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Islanders Make Tavares First Pick, Choose Flash and Scoring to Regain Fans PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Jeff Levine   
Friday, 03 July 2009 15:56
Islanders

The 2009 NHL Entry Draft came and went last week. Overall, the event lacked any real drama. However, Friday’s fist round had a good amount of action, as it featured both a blockbuster trade and finally unveiled to the world which can’t miss player the New York Islanders were going to anchor their rebuilding efforts around: John Tavares.

Held at the Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadians, the first day’s action included future hall of fame defenseman Chris Pronger and his hefty contract being moved from the Anaheim Ducks to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for a package that included top six forward Joffrey Lupul and several first round draft picks.

Flyers fans will love Pronger’s bruising style of play and on ice leadership while the Ducks receive a major player in Lupul as well as several chips the now rebuilding franchise can use to quickly rebound into a contender. FYI, this is the second time Lupul has been traded for Chris Pronger, first time being when Lupul (then a member of the Ducks) was involved in the package that brought Pronger from Edmonton to Anaheim.

Not lost in all of this is the decision by the Islanders to choose flash and scoring over stay at home defensive reliability. In choosing to a draft mega prospect in Tavares, the Islanders will get scoring help that the struggling franchise desperately needs, seeing that a defenseman led the team in points this past season (Mark Streit).

One of the alternatives that GM Garth Snow was considering in drafting number one was Victor Hedman, the towering Swedish defenseman and top rated European prospect coming into the 2009 draft. Going with Tavares brings instant name recognition to New York, a major hockey market, and will instantly pay dividend because more goals will translate into more fans in the seats of the aging Nassau Coliseum. Tavares has been touted as a future first overall pick since 2004, so even if he does not light the lamp right out the gate, fans will still come to games, and Tavares has been groomed to handle the spotlight, which he most certainly will face in New York.

Now the arduous task for Snow and company is to reverse the tremendous LA Clippers-like curse that has befallen the once proud New York franchise. Only time will tell if Tavares is the real deal; however if he lives up to half as much of the hype he should be a serviceable NHL player for a few years.

The larger issue here is whether Tavares and the new crop of Islander players (see Kyle Okposo, Jeff Tambellini and Josh Bailey) can resurrect the franchise and begin the road back toward respectability and profitability. Owner Charles Wang has voiced regret in buying the team and is frustrated that the team’s new arena is nowhere close to breaking ground. He has also dropped subtle hints that he is exploring relocation options.

A new arena (the Coliseum is one of the oldest venues in the game and lacks the hallmarks of most modern staida that enable teams to produce millions [i.e. suites, club seating]) is a necessity if the Islanders are to remain in the Metro New York area and actually make money. Regardless of the fact that the Islanders are far from profitable and are probably paying very close attention to the bankruptcy proceedings playing out in Phoenix, Islanders fans should rejoice because their franchise has made a good choice, although they really could not had messed this one up…or could they? Luckily Mike Millbury was not at the helm for this draft.


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Jeff LevineJeff Levine is a staff member of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is a sports attorney, and the Executive Director of One Sports and Entertainment, International. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
Judge Baum Questions Positions of Both Balsillie, NHL PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Jeff Levine   
Wednesday, 17 June 2009 02:08

CoyotesThe following is the first article by the latest Business of Sports Network staff member,Jeff Levine - Maury Brown

In a move that illustrated independence, insight and intelligence, Federal Bankruptcy Court Judge Redfield T. Baum denied Billionaire and Blackberry co-CEO Jim Balsillie’s offer to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and relocate them to Hamilton Ontario.  By denying the June 29th deadline to culminate the sale between Balsillie and current owner and trucking magnate Jerry Moyes, Baum's opinion illustrated his aversion to quickly rule on the issue of relocation.  However, a reading of the opinion also illustrated the Judge's skepticism that approving an eventual sale and relocation would turn professional sports on its head. 

