signing a goalie for 15 years and watching him start 50 games over the next four seasons?

          Not talking about anybody in particular, of course.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Who would have thought that hiring a random backup goalie to be your GM would backfire?

            • Anonymous says:

              Wait — he wasn’t a *random* backup goalie, he was the Islanders’ backup goalie.

              Besides, that contract has been incredibly useful in getting the Islanders to the cap floor.

              By the way, the real problem with the current CBA is the structure of the cap floor, which is now higher than the initial cap. Revenues may have grown league-wide, but in many instances, lower tier teams have seen their player spending grow faster than their revenues. That is because of the floor.

              • zolltan says:

                I’ve always wanted to throw in a timely “You know nothing, Garth Snow” in this comment thread, but I feel like the most appropriate time might have passed.

          • Sherm says:

            I’m guessing that Wang is really hoping for an amnesty buy out in the new CBA.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Here’s the thing I don’t get about the argument. If Parise and Suter shouldn’t make $196 million, because that is not affordable for the Wild, then why did the owner of the Wild offer them $196 million?

    The big price tags of the star players aren’t collectively bargained. And this isn’t an owner who signed an unsustainable contract several years ago – that happened this year. If the Wild’s owner can’t afford to pay Suter and Parise $196 million, what changed between when they signed the contract and the beginning of the lockout? Why offer that much money if it is financially unjustifiable to offer that much money? If the owners want to stop signing very long contracts for very high sums of money … what is stopping them, other than another team being willing to sign very high contracts for a very long time and taking the player they want?

    The reasoning is utterly bizarre. “We promised you more money than we should have so you would come to us. So it is absolutely necessary for the survival of hockey that we don’t pay you what we promised you. PS We will continue to promise people more money than we should so they will play with us, then argue with the NHLPA that we cannot pay you what we promised.”

    • janastas359 says:

      Again, this is a common Simmons argument. “Owners will occasionally (and sometimes frequently) make decisions regarding personnel that they come to regret. Therefore, the players should be screwed so that the owners no longer have this power.”

      • Linnaeus says:

        As an aside, this was quite close to the arguments I was hearing from Facebook acquaintances re Hostess.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Again, this is a common Simmons argument. “Owners will occasionally (and sometimes frequently) make decisions regarding personnel that they come to regret. Therefore, the players should be screwed so that the owners no longer have this power.”

        Bingo — this expresses what I tried to say above more effectively.

    • Corey says:

      A better comparison would’ve been the annual salaries of Parise and Suter – one of the best forwards and probably the best defenseman in the game, respectively – to a middling MLB player. Not even close.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        That’s a little strong — Suter wasn’t even the best defeseman on his own team, and I’d rather have Chara at least — but he’s obviously an elite player, and elite defensemen are worth their weight in gold.

        BTW, Nashville seems like it will be testing Simmons’s theory that there’s no real difference between stars and generic players. I know how I’m betting.

        • actor212 says:

          But wasn’t this the formula for some of the Devils success in the 90s? After they went through the Mickey Mouse phase, Lamoriello sat down and decided to build from youth and skip trying to retain good-to-better players…Driver and Verbeek leap to mind… sign off on oddball picks like Kasatanov and Zelepukin?

          Yes, they kept Brodeur and Stevens, but it seemed like every time they lost a “star” they quickly found a generic player who stepped in to fill his shoes.

          Of course, having Lemaire as a coach didn’t hurt.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            The Devils did what any team should do — hang on to the really irreplaceable players, and replace the guys you can replace once they get too expensive.

        • rvman says:

          Even if Suter is worth his weight in gold, he’s overpaid. His weight in gold is approximately $5 million (he is 198 pounds according to wild.nhl.com, times 14.5833 troy ounces per pound, times a price of gold of $1734.4 per troy ounce), but his contract averages slightly over $7 million per year.

          • Corey says:

            Man, I dunno. Let’s just say the advanced stats disagree with Scott above – Weber (the guy most would call the best in the game) is a mess without Suter on the ice.

    • gorillagogo says:

      If Parise and Suter shouldn’t make $196 million, because that is not affordable for the Wild, then why did the owner of the Wild offer them $196 million?

      The cynical answer is that the Wild’s owner planned on having the contracts scaled back during the lockout.

  8. Murc says:

    This is somewhat off-topic, but this:

    Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks certainly have plenty of leverage having become indispensable stars

    Isn’t quite true.

    Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks are indispensable stars on a critically acclaimed but EXTREMELY low-rated show on cable. The numbers Mad Men pulled in at the height of its popularity are really, really great for AMC but so low it would be cancelled on network TV; to put it in perspective, Law and Order was cancelled when it was still pulling in nearly the twice the viewership level as Mad Men was on its best night ever.

