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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

What's wrong with hockey and how to fix it

I have co-written a column with Michael Taube that appeared in today's Vancouver Sun on the hockey lock-out, what's wrong with hockey (it's not its finances but the product on the ice) and how to fix (contraction). A couple of snippets:

"In the 1990s, NHL owners greedily sought new owners willing to pay exorbitant expansion fees, utterly blind to the long-term effects it had on the game. A half-dozen new teams required about 120 NHL-calibre players, players that unfortunately don't exist.

Stuck with an economic mess and inferior hockey, the NHL stubbornly refuses to downsize.

... The NHL is not a marketable sports league any longer. There are too many teams paying ridiculously high salaries for a talent pool of middle-of-the-road players.

And even though the vast majority of well-paid players lack enough talent and the ability to sustain long-term careers, their artificial market value has skyrocketed. The problem is not the superstar getting $10 million a year, but the third-string winger or fifth defenceman getting $2.5 million. But in an oversized league, a legitimate third liner becomes a recent expansion team's starter who can command big bucks."

When I was young, I loved watching hockey and I devoured the recaps of the games in the next morning's papers. I collected hockey cards and hockey stickers, I could name the third-line players and backup goalie for every team and I played Strat O Matic hockey. But by the early 1990s, when I reached my 20s, the game became insufferably boring. Unless your team is a winner, there is little reason to watch the NHL. It seems millions of other (former) fans came to the same conclusion. In the winter, I can go weeks without looking at the standings and it has been at least six years since I paid for hockey tickets. And none of this can be explained by the fact that I (allegedly) grew up -- I love baseball, as I joke, a little less than God and a little more than I love my wife and children. The NHL needs to admit that it grew their league too quickly, filled their teams with mediocre players which forced coaches to adopt the defensive and dull New Jersey Devils style of hockey, and fans decided that they'd rather do else than drop $150 at the arena in Nashville, Calgary or Phoenix. Owners' eyes lit up at $75 million expansion fees without any consideration as to the long-term health of their league. The moral of the story: something about the love of money being the root of evil.

Posted by Paul Tuns on September 29, 2004 in Sports | Permalink


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