(See The Biz of Hockey document archive on the Coyotes Chapter 11 and relocation issue)

Judge Baum vacated the proposed June 22nd auction date of the financially troubled Phoenix franchise, striking a blow to Balsillie's efforts to circumvent the National Hockey League protocol and move the team to Hamilton, Ontario without consent.   Responding to League allegations that Balsillie should not be allowed to use the bankruptcy process to obtain a franchise only to relocate it, Judge Baum stated that a party "can not assume [via the bankruptcy laws] only the benefits of a contract; rather assumption is the entire agreement, benefits and burdens."  Judge Baum also invalidated the antitrust argument made by Moyes' attorney, Thomas Salerno, writing that it is not a per se antitrust violation for professional sports leagues to have terms and conditions on relocation of member teams.  Judge Baum went on to say that in this case, he "can not find that antitrust law, as applicable nonbankruptcy law, permits the sale free and clear of the relocation rights of the NHL.” 

Some believe that Judge Baum’s rejection of the Balsillie/Moyes proposed timeline of the sale is a victory for the NHL.  However, the Judge voiced his skepticism that allowing the franchise to be sold and subsequently moved out of Glendale would “wreak havoc” on professional sports which the NHL, along with the support of the other major sports league, argues.  Judge Baum replied to this assertion by opining that, “[f]rom the outside looking in, it appears that each of the leagues has not suffered or been materially damaged when one of its members made a quick and unapproved move…[from one sports market to another].”

League Commissioner Gary Bettman has repeatedly argued that the NHL can be successful in non-traditional hockey markets like Phoenix.  He asserts that four ownership groups, including a group led by Jerry Riendsorf intend to bid on the Coyotes and would keep the franchise in Glendale.  However, and as Judge Baum astutely pointed out, Balsillie’s bid is the only one that has been filed with the Court.  Further, support for hockey in the desert may be dwindling, as NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly was recently quoted questioning  whether it was time to "pull the plug" on the Coyotes. 

Underlying Issues?

One should note that in addition to franchise relocation, another underlying issue central in this litigation is the viability of hockey in non-traditional markets within the United States . This strategy was a central component of Commissioner Bettman’s blueprint for NHL success when he was plucked from the NBA and tabbed as the League’s first commissioner in the early 1990s.  This seems to still be a central strategy.

Thus far into his tenure, many of the League’s financially floundering franchises have come from these non-traditional markets, including the Nashville Predators and both Florida franchises (the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers).  As for the Coyotes, Court filings illustrate current owner Jerry Moyes’ desperate predicament, as documents show that the franchise has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in operation costs and owe substantial sums of money to creditors since moving to Arizona.  At the same time, an interesting legal thread for sports law enthusiasts also present here is the issue of whether the legal system will continue to defer to sports leagues as to their internal on-goings, as the majority of these leagues are voluntary, non for profit entities. 

Regardless of the Judge Baum’s ultimate ruling in this dispute, expect an immediate appeal.  Both parties in this controversy possess significant funds, and therefore can carry this fight until the Supreme Court decides whether to grant certiorari.


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Jeff Levine is a staff member of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is a sports attorney, and the Executive Director of One Sports and Entertainment, International.  He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
Capitals Metamorphosis Continues In the Standings, and the Bottom Line PDF Print E-mail
Articles and Opinions
Written by Maury Brown   
Tuesday, 05 May 2009 05:57

Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin has the Capitals winning
both in the standings and finally, at the
bottom line.

Think back just two seasons ago, and the Washington Capitals were abysmal, posting all of 70 points for the season, finishing last in the Southeast Division, and second to last in the Eastern Conference.

My, how times have changed.

With Alex Ovechkin matching Sidney Crosby’s hat trick, the Caps took a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, with a 4-3 win over the Penguins at the Verizon Center Monday night.

And while the Capitals continue to climb in the standings, owner Ted Leonsis might finally – finally – see something other than red in the Captials ledgers.

While there are marginal profits to be made by making the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the first place, the real rewards for teams in the playoffs start to appear in the second round, a location that the Capitals now are sitting comfortably in.

Washington Times sports business reporter Tim Lemke covers the financial implications for the Capitals in his Sunday article, Caps' wins earn them respect, profits.