    (It’s not the only show on AMC that falls into this category. Breaking Bad would also get axed on network TV.)

    However, Mad Men is a critical darling, which means it has a cultural impact and is more widely known than the viewership numbers would suggest. But it’s STILL a low-rated show on cable, and revenue is based on number of eyeballs you deliver to advertisers.

    This means the amount of leverage its stars has runs into a firm revenue limit. Hamm can’t actually demand to make Seinfeld or Friends money, because his show isn’t making Seinfeld or Friends money. To put it in perspective, Nathan Fillion is almost certainly making more than Jon Hamm does per-episode. Possibly MUCH more. Because Castle has four to five times Mad Men’s viewership.

    • janastas359 says:

      For John Hamm at least, this isn’t really true. His salary has increased steadily every year, from roughly $20,000 an episode to at least $250,000 an episode for season 5. By contrast the main actors of Grey’s anatomy made around $300,000 an episode for the same year. For what it’s worth, Nathan Fillion makes about half that much per episode (Though I imagine a season of Castle is longer and therefore it’s a greater salary overall).

      Nevertheless, I think the difference between AMC and CBS is a good way of demonstrating the difference between small and large market teams in professional sports. Smaller markets need to rely on unknown talent (Like the actors of mad men originally or a team relying on mostly rookie scale players) to succeed in spite of less viewership (Less fans). The big networks can throw money around like a big market franchise, while the smaller networks/teams need to devote their limited resources to the right players/actors.

      • John says:

        There are 23 episodes in a season of Castle. A season of Mad Men has 13 episodes. So, yeah, Fillion makes more money total (but also has less free time to do other things).

      • Murc says:

        God dammit, I forgot to factor in season length.

        Really the example was more meant to illustrate “decent actor on a decent show can leverage a lot more money than a great actor on what is one of the two or three best shows on TV right now by virtue of having five times the viewership.”

    • Anonymous37 says:

      How does the economics of Netflix and DVD sales work into this? That’s not a rhetorical question: I don’t know if poorly-rated critical darlings like Arrested Development do well enough in DVD sales and Netflix streaming to make themselves retroactively worthwhile for the networks (who I assume get a cut, but I could be talking out of my ass).

  9. Craigo says:

    He does make some good points:

    Outside of Nashville, southern expansion has been a disaster. Anaheim, Tampa, Carolina, Florida, Dallas, Phoenix, and the erstwhile Atlanta Thrashers have had mediocre attendance in good time and horrible records in bad times. As Scott says, there’s no reason why a random spot in the middle of the Arizona desert should have a team, but Hamilton should not.

    Expansion overall may have been misguided. It might be that there just isn’t enough interest in North America for 30 teams.

    And Bettman has been fleeced by con artists not once, not twice, but thrice. How he was not fired after the hat trick of Spano, Rigas, and del Diaggio – or just Spano – is beyond me.

    • Keaaukane says:

      Dallas should be granted an exception. I have heard that transferring the No. Stars there was actually a double secret codicil of the Hershel Walker deal.

  10. Samuel Knight says:

    Used to love hockey but now really can’t bother watching it – because the game is boring. All that clutching and grabbing on a tiny ice surface means most playoff games are just a matter of luck. Who cares how you do in the regular season – get in the playoffs and roll the dice.

    The puck on the ice is hard to see but Olympic hockey on HD is pretty easy to see now – much better than the old days.

    And Bettman is horrible in another way, the NHL is the only major league that lets their stars get head-hunted – Crosby, Lemieux all got head hunted – and the league just let it go on. And going to a bigger ice surface would allow stars to shine a lot brighter.

    Maybe this year they’ll just skip the whole boring regular season and just go right to some single elimination play-offs. But it won’t really be more than just rolling dice again.

    • janastas359 says:

      One thing Simmons said about hockey that rings true – its is a great, great HD sport.

    • Corey says:

      Used to love hockey but now really can’t bother watching it – because the game is boring.

      Serious question: have you watched the NHL at all since the last lockout?

      The puck on the ice is hard to see but Olympic hockey on HD is pretty easy to see now – much better than the old days.

      Every NHL game is available in HD. The Vancouver Olympics featured the same players, on the same sized-ice, wearing different colors.

      And Bettman is horrible in another way, the NHL is the only major league that lets their stars get head-hunted – Crosby, Lemieux all got head hunted – and the league just let it go on.

