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In salary cut battle between NHL and players, it’s the fans that will bleed

Greg Wyshynski
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Whenever NHL owners start handing out bloated contracts like toothpick-stabbed samples of Chinese pork at a mall food court, they're lambasted for being irresponsible or negligent in respecting the economic limits they, themselves, established.

As this CBA term comes to an end and the lockout likely begins, the reckless millions they've spent on players in the last few years are cast in a new light: The twisted genius of causing your own problem, bitching about it and then already knowing what the likely solution is going to be.

So they'd sign a player to a huge contract, call the current players' percentage of revenue unsustainable and then wait until Gary Bettman and the NHL got them their salary rollback in the next CBA negotiation, either in the traditional sense or through increased escrow payments.

From Nick Cotsonika of Yahoo! Sports:

Though the sides have inched closer, they remain entrenched in their core economic positions — the owners demanding the players accept that pay cut immediately and shrink their share of hockey-related revenue from 57 percent to less than 50; the players offering to limit their raises and keep their share of HRR above 50 percent.

The dance has gone like this for months: The players fighting to keep their share of the revenue well above 50 percent, and allowing for a deadening of salary escalation in subsequent years; the NHL asking for immediate salary relief, more decline in wages and for mechanisms like arbitration to be gutted or eliminated to help them from climbing again.

Michael Grange from Sportsnet breaks it down:

The nut of the matter is the players would still be guaranteed more money each of the next four years -- a pay increase when the owners want them to take a pay cut. The gap between what the owners are offering and the players are willing to take is about $210 million next season alone.

To put it another way, if there is a lockout -- and it seems like there will be one -- it will be because the owners and the players have agreed on one essential issue: Neither wants to leave the money they get out of this deal to chance. Neither wants to assume the risk of not making more money in the years to come.

The owners want their savings on player salaries immediately and they want it guaranteed.  The players want all the money they're making now as well as raises of two, four and six per cent, compounded, over the next three years.

Now that we're all staring into the abyss of a work stoppage, the pay cut is at the heart of the stalemate. And as games are cancelled and fans grow bitter, one can already see the seeds taking root for animosity towards the players.

Like how one of the most popular players in the League was given the Dan Ellis treatment on Twitter last night.

Ellis, you'll recall, had an ill conceived Twitter rant two years ago in which he compared hockey players to brain surgeons and cried poverty as a professional athlete.

Phoenix Coyotes forward Paul Bissonnette has over 323,000 followers on Twitter and is, by far, one of the most popular "normal dudes" in the League thanks to social media. Last night, he spelled out the players' frustration with the salary cut, and his readers responded with some vitriol and some support:

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And …

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As BizNasty discovered, it's a balancing act.

For most of the summer, the players have gotten the goodwill because the owners were seen as greedy bastards that got what they wanted last time and still want more. But now that the lockout's practically here, I feel a shift; it's not as if the players have lost support, but there's a steady impatience in watching the NHL move on its offer, while the players and Donald Fehr steadfastly hold the line above the owners' asking price.

They haven't exactly held the line, mind you. Check out Mirtle's outstanding breakdown of the two offers in the Globe & Mail today, in which he summarizes:

It's about a $1-billion difference over five years, or $210-million a season. That's down from the previous difference of about $320-million a season, so they are getting closer. Now the thing to remember is that's all based off of 7.1 per cent growth. No one truly knows if the NHL makes more or less than that going forward.

The players are asking for 54 percent of revenues in Year 1. The owners are want to give them 49 percent. It's a chasm as the stating point for the rest of the deal to be cut.

But both sides know what's coming. The owners have been handing out contracts with the knowledge that their value would decline in the next CBA. The players have been signing these contracts with that knowledge, too: Why do you think Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were seeking so much bonus money in the first three years of their deals?

For all of us that hope in our pathetic frozen hockey hearts that the Winter Classic/ATM Machine between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs is money the owners don't want to lose out on, a demoralizing reality: Who's to say these guys won't sacrifice the outdoor game if it means not sharing 54 percent of its windfall with the players?

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