Asked about how reaching the playoffs impacts the Capitals both now, and in the future, I responded:

"Certainly, the Capitals have to be feeling pretty good about this," said Maury Brown, founder of the Business of Sports Network. "It's been a while for them, and it's a great story. It definitely is helpful. Everybody's going to be very interested in the team. You go out in the first round, well, maybe not so much."

In other words, there are marginal revenues to be had in the first round due to the large percentage of revenues that go to the players; approx. 65 percent.

This is backed up by comments within Lemke’s article by Capitals President Dick Patrick.

"Without a doubt, the more success we have here in the playoffs, the better we're going to do," Patrick said. "Absolutely, there's a correlation there."  

There is also the fact that the further a team goes into the playoffs, the more a club can charge for tickets. As further reported by Lemke:

Mr. Patrick said there is great potential for additional revenue in later playoff rounds because tickets will be about 20 percent more expensive and fans are more likely to purchase team merchandise. Industry analysts said a $2 million profit from the conference semifinals isn't out of the question.

"The further you go, the more lucrative it becomes," Mr. Patrick said. "You're making it into more games, you're making more money. If you can get into the third round, you can really start feeling good about it."

Regardless of how far into the playoffs the Capitals go, club executives say that they will still take a loss on the season. As to how much extra revenue can be had by winning the Stanley Cup, the “team can net between $13 million and $17 million, depending on the length of each series, according to officials from Park Lane, a Los Angeles-based sports investment bank.”

All things considered, the Capitals seem to be more than headed in the right direction. With a 2-0 advantage over the Penguins, odds are good that the direction involves moving up further still in the playoffs.


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Maury Brown

Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer.

Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network

TwitterFollow the Business of Sports Network on Twitter

 
Isle Be Damned: A Tale of Two Cities (A ‘Dickens’ of a story) PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Steve Viuker   
Tuesday, 07 April 2009 19:48

 Charles Wang

NY Islanders owner Charles Wang has moved from
making veiled threats, to now outright saying it: If
Nassau Coliseum isn't upgraded, the Islanders are
relocating.

Actually, it’s a tale of one city and a county. The city is Newark and the county is Nassau. And it is the tale of two New York area hockey teams who play in the shadows of the ‘greatest’ arena in midtown.

Last season, the New Jersey Devils moved from nowhere-land (the swamps of the Meadowlands) to a sparkling new, state of the art facility in downtown Newark. The building is the Prudential Center (after Prudential Insurance) but it’s known by fans as The Rock (as in a ‘piece of The Rock; the long-time slogan of the insurance firm).

Skepticism regarding whether the Devils largely suburban fan base would trek to an urban landscape to watch has been answered. Due to the nearby access to PATH and New Jersey Transit at Newark Penn Station, fans from away as Brooklyn are coming to watch NHL hockey. Even fans from New Jersey are leaving the car home and taking mass transit. (Do you believe in miracles? Yes!!)  

Meantime, Charles Wang has told Nassau County he is out if he doesn’t get a new arena as part of his Lighthouse real estate venture. The plan is to eventually have housing, retail and transportation on the Coliseum site. The Coliseum sits within shouting distance of the LIRR Hempstead station. However, a bus or rail link was never put into place. Any fan taking the LIRR must take a cab from the station to the arena and back. That costs $$. Perhaps building the Coliseum in downtown Hempstead would have been the answer but back in 1972, many arenas were built in the suburbs where the land was plentiful.

It would be a shame if the Isles left the Island. In these tough times of foreclosures, job losses and stock market dives, a night out at the arena or ballpark is just what folks need. And the Islanders have providing that for millions of Long Islanders since 1972. And all at the much-maligned Nassau Coliseum or ‘mausoleum’ or white elephant. Or whatever you want to call the facility that sits on a former airfield. (My wife went to Nassau Community College and used to drive on that scared bit of land.)