      Hockey is an inherently physical game, and stars will get hit hard because they carry the puck more often. There is no evidence that either Crosby, Lemieux, Ovechkin, Kovalchuk or any star forward has ever been deliberately headhunted, and plain watching of the games makes it undeniable that to the extent feasible the stars overwhelmingly get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the inherently physical aspects of the sport.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        This is right. The irony is that Bettman was supposed to be great for business but terrible for the product. But, in fact, the game on the ice is much better than it was 10 or 15 years ago, but Bettman is ruining this with frequent pointless lockouts.

      • actor212 says:

        There is no evidence that either Crosby, Lemieux, Ovechkin, Kovalchuk or any star forward has ever been deliberately headhunted

        Direct evidence, no, but you have to consider that every team has at least one enforcer of some sort or other on the ice when their stars are skating. Even Gretzky, pretty much universally beloved as a player and adept at avoiding checks, had played like Tikkanen and Blake watching out for him.

        • Richard says:

          And McSorley

          • actor212 says:

            I couldn’t remember if he was a linemate or not. I knew Gretzky insisted he went to LA in the trade so I guess I knew the answer anyway

            • Richard says:

              One of my all time favorite guilty pleasure hockey moments is a game in the 90s at the Forum. Kings v. Detroit. At the opening face-off, McSorley and someone from Detroit square off, drop their gloves and start duking it out. They go off for the penalty and the announcer comes on to announce two fighting majors at 19:58 of the first period. Fans went wild.

            • Craigo says:

              I don’t think he was a linemate – Jari Kurri was attached to Gretzky’s hip, in Edmonton at least, and there was another Finn whose name escapes me. The intimidation factor was that McSorley was there just so that Oilers could put him on the ice every time YOU were playing – not necessarily when Wayne was playing.

              • Richard says:

                I think he occasionally played on the same line but you’re right that his real role was coming after you on your next shift if you messed with Gretzky

              • BobS says:

                Jari Kurri was on Gretzky’s right, Esa Tikkanen (and Dave Semenko, a very good fighter) played left wing.
                Marty McSorley was a defenseman when he came up, subsequently moved to RW.
                I took my son to his first game in 1988. Bob Probert leveled Gretzky with a hard, but clean, open ice hit. After picking himself up, Gretzky earned a chorus of boos skating after and whining to the ref- he was somewhat of a crybaby early in his career. It wasn’t long after Probert and McSorley squared off in a pretty good fight.

      • Reg Dunlop says:

        In the olden days there were great players who were also unrepentant headhunters (legal hits)as well as no talent mugs who went after guys illegally.. Now direct contact to the head is the domain of only the mugs with an occasional incident due mainly to size differential (like Chara) or douchiness overload(Neil, Lucic). Today’s players will often let up on a check instead of looking to light up a player with his head down.

        • actor212 says:

          When we played, we played without hard pads.

          It took a lot of the nastiness out of the games. I recommend this for all professional sports. You want to lay into someone, it ought to hurt you as much as it hurts them.

          • Craigo says:

            I think in twenty years American football will have ditched helmets (which are basically more weapon than armor) and moved mostly rugby-style tackles.

    • Craigo says:

      Going to Olympic sized rinks is a non-starter (even though I favor it in theory). It’s asking the owners to eat substantial one-time renovation costs that will also significantly reduce the number of seats they can sell.

      The real problem with “clutch and grab” hockey is that a very large portion of hardcore fans think that it’s the Platonic ideal, history and broader public opinion to the contrary. If you want more goals, large communities like HockeysFuture think that you’re not a “real” fan.

      • Jamie says:

        Also, I think it’s a myth that the big ice makes for a better game. The only time the average North American fan sees games on international ice is in the Olympics, so naturally the game looks better and faster.

        But putting two average NHL teams on the big ice would be a disaster, I think. It largely removes the physical game and keeps play to the perimeter. I think the tell here is the Vancouver Olympics. It was on the small ice, but I would argue that the gold medal game was the best hockey game since the 87 Canada Cup.

        • Samuel Knight says:

          Have watched hockey games since the last lockout – and yes still leaves me cold. And do think the ice makes a huge difference. In the NHL most attacks are dump and rush, but in Europe they mostly skate in. That’s a much more flowing game. Would cost money to do here, but I’d guess it’d be made up in more action.

          Protecting players – well no – Crosby got hit in the head – twice and did Bettman make a big issue about it? No.
          When NFL had that issue with QBs they changed the rules to protect them. The NHL can’t even be bothered to enforce the existing rules (boarding?)

          Yes lots of current fans love the fighting, clutching and grabbing, but that’ll keep it a minor sport.

          The interesting thing will be how long the lockout goes – could kill a lot of teams.

          • Corey says:

            Steckel’s hit on Crosby was not a penalty, it was incidental contact. Steckel reversed to go for the puck and Crosby was in his lane, looking down. I have literally watched every minute of David Steckel’s hockey career up until the Caps traded him to NJ two springs ago; he isn’t a dirty player (and the PIMs back this up).

