Gallagher: Salary cap holds down NHL players’ real value

 

 
 
 
 
Blackhawks players Patrick Kane, left, and Jonathan Toews both signed lucrative, long-term contracts on Wednesday, but columnist Tony Gallagher argues that without a salary cap they could have doubled their money.
 

Blackhawks players Patrick Kane, left, and Jonathan Toews both signed lucrative, long-term contracts on Wednesday, but columnist Tony Gallagher argues that without a salary cap they could have doubled their money.

Photograph by: Charles Rex Arbogast, AP

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When you look at what Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks got in their new eight-year contracts Wednesday and compare this to what the top players were getting back in 2004 before the salary cap, it just might be that the NHL Player’s Association has outlived it’s usefulness.

While it may sound to many in Canada like these two guys are making a wage that nobody should get for playing professional sports, it is also quite clear that if the normal market basics were to play out and these two could sell their services to any team the way a person can work for any firm he or she chooses, they are tremendously underpaid.

The collective bargaining agreement between the NHLPA and the NHL is clearly holding many players back and not just the top earners. What it does is create a minimum wage which may, repeat may, help quite a few players, but for the most part it serves to put the players into a straight-jacket so they can be beaten up by the NHL owners who have seen the asset value of their franchises skyrocket since the players rolled over when locked out back in 2005.

The argument that it is holding back the top players is absolutely beyond discussion.

All you have to do is look at what the top salaries were back in 2003 when NHL revenues were far lower than what they are today and the dollars in question had more purchasing power than do the dollars of today.

Peter Forsberg of the Avalanche was making $11 million US, as was Jaromir Jagr and both Nick Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov were making $10 million, with Keith Tkachuk also making $10 million to roll into training camp at 260 pounds.

At the time, the NHL was constantly mounting the argument that teams were in dire straights and were likely to go out of business, but the reality was quite the opposite.

Canadian teams were the leading criers when it came to singing the blues, with Edmonton and Calgary claiming they were losing money when they had payrolls of $32 million. But as soon as the cap went in, those two franchises went straight to the ceiling on the cap which was first set at $39 million and they of course haven’t looked back since.

How bad have things become since revenues began to skyrocket? Well, the CBA so badly pits teammate against teammate that these two guys in Chicago didn’t even get the maximum payment a player is allowed to receive under the cap, and neither did Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin when they signed their deals.

And they never even reach this arbitrary number because they are always sold the bill of goods that the more they take, that much less will be available for players to play around them and they are all pretty much forced to accept the argument.

This concept was never even a consideration when an agent and a team talked in the past. No player was ever told he was taking money out of the pocket of a teammate. And keep in mind these new deals don’t even begin until the start of the season following this upcoming one.

There is nothing to stop the NHL from coming back when this CBA expires and trying to force the players to take an even smaller percentage of revenues under threat of another lockout. It’s worked before, why wouldn’t they give it another go?

Where you could argue that a players’ association or union might be helpful, if it doesn’t get stupid or political or corrupt like most unions usually do, is in junior hockey. In fact there is no doubt that the mere suggestion that such an organization might be a realistic prospect has already helped young hockey players on a number of fronts in the Canadian Hockey League and if a union or association does come to pass, there are many more fronts where significant, fair progress could be established. But NHL players are getting killed by their union now.

What would happen if the NHL players decertified for real and not just as a negotiating tactic when the owners are busting their chops?

That’s open to a lot of speculation by people a lot smarter than this scribbler. And it’s curious that none of the other major sports have gone that way so we assume there is a reason, although hard caps like hockey might be different.

But we can tell you Toews and Kane might well be worth twice what they got Wednesday.

tgallagher@theprovince.com

twitter.com/tg_gman

 
 
 
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Blackhawks players Patrick Kane, left, and Jonathan Toews both signed lucrative, long-term contracts on Wednesday, but columnist Tony Gallagher argues that without a salary cap they could have doubled their money.
 

Blackhawks players Patrick Kane, left, and Jonathan Toews both signed lucrative, long-term contracts on Wednesday, but columnist Tony Gallagher argues that without a salary cap they could have doubled their money.

Photograph by: Charles Rex Arbogast, AP

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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