I’ve been Rangers fan since the games were on WOR television and Win Elliot was behind the mike. Think Ralph Kiner. And the Rangers /Islanders rivalry is the hockey version of the old Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants and the Yankees; all rolled into a nice package. (And you can throw in the Devils)

I remember watching a show called ‘Sports’ Extra; a half-hour wrap-up show on Sunday nights that was hosted by Bill Mazer. Stan Fischler was a frequent guest and Bill would say, “What about this kid Bossy.” He was ‘Boss’ before we ever heard of Springsteen. Even Rangers fans had to give this gritty squad headed up by Al Arbour credit as they won Stanley Cup after Stanley Cup in the shadow of their more famous rivals.

I don’t know what the answer is for Mr. Wang. But this is a franchise that has survived John Spano and the fisherman uniforms.  Whatever is determined, let’s hope the team will be singing “Isle” Be Home for Xmas” this year and for many years ahead. You can’t spell Islanders without Long Island.


SteveSteve Viuker is a Brooklyn, N.Y. based freelance business journalist. He is old enough to recall sports before ESPN but young enough not to recall sports before television.

Steve can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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Is the Glass Half Empty or Full for the NHL? PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Wednesday, 28 January 2009 06:54

Maury BrownThe NHL had to be feeling great Monday morning. Sunday’s All-Star game, a wide-open offensive celebration, saw its first overtime game since 2003, with Alexei Kovalev of the Canadians getting two huge goals in regulation, and then one in the shootout to give the East a 12-11 win over the West.

The game’s excitement was an extension of the sunny outlook from the league. As television popularity continues to increase, and sponsors continue to get on-board (the NHL activated $10 million in sponsorship dollars alone for the ASG), the NHL would appear to be rising above its larger Big-4 brothers, in some senses, as the NFL, NBA, and MLB deal with the downturn in the economy.

The All-Star Game seemed to add more zing to the NHL’s increasing popularity coming off the Outdoor Winter Classic game between the Red Wings and Blackhawks on New Year’s Day from historic Wrigley Field in Chicago.

Yes, the NHL is touting a slight increase in revenues this year, which flies in the face of the recession gripping the U.S. and Canada, and the NHLPA reps, seeing how the economy has gripped the sports world, wisely voted 30-0 late last week to extend the current CBA through 2010-11 when the current CBA will expire.

Yes,things seem great for the NHL at the moment... And yet, there are signs that beyond the rosy view, there are clouds within certain quarters of the league.

On the same day that the NHL player reps voted to not opt out of the CBA, they also decided to increase escrow payments from the current 13.5 percent to as possibly 25 percent for the remained of the season. The players have been setting aside their salaries into the escrow fund in case league revenues as part of the salary cap. The last two seasons, the players have received their funds out of escrow, but this year, with league revenues slowing to approx. 2 percent, players will most likely not see their full salary.

There also warning signs with more than one team in the U.S. While the Canadian teams remain the most robust, stateside it’s been a whole other story.

The Phoenix Coyotes are hemorrhaging money, and expect to lose $30 million this season after reportedly losing $60 million over the course of the past two seasons. To add insult to injury, Phoenix will not receive all their revenue sharing due to a 25 percent penalty for not hitting certain attendance and revenue marks. The penalty means that instead of the Coyotes receiving $25 million in revenue sharing, the figure is more likely to be $10.5 million. The Coyotes are trying to restructure their lease with the city of Glendale for Jobing.com Arena. Glendale covered $180 million of the $220 million price tag, but in return, key revenues, such as parking, are controlled by the city. Instead of collecting parking revenues, the Coyotes are actually paying a surcharge of $2.70 per vehicle. This while Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes struggles to find investors.

To the east, the Nashville Predators are seeing similar problems, as well. In danger of not meeting revenue-sharing attendance thresholds, David Freeman and the other owners of the Predators may purchase thousands of unsold tickets to allow them to collect their full revenue-sharing check. This while Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie has looked to purchase the team with the transparent intent of moving it to Toronto/Southern Ontario. While Balsillie has gone so far as to take advance deposits in Hamilton, Ontario, the expected destination for Balsillie, Commissioner Gary Bettman made it clear that Balsillie would not have a monopoly on the Predators citing 75 percent owner approval for an ownership transfer, and a majority for relocation. He also sent a clear message that others could be in play. "No one has a divine right to that franchise (in southern Ontario)," Bettman said during a press conference on Saturday before the All-Star Game.

