Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A blend of agendas best for Jets fans

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The NHL wants to fix its economic issues by reducing player costs. The NHLPA wants to solve the league's money problems with more extensive revenue sharing. Both things are good for the hockey fans of Winnipeg.

What's best for the owners as a whole and what's best for the players as a group are two different things. But a blend of their agendas, one where the most profitable NHL franchises share with the have-nots and salaries are kept in check by a hard cap, is best for Winnipeg Jets fans.

There appears to be a willingness among negotiators from both sides to find common ground. Any deal struck will be a mixture of the wants of both parties.

The players want the owners to help one another and the league wants the players to take less money. Both would benefit the Jets.

Winnipeg is the league's smallest market and while the franchise was profitable in Year 1 it has finite revenue streams and will never be able to compete with the Torontos and New Yorks if there isn't a hard salary cap to control player costs.

The Jets did not qualify for financial aid in their first year back in the NHL but they're not too removed from that equation. Any improvement to revenue sharing in the league has to be welcomed by the Jets. It gives them insurance and also keeps the competitive playing field level.

The Jets find themselves in the unique position of being a healthy small market team. Both sides say they want to protect and aid the league's teams that are either losing money or just breaking even. The Jets are above that line but an agreement that looks after the welfare clubs could buoy Winnipeg even closer to the top.

Rather than being a disenfranchised small-market outfit with no chance to ever win, the Jets could be the NHL's version of the Green Bay Packers where they not only make money but win titles. Yes, it's a lot to wish for but both sides are saying the right things at this point.

Trojan Horse

Beware, however, the Trojan Horse known as a luxury tax. Any push from the NHLPA to allow wealthy teams to go above and beyond the cap is in essence a luxury tax instrument and should be repelled. It would be disastrous for Jets fans.

A luxury tax, where big markets can spend as much as they want on player salaries, would be good for players and big-market owners but crushing for fans in places like Winnipeg.

Such a move would turn the NHL into a league where undeserving markets such as Phoenix and Florida are propped up while irresponsible owners in Philadelphia and New York throw money at titles.

Solid, well-run franchises like the Winnipeg Jets will get caught in the middle and squeezed out of the competition.

The bottom third of franchises in the league will play to half-empty disinterested rinks but disclose a break-even bottom line. The middle third will scrape to try and keep up with the arms race but occupy most of its time looking up at the top third, which will spend, spend, spend in pursuit of a championship.

Winnipeg will find itself in the middle. Perhaps never losing money but never winning a title or even coming close to it. Hockey purgatory. It would suck beyond belief for the hockey fans of the Winnipeg Jets.

The Jets will never be among the league's top spenders but if they can manage their operation properly and benefit from a constant flow of revenue-sharing cash they can compete.

That has to be the hope for Jets fans, a system that ensures the viability of the franchise long term as well as protecting the ability to pursue a championship here in Winnipeg.

The hockey fans of this city didn't put down their money for a franchise that breaks even and stays put but never chases glory.

They want both. And they should have it.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 15, 2012 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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