Oh What Could Have Been
NHL Avoids Disaster

D'Arcy McGrath
December 16th, 2004

“Daddy … how come you don't cheer for the Leafs like me and my friends?”

“I just can't bring myself to do it son, you see I've hated those guys since I was your age”.

“Hated the Leafs? How can you hate the Leafs Dad, they're Canada's only NHL team, and they're doing so well for a team that has so little money”.

“True, true, but it wasn't always that way son, in fact when you were fairly new to this Earth there were 30 National Hockey League teams, six of which were in Canada, including a team here in Calgary”.

“A team in Calgary? You're pulling my leg, the closest National Hockey League team to Calgary is in St. Louis!”

“It's true son. When I was ten years old the Atlanta Flames moved to Calgary and took up roots for just over 25 years. Heck they even won the Stanley Cup.”

“They won the Stanley Cup? Wow, what happened?”

“Well … when you were just two years old the league and its player union had a lockout that pretty much changed hockey in Canada and most of the United States forever”.

“What happened?”

“It was coming up on Christmas time in 2004 and the two sides were a long way apart on how to solve their disagreement. Over 400 games were already lost and fans and media were itching for a solution. Then the players union came forward offering to reduce their salaries by almost 25%, essentially wiping out the reported losses by the owners.”

“Wow that was nice of the players, so hockey began again?”

“Yes it did, but looking back I wish it hadn't”

”Why daddy?”

“Well the reduction in salaries was a big deal for that season, hockey was profitable again, but as soon as the very next season it became very clear that the accepted deal wasn't a solid long term solution for the NHL”.

“What happened?”

“Teams that had always had more money than others quickly spent their savings on adding free agents to their already loaded roster, forcing up the average salary for other teams who just couldn't compete. Two years later the financial headaches were back and teams started to fold left and right, including our Calgary Flames”.

“Why did they pay so much for players Daddy? Couldn't the owners just say no and make sure the team stayed in Alberta?”

“They tried son, but the differences in talent between teams became so spread that owners were forced to up the ante in payroll just to get people to come watch their games. Soon many teams were losing money again, but this time, with a five year deal signed with the players there were no buyers for the clubs and they had to fold.”

“They couldn't say no?”

“Wealthy owners didn't want to say no, they wanted to win, the reason they bought a hockey team in the first place. And with no controls in place to hold back league wide salaries they were able to take advantage of the money provided by the player roll back and go on an even greater spending spree”.

“With all the teams folding, where did all the players go Dad?”

“Most were forced out of the game eventually. Some went to Europe for a while, but in the end the union lost somewhere close to half of their members”.

“Did the players know this would happen when they made their offer to reduce their salaries Dad?”

“Hard to say, they didn't admit it if they did at the time. You would think that by offering 24% of their salaries back to the owners they must have been aware of the problem, but chose to keep the high salaries and risk the future of many of the teams in the league”

“That's sad Dad, it would have been nice to watch hockey right here in Calgary, we could have gone together”.

“Nothing would have made me happier son, but I knew deep in my heart that day would never come when the 23 NHL owners agreed to take the one time fix in payroll and not hold on to their aims to finally fix the game”.

“You know what?”

“What's that son?”

“I don't think I'll cheer for the Leafs anymore either, who do you cheer for?”

“I don't”

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