We have already missed a decent number of games due to the lockout, and by now it is very clear that there is a lot to overcome before we see any NHL hockey. We can officially begin to hit the panic buttons. Missing an entire season (yet again) is not only realistic, but at this point, perhaps even likely.
As such, fans are mad. And they should be. With this anger and frustration comes a lot of blame being thrown in all sorts of directions. Owners worth millions, if not billions, of dollars are getting a lot of flack from the fans and media. But the NHLPA and the players are receiving a lot of grief as well. The logic being that players are rich as well and therefore should just be happy with what they get. Indeed, it is hard to look at guys like Alexander Ovechkin, Zdeno Chara, Roberto Luongo, and Brad Richards and feel much sympathy. These are guys who have earned plenty of money in the past, currently have secure, long-term contracts worth a ton of money, and have all sorts of endorsements on the side. Nobody will or should feel bad if these guys lose a bit of money.
But what I don't think fans are fully appreciating or understanding is that these players are in the minority; these are not the players Donald Fehr and the NHLPA are fighting for.
Let's take a look at a player like Ilya Kovalchuk. Kovalchuk had already earned well over $30 million dollars as a hockey player prior to signing a 15 year, $100 million dollar contract with the New Jersey Devils. And that's before we factor in any sort of endorsements or other income he has and will continue to receive. No doubt about it, Ilya Kovalchuk is set for life regardless of what the new CBA dictates.
But as I said, Ilya Kovalchuk is the minority. The average NHL career will only last 239 NHL games. Brian Boyle could retire today and, at 271 NHL games, have played more than the average NHL player. And thus, earned NHL money over a longer period of time than the typical NHL player. Here's a great chart from Quant Hockey detailing the retirement ages of NHL players from 2000 through 2010.
That's 624 players who retired before the age of 30. Or over 50%. So yes, guys like Ilya Kovalchuk and Roberto Luongo will have enough money to last a lifetime. But what about the significant number of players who are out of the league so soon after entering it? What about a guy like Michael Sauer, whose concussion issues might force him to retire? He earned about a million per season for two years and could be unemployed with head issues by the age of 25. While he's better off than many people his age, that's not going to last him the rest of his life. And there are a number of players in a similar situation; who earned a nice but moderate paycheck for a few years but are out of hockey due to injuries or lack of ability.
I spoke to former New York Rangers defenseman Jason Strudwick. With 674 career NHL games over a span of 14 seasons, Strudwick actually had an above average career, but even he acknowledges the financial realities of being at the bottom of the foodchain.
"When I was playing I was very aware [of his financial situation]. I am thrilled about the amount of money I made. But the reality is when you're not at the top you have to be a little bit wiser. You have to plan ahead. Most players are making the league minimum and this is the most they'll be making in their careers. Save as much as you can because it won't last. It might sound like a lot but it won't last a lifetime."
The effects of a salary rollback definitely effects the lower-end players. The "bangers" as Jason calls them.
"If a top player's salary is cut down to five million from seven then okay, he's going to be fine. But cutting that percentage of income from guys earning the minimum is going to hurt them a lot more." Jason said that this was a huge concern for the NHLPA during the 2004-2005 lockout, and claims that the NHLPA did aim to protect players making $1 million and under from any salary rollbacks.
Now, Jason made it very clear that he's not complaining, as he understand how lucky he is to have earned good money from playing hockey. He just is aware of the reality that it can only go so far. He ran down a list of all sorts of expenses you and I might not have even considered; he specifically pointed out how expensive living in a city like New York is. And these costs add up.
"After your career is over you might only have a million or so for the next 50 years. When your career ends, you don't have that income [you once had]. You're going to be okay but you have to find work."
There's no doubting the motives of the owners here. They just want to pad their bank accounts more. But for the players it very clearly is not about that. In fact, there's a very simple solution for any player who only cares about money; go play elsewhere.
"This is the reality though and I'll tell you this right now. I would have made more playing in Europe than in the NHL." Take it from Jason, who spent parts of last season and the 2006-2007 season in Europe. So then why not play in Europe? "I wanted to play in the best league in the world," Jason insisted.
And that's the sacrifice, if you will, that many players make. If this was purely a tug-of-war between two greedy groups then the players would simply all migrate to Europe and spend the rest of their careers overseas (or at home, for many). But a lot of these guys want to play in the best league in the world, and so in a way they're already compromising; they're willing to take less money to make it work. Sure, for the top guys that's not much of a loss, but for every Rick Nash there are twenty guys earning moderate amounts who will be out of the league before they even turn 30. Of course, these guys are still well off and hardly struggling to feed their families, but let's not de-humanize them either. Let's not pretend that long-term costs like putting kids through college and paying a mortgage are of absolutely no concern to them. And that's the message Jason Strudwick wants to make you aware of as well.
"I don't want sympathy, but fans only think of the guys who make three or four million per year. It's short sighted and it kind of bothers me. All players are painted by the same brush but that's not reality."