            Hedman’s hit was a board, yes. It was called at the time, IIRC. Doesn’t make it “headhunting” or deliberate. Penalties happen in hockey.

            I mean look, if your point is that the pendulum has swung back a bit recently and that defensive tactics are becoming more prevalent, you’re right. As craigo mentioned upthread we’re basically at the goals-per-60 rate pre-lockout. I’d argue that the decrease in goals isn’t solely a result of more obstruction penalties being ignored as in the trap days, it’s also that coaches are beginning to put together legitimately innovative defensive systems. Look at the Capitals’ system from last year; it kept a poor defensive team among the top 5 in league defense across the second half of the year, and it didn’t rely on obstruction at all.

            • Craigo says:

              Who gets more credit for the Caps’ defensive maker – Boudreau who started it, or Hunter who sustained it?

              I despise both, so I’m not angling for a specific answer here.

        • actor212 says:

          Except lately, ESPN has been broadcasting KHL (the Russian league) and some games from Finland pop up on Fox Sports affiliates.

          They’re pretty good, fast and fun to watch.

      • actor212 says:

        Not sure about the renovation costs. Many if not most teams share the arena with a basketball team, and it’s really just a matter of reconfiguring a few removable seats and extending the boards. The floors are concrete where the ice is laid down and fixed.

        • Richard says:

          Its not the renovation costs. Those are relatively minor. After all, most hockey arenas are used for basketball games as well as concerts where the floor configuration is often changed. Its the fact that the change will result in the loss of a few hundred of the most costly seats in the house. Significant loss of revenue

          • rvman says:

            The costs would be pushed up the bleachers – what is now a pricy row 3 seat would become the hideously expensive front-row seat, row 5 would become the row 3 boxes, etc to the top of the stadium. If anything, you could fit in a few extra front row seats on the larger rink, at the cost of a similar number of nose-bleed seats at the top of the arena.

            • Richard says:

              You would lose seats at the arena floor level, probably hundreds of seats. And you generally can’t make seating changes in the second and third tiers of most arenas – those are fixed seats (and, in almost every case, the arena is not owned by the hockey team so any changes would have to be made by the arena owners who aren’t going to want to do that). I’m told that the league has actually discussed ice expansion with teams and got a universal no because it would mean decreased revenue.

              • Craigo says:

                It’s also worth noting that in many arenas rinkside seats are permanently fixed as well. During the Vancouver Olympics, a quick conversion was estimated to cost north of $10 million.

              • actor212 says:

                I’d have to give that some thought. I understand your point, but it seems to me that most hockey teams most expensive seats are owned by corporations anyway, and as such, the price and location is pretty fungible. You’d lose some, sure, but those folks might accept first row, second tier seats since the action will be closer to those seats now, anyway.

                That would push the actual fan base further back up, and there might be the real problem.

                As I said, it’s a good point, one I’d need to give some more thought to before I either agreed or defended my position.

                • Samuel Knight says:

                  The other defensive change is that goalies wear so much stuff. Huge pads cover a lot of space. Cut the angles and it’s really hard to score.

                  Also agree on the seeing faces – the players really have to wear helmets – it’s too dangerous not to – but the flowing locks of Guy Lafleur where just much more recognizeable than that helmet.

  11. janastas359 says:

    A couple more points about Simmons and labor:

    What evidence, exactly, is there that the NHL’s financial model isn’t “sustainable?” Plenty of teams are profitable, many of the teams that aren’t showing a paper profit aren’t losing money for the owners (many of whom benefit from windfall ancillary revenues given to stadium authorities or whatever rather than the team itself, as well as increasing franchise valuations.)

    Exactly correct. When the NBA lockout happened last year Yglesias made the argument that while NBA owners may cry poor, sports franchises consistently and without much difficulty find new owners when the old ones are selling, and owners consistently and without difficulty make a large profit by selling a sports franchise. This isn’t always the case, but a sale at a loss usually means that the franchise is screwed up in some way. If these teams were money losers, we’d expect this to not be the case.

    Finally, it’s important to remember that more than fairness and equity, Simmons values competitive balance more than anything. This means that he favors short, cheap contracts for players, so that if an owner makes a mistake with a player, a team isn’t punished by it for very long. It’s also why he’s a proponent of hamstringing rookie deals as much as possible.

    • NonyNony says:

      This isn’t always the case, but a sale at a loss usually means that the franchise is screwed up in some way. If these teams were money losers, we’d expect this to not be the case.

