MONTREAL — Does anyone believe Canadiens owner Geoff Molson is happy to see seven more sold-out dates at the Bell Centre lost to Gary Bettman’s irrational drive to turn a $3-billion business into a $2-billion business with the National Hockey League cancelling all games through November?
Does anyone believe Rogers and Bell are 100-per-cent behind a strategy that not only shuts down the cash cow known as the Toronto Maple Leafs, but also deprives them of content for their television, radio and mobile outlets?
How about those True North people who worked so diligently to bring hockey back to Winnipeg?
The problem is that we don’t know what these folks are thinking because a couple of lawyers in New York have effectively silenced owners from expressing their views on a lockout being pushed by a couple of hardliners in Boston and Philadelphia.
Maybe it’s time to take back our game.
Let’s start over by establishing a new league. We have seven strong franchises in Canada that produce nearly 40 per cent of the record revenues in the NHL. Throw in Quebec City and a second franchise in southern Ontario and you have a solid base of teams that would sell out on a consistent basis.
Once you have established the base, you can start looking for partners south of the border. There are some obvious partners among the Original Six teams.
Count in the New York Rangers. The Dolan family has had its share of battles with the NHL head office and would give the new league a presence in the Big Apple. Detroit, which is located north of Windsor, Ont., is a good geographical fit, and then there’s Chicago.
The Boston Bruins offer a traditional rival for the Canadiens, but owner Jeremy Jacobs and fellow hardliner Ed Snider in Philadelphia would have to accept the new business model for the league.
And what would that be?
Let’s start with the idea that everyone deserves to make some money. There would be a salary cap set at $60 million per team for a 10-year term. That’s based on the average salary times 25 players. There would be no need for revenue-sharing because the ultimate makeup of the league would be based on Darwinian principles.
Bettman has often used poor performances on the ice as an explanation for poor attendance in some markets, but the model franchise for the new league will be the Maple Leafs, a team that draws capacity crowds despite going more than four decades without a Stanley Cup.
I’ve been in Carolina when the arena has been full and rocking for a Hurricanes game, but I’ve also been there when the building has been two-thirds full. It’s not a sustainable market, and neither is Sunrise, Fla., Dallas, Columbus or Phoenix.
There isn’t room for three teams in New York or two in southern California. Teams that have to offer deep discounts and gimmicky pricing — including free parking and all-you-can-eat promotions — don’t fit the new model.
The 30-team league would probably shrink to 25 or 26 teams, but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t all be profitable.
There would be some games played in Florida. Tampa has solid ownership and a decent fan base, but one key to the new deal would a series of snowbird specials in Sunrise. Each cold-weather team would play two “home” games in conjunction with its visits to Tampa. The games would be concentrated around the Christmas holidays and the March break, when there are Canadians in the neighbourhood and the new CBA would guarantee players at least two days of golf or beach time. The CBA would also require players to protect themselves with sunblock.
The new league would be governed by a commissioner chosen by the owners and the players. A good start would be to appoint Ken Dryden, who has been involved in the game on both sides of the aisle.
Similarly, disciplinary matters would be decided by an independent party. In cases involving injuries, both sides would be represented in any hearing.
The Season That Isn’t: Find out how the Canadiens might have fared against the Flames Monday night in Calgary if there was no lockout as beat writer Pat Hickey and Gazette techie Eric Tobon employ EA Sports NHL 13 to produce The Season That Isn’t by going to www.hockeyinsideout.com and www. montrealgazette.com/sports. montrealgazette.com
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Canadiens fans at the Bell Centre during the team's annual open practice earlier this year, on Jan. 22. In front of a sold out arena the the team held various skills competition events for fastest skater, hardest shot, etc.
Photograph by: Phil Carpenter, The Gazette