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Thursday, September 16, 2004

Pucked!

So this hockey fan dies and goes to heaven. St. Peter greets him at the Pearly Gates to show him inside, where he is delighted to find that heaven is full of hockey rinks and never-ending pickup games to play. At the end of the tour, they walk by one rink with only one guy skating around, making some nifty moves. "Who is that?" asks the hockey fan.
"Oh..." St. Peter sighs, "that's God, but He thinks he's Bobby Orr."
I am not one of those who is terribly heartbroken over the NHL owner's lockout of the players. The usual labour dispute accusations are being thrown about, and (of course) both sides are claiming that the other side is the one causing the fans "great disappointment" and hurting the "quality and integrity of the game."

Yeah. Right.

It's hard to sympathise with the team owners, who are whining that they've collectively lost $1.8 billion over the last ten years ($200+ million last season alone), with four franchises declaring bankruptcy, so the players (of course) must accept salary caps. I haven't been able to afford a ticket to a game in either of the two NHL cities I've lived in (interestingly enough the Vancouver Canucks' own site doesn't even tell you what the prices for each section's seating are). If they're losing so much money, why are they still in the business? Who do they think they are? The government?

It's equally hard to sympathise with the Player's Association. They claim the salary cap will reduce the "average player salary" from $1.8 million to $1.3 million.

Boo hoo. Let's look at some salary stats (2003-04 season), shall we?:

Total player's salaries (league-wide)$1,332,014,707
Median player salary (league-wide)
$1,453,083
Highest NHL player salary (Forsberg, Colorado)
$11,000,000
Lowest NHL player salary (Audette, Florida)
$150,000
Lowest 5 NHL player salaries (total)
$1,290,000
Top 5 NHL player salaries (total)*
$52,000,000
Canuck's team salary (13/30 teams)
$42,074,500
Median Canuck salary (30 players)
$1,113,750
Highest Canuck salary (Bertuzzi)
$6,800,000
Lowest Canuck salary (Keane)
$500,000
* Peter Forsberg (Colorado Avalanche), Jaromir Jagr (Washington Capitals), Pavel Bure (New York Rangers), Sergei Fedorov (Anaheim Mighty Ducks), Nicklas Lidstrom, (Detroit Red Wings). It should also be noted that Canuck Trevor Linden (NHLPA president) made $2,000,000 last season.
I don't know about you, but most people I know would dearly love having a starting salary of 150 grand (btw, all of these $ figures are USD).

It's been pretty obvious for years that pro sports doesn't really exist for the benefit of the fans (as the players and owners would have us believe). It's a business, and it's the bottom line that really counts (otherwise Vancouver would still have the NBA's Grizzlies in town - and the Dodgers would still be in Brooklyn).

Sadly, most people just don't realise how low the fan is in the heirarchy of consideration within the professional sports world. I hadn't, really, until I read Mike Lupica's 1996 book Mad As Hell, a book which totally changed my mind about how I regard pro sports in general.

As for hockey in particular? I started watching NHL hockey as a kid (like many Canadian male kids) about the time of the first expansion (from six to twelve teams). As teams were added to the league, it seems (to me at least, but others would agree) that the overall quality of hockey has deteriorated. I don't watch many regular season games, and I only stick with the playoffs until the Canucks get eliminated (if they even make it that far).

Between the greedy owners and players (and let's not forget all those sports parasi agents and lawyers out there) and the waaaaay-too-long seasons, the sport has lost some of it's appeal for me.

Maybe it's time to rethink (downsize?) the NHL...
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Just so you don't think I'm a total Philistine about hockey, the best three hockey games of all time that I've watched are, in order:
1. The Gold Medal game of the 2002 Olympics (Canada beats USA)
2. The final of this year's World Cup (Canada beats Finland)
3. The final game of the 1972 Canada/Russia hockey series (need we say who won?)