      I agree with the thrust, but be a bit careful here. Sports teams truly are “luxury items” with limited supply. That puts a premium on their resale value as ego objects for rich guys with more money than they know what to do with, rather than as real investment opportunities. So just because sports teams don’t sell at a loss, that doesn’t necessarily mean that their owners are doing well with them either.

      • Rob says:

        They aren’t doing well with them like the McCourt’s didn’t do well with the Dodgers. They “lose” moeny annually while putting their family in no-show jobs and collecting large salaries. And then still walk away with $1b in the end.

        • NonyNony says:

          Oh, yeah – I realize in retrospect that that came out wrong. I didn’t mean to suggest that the owners really are hurting, just that the resale value of the team is not going to necessarily be an indicator.

          • janastas359 says:

            I understand. I wrote more below but the main point for me here is that the owner’s profit level isn’t a good reason to base a CBA around. If every team were failing, I could understand.

      • janastas359 says:

        What I mean is that it’s fundamentally unimportant to a CBA whether or not some teams are losing money. In other industries, if say a factory wasn’t pulling in a profit, it would have to shut down. In sports, if a franchise is really losing so much money that they’d have to worry about something like that, it is essentially guaranteed that someone is going to step in and buy it, and usually for more than it’s really worth. Therefore, basing your CBA around the notion that some of your teams are losing money is a bad idea, and a fallacious argument. As Rob said, the Dodgers were seriously screwed up financially and still sold for $2 billion. The Wilpon owned Mets are in a similar boat and again, could likely sell the Mets for a tidy profit.

        It is very rarely the case that a team is so screwed that it can’t be sold. My main point is that any arguments that the players need to give back concessions in order to keep the league afloat are disingenuous at best. This is one of Simmon’s main thrusts.

        • actor212 says:

          Forbes only valued the Dodgers at $1.4B, tho.

          Most of the preimum is based on the new TV network the Dodgers are creating, and the $1.4B is in large part a matter of the merchandising income, which is second only to the NY Yankees in the world (from US teams, I think ManUtd beats them both and possibly FC Barcelona)

          • Richard says:

            The cable tv upside is very substantial. The Dodgers contract with Fox expires in two years and Time Warner Cable, which just signed the Lakers, is going to be offering a huge amount of money for the rights. The Dodgers also have the possibility of starting their own cable network.

            Also the real estate potential. Dodger Stadium is located in Chavez Ravine, just a few miles north of downtown. There is nothing at the stadium other than the ball park so the crowds, consistently good year after year except the last two years of the McCourt tenure, go to the game and then leave. Nobody gets their early to dine and shop; nobody stays after the game to dine and shop. If they could build underground parking and somehow make it easily accessible to the freeway entrance, there would be acres of land opened up for an outdoor mall type of place or, at the very least, dining and drinking opportunities like you have in Baltimore and SF.

          • janastas359 says:

            I think this proves my point, though. Historically there have always been rich people who have been willing to purchase sports franchises at or above market value. The owners crying poor isn’t a good reason to cut player benefits – if they don’t like it, sell.

            • sparks says:

              But that would be the free market at work! Free markets are only for the little people, the rich do not believe in them for themselves.

            • Richard says:

              I agree. There is almost always a willing buyer who thinks that he can turn the team around and make hundreds of millions. If you can’t field a good team with the economic rules in place, sell.

              The rare exception is the situation where the team’s current location simply won’t support a money making team and where even all prospective new owners realize that. Like the case with the Phoenix Coyotes. I just dont think any hockey team is going to succeed there and the team should move to any number of cities in Canada where it would be supported (I’d love to see a team back in Quebec City).

              • actor212 says:

                Yea, and if my argument was taken to mean that there aren’t rich idiots who dream of being the next Steinbrenner, I apologize. This is a concept I wholeheartedly endorse.

                About the only owner who seems committed to providing an entertaining product on a regular basis is Mark Cuban. He seems to get it, but I’m sure I’ll now hear exceptions to this.

  12. Richard says:

    By the way, Scott, thanks for posting about hockey. For a Kings fan, the suspension of the season has been incredibly frustrating since we have been deprived of hoisting the banner (my son and I had got tickets to the first home game where that was going to take place) and hearing the references/introductions as “the reigning Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings”. Its good to have some excuse to think and post about hockey

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      I feel you — the last lockout my team was a goal away from the Stanley Cup, and never got a chance to follow up.

  13. Rob says:

    Simmons thinks Rick Reilley was worth his contract. So, yeah.

    • janastas359 says:

      What!?!?!? Are you saying thirty year old, recycled golf jokes aren’t worth millions of dollars a year? You’re crazy!

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Really? Yeah, seriously, I’ll complain about the salaries of pro players as soon as Rick Reilly agrees to get paid the same salary as the average sportswriter in Des Moines, with no contract more than 2 years.