But, as mentioned, the NHL does have marks that show that in many areas they are growing as an industry. Whether that is the benefit of coming out of a work stoppage that nearly dropped the NHL in its tracks, or not, the fact is, corrections in the past are paying dividends in the face of the gloomy economic news. As they say, you are only as strong as your weakest link, and the NHL certainly needs to address franchises such as Phoenix and Nashville. Unless the plan is to move the bulk of the league into Canada with only stable stateside teams like the Red Wings, Bruins, and Blackhawks holding down the fort in the U.S., small-to-mid markets will need tending to. As the second half of the season begins, the NHL is that perfect example of the glass being either half empty, or half full.


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Maury Brown

Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer.

Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

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A Look at the NHL Coaching Openings PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Morrison   
Thursday, 22 May 2008 12:45
A Biz of Hockey OriginalAs the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings are preparing for the Stanley Cup Finals, the other 28 NHL franchises are already preparing for the 2008-09 season with several teams currently looking to fill their Head Coaching positions. The interesting aspect of the search for three teams is that their GM’s are looking to replace themselves as coach. Don Waddell in Atlanta, Jacques Martin in Florida, and Bryan Murray in Ottawa all have been behind the bench this season, but each looks set to relinquish this role for the upcoming season.

In addition, two other playoff teams are searching for a new coach, with Colorado and San Jose making moves after disappointing second round exits. Meanwhile, the drama in Toronto continues as the Maple Leafs not only search for a coach, but also a new GM.

The following is a look at the current openings and who may fill these positions:

Atlanta Thrashers

After the club’s first playoff appearance during the 2006-07 season, a slow start to the past season led to the dismissal of Coach Bob Hartley. GM Don Waddell took the position on an interim basis but was unable to lead the team to the playoffs. For the upcoming season a new coach is a top priority. The recently fired trio of Ron Wilson, Paul Maurice, and Joel Quenneville have been suggested as possible replacements.

Ross McKeon of Yahoo! Sports suggests that Wilson may be the best choice as his experience in the Southeast Division with the Capitals and offseason home in Hilton Head, SC may be factors which see him move to Atlanta.

Colorado Avalanche

After three seasons in Denver, Head Coach Joel Quenneville was relieved of his duties following the team’s defeat in the second round of the playoffs by Detroit. Quenneville reached the playoffs two times during his tenure with the Avalanche, reaching the second round both times.

Pat Burns has been one high profile name inked to the job, while the AHL’s Portland Pirates coach Kevin Dineen and Avalanche Assistant Tony Granato are other possibilities. One other interesting name mentioned recently has been Patrick Roy.

Florida Panthers

Like Waddell in Atlanta, Jacques Martin is also looking for a new coach as he will step down from his role as coach and will focus on his duties as GM. Martin had been behind the bench since 2004 and became GM in 2006. He stated a few weeks ago that the coaching search has not yet been started in depth and said he was interested in looking at candidates from several playoff teams.

Several coaches with NHL experience have been mentioned in connection with the Panthers job, with Doug MacLean, Paul Maurice, Bob Hartley, Pat Burns, and Pat Quinn among them.

A number of NHL assistants have also been mentioned and Martin says that Florida assistants Guy Charron and Mike Kitchen will be interviewed.

Ottawa Senators

Bryan Murray is the third GM who will look to replace himself as a coach this offseason and with plenty of young talent in Ottawa, this would be a dream job for many candidates.

Pat Burns has been the recently mentioned following a stint on the Team Canada staff which saw Senators forward Dany Heatly set record marks for scoring.

Other possibilities are Detroit’s Mike Babcock, who is out of contract following the Stanley Cup Playoffs and is top of Murray’s wish list. But with Babcock likely to stay with the Red Wings, another interested candidate is former Colorado and Atlanta coach Bob Hartley.

