Yearly Archives: 2008

When will the thinking begin? – From The Rink

When will the thinking begin? – From The Rink:

I have a hard time believing the NBA and NFL are going to have to cut back considerably and the NHL will escape unscathed, but at this point, that’s where we’re at in the commissioner’s eyes.

I don’t for a minute think it’s fair to interpret what they’re saying they’ll escape unscathed. Bill Daly today noted the league’s put in a hiring freeze, and in fact, Bettman said this:

“The sense is that we are doing OK this season, but there is a great deal of uncertainty about the future, particularly next season.”

“Probably a good indication for us will be how playoff ticket sales go. But while there is concern, there is also hopeful optimism.”

In reality, the business cycles for these leagues are all different phases and the leagues aren’t easily compared. In hockey, most of the revenue for the league is in for the year — the next time significant revenues come in will be in the playoffs, and Bettman clearly sees that as a bellwether for things moving forward, but right now, they know roughly what the revenue situation is going to be. They have, in fact, telegraphed their thoughts by indicating they think the cap will be roughly flat this season and they’re more or less guaranteeing it goes down the season after that.

So there’s no pretending going on in the league that they’re going to avoid this. What the reality is, though, is that the major pain won’t come until later, going into next season. There’s no reason to lay off now — and I expect they hope they’ll be able to limit future layoffs through the hiring freeze and the attrition that can be expected between the end of this season and next. But if there are layoffs, and there probably will be, expect them to happen off-season.

What happens if revenues go down next year while the cap stays flat? Less than you might think; remember one aspect of the CBA is the escrow account. In past years, the escrow money’s been sent on to players. If the revenues decline, then some (or all) of that escrow money will be held back by the owners — this scenario being the reason the escrow account was put into the CBA in the first place.

So things may potentially be ugly, but the league’s got things in place to adapt to it, at least to some degree. Players could potentialy find themselves with 10-12% pay cuts if the entire escrow account is returned to the owners next season, even if the cap stays flat. And it’ll be interesting to see how much of the escrow goes to players this season; I wouldn’t expect a 100% payout.

So the thinking has been going on for a while. What the league isn’t doing is panicing; revenues seem sustainable now and they can use other methods than layoffs to handle reduced revenue issues when they finally hit — which they probably won’t for another six months or so. And the CBA was designed to help here, and my guess is, it will.

The NHL’s rapid revnue growth the last few years also helps, because it makes the downturn somewhat easier to handle; most companies don’t hire as quickly as they grow, which reduces the need to layoff when things turn.

So to me, this is more about some journalists crying wolf than the league whistling in the graveyard. What I’m seeing is a league being very aware and proactive, and getting yelled at for things not being as negative as people seem to expect them to be.

Life could be a lot worse. A few days back, James Mirtle posted attendance numbers for the NHL, showing them down about 1%. Even given some teams like the Panthers pushing free and discounted tickets like crazy, paid attendance is likely down no more than 2-3%. Taht’s not all that bad, and from the numbers, only four teams are playing below 80% full (Atlanta, carolina, tampa, columbus), and four more below 85% (Phoenix, NY Island, New Jersey, LA). Eight teams below 85% full may seem bad, but that leaves 22 teams playing above 85% full, and frankly, when you look at the teams suffering attendance, they are also teams suffering from bad play, except for New Jersey, which is having problems filling its new building, but always seems to have fought attendance issues.

To some degree this just reinforces that winning hockey sells tickets, good markets or bad. And losing hockey just encourages fans to sit on the sideline; the bad economy just amplifies those changes.

