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You can't just say "let the teams compete freely" and pretend that there's no discrepancy of strength of market. If you want to let the teams compete in an "open market" then you have to get rid of stuff like the draft.
Professional Sports is a unique industry. The fact that nobody is willing to fully appreciate that is why you get back and forth arguments where neither side is using the same vocabulary.
The NHL, NFL, NBA, MLB etc all receive antitrust protection and receive tremendous financial benefit from multiple levels of government. To pretend that they should/can operate as if they were McDonalds or Wendy's dithering over market share is silly.
SILLY I TELLS YA!
The Leafs should be the Yankees of hockey.
They should have a 30k seat arena and a 150M payroll. And still make gobs of money.
What was happening in the past doesn't necessarily need to be happening now. Besides, you can't just stuck 10 teams into Canada if their markets aren't good enough. Phoenix, yes, but they really are scraping the bottom fan-wise. But there are STILL 10 or more team LOSING money almost year in and year out. And if you were to say the NHL was as interesting 15 years ago as it is now, I KNOW you'd be lying. And I'm not addressing style of play, I'm addressing competitiveness. Do you really want the league to be like, let's say, football is here in Europe? Barcelona and Real Madrid are deciding the titles on El Classicos almost every year. That's basically 2 games deciding the whole season. That's the lamest of the lamest. And why is that? They are the most popular clubs, so they get by far the most money from fans, and the TV rights in Spain are going to them in biggest chunks. Other nations have TV rights spread out and are mostly competitive, until we come to England, where it became popular that rich fellas buy a club and then go on a spending spree. The last time an "underdog" won Premier league...I don't even know when it happened.
You guys were cool with mostly the same group of winners years ago, but now you experienced something new. You're now experiencing the highest level of competition league-wide, and believe me, you don't want to go back to what it was before. It would suck now.
And the owner's responsibility is indeed to run the franchise, but the NHL's responsibility is to make hockey interesting for as many people as possible, so I really doubt they would allow anything I suggested. They even want to spread NHL hockey overseas and it's definitely the way to go. Last year, Slovenia got first ever NHL games live on TV (it's worth mentioning most Europeans don't like the team moving principle from the USA, but this is not the main point here). No way the NHL should compromise what they have getting going by ignoring what owners want. That would result in all kinds of bad situations and possibly owners wanting to flip off the NHL. You don't want that.
The players' responsibility is to play hockey, win and negotiate for the highest possible contracts, the owners' responsibility is to take care of the team financially and make sure it's winning and the NHL's responsibility is that the NHL is as interesting as possible. And to make it as interesting as possible it has to be competitive. And to be competitive there MUST be financial regulations in place. I assure you the league can run with zero teams in red AND with players happy, but there's still some work to do. The CBA 8 years ago was step 1, this years' CBA is step 2...how many steps it will need, I don't know, but if the players survived the CBA signed 8 years ago (which was an "abomination" for them) they will survive this one even better, even with immediate 13% salary rollback. After all, if the revenues didn't go up, Ovechkin would be making a lot less AFAIK, so basically he needs to thank the NHL a bit for making sure hockey is marketed like it should be.
Collective Bargaining Agreement FAQs - NHL.com - Collective Bargaining Agreement
No one could predict this kind of increase in salaries and global financial crysis at the same time (it's hard to say how much impact it has on the owners' finances, but I'm pretty sure it has). But it's not reasonable just from the owners perspective (which I said enough about) that the players settle, it's also reasonable from players' perspective. The players are earning a lot more than they did. 13% rollback really isn't so horrible that it would be worth risking a lockout. It just isn't, period. And I believe they could negotiate a few percents off it if they wanted to.
The NHL has a vision and their idea of running the league I described above (which has, so far, proved to be pretty successful), and for that the old CBA must be fixed. The players either want money and/or just don't want to lose the negotiations. If it's the money, they are wrong, because they will still be making a lot more on average than at the time the last CBA was signed. If it's the "not want to lose" it's pure stupidity. If it's both it's stupid and just doesn't make any sense for them.
Where NHL players are playing - ESPN. They run the gamut from superstarts like Kopi, Ovechkin, Rinne, and Datsyuk to total scrubs, and it looks like the Red Wings have the most players overseas.