San Jose Sharks

Despite being the winningest coach in franchise history, as well as sitting in 9th on the all time wins list, Ron Wilson was let go following three consecutive exits in the second round of the playoffs, this year losing to the Dallas Stars in six games. Wilson’s Sharks reached the playoffs four times during his time in San Jose, a stint that also included two Pacific Division Titles and a trip to the Conference Finals in 2002-03.

While Wilson looks certain to be picked up by another club quickly, the direction of the Sharks is more uncertain. According to Sharkspage.com on Wednesday at the 2008 State of the Sharks meeting, GM Doug Wilson answered questions about the coaching position and he reportedly:

“[M]entioned a list of 40 potential candidates that will be narrowed down, noting that many were still under contract. He said he wanted a head coach with a blue collar work ethic, one that will not shy away from being hard on players when needed. Wilson said that he could not go into specifics, and that the only time you will hear the new coach's name from him will be during the announcement of his hiring. Wilson also said that there are a lot of suggestions and speculation from fans and the media, but Anaheim Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle and Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock are similar to the type of coach he wants in San Jose.”

Toronto Maple Leafs

Last but not least are the openings in Toronto, which have been by far the most intriguing with numerous high profile names linked with their jobs.

Brian Burke, Wayne Gretzky, and Steve Yzerman are just a few of the names that have turned down interest from the Leafs, while former Canucks GM Dave Nonis has met with Toronto officials about the GM position. Current Minnesota Wild GM Doug Risebrough is another name the Leafs may be interested in.

John Ferguson was fired from his role as GM in January, being replaced on an interim basis by former Maple Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher. Head Coach Paul Maurice followed after missing the playoffs.

For the coaching position, Quenneville has been one possible replacement mentioned, while Craig Hartsburg, a former head coach in Chicago and Anaheim, has also expressed interest in the position.


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He can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network's Author Profiles
 
Rob Ray Sues NHLPA a Second Time PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Morrison   
Wednesday, 14 May 2008 12:27

A Biz of Hockey OriginalLast week, it was reported that former NHL enforcer Rob Ray, a 15 year veteran who played for the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators, filed a suit against the NHLPA , saying the union purposely deceived him in an earlier case which was settled in September 2005.  The suit, filed in January in the State Supreme Court in Buffalo, is seeking punitive damages of $2 million.

Ray’s first suit against the NHLPA, filed in December 2004, claimed that the union had refused to pay him a stipend during the 2004-05 lockout, which saw the union pay between $5,000- 10,000 a month to Player Association members. 

Ray played his final NHL games during the 2003-2004 season and was an unrestricted free-agent at the time of the lockout, but had not retired and he claims he was seeking tryouts with various teams prior to the 2005-06 season.

Ray has suggested that the NHLPA was acting in retaliation for comments he made saying he would be willing to cross the picket line if the NHL decided to use replacement players in games.

Ray and the NHLPA reached an agreement for an undisclosed amount of money in September 2005.  Part of the agreement forbids Ray from seeking more money in the future.  Ray claims the Player’s Association told him they would not distribute any more money to players after the lockout ended.

However, the NHLPA did in fact give the surplus of its compensation fund to current and retired players, and Ray says the NHLPA "falsely, fraudulently, and with the intent to deceive and defraud," got him to settle the first suit. 

On the other hand, The NHLPA have asked for the case to be dismissed and counter the claim with the 2005 agreement which states, “It is understood that in this agreement, Ray is waiving any claim to future payments that may be made by the NHLPA to former members."

 For the union the case causes another headache for an organization which is eager to put all the controversy and conflicts of the past few years behind them. 

The bitter struggle between the union and the NHL owners during the lockout, led to the ousting of long time NHLPA chief executive Bob Goodenow.  His successor, Bob Saskin, held the position for less than two years, in a reign full of trouble.  Saskin immediately made enemies with several players during the hiring process where he tried to bypass a mandatory secret vote with representatives of all 30 teams. 

Saskin’s relationship with the players continued to deteriorate with what was seen as a cozy relationship between him and NHL leaders Gary Bettman and Bill Daly.  Saskin’s time in charge of the union ended following a scandal where he was found to have read player’s emails without their knowledge.