Some fuss has been made of the cities with significant attendance drops: Tampa and Atlanta around 12% down, Carolina around 11%, Nashville, Los Angeles, Buffalo down 7% or so. Not minimizing that, but do you blame fans in Tampa and Atlanta for staying away after the off-season owner-fun (in Tampa) and the horribly disappointing season last year after finally making the playoffs and convincing fans maybe things were getting better? Or in columbus, still without a playoff series? Bad teams SHOULD suffer in attendance, or what motivation do they have to get better? (snide side glance at the Toronto fans injected here). Lost in the noise of all this are teams like Washington and Chicago, where reinvented ownership (with the hawks) and a really good, up and coming team (in washington) have gotten people excited again, with 25% and 15% increases. So it balances out; teams getting better get fans on board, teams getting worse lose them. It’s easy to focus just on the bad news, but the reality is, it’s not all bad out there.

Compare that to, say, the NBA. 30 team league, and currently, four teams are playing at 70% or below capacity, and a total of 13 teams are playing at 85% or below capacity. No wonder they’re laying off, but where the NHL has been growing since the end of the lockout, the NBA’s been struggling, and it’s showing this year. Last year, they only had 2 teams under 70% and six teams at 85% or below. Compared to those numbers, the NHL is staggeringly successful this season being down only 1-3%.

Or consider Nascar, which only a couple of years ago was being seen as one of those sports taking the NHL out behind the shed and giving it a wedgie (not without some justification, either); the current feeling seems to be that if the automaker bailout doesn’t happen, NASCAR won’t be laying off, it could well simply cease to exist.

Then there’s the KHL, which in the preseason some were thinking was going to hurt the NHL; now, a few months later, teams are missing payrolls (or barely making them) and there seems a good chance the league won’t make it to season two. How things change.

In the ECHL, we’ve seen the first franchise failure.

And over in europe, one of the major soccer leagues has come out and said it needs — well, basically, a salary cap and escrow system just like the NHL built, or it’s likely in deep trouble.

Oh, and it looks like Arena football is going to fold, period. Can’t get financing.

We tend to over-focus on the issues around the league, and some media types seem to get off predicting the worse (and we, as fans, don’t hold their feet to the fire when they prove, time and again, to be woefully inaccurate…). But when you look around the pro sports industry globally — honestly? The NHL is in for some rough times, and some of those times are going to be painful — but in the larger context of other leagues, it seems like it’s done what it can to minimize the pain, before it had to do so in panic mode. So now that those bad times are here, surprise, the league isn’t panicing. And some folks seem to see that as a bad thing…

Two cents worth on Sean Avery

This isn’t so much an essay on Avery and the suspension as some random thoughts and reactions. If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about check out Puck Stops here; it’s one of the more reasoned views of the situation:

KuklasKorner : The Puck Stops Here : The Sean Avery Suspension:

I support the idea of trash talk. I think it is a useful way for players to agitate opponents. Avery said something that would likely upset one of the best players on the Calgary Flames (Dion Phaneuf) who he was about to play and he managed to do it by saying something that was clean enough for national TV. That is an accomplishment. He had to hit Phaneuf with something personal to do this. It seemed to me like a rather minor incident. It was something that might be played in the broadcast of the Dallas at Calgary game that night and soon be forgotten (it is possible some larger incident may come during the game which would keep it in the news – but most likely it would be soon forgotten).

The NHL had other plans. They suspended Avery for his comments. A large number of fans applauded – many on the logic that they hat Sean Avery and suspending him for any reason is a good thing. The problem is this reason for his suspension is a weak one. It’s not the worst off ice thing that Avery has done. He has given a camera man in New York the middle finger and had off-color verbal comments about Darcy Tucker and Jason Blake.

Avery was suspended because he is Sean Avery. Had another player been in his position, there would likely have been no suspension. The league is looking to suspend Sean Avery. If this becomes a precedent for further suspensions for pre-game trash talk, that will lead to more suspensions for relatively minor offences. If there are no further suspensions for pre-game comments, then it shows that Avery is being unfairly treated as he is being punished when others in the same situation would not be.

On the “pro suspension” side is James Mirtle, while Puck Daddy falls more on the “what do you expect from people who need help dressing” view of the NHL (here and here).

