The Ice Storm

Everyone knows who won the NHLs labor dispute. But who won last year's Stanley Cup?

The lamest reason offered by the owners for a salary cap was the issue of competitive balance. For nearly two years now, well before the negotiations opened, NHL officials were saying that they didn't want their sport to become like baseball, where one rich team like the Yankees can dominate everything. That's the flash-card response used by ownership in all sports these days: Blame the Yankees. But the Yankees haven't won a championship in four years, and in the NFL, which does have a salary cap, the New England Patriots have won three Super Bowls in the last four seasons. There's no evidence that salary caps prevent one or two teams from dominating their leagues, but there's plenty of evidence that salary caps hold salaries down, which is why they're called "caps."

The NHL, like all sports leagues, does not need a salary cap—it needs executives who know how to manage their budgets. The hockey lockout seemed to be about issues more complex than those in other sports. It was not. At base, it was about the inability of the hockey owners to keep their own spending in line and their demand that the players' union do the managing for them by agreeing to limit their spending. (The owners want a cap on the players' salaries, but not a cap on their own ticket prices, which average out at an eye-popping $43.60.) The NHLPA correctly told the owners that it is not the association's place to manage the teams' budgets or make deals that lower its members' salaries.

I'm not a hockey fan, but like many people I know, I'm now a fan of the hockey players' union.

Allen Barra's latest book is Big Play: Barra on Football (Brasseys Inc.).

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