Thursday, February 17, 2005

Where does the NHL head from here?

Bob McKenzie follows the next logical step by musing on the labour impasse and replacement player strategy that many forsee the league taking.

Bob readily admits he doesn't have the answers —
We don't know where we're going. We're heading into really uncertain times. All of sudden all of us are supposed to be experts on things like impasse and implementation, how long it might go, who will win, who will lose, linkage and salary caps
which is a little odd considering that it is kind of his job to at least try to make sense of these things. My guess is that McKenzie is in a similar spot to me, where we got into this business to talk puck and ended up having to cover the buck.

Anyway, I'll take what he says here a step further:
If the fans show up for the replacement players, it's over. The union would be in big trouble. But if it goes the other way, the National Hockey League has to go back on hands and knees to the NHLPA and cut a deal because fans won't pay to see replacement players.
There are a lot of people saying replacement players will never fly — my pal Tom Benjamin among them — but I disagree.

In Canada, we're going to show up regardless of who is on the ice, especially in Toronto. As long as the ticket is billed as the 'Maple Leafs,' you can be sure this city will line-up for it. Having lived in Vancouver as well, I have to believe that hockey-starved Canucks fans would follow suit.

The real question is what will fans in non-traditional hockey markets like Nashville think of watching replacement players? Keeping in mind that ticket prices will be less than what they are now, I'm going to posit that attendance won't dip that low with replacements.

I mean, Predators fans (and other similar cities — not just picking on these guys) often get derided as being unknowledgable of the game. That being the case, do they really care if it's Scott Hartnell or Scott Upshall suiting up in the game they are going to see? And how huge of a decline in the on-ice product would there be?

The other thing is, teams like the Predators don't have much lower that their ticket sales can fall. Nashville only had 13,000 fans with the world's best donning the mustard-yellow jerseys — how many fewer will attend for replacements? A few thousand? In my opinion, there'll be enough interest to pay owner's bills... and in the meantime, locked-out players will be going hungry (or so they'd have you believe).

Of course, I'm speculating, but so is everyone else at this point.

Speaking of McKenzie, he wrote a snippet for an editorial in the Ryerson rag this week. It's good to know I've loitered on the same crappy chesterfields as so many fantastic journalists.


At 12:43 a.m., February 17, 2005, Blogger Brett Mirtle said...

I agree 100%. After a 16 month layoff from hockey, especially in Canada, fans will be back to watch. If the replacements are up to AHL calibre, it will still be high-quality hockey.

Besides, some of the NHL players will cross the line and play anyways, which will help the cause.

Regardless of what happens, there's no way that the NHL comes crawling back to the union for anything. Sorry, Bob, I have to disagree a little there. If replacement players fail miserably, what will the economics of the NHL look like at that point?!? If you think that the NHL is in trouble now, zowie, just wait until that happens and tally up the league revenues then. The NHLPA would be lucky to have a chunk of the pie that's half of what the owners just offered.

The players just tossed away the best offer they're going to get.

At 1:30 p.m., February 17, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would not go see replacement players in Preds uniforms. I have seen NHL caliber and less than NHL caliber and the difference is huge. Even going from the NHL to the AHL there is a dropoff in talent and speed. As far as I can tell from the Preds message boards it is about a 50/50 split with the season ticket holders as to who will and will not go to see replacment players. Being that the season ticket holders make up most of the crowd at the GEC I think replacement players would cause a large dent in attendance for Predator games. Of course who knows how people will actually act after they have been hockey deprived for over a year?

At 2:38 p.m., February 18, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a diehard, lifelong Leaf fan and I'll never pay NHL prices to see AHLers pretend to be NHLers. Will the corporate season tix owners pay up and show up? I really don't know. I would say that if prices dropped to about $30 for lower bowl seating at the ACC I'd go (as I did for the St John's vs Ottawa games). I agree with the above comment in that there's a distinct difference in talent that won't be put up with by many at full prices.

In a different entry, there are some good points in why we shouldn't have a season. However, the reason I hoped for a short season this year is that it immediately creates certainty in having a mostly normal season next year. As it stands now, we don't have that comfort.

Dave - Toronto


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