Paul Kelly, a lawyer from Boston’s firm of Kelly, Libby and Hoopes was appointed chief executive in October 2007 and inherited an organization which badly needs stability and does not need any more conflict with its members.

Ray, now a reporter during Buffalo Sabres games, has not commented on the case and a court date has not yet been set.


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Peter Morrison is a staff member for the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey.

He can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network's Author Profiles

 
An Unlikely Guest in the House that Ruth Built PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wayne G. McDonnell, Jr.   
Monday, 17 March 2008 18:16
Biz of Hockey OriginalIn January of this year, I had written an original article for Maury Brown’s bizofhockey.com web site entitled Are New Year’s Day Bowl Games Standing on Thin Ice? In the article, I discussed how crucial it was for the National Hockey League to capitalize on the overwhelming success of the Winter Classic in Buffalo. Not only did we see a highly competitive game that featured the sport’s brightest star, but America was also introduced to a new pastime on New Year’s Day. As confusion and ambiguity continues to surround the Bowl Championship Series in college football, the National Hockey League has a unique opportunity to establish itself on a holiday that was once dominated by pig skins, floral parades and marching bands.

Over the past few days, various periodicals and sports radio programs have dissected a business initiative that involves an Original Six hockey club, the House that Ruth Built and an outdoor hockey game. The National Hockey League is in the process of revisiting the immensely popular outdoor hockey games by conducting conversations with the New York Rangers and historic Yankee Stadium about the possibility of hosting a Winter Classic on New Year’s Day in 2009. This event would be the final sporting contest ever held at baseball’s version of the Sistine Chapel.

(See The Biz of Baseball article on ticket prices at Yankee Stadium)

Without hesitation, there is a genuine and sincere excitement emanating from the National Hockey League’s offices on Sixth Avenue. The league would have an opportunity to market a hockey contest that is truly “once in a lifetime” to potential sponsors, advertisers, television networks and ticket buyers. The characteristics that normally distinguish a price sensitive fan from an insensitive fan would almost disappear due to the finality of the event. A contest of this magnitude at Yankee Stadium would surely attract a substantially large viewing audience who would not necessarily be admirers of hockey. The diverse objectives of the audience could be beneficial to a sport looking for an identity and brand equity.

Before a zamboni exits Monument Park and the National Hockey League’s “Ice Guru” Dan Craig creates a rink in Derek Jeter’s back yard, there are numerous details that the league must address before a puck is dropped. While the New York Rangers are the ideal participant in this event, there are several dilemmas involving their potential opponent. It is no secret that both the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils would relish an opportunity to showcase their intense battles with the Rangers on such a grandiose stage. However, any decision involving either one of the two teams is problematic for the National Hockey League. The league needs to focus on a national audience even though the regional match ups are rather appealing. While any contest involving the Rangers and one of their local rivals would do well in the tri-state area, a contest of this magnitude would surely alienate a national audience and potentially diminish the viability of future outdoor contests on New Year’s Day. The idea of promoting an “Original Six” contest as the final sporting event at Yankee Stadium is a logical and appropriate decision due to the circumstances surrounding the House that Ruth Built.

While many consider the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings as the front runners to secure the cherished role as opponent to the Rangers, the National Hockey League should seriously consider a long forgotten member of the “Original Six” fraternity, the Chicago Blackhawks. In recent years, the Blackhawks have struggled mightily. Longtime team owner William Wirtz passed away last fall and was frequently vilified for various management decisions that have adversely affected a franchise that won its last Stanley Cup in 1961. The Blackhawks haven’t had a winning season or playoff appearance since the 2001-2002 campaign where the team had won forty-one games, but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the St. Louis Blues. Between the 2001-2007 seasons, the Blackhawks have played 246 regular season games at the United Center. During this time, they have averaged 14,110 fans per game in a facility whose maximum capacity for hockey is 20,500. In other words, the Blackhawks have only been utilizing approximately 69% of the United Center’s seating capacity for hockey games. To make matters worse, the Blackhawks have experienced an 18.3% decline in overall attendance since the 2002 season. The precipitous decline in attendance does not properly represent a cosmopolitan city that is deeply infatuated with the greatest game on ice. The city of Chicago is yearning for an opportunity for the Blackhawks to take center stage in a sports crazed town. An invitation to the Winter Classic would not only energize a city, but it would motivate a franchise to awake from its decades’ long infatuation with frugality.[1]