  14. Herman Newticks says:

    See, that’s why Basball will never be America’s game. Even the most dominat players play *at most* half the game (plus a couple of at-bats), and really, mostly just stand around watching.

    • Jay B. says:

      ?

      You mean, “will never be America’s game again.”? Or do you simply think because you are overmatched by the rules and lack of action of the game that everyone else — like the 90 million or so tickets sold to the games and the record TV contracts are figments of the imagination — thinks the same way?

      Football does very well, of course. But baseball is, by a large margin, seen live by more people — not even including the minors, which draw millions more. People who buy these tickets might just see more than ‘people standing around’

      Just a thought.

    • janastas359 says:

      Watch out for what you say – George Will is gonna get you with talk like that about baseball.

  15. Kurzleg says:

    There are several reasons why hockey doesn’t pull in the TV revenue that other sports do. Personally, I think hockey suffers greatly from the tight camera shots you get from TV. I remember the first time I saw an NHL game live. I could not believe how fluid and beautiful the game was. It was nothing like I’d seen on TV, infinitely better and more entertaining.

    Other major sports viewing may be diminished when they’re televised, but none are diminished more than hockey.

    • Richard says:

      I think football is enhanced on tv. Was at the SC-Oregon game two weeks ago and, although the game was hugely entertaining, I kept thinking that I would have liked it even more on TV where I could figure out why Oregon was scoring at will. Might have been different if I cared whether SC or Oregon won but, as a non-partisan for this game, viewing it on TV would have been better.

      • Kurzleg says:

        I’ve never been to an NFL game, so I don’t know what I might be missing. I have been to a few NBA games (Bucks, Timberwolves), and I had the same reaction to those you had to live football. It was really hard to see the details that are critical in basketball.

        Baseball is a mixed bag. TV gives you a decent view of the pitcher/batter situation. The big picture view suffers a bit on balls in play where live you can see relative positions of defender, ball and baserunner, which produces some excitement. I don’t mind watching games on TV, but I prefer the live experience especially because Target Field is a pretty good place to see a game.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Again, I think this is true, but even though it’s better live than on TV NHL revenues aren’t actually radically lower than the NBA, and to the extent that the NHL relies more on attendance revenues this logically means that players should be paid more.

      • Kurzleg says:

        I’m not following that logic. Are you saying that because people have to make an effort to get to the arena and pony up for tickets that it’s due to the players themselves more than is the case for TV?

  16. MikeJake says:

    You guys are looking at this in the context of labor-management disputes.

    I think Bill’s primary interest, which you’ve all overlooked, is the effect on the fans. Things like how terrible contracts can cripple teams for multiple seasons, or how the escalation of salaries factors in to the pricing out of “real fans” from attending the games. Even if it’s a sensible idea that a player like LeBron James deserves to be paid whatever the market can bear, it has to be evaluated within the terms of the league structure of the NBA, which has a salary cap and a luxury tax. Because with the good of the LeBron contracts, comes the bad of the Eddy Curry and Gilbert Arenas contracts, and it’s in the interests of the fans to mitigate the likelihood of such bad contracts and inexplicable trades as much as possible (Stepien rule, anyone?).

    Now maybe he’s off-base when it comes to the NHL and the validity of the contracts players have signed, but I think the fact of the lockout speaks for itself.

    • janastas359 says:

      I agree with you on Simmons’ motives. I don’t think he cares about the labor/owner thing per se; I think he cares about putting a good product on the ice/court/field, and frequently the steps one takes to help maintain competitive balance (Restricted contracts, salary caps, etc.) are ones that play into the owner’s hands.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      I think Bill’s primary interest, which you’ve all overlooked, is the effect on the fans.

      I agree, but the problem is that his argument is a non-sequitur. Sports are a zero-sum game. A bad contract for one team is an opportunity for another. And long-term contracts can be good for fans of teams, especially small market ones.

      I think the fact of the lockout speaks for itself

      You’d have to be insane to think that the owners locked out the players to serve the interests of the fans.

      • MikeJake says:

        I agree, but the problem is that his argument is a non-sequitur. Sports are a zero-sum game. A bad contract for one team is an opportunity for another. And long-term contracts can be good for fans of teams, especially small market ones.

        It’s not always zero-sum from a fan’s perspective. Moving on from Peyton Manning was probably the correct move for the Colts from an orginizational perspective, but I’m sure there are at least some fans out there who would have tolerated a lower likelihood of success for the team if it meant that Manning could finish his career as a Colt.

