Today would have been a very good day to be Ilya Kovalchuk. That’s because, if the NHL were operating right now, Kovalchuk would have reported to the Prudential Center in anticipation for a game Wednesday night against the New York Rangers and picked up a pay stub for $297,297 (plus change, minus taxes and escrow).
Today would have been the first payday for NHL players, who receive their paycheques on the 15th and last day of every month. Players are paid their NHL salaries based on how many days they are on the roster for that pay period. With the season lasting 185 days, that means the players would have received 1/37th of their yearly salaries today (for the first five days of the regular season). At $11 million, Kovalchuk has the highest base salary in the league. Vincent Lecavalier has the second-highest at $10 million and would’ve received $270,270. Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin, at $9 million each, would have been $243,243 richer today. Eric Staal ($8.5 million) would have received $229,729 and Jason Spezza ($8 million) would have had a direct deposit of $216,216.
(Do not shed any tears for Kovalchuk, however. Any day now, he’ll receive a stipend for $841,500, which represents 90 percent of the 8.5 percent of his salary the league deducted in escrow last season.)
All of which is a longwinded way of saying that today is an important day in the dispute, because as of today, the players are officially starting to miss cheques. How many more of them they’re willing to miss will go a long way toward dictating when, and if, this dispute gets resolved this season. Last time, they were willing to miss all of them. And despite the rhetoric we’re hearing this time around, it’s impossible to determine whether they will be as committed this time around.
We know the owners are more than willing to trash the season. The small markets that desperately need a new CBA are losing less money by not playing than playing at this point. And the large markets know that if the league gets what it wants, the financial deficit of losing a season will be more than made up over the course of the next agreement. And, most importantly, commissioner Gary Bettman needs only eight of 30 votes to veto any uprising.
The players don’t have any of those advantages. The $297,297 Kovalchuk missed today is money he will never, ever get back. And the more cheques he misses, the better the deal is going to have to be for the players to justify him sitting out. And unlike the owners, the players can direct their leadership to get a deal done regardless of how disadvantageous it is to them.
Some other lockout related thoughts:
• There are those out there who continue to peddle this nonsense that the lockout is all the owners’ fault, pointing out that the players are perfectly willing to keep playing while a new deal is negotiated. Of course they are. The players have never had it so good and if they keep playing under the current circumstances, exactly what would be the motivation for them to agree to a new deal that would give them less?
• It appears the days of players going into CBA negotiations with any sort of leverage are over. Forever.
• Some of the things we’ve already missed. 1. Sidney Crosby’s season debut against the New York Islanders, which would have been Friday night. And we all know what happened the last time Crosby came back from an extended layoff against the Islanders. 2. Nail Yakupov’s debut, which would have come Saturday night against the Vancouver Canucks. 3. Opening night in Toronto with a date against the Montreal Canadiens. No matter how bad these two teams are, and they’re both pretty bad, that is something special. 4. The Los Angeles Kings raising their Stanley Cup banner Friday night against the New York Rangers. 5. Adam Oates’ first two games as a coach in the NHL. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can do with the Washington Capitals. Everything about him tells me he’ll do some very good things.
• The league is expected to announce more game cancellations at some point this week. The owners and the players are expected to meet again to continue negotiating and will accomplish nothing. That is all.
(Editor’s Note: Vincent Lecavalier added to second paragraph. Lecavalier changed to Kovalchuk in third paragraph.)
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.