Thursday, September 30, 2004

Why it's gotta change

A'ight, this was going to be a response to Temujin in the comment section of my last post (“You Believe Him?”), but, as you can see, I end up going on a (friendly) tirade, and it would have been ridiculously long for one comment. Plus, I make enough points to warrant making this an independent post, so here goes:

First of all, I’m not really sure whether Temujin was disagreeing with me or not . . . I think he was taking issue with me claiming the NHL player salaries are based on a system of greed. I will defend myself on that point later on, and I will also display the proofs for why, in reality, player salaries have nothing to do with supply and demand. Some of my points are just reiterations of what Temujin said.

The reason that the NHL industry is sick (a point that you can deny if you’d like, but I believe the owners and GM’s [and former GM’s like Brian Burke] who say it’s losing hundreds of millions) is because owners have been allowed to sign blank cheques and players have been allowed to demand annual raises through salary arbitration and restricted free agency. Temujin makes the point well that under a system of supply and demand, our own feelings of what is fair are irrelevant . . . the only relevant issue is the health of the franchise and the industry as a whole. Temujin also points out that the more modest teams are losing players to rich teams, or are being forced into putting themselves in a hole for the sake of holding onto their stars. I’m not sure whose side Temujin is on in the CBA debate, but there is no doubt in my mind that the system has to be completely reworked in order for the NHL to survive as an industry. Yes, Temujin, I think there are times when a little healthy communism can go a long way (we’ll see what kind of response that provokes . . . hehe). So, whether we’re talking salary caps, revenue sharing, or whatever, something has to be done, and I believe that this in itself should make 7.5 million dollar salaries obsolete.

However, I was also critiquing something else in this system, which, in all likelihood, I didn’t make clear. This, again, will get me into trouble with readers of a capitalistic bent, but what can I say? . . . it’s me! Feel absolutely free to disagree . . . this is strictly opinion, and is relatively subjective.

Forgive me for not providing any source, but I recall an interview half a year ago with Bryan McCabe in which said player, offering his two cents in the CBA debate, remarked something to the effect of “well, we’re just trying to make a living here”. Needless to say, I took issue with this statement. Call me a preachy moonbat, but why the crap are we sitting back and accepting this kind of attitude? Of course, I believe in freedom of speech, but a statement of this nature makes me wish there was at least some kind of social pressure preventing such greed-ridden absurdity.

Now, I’m trying very hard to be fair. I’m not entirely against the economic system that has been a foundational staple of North American (especially American) society. If I wrote a book and it became a bestseller, I wouldn’t be unhappy at the millions of dollars I’d rake in. If I recorded a music album and it went platinum, I wouldn’t fall prostrate and curse myself for profiting by the wheels of American avarice. I mean, it’s easy for someone like me (a self-acclaimed philosopher, or at least a student of said field), making 15 dollars an hour at a small-town restaurant, to rip into American commercialism and pretend that I am somehow above and against it. I know lots of people who are like this, but when push comes to shove, neither they nor I will decline a healthy 2 million dollar cheque for some service of skill or entertainment we can sell in a free market system.

However, the money I make selling either of the two above-listed products (a book or music album) would still be money I in some way “earned” for something I did. In the case of a recording artist, there is most often an agreement between the artist and the recording company allotting a certain percentage of profit to each party. If the artist fails to bring in any cash in sales, then they won’t get paid, and the agreement will (inevitably) end. In the case of an author . . . well, I’m sure there is something similar here, but I confess to being basically ignorant in this area. However, the NHL has a players’ union which turns these concepts on their head. Argue all you want that players are paid according to how many fans they attract . . . this is completely false. It’s impossible to attribute a team’s fan base to one player, and it is equally impossible to determine what percentage of a franchise’s monetary income is due to one person. These are completely subjective terms . . . you just can’t determine how much a player is actually worth in this system.

Now, take a look at the system we have. A player can go from relative obscurity to stardom, and suddenly you’re faced with the complexities of a system that demands you offer multi-year, multi-million-dollar salaries, with all sorts of monetary bonuses provided in the event of future stellar performances. Owners are forced to conform to the status quo, regardless of whether their franchises can survive under such discrepancies. In this sense, one wealthy franchise can pretty much determine for the entire league what a player is worth according to his production, and this in itself can become the undoing of an industry. For example, twenty-five goals a season in Anaheim can mean something completely different from twenty-five goals a season in Detroit. To create a league-wide median based on the success of a player in one of these markets is to cheat the other, because they are each involved in a completely different set of circumstances.

The most striking flaw in the system comes in this: that after being rewarded for a great season, the player now has leave to recede all the way back to relative obscurity, but the team is still faced with the dilemma of either paying him or trading him. In other words, the owner is stuck having to pay someone who (in some cases) you can no longer argue is bringing in even a fraction of the team’s revenue . . . or he can attempt to find someone stupid enough to trade for him and his bogus salary. Therefore, our current system allows a player to secure his foreseeable future, based not on his own worth within a working system, but on his ability to produce one or two good seasons. Then he can become a fat deadbeat for all it matters, and he’ll still see his bank account balance augmented by a healthy 7.5 million annually. Jeremy Roenick is a case in point.

I realize that the owners should be held responsible for their decisions in signing contracts. In my mind, they’ve been as stupid as the players have been greedy. I’m not just saying that Roenick shouldn’t be paid because he’s faking his injury, nor am I looking at this one isolated issue as one isolated problem. It’s the deeper (route) issue of monetary discrepancy within a failing industry that I’m attacking. Players have been allowed to work us all over . . . pretending that they’re actually worth upwards of 3 million dollars to our teams, when really, what most fans (at least Canadian fans) are looking for is some grit, heart and determination. We’ve sat back and allowed the Nero of hockey, Bob Goodenow, to convince the players they need more money, and in our blindness we’ve accepted his gospel, and the gospel of the players that says a star should make (in essence) six to ten times more than his teammates, despite the persistent rhetoric ascribing team success to all twenty-whatever men in the locker room.

No, NHL player salaries really have nothing to do with supply and demand. The fact that a player can still be paid for a non-existent season is a perfect example of this. If there was a season, and you could somehow prove that Roenick’s fan-appeal on its own brought the team 7.5 million dollars, then I could understand you paying him that kind of money. But in reality, you can never actually determine what he’s worth to the team in a given year, and now he’s being paid his usual salary despite the fact that the franchise itself it making (basically) nothing at all! This, combined with the avaricious attitudes prevalent in locker rooms around the league, manifested in the immortal words of Bryan McCabe recorded above, are all the evidence I need to convince me that NHL players are way overpaid, and the industry needs to change.