        And contracts can become bad for reasons not apparent when they were entered into (injuries, overacheiving in a contract year), and there’s not much to be done about that. But some contracts are clearly bad, even before a game is paid. Whatever the Washington Nationals decide to do in the next five years, they’ll have to account for the fact that they have to pay Jayson Werth’s awful contract. How long should the fans of a team have to endure the consequences of a bad decision? Were Knicks fans well served by the team’s ability to enter into mutliple, untradeable max deals? And if you’re a player in a league with guaranteed contracts who can’t be cut, do you bear any responsibility for grossly underperforming? If you’re denying that the fans have any stake in the salary structure of a league, then I disagree with you.

        You’d have to be insane to think that the owners locked out the players to serve the interests of the fans.

        Good thing I never claimed that.

        All I’m saying is that even if this lockout is mainly the fault of the owners, they obviously felt strongly enough about the need to come to a different arrangment with the players to lock them out. It wasn’t idly decided.

        • Whatever the Washington Nationals decide to do in the next five years, they’ll have to account for the fact that they have to pay Jayson Werth’s awful contract. How long should the fans of a team have to endure the consequences of a bad decision?

          Yeah, National fans are really suffering. Anyway, 1)if Nationals fans “suffer” that’s good for the other teams in the division, so who cares on balance, and 2)if you’re a Rays fan, do you hate the fact that Evan Longoria wasn’t limited to only a 3-year deal? Long-term contracts can be good for teams.

          • Also, the excess of Werth’s contract was driven primarily by Lerner’s desire to dump a lot of money into the team in an attempt to win, so with a capless sport there’s no indication that the deal will really be much of a detriment to the Nats, unless Werth becomes so useless that you can barely justify giving him a roster spot.

  17. pylon says:

    Sorry – I can’t buy into the concept that the lockout, while itself frustrating, is the owner’s fault. The new CBA could have been negotiated starting last year, and through the summer, but the NHLPA refused to come to the table untill the fall. That left the owners in a position to (a) start the season with the threat of a strike (especially bfore the playoffs) or (b) lock out.

    • Craigo says:

      Yeah, bullshit. Talks have been ongoing since June.

      • Anonymous says:

        Nope? They only got to an initial exchange of offers in July. Only really talked in the fall. Don’t argue hockey with a Canadian.

        Sure a lockout is initiated by the owners. But they had little choice IMO.

        I will agree that there is no real need for one if the two sides actually negotiate instead of posture. But Donald Fehr is hardly an innocent there is he? And by my figuring there has been a lot more movement from initial offers on he NHL side.

    • Jay B. says:

      By definition a lockout is the owners’ fault. They fucked the players last time around and have stated, publicly, they want to crush the union this time. Yeah. Those lousy moocher players.

    • Jay B. says:

      By definition a lockout is the owners’ fault. They fucked the players last time around and have stated, publicly, they want to crush the union this time. Yeah. Those lousy moocher players.

      • Richard says:

        I’m totally on the side of the players in this dispute and believe that the owners demands on reneging on existing player contracts are reprehensible. But I haven’t seen any public statement where the owners have said they want to crush the union.

        • Anonymous says:

          Any contract is subject to the CBA. Says so right in it. So if you sign a contract leading into CBA negotiations, you take your chances.

          But the make whole provision is aimed at giving the entire compensation in those contracts to the player. Does the math work? Hell if I know.

  18. professor fate says:

    I was never a stone hockey fan (from New York area ) but I can from my youth rattle off names of players some stars some not: Brad Park, Phil Esposito, Tony Esposito, Bobby Orr, Dennis Potvan, Mike Bossy, Guy Lalfure, Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, Wayne Gretskey et al without too much thought. somehow hockey had a much larger media foot print in those days (fewer teams? bless me if I know) and you knew who the best players were – couldn’t even name the best player in hockey right now which I find sad. Stars help sell game tickets but the NHL has either forgotten how or just isn’t that good at star polishing anymore.
    it’s really a shame – at it’s best it can be such a fast moving free flowing game that suddenly looks likes it’s being played in a phone booth all the while the tension rises (it’s better live yes).

    • Craigo says:

      That’s an interesting perspective – fans of 28 of 30 teams have been complaining since the lockout that the league does nothing but focus on Crosby, Malkin, and Ovechkin. That’s life in the bubble, I guess – I don’t think most Americans could name any of those three.

    • actor212 says:

      There may also be a humility factor at work here. Hockey, unlike basketball or baseball or football, has precious few “superstars” who make news outside the arena, possibly because hockey retains a large blue-collar farm system in small towns in Canada.

      Too, it’s hard to spike a puck in the end zone or slam dunk it.

