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Truth, lies & statistics: Trying to make sense of the NHL lockout

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Sports has always been about winners and losers. It's about good guys vs. bad guys; us vs. them.

It's why we keep score. It's why fans kill for those few hours when they can escape the doldrums of everyday life, throw on a jersey and do a paint-by-numbers rendering of their favourite team's colours all over their face.

And it's why the NHL's current lockout -- work stoppage, travesty, whatever you want to call it -- is so painful for so many.

To the diehards, there are no good guys vs. bad guys in this. No us vs. them. Just... no hockey.

This is a battle about hockey-related revenue. It's about rollbacks and profit margins.

It's millionaire players and billionaire owners fighting over a $3.3-billion pot. And it's about the public relations war between the league and the NHL Players' Association and how they spin the truth, lies and statistics.

It's commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy boss Bill Daly arguing the plight of the two-thirds of NHL teams who lost money last year. It's about NHL Players' Association head Donald Fehr being flanked by high-profile stars of the game during a recent press briefing and insisting they should not have to pay a big chunk of the freight in fixing the bottom lines of the haves and have-not franchises.

So all this -- all the truth, lies and statistics, the spin-doctoring and posturing -- can be a bit much for fans who simply want to watch the game.

And it makes it impossible to keep score.

What follows is a collection of bits and pieces accumulated over the last little while, both in the days leading up to the Sept. 15 lockout and since that fateful Saturday.

Decide for yourselves what is worthy, what is fiction and what constitutes as verbal diarrhea courtesy of the propaganda machines:

THE FUNDAMENTALS

Since 1993-94 the NHL's hockey-related revenue has grown from $700 million to $3.3 billion in 2011-12. Further to that, in the years since the last lockout the HRR has grown by $1.3 billion, from $2 billion in 2003-04 -- growth of seven per cent annually.

Under the recently expired CBA, players received 57 per cent of hockey-related revenue or $1.8 billion. The NHL wants to slice that down considerably, and their first offer was to have the players' share drop to 43 per cent. The recent labour settlements in the NFL and NBA have set up a 50-50 split in both leagues.

The last NHL offer prior to the lockout pitched a six-year agreement that would give the players 49 per cent at the start and 47 in the final year.

The NHLPA offer claims its latest offer would save the owners $900 million over the life of a five-year deal.

The average player salary has risen from $560,000 in 1993-94 to $2.4 million last season.

According to Forbes, the current collection of NHL owners features 11 billionaires, including David Thomson, Winnipeg Jets (net worth: $17.5 billion); Mike Ilitch, Detroit Red Wings, ($2 billion); Phil Anschutz, Los Angeles Kings, ($7 billion).

Since the lost season of 2004-05, the value of the Toronto Maple Leafs has more than doubled to US$500 million.

Since 1992, the NHL has lost 1,698 games because of labour disputes. The totals of the major North American leagues: 1. NHL: 1,698; 2. MLB: 938; NBA: 504; NFL: 0.

 

JUST FYI...

STUFF YOU SHOULD KNOW

The estimated differences between the two offers -- the NHL's and the NHLPA's counter -- is $1 billion.

Shea Weber's new deal with the Nashville Predators is worth $14 million for the 2012-13 -- $13 million guaranteed as a signing bonus.

NHL players won't be penniless without regular-season games in October -- their escrow cheques, eight per cent of their base salaries held back, arrive on Oct. 15. As well, they'll also get $10,000-15,000 a month from the NHLPA courtesy of licensing money.

Forbes reported that in 2010-11 the Maple Leafs, New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens posted an aggregate operating profit greater than the rest of the league combined.

The amount of money spent by owners/teams on re-signing players like Alex Burrows (Vancouver), Kari Lehtonen (Dallas), John Carlsson (Washington), Milan Lucic (Boston), Shane Doan (Phoenix) and Evander Kane of the Jets in the 48 hours before the lockout started was almost $200 million.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's salary is $7.5 million annually.

And, finally, this tidbit that would have most worried about a quick resolution:

During the discussions over the weekend the NHL and NHLPA couldn't even agree on whether teams should travel with two trainers on the road and who should pay for each player getting his own hotel room. As it stands, players with 600 NHL games on their resumé get their own digs on the road. The rest have to double up.

 

And so the fight between billionaires vs. millionaires continues.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Numbers / Facts / Figures courtesy:

Sportsnet Magazine

The Globe and Mail

'The Instigator' by Jonathon Gatehouse

Forbes Magazine

Reseau Des Sports (RDS)

Minneapolis Star-Tribue

ESPN.com

 

LOCKOUT VOICES

Some of the juiciest lockout quotes

 

"In hindsight, it wasn't worth it. It was a waste of time. We thought we were stronger than we were. We started falling apart as the months clicked by. It's money you feel you never get back. At some point, we were sold a bill of goods. Everybody was buying it. Everybody thought, 'Let's not let each other down. Let's do it for the future of the game. Blah, blah, blah.' You're only in the game so long."

-- Mike Modano, Sept. 15, on the 2004-05 lockout

 

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"I don't really see any difference. The business is bigger, everybody wants to get a bigger pie, everybody wants to make more money and the issues are the same. It's about the money, it's not about the game."

-- Lockout 'veteran' Olli Jokinen, comparing the situation in 2004-05 to now

 

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"I know what I'd do with them. I'd put them in a room with bread and water and say, 'Now you stay in there until you make a deal.' It would be outrageous not to have a season."

-- Bobby Orr, Sept. 20

 

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"To me, it's just carelessness. It's them just trying to show everyone that they're the owners and they're the league. They can do whatever they want. If they want to hurt their own game and drive it into the ground that's what they'll do. Even if it comes down to that, it doesn't matter as long as they get what they want."

-- Jonathan Toews, Sept. 24

 

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"It's very complicated and way too much for the average Joe to understand, but having said that, I will tell you this: The owners can basically be viewed as the Ranch, and the players, and me included, are the cattle. The owners own the Ranch and allow the players to eat there. That's the way its always been and that's the way it will be forever. And the owners simply aren't going to let a union push them around. It's not going to happen."

-- Detroit Red Wings Senior VP Jimmy Devellano, Sept. 20. The NHL levied a fine of $250,000 for these comments

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 3, 2012 0

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