Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

NHL Faces Rising Heat Off the Ice

Where have you gone, Wayne Gretzky? Hockey fans turn their lonely eyes to you.

Today, the National Hockey League would have been almost a month into its season. Instead, the NHL is nearly two months into a lockout after the collective bargaining agreement expired on Sept. 15.

The first 120 games have been cancelled, and most recently, the All-Star Game got the ax.

Owners say they are not working with any deadlines and stated if they can’t fix this season, “See you next season, or whenever.”

It’s the “whenever” that is particularly bothersome.

Last year the NHL lost $273 million in operating expenses. Sadly, the owners are losing less money through the lockout than if the season had begun. Approximately only 10 teams made profits out of the 30 teams in the league.

The NHL lags far behind the other big three sports. What has happened to hockey and, more importantly, can hockey be saved?

With the long-term financial structure of the league in peril, the owners locked out the players, pushing for a hard salary cap which the players have vehemently refused to accept.

Nearly 250 players – approximately a third of the league – have already signed with European teams, including 2004 regular season MVP Martin St. Louis and 2004 playoffs MVP Brad Richards, both of the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

Players refuse a salary cap that would keep their salaries in check, yet they are willing to play for European teams for a marginal salary.

Although the union of NHL players appears to be strong, cracks are growing evident. It’s easy for the players who have already made $30 or so million in the NHL to say that they will not play under a cap, but it is a different story for those who stand to make much less. As hockey ages players faster than other sports, time is precious.

Currently, the average salary in the NHL is $1.8 million. Although this amount is less than, say, the NBA’s average of $5 million, these men are certainly not living in poverty.

Owners want a salary cap that is directly linked to the gross revenues of the league. This would cap payroll around $31 million for every team.

While the players’ union is against this, it is only fair that the players have to take potential pay cuts while the league tries to recover financially.

Again, no one will be living in poverty. If the league goes under, which it very well could, these men will all be out of jobs and then would make far less than they would under a salary cap.

Hockey is not the fan-friendly game that it used to be. No longer do finesse skaters such as Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux exist, since players aren’t able to skate without getting mugged.

Defense is far more physical than it was during the 1980s. Players engage in more clutching and grabbing. The result is less scoring, as most games end at 1-0. The lack of goals hurts the fan base because people are drawn to the excitement of scoring.

Aside from the change in the game, several incidents on the ice deter fans. In 2000, Marty McSorley, a 17-year veteran of the game, hit Donald Brashear in the temple with his stick. McSorley was tried and found guilty of assault.

More recently, Vancouver Canuck Todd Bertuzzi jumped Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche from behind. Moore suffered a concussion, three fractured vertebrae, nerve damage and facial lacerations. Bertuzzi was suspended and the Canucks received a $250,000 fine.

Events such as these resonate strongly in the minds of fans. People forget good things like the last two Stanley Cup Finals, which both went to seven games.

Even though the NFL might have drug problems or other imperfections, its package remains more fan-friendly. It seems as though the entire NHL goes on trial for the errors of its players. Increasingly, the only news that grabs people’s attention is not the sleep-inducing 1-0 affairs but the illegal hits that only happen to be a small fraction of the time.

Is it conceivable to go back to the old style of hockey? By expanding the ice behind the net, players would have greater movement. This would hopefully limit the clutching and mugging that have reduced scoring. Penalties also need to be called much more tightly. Violence is part of hockey, but violence to the point of assault is crazy. Fans want excitement, not serious injuries.

The lockout needs to be quickly settled, because the longer it is out of sight and out of the minds of Americans, the harder it will be to draw them back to the game. The MLB strike of 1994 can attest that winning fans back should not be taken for granted.

Hockey’s current crisis is largely due to finances, yet the entire style of the game needs to be addressed. In the short term, players need to suck it up and take a salary cap to mollify the situation of the league.

In the long run, however, changes must be made to return hockey to the skillful game it once was.

Kristen Fohrer is a sophomore in the College. She can be reached at Top of the Seventh appears every other Friday.

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