      Add to that the fact that many more players come to the NHL from nations many Americans couldn’t find on a map if you spotted them Europe and have names that are really difficult to pronounce, and you have some obstacles to overcome from the get-go

      • Richard says:

        I think thats true. Also, hockey has a game ethic of not calling attention to yourself (like the game ethic of getting mauled on the ice but returning for your next shift). A player who engages in excessive showboating is likely to get leveled a few minutes later, something that is very hard to do in football or basketball.

        But it would be nice if it was easier to identify the star players. If you go a game in person, its not that difficult because you can see the number and see when they come on for a shift. On tv, the camera isn’t going to cover shift changes most of the time (because the puck is often still in play) and even when they do, the camera shot will often not pick up the number. And, given the speed of the game and the fact that changes are made on the fly and often a whole line at a time, its very rare that the announcer will announce the personnel changes on the ice. Unfortunately, I can’t think of any way of making the players more individually recognizable.

        • Bill Murray says:

          maybe Fox can highlight the star player in green

        • Anonymous says:

          Specially marked uniforms for aces, like German ww1 fighter planes, perhaps? ;)

        • actor212 says:

          Well, there is the concept NBC uses of “Star Cam” where they isolate a couple of players each game and dedicate a camera to them. That’s a start.

          Also, helmets. True, NFL players wear them too, but since that action stops dead…indeed, does it ever fucking start?…it’s easy to talk about a player and catch him with his helmet off.

      • zolltan says:

        While you can certainly showboat in hockey (see Artem Anisimov’s goal celebration?) there is both an intra-player and media-based culture that tramps down any attempts at being culturally interesting.

        Look at Bryz. While he was just simply bad in goal, no one really cared much, but once he started commenting on this in an entertaining fashion, the media lined up to make fun of him, his coach and his teammates told him to stop being “distracted”, and suddenly everyone cared that he wasn’t an all star. This is why hockey can’t have interesting people.

        • actor212 says:

          Oh, you can showboat, sure, but you usually get clobbered on the next shift. Indeed, some players like Sean Avery use the showboating to pick fights.

          There is definitely a disincentive to showboat. Ovechkin slamming into the boards after a goal notwithstanding, most players respect what most coaches are supposed to instruct their players with: “Act like you’ve done it before.”

  19. Gary Bettman says:

    Hey,
    I know all you liberals and socialists here just wanna attack me for being who I am. Can’t we all just get along?
    Peace and love,
    Bettman

    • NBarnes says:

      Gary,

      No, we cannot just all get along. Please find some Draino and gargle.

      Sincerely,
      NBarnes

      • Anonymous says:

        I honestly think that Bettman enjoys shoving the faces of the fans. Have you ever seen that Fuck You There’s Not a Damn Thing You Can Do About Me smirk that he wears when fans boo him? He LIKES being hated by people who love the game, he LIKES that he can screw with something they love, and they have to sit on it and twist.

        I’ve seen that look only once before, on the face of the abusive boyfriend of a female acquaintance. It was the look he gave to her friends that loathed him, when the gf wasn’t looking: the arrogant smile that said, “yeah, you know what I am and I know what I am … and there’s not a fucking thing you can do about it, bitch, heh heh heh.”

        • Anonymous says:

          I think a lot of people project about Bettman. All I know is that he made a big effort to save my team. Tell me, aside from making mistakes in marketing, what has he done to earn such enmity?

          • Craigo says:

            1. Got taken by con artists three different times

            2a. Expanded to southern markets where the game has struggled

            2b. Encouraged teams in traditional markets to relocate in pursuit of the above

            3. Presided over three separate work stoppages in less than 20 years, which is three more than in the entire prior history of the NHL, and more than any other major North American sports league has managed in a two-decade span

            4. Signed a series of progressively awful TV contracts which has resulted in the game being exiled in the US to a third-tier basic cable network on every day but Sunday

            6. Once it turned out that lousy TV exposure and disinterested markets were a poor business model, used it as an excuse to take it on the players

    • HG says:

      When did you get the “U” changed to an “E” in your name? You are a corporate stooge and no friend to Hockey fans at all. It was the owners that locked out the players. Why do you want to say the players are at fault for not accepting the fact that the owners are RENEGING on their previous deal?

  20. zolltan says:

    Hopefully the LGM commentariat is better informed on average about politics than hockey or else what was I doing reading all those comments all this time trying to learn something?..

    For people who “can’t see the puck” – part of the reason is that if you’re watching at a bar in the US, the hockey game is on the tiny corner CRT so no wonder you can’t see anything! And it’s true that in a scrum or during a hard shot it’s hard to tell what’s going on. I still think it’s way easier than football, since in hockey, there is no incentive on a player’s part to pretend the puck is somewhere else than it is.

    Agree with Scott on Simmons’ article, though.

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