My view on this situation is frankly mixed; Avery definitely stepped over a line and needed to be bitchslapped, especially after it came out that he was told by his team explicitly told him not to speak to the press, and Avery ignored that order and stepped into someone else’s scrum and effectively cherrybombed the press and then ran. That the Stars have come out and said they would have suspended him is a good sign. I personally would have preferred that it be a team suspension to a league one, by having the League step in I think they’re opening up a Pandora’s box they may regret.

On the other hand, that’s classic Avery: agitate until the other side loses its cool and reacts without thinking it through. In some ways, he just did that to the league instead of an opposition player. The league will have to deal with the side effects later. At the Sharks game last night, Laurie and I were talking about this, and I said “I really wish I was on the call between Bettman, Daly and Colin Campbell where Bettman asked them to find a rule that allowed him to kick Avery in the balls” — and basically, that’s what the league did.

I have no sympathy for Avery here. He asked for it. He deserves it. Whether this was the best way to handle it, we’ll see.

For those wondering why he was suspended for this comment, you can’t take this in isolation. It’s not THIS comment, it’s that this is just the LATEST of a string of increasingly out of control comments. And that’s the real issue here:

Avery is out of control. Anyone remember Ray Emery? Well, here’s this year’s model. Except Avery decided, among other things, to directly attack the league and league management as part of his “me first, I’m smarter than all of you” game.

There are some folks upset that the league didn’t allow Avery to play last night and give Phaneuf and the Flames a chance to, well, educate him as to the intelligence of his comments. I sympathize with them. In reality, though, imagine the scenario where Avery declines and turtles (not that Avery ever turtles. nope. not him) and others get involved. the NHL’s worst nightmare here would be someone like Mike Modano out with a torn ACL because the Flames tried to rearrange Avery’s face in a game. No, their worst nightmare would be another Steve Moore episode, and that’s not reaching very far given the heated tempers here, folks. So I don’t for a second blame the league for stepping in, this powderkeg had “disaster” written on it in a number of different ways.

By the way, people should really sit back and ask themselves Who Is the Victim? Another question people should ask themselves is where are the limits set?

Elisha Cuthbert got dragged through the mud here. What about her and her feelings? Shouldn’t the league have some standards here? Shift the scenario a bit: imagine that Sean Avery had said equally derogative things about, oh, Mike Grier. you really think people would be upset about a suspension over a racial slur? (well, some would, but they’d be a lot quieter and circumspect). So why would a racial slur be unacceptable, but a gender slur is? Draw a line in the sand, where do you put it? Blacks? European players? Quebec French? But not women? the league has made it clear, and suspended players, for slurs against the first three, on and off ice.

The guys out there who think it’s amusing that he did this to her, well, stop and think about it a bit. If you can. Or ask someone like Donald Brashear or Mike Grier. I bet that they have an opinion — and a fair bit of sympathy for her.

By the way, if Avery’d done this on ice, during a game, or privately in a hallway, that’s fine. Dirty play and dirty language is part of the game and his schtick, and that’s between him and the players. But jump into a scrum of reporters, grab a mike and put on a show? Hey, at that point, you are a representative of yourself, your team, and the league, and you have responsibilities to all of them to act professionally. Instead, he stood up and played the fool and proved that what was important was him.

And that’s why he’s poison; he threw his team under the bus, he threw the league under the bus, and it’s not the first time he’s done both. And for a game which prides itself on winning and competing as teams, it’s one thing to be an individual (this league is rife with them), but another to start declaring yourself more important than either. It’s been clear from his statements for a while that Avery sees the WWE as the model for how the NHL ought to operate. I think the league needs to suggest to Avery he go join the WWE; where it’s not really about winning, but about individuals and celebrity.

Oh, and speaking of people Avery’s thrown under the bus, how will you all feel when Brett Hull gets fired over this? Because I think there’s a strong chance that’ll happen: Hull championed him onto the team, Hull backed him and supported him. And now this. But then, everyone else is just support staff there to make life better for Avery. Hull’s probably learned a nasty lesson in learning in who he places his trust and loyalty with. Some friend, that Sean Avery.

