Don Fehr’s Letter to the Players’

Found this courtesy of Pierre Lebrun from ESPN, this is the actual letter that Don Fehr sent to the PA after their counter-offers were summarily rejected by the Owners on Thursday. Please do read it hear [ESPN]. The numbers are truly staggering.

Essentially, the worst case scenario plan, as outlined in the Players’ proposals will see the Owners save just under $800 million over the next 5 seasons. That’s $26.5 million per team over that stretch of time. Even in the early years of the plan where the savings are less dramatic you’re talking about an extra $2 million per team per season in savings, what should be more than enough to pay arena employees and relieve some of the pressure that small market teams have been feeling. If the league were to continue to grow at its current historical rate of 7.2% you’re looking at well over a BILLION DOLLARS in savings for the Owners over a 5-year period, that’s an extra $10 million per team ($36.6 million per team in savings), and another $2 million per year. And just think, all but like the ten worst attended teams in the league made money this past season.

The second plan, which calls for even faster salary reductions, would save the Owners even more money, a minimum of $854 million over the same stretch of time. If the league were to continue to grow at 7.2% it would actually cost the league a little bit more money because the reductions were so steep, only netting $1.06 billion. I admit that I’m still clueless as to how the third plan actually works, but I think it was merely a radical departure from the previous versions.

Now I personally am not afraid to throw support to the Players, and there’s one really important reason why: they’re the ones I care about. And that’s really hard to say because no matter where Sid and/or Geno finish in the record books, they’ll probably never be more important to the Pens than Mario Lemieux, and they shouldn’t be. He is the Penguins and the Penguins are him. His hockey ability and mere presence brought the team out of bankruptcy in the mid-80s, he won the Cups in the early 90s, and he bought the team in 99 and by 04 had rescued it from bankruptcy yet again. He delivered the Cup in ’09 and secured the franchise’s long-term future in Pittsburgh with the new arena deal. There’s literally nothing that has happened with the Penguins that Mario hasn’t been part of. But I don’t write this blog about him, I write it about the guys on the team now.

And you may be tempted to say “well I’m not picking sides in this because it’s millionaires arguing with billionaires,” but then again who made the player’s into millionaires? Was it their great inventive talent, or was it us fans who have been turning out in record numbers all across the US and Canada in order to watch these guys play? We the fans who have been buying as many jerseys as the league can turn out in a year? We the fans who gripe about ticket and concession prices yet have sold out Lady Mellon and CEC for 5 straight seasons? And that’s why I care about the guys in the sweaters more than the ones in the suits.

And from there you may say, “well it’s about the game, not the players,” but then why is it that when you look at the AHL or the CHL or any other kind of hockey, you always see scores of empty seats, despite smaller arenas and reasonable ticket prices? Why is it that the KHL or the Swedish Elite League or any other league in Europe is unable to pay the contracts that we see in the NHL? There is something unique about the NHL. And it is for that exact reason that unlike in other job markets the players in the NHL do have a say in negotiating their own collective bargaining agreement. They provide unique and irreplaceable skills that make the NHL’s product one of a kind.

So maybe it is true that you and I can’t walk in and talk to our bosses and make demands like the Players have been, but then again, you and I aren’t unique. We’re just cogs of the machine that can easily be replaced. The same can’t be said about the guys in the NHL, so when they come forward with greatly innovative and possibly even more effective strategies than what the Owners themselves seem capable of reasoning, they deserve to be heard.

I’m not about to go out and calculate the difference between the NHL’s proposed 50-50 split and the PA’s plan, but when you talk about the hypocrisy of rich get richer, there will be no shortage of that in the NHL, whatever CBA decision they should reach.

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