Besides the selection of an opponent, the National Hockey League will have to address other pertinent issues. The television contract between the National Hockey League and NBC expires at the end of this season. When NBC broadcasted the New Year’s Day game a few months ago, the contest between the Sabres and Penguins drew a 2.6 overnight rating and a 5 share for the network. These numbers were even better than FOX’s broadcast of Wayne Gretzky’s final game in April, 1999. If the National Hockey League is unsuccessful in renegotiating a contract with NBC, the league could turn its attention to an old acquaintance. It is no secret that the National Hockey League would like to rekindle its relationship with ESPN even though the league’s cable rights in the United States are exclusively controlled by Versus. Any potential deal involving ESPN would also include a negotiation with Versus for compensation and rights fees. While the deal would make sense for the National Hockey League, it could actually be detrimental for Versus. Currently, Versus enjoys its control over the cable television market when it comes to hockey. If ESPN begins to broadcast hockey games on any of its networks, Versus could conceivably lose a lion’s share of their advertising dollars and possibly their identity. While Versus covers several outdoor sports from hunting and fishing to bull riding, their relevance as a sports network is tied directly to the National Hockey League. Therefore, it is imperative that a television deal is firmly secured before the league proceeds with any discussions about another outdoor game. [2]

To many, a visit to Yankee Stadium is a religious experience that touches every fiber of a person’s being. Whether you are an admirer of the New York Yankees or just an average baseball fan, Yankee Stadium was, is and always will be the center of the baseball universe. It is a required pilgrimage for all who devoutly worship at the altar of baseball. Every crack and crevice in the cathedral on 161st Street and River Avenue contains volumes of history that a library could never appropriately capture. Yankee Stadium is not just another sports venue that has become obsolete due to attrition and technology. It is a piece of Americana that has aged gracefully over time. While Yankee Stadium will forever be synonymous with twenty-six world championships and iconic athletes who wore the pinstripes, its contributions to American history goes well beyond Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Yankee Stadium has hosted events that run the gamut from football games and boxing matches to papal visits, religious events and memorial services.

The National Hockey League’s infatuation with Yankee Stadium as a potential venue for another Winter Classic is intriguing and disturbing all at the same time. Barring a playoff appearance by the Yankees this fall, the franchise is scheduled to host their final game at Yankee Stadium on September 21, 2008. If the National Hockey League can successfully negotiate a deal with the Yankees, New York City and the Parks Department, the final event at Yankee Stadium will be its first ever hockey game. In the eyes of many, this is a blasphemous act that falls just short of being sacrilegious. While a hockey contest at Yankee Stadium would be a spectacle of epic proportions, a strong and volatile resentment could percolate over the coming months.

One of the most endearing qualities of the outdoor hockey games is the physical and psychological confrontations with inclement weather. The National Hockey League’s first attempt at a regular season outdoor game in 2003 between the Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadians saw temperatures hover around zero degrees with a wind chill of fifteen below. This past January’s contest in Buffalo was a winter wonderland. In both instances, the freezing temperatures and steady snow fall did not deter exuberant audiences from enjoying themselves. While the winter months in New York City aren’t as intense as the ones in Buffalo and Edmonton, the weather will still play a pivotal role in the planning and execution of the event.[3]

After years of atrophy and ineptitude, the National Hockey League has finally begun to utilize various marketing strategies and ingenuity in order to resurrect a sport that has been unfairly saddled with obscurity. While the idea of hosting an outdoor game at Yankee Stadium is absolutely brilliant, the league must be prepared to encounter a kaleidoscope of emotions and obstacles from appalled baseball fans. The polarizing opinions surrounding this event are worthy of attention, but the National Hockey League needs to forge ahead and make this dream a reality.


Wayne G. McDonnell, Jr. is a clinical assistant professor of sports management at the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University.

 
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