A Strategic Suspension of Avery? | The Business of Sports:

According to the old cliche, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” There is definitely some truth to this statement. A player makes some public mistake and the media covers every detail of that team and league. It might not be the best publicity, but there is no question that your teams will get a lot of additional media exposure.

There’s good publicity, there’s no publicity, and there’s bad publicity. But not all bad publicity is created equal. Some bad publicity can be used for future benefit. Some is simply destructive. All the Avery thing has done is give people who love to bash the league more stuff to bash the league with. You tell me: how do you take the publicity caused by Avery and use it to convince non-fans the league is something they might want to check out? Banner ads on the WWE websites?

No, sometimes no publicity is much better for you than this kind of publicity. There’s nothing here that you can spin or leverage to get people to become interested in the league. It makes the league look like a bunch of jerks. Avery is doing nobody favors here, not even himself.

I’ll close with what Brett Hull said, because it’s both indicative of what hockey tries to be (and mostly is), and just how unimportant those aspects of the game were to Avery. Ultimately, that’s Avery’s key failure here: in a game where individuals give themselves to the success of the team, Avery merely saw the team and all around him as tools for personal self-gain.

DALLAS STARS Blog | The Dallas Morning News:

“This goes beyond hockey and beyond the game on the ice, and that’s what bothers me,” Hull said. “We have talked and talked and talked about being on the edge within the game, but not going over the line. We told him from the start that he can not do things that would embarrass the organization. Ever since the start here, this organization has been built on class, and there is a responsibility to the organization, to the owner and his family, and to the city and the fans to maintain that class. Play hard, push the game on the ice, but do not embarrass the organization.”

And yesterday, the league finally told him they were tired of being a tool. And of him.

One wonders if he’ll actually listen. I doubt it. I wonder if he CAN.

Oh, and let’s put this all in perspective. How? Well, perhaps by reading this piece by goaliegirl…..

43 Points In 25 Games

San Jose Sharks – News: 43 Points In 25 Games – 12/03/2008:

Behind a brilliant four-point first period from Joe Thornton, San Jose exploded to a 4-0 lead on the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs, defeated their old coach, and most importantly, posted their 43rd point in 25 games, tying the 1943-44 Montreal Canadiens for the best start in NHL history. The victory was the Sharks eighth in a row.

Fun game last night. The Sharks basically spanked the Leafs early and put it in autopilot. The two goals came about mostly because the Sharks mentally went and took their showers early. It really was man vs. boy for a lot of the game. At times in the past, the Sharks have struggled with managing leads, last night, they very much played a “red wings” style run out the clock game.

That was kinda my point in my posting last night. The Leafs scored mostly because the Sharks didn’t really care if they did, and the few Leafs fans willing to stick around to the end (most left, the first large chunk in the 2nd period, along with the first wave of Sharks fans) really shouldn’t have seen that as a “YEAH! LEAFS RULE!” moment.

Still, a fun game. Just not really ever close. Toskala had the yips early, and that pretty much set up the show for the night.

Now, having said that…

Lots of fans and media pundits have looked at the Sharks and said “hey, it only matters what they do in the playoffs”. They’re right — and I’ve said that to some degree as well.

If you use that as an excuse to not pay attention to the Sharks during the regular season, you’re missing one hell of a hockey team. This team is rolling. In case people haven’t noticed, Joe Thornton’s on a 2 point a game pace the last 7 or 8 games (and last night? A goal and three assists. yawn. Another night in the office). This team is impressive as hell, and really making notable waves, even for a team who’s the definition of “the regular season doesn’t matter”.

It may not matter, but the Sharks are making it matter by playing this well. If you are waiting for the playoffs to watch them, you’re going to miss a lot of really good hockey….