Friday, February 03, 2006

Too Much Hockey

I hate to address this problem, becauce in my ideal world as a hockey fan, I would like it if high level hockey played by the best players in the world was available to be watched seven days a week every day of the year. I would like to be able to watch high level hockey in the middle of the winter, spring, fall and summer. I cannot get enough hockey.

This neglects the fact that the best players in the world are real people. Playing an NHL season at a high level takes a huge toll on their bodies. They need time to recover once the season is completed. Playing out training camp, exhibition games, an 82 game schedule plus the playoff tournament each year, year after year, is very hard on a body. It is hard mentally. It is hard physically. It is even harder when inevitable nagging injuries occur. It is hard when players have to keep playing and cannot rest themselves until they are 100% again. It is even harder when we throw in other tournaments like the Olympics for the players to play in.

As a fan, the Olympics are great. Its even more days of high level hockey played by the best players in the world that I can watch, but as a player the Olympics can be draining because its even more days of high level hockey played against the best players in the world.

There is a growing list of players including Markus Naslund, Miikka Kiprusoff and Kari Lehtonen who are skipping the Olympics not because of serious injury, but rather because they need a break and will have an opportunity to rest nagging little injuries. This is a symptom of how hard it is on the human body to play as much high level hockey as NHL players do.

So what should be done about this? As a fan, I want to see the best players in the world playing in the Olympics. I want to see the best players in the world playing in the NHL as well. It would be possible to reduce the number of regular season games in the NHL season to reduce player's workloads. A minimum suggestion is given by Eric Duhatschek that the NHL reduce its regular season by 8 games (from 82 to 74) in Olympic years. I see this as a happy compromise that the NHL should consider (but probably wont because less game dates would cost them money).

As a fan, I am looking forward to seeing the best players in the world play the Olympics. I want to see if the Canadian Olympic team can defend their gold medal. I want to see if the US Olympic team can defend their silver medal. I want to see if any of the other European nations can upend them. Most of all I want to see a good tournament played by the best players in the world. I don't want to see a situation where several of the best players in the world beg off due to overwork.

NOTE: The Globe and Mail (Eric Duhatschek) article requires registration. can help with this problem.

If the players were willing to take a pro-rated salary cut for Olympic years, I bet the owners would happily agree to reducing the number of games.

Of course, we know thats as likely as the Chicago Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup
What is a fair pro-rated cut?

On the surface, one would tink that if they play 8 less games they should get 8/82 less in salary, but thats not really consistent with the ecomonics of the game.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are the most profitable part of the season and a minor reduction in the length of the season wont affect that. All they would have done is cut out a few games from mid-season that make most (if not all) teams money, but they are some of the lesser money making games in a typical season. A pro-rated reduction in salary for the players would benefit the owners financially in an unfair way - the owners lose a far lesser percentage of the potentially lost revenue. So that is why the players would hesitate to accept anything like that. Of course that assumes the people bargaining on behalf of the players are not in the owner's pocket (and I am not sure that is a safe assumption).
There isn't one NHL player that would turn down the offer to play in the Olympics and that will never change. You have to remember the ones that make it have constantly had the ability to end up with a better contract in the end because when your on the roster the agents will use that as a major bargaining chip. The same goes for the All Star game. Nice blog by the way!
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