And thus, let's keep that in perspective. Let's not paint all players with the same brush. While there are definitely players swimming in money, there are many more who are not. Regardless of the outcome of the lockout, all NHL owners will have enough saved for their great-grandchildren to live off of. But for many NHL players, this is a battle that will tangibly affect their financial situation not only for right now but in the future. After their career is over. And we should remember that when deciding where to place blame and denounce everyone involved as greedy elitists.
(Thanks to Jason Strudwick for contributing to this article)
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Any player that can get as far as the NHL has already dedicated a minimum of 10-15 years of their life to become as skilled as they are. Hockey is not a cheap sport. To be a on a league with the better players costs about $500/month where I live, starting from age ~10. To top that off, the kids will need to be at the rink at least 7-10 hours a week, if not more. I see a lot of people commenting on their measly salaries, not taking into consideration the hard work and dedication these players, and their parents put into them to get where they are. We love the sport, we want it. They players deserve a rewarding salary. The issue is not about dollar signs, but money disbursement.
how many days a week do they work?...anyone?.last i checked i'm working 7 days a week. 10-12 hours a day...cry me a freakin river.
@eggs They've worked their entire lives and outcompeted other great talent. They put their bodies on the line in this sport, and they do up to four times a week in games, not to mention grueling practice and training regimens. You clearly are as uninformed as they come!
@cachildress1 @eggs I work 6 days a week and deploy to a war torn country every two years for a year. I average 16 hour days when I'm home and I don't get a day off while deployed. I have to train 6 days a week to make sure that I can lead my men and think about my mission rather than how much I am sucking. I make in a year less than what they are fined for an infraction. So, please tell me, how is it this is allowed to continue and get rationalized by people? They chose their lives and they are plush simple lives with no real sacrifice. Are there any other aspects I am missing? Because great talent is subjective and try competing with your life, then we'll talk.
@cachildress1 wow, thanks for the info. i had no IDEA what players went thru.i truly feel enlightened. i guess my 40 some odd years of hockey didn't learn me anything.you are truly a superior asshole. i repeat, how many days a week do they work...and let's define work. any hockey player will tell you that time spent on the ice is anything but work. uninformed? i think you are probably still playing street hockey in front of your house, peanut.. not that there's anything wrong with that.ask any old timer like howe, or lindsay ,hull, and they'd laugh at the notion of hockey as work. oh, yeah....FUCK YOU. go learn how to skate.douchebag.
@cachildress1 @eggs They knew the choices and chances coming in too. Look a grunt working in a lab at a place like Sloan-KIttering. Grinding away at research, dedicating their lives to their studies so they could get the grades the needed to get the education they needed to get the job, sacrificing just as much as a player, and at less compensation. The difference is, they're not playing a game, they're trying to cure a disease that effects most of the world.
@eggs You're not as good at your job as they are.
For those of you who say you do not sypathise with the players, basically because they make more than you playing hockey, think about this. Think about there are about 650 people out of 312 million who have the skills in the US. Even then, lets say there are approximately 3,000 hockey players with the skill to keep up in the NHL. What is that worth? As a commodity, what is it worth? The players are setting their worth, unfortunately, it is not exactly an open market, supply / demand. Then the owners throw big money at the top players, sign contracts, then try to renege on the contracts. That is not fair practice. Lets say you are in the top 650 in th US in your field, you definitely would get paid much more. No offense genetics, but if you were in the top 650 of research scientists, you would be making millions.( I actually know one).
With all that, aplayer with a million dollar contract gets far less than a million dollars a year. Remember that is pretax and pre-agent money. After both, they are probably only bringing home less than 600 thou. on a million salary. Just my 2 cents.
@stevenabsmith But what really is the demand? Look at foreign leagues, the closest is the KHL, and they have a hard cap that's only HALF what the NHL offers. The players tell us the owners are a greedy, selfish, evil bunch, but rather then being glad their contracts are over, and looking for a better league to play in, they couldn't be more anxious to do business with these same 30 owners. Granted, that's because no one else is really knocking down their doors with offers to start a new league for them to play in, but still, if the jobs that bad find a new one.
Sorry for typo/grammar. I know both sides have responsibility in this mess, but I side with the working man.(Empathize more with players.)
@stevenabsmith I don't think it should a discussion over who is "more" wrong. Sure, maybe the players have a slightly better argument, but the fact of the matter is no one is considering the fans or the "real" working man who is now out of a job because all these people making 6 or 7 figures a year are squabbling over our money. Let's all start empathizing with the fans and the people that fund these guys.
Let me understand: I believe the lowest-paid NHL player makes a salary in mid- to high hundreds of thousands of dollars; an average working stiff makes maybe $50K. As a research scientist I could make close to 80K per year. Put it bluntly - I do not particularly sympathise with the players who in a couple or three season make more than I can in my lifetime. They are not paupers, and no one is forcing those men to play hockey. This said, I detest the owners just as much. Plague on both their houses.
Has there been any talk about an alternative league? A little threat of competition might concentrate minds wonderfully.
