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February 16, 2005 - Parties losing sense over mere cents

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House is burning
Parties losing sense over mere cents


Anyone who's bought a house has lived through the scenario.

There you are, haggling over the final details -- whether the washer and dryer stays, the possession date, what repairs will be completed -- and you've dickered and dithered to the point you're $1,000 apart.

Most often you split the difference, shake hands and crack open a bottle of wine or beer to celebrate.

Once in a while -- not often but once in a while -- the deal dies right there. Any realtor can tell you about that experience.

Which is exactly where the NHL and its players find themselves now -- arguing over the nickles while burning the dollar bills.

And shame on them if the house burns down because of it.

The league, willing to come off its stand of needing a link between salaries and revenues, offered a take-it-or-leave-it deal with a salary cap of $42.5 million US per team.

The NHLPA, which has said for years it will never accept a cap, shocked everyone, including most of its 700-plus members, yesterday with a proposal of a deal that had a cap at $52 million.

Later yesterday, the PA moved to $49 million, which was rejected by the NHL.

OK, it's not exactly like the $500 meet-in-the-middle scenario often seen when buying a house. But the situation's so similar, it would be a crying shame for the same concept to kill a deal that would bring back the NHL.

Several players have said they could live with a cap at $45 million now that the association has come off its "no-cap" stance.

Therefore, the difference -- the main difference -- between the sides is a couple of million dollars on a salary threshold.

That's right, separating Gary Bettman from the self-destruction button which it's expected he'll hit today at a press conference in New York is $2.5 million on a salary cap only a handful of teams will reach.

Sure, it's a real amount of money that most of us could only dream of having but we're talking about a billion-dollar industry on the verge of imploding.

Make no mistake, if the owners and players fail to solve this in time, the results would be disastrous.

South of the border, the lack of interest generated by the NHL is farcical. Outside of a few cities like Detroit, Philadelphia and Denver, there is no buzz even on the day of a game.

Like it or not, going completely off the map for a full year will take it down several more notches. And in Canada, the anger will take years to subside.

Philadelphia Flyers captain Keith Primeau told the Canadian Press yesterday he's worried about the climate when the lockout ends.

"I'm extremely concerned," he opined. "The biggest thing that disturbs me is everyone's true misunderstanding of the fan base.

"You hear how certain people believe that the hardcore fan will definitely return, that the damage isn't irreparable.

"I think that's a huge miscalculation or judgment in error of who and what your fan base is. That, I think, is going to alarm a lot of people when the doors are re-opened."

All those players painted as greedy throughout the 153-day mess have capitulated.

Give them credit. They came to the realization the only way to save the NHL -- and the best deal they were going to get -- would come with a cap.

It's shameful they waited this long to come to that realization but that's apparently the directions negotiations had to go for them to get this close to a resolution.

Now, the onus is on both sides.

The house they've been looking for is almost at the right purchase price.

Sure, the mansion on the hill didn't come with the bargain basement charge they started negotiations at but the extra cost will be worth it in the long run.

A failure to come to terms now would turn that home -- the NHL -- into a fixer-upper.