Great! The owners are fighting for themselves, the players are fighting for another. Whether your selling cars, hair brushes or f$#@ing widgets, there is a certain amount of money you are going to invest in your product.. The players are the product that are generating income for the owners, and they should be compensated accordingly. Except Dipietro. Or Brodeur. They stink.
It is an interesting article, but I live in NYC making $50K with 2 kids. It will take me 40 years to make the $2 million Sauer makes in two years. Don't forget that with a couple million dollars in the bank, they earn thousands of dollars a year in interest alone. What is still lost is the amount of money the fans have to pay now for a ticket or for a jersey compared with 15-20 years ago. The league minimum, which I'm sure is probably like $400k, continues to go up faster than the rate of inflation, but who pays for that? I do! God forbid after they retire they get a real job like the rest of us. I do feel a little sympathy for guys at the lower end of the totem pole, but these guys are the luckiest people in the WORLD, and they're still complaining. BOTH sides bear the blame.
@fushone Well how about this. There are people below the poverty line who would probably say, "I have no sympathy for the guy making 50K and who gets to live in New York." There's always going to be people better off and worse off than you. So at what point do you lose the right to "complain"? Like Jason said, the players understand how lucky they are. But I think it's unfair for us to say that they should just take whatever the owners will offer them. I think it's unfair to de-humanize them. For a lot of players, normal costs of life are a concern just like they are for us.
As far as the "normal costs of life", the thing that seems a bit off in that argument is how many players don't even want to hear offers from the teams in cities that are the cheapest to live in. How many guys won't even pick up the phone when their agent tells them Buffalo or Edmonton are calling? How many guys rave about the experience of living in NYC when they sign here?
Better yet, why isn't Fehr fighting for some of floating stipend level, that would adjust cost of living expenses for players making close to the league minimum in large, expensive cities, vs those in less expensive regions. This isn't even something on the players radar.
@Herman_NYRBlog Well then I could use the analogy that someone at my level would be wrong for fighting for food stamps, even though i had a bunch, when others didnt have any. The point is that, as a profession, they make more than 99% of everyone else, and they're still fighting for more.......and the "more" they're fighting over is money from people who don't even have much to begin with. I haven't heard one player mention sacrificing something for the fans....EVER. Plus no one is saying they have to take whatever the owners offer...This has gone on long enough and they have gotten a lot of concessions from the owners (Who I think suck even more), but it's not enough. Fancy cars are not a normal cost of life.
@YimYames18 @fushone @Herman_NYRBlog But the players aren't "depriving clients/consumers"of their services,it's the owners who are doing that.The players would happily step on the ice tomorrow under the terms of the old agreement until a new one was reached,an agreement I might add that the owners happily signed just 8 years ago after major economic concessions by the players.And in those 8 years the NHL has seen record growth.I understand that quite a few of the franchises are still struggling but that is a direct result of owners actions,expanding in non hockey areas,paying exorbitant contracts,etc.And do you think that if the owners eventually get all these new concessions from players that the franchises that are making a profit will lower ticket prices even one cent?You seem to be concerned with how much the players are making rather than how much you as a fan are paying and why.
@fushone @Herman_NYRBlog Also, working stiffs like us aren't holding out from doing our jobs because we don't like the terms of what our employers are offering us. We aren't depriving clients / consumers of our services or goods and we're not looking for sympathy from those less fortunate either. We're making do (with much much less than NHLPA). I support the players over owners, signing contracts in bad faith is deplorable - but would I rather see players have to negotiate a lifestyle at 7.5 times my yearly salary as opposed to 9.5 than have no hockey? Yes. Duh.
A 1 year contract at $550,000 nets a player over 9.5 times what I would make in that same year.
You watch 24/7 and you see guys like Eminger, Christensen and Boyle all driving expensive cars, wearing designer clothes and buying dinners at 5 star restaurants.
I have always said that as far as athleticism and toll on the body goes, Hockey requires more than most sports to play. Hockey requires more skill than is needed for a non-capped sport like Baseball where players can get away playing with bulging guts. If you have the talent, hockey rewards you. There is risk too, but its a known risk.
I still take the fan's side in the lockout. If I had to choose between players and owners I obviously want to see the players come out with an edge but I cannot feel bad for them. They are taking earnings from a pool of record revenues in a time where many people are struggling. If they lived within the means that most fans do a few years at $550,000 could last nearly a lifetime.
Good story, but those of who don't make a million or so for a few years, have to find another job and change or life styles to exist. There are no guarantees in a working mans life.
Excellent article! If you look past all the rhetoric and just look at the proposals it's pretty clear that Bettman just wants to break the union. I don't think he or the other owners realize 1) the impact that a lost season will have on the league, or 2) the impact that the European leagues can have. If the players really want to play hardball, they could all just say, screw you owners, I'm going to Norway. No other sports can do that. At this point I almost hope the players do that just to stick it to Bettman and the owners so we can avoid this ever happening again!
This is a great article Adam. I'd never really considered this, but its very true. Puts the whole situation in perspective for me and has re-kindled my anger.