It’s kind of funny how, when he was running the NHL Players’ Association, Bob Goodenow would make a clear point that his union never set wages. But all the while the NHLPA would work feverishly behind the scenes to make sure no player ever took less than he was worth, thereby dragging other players down with him.
Old habits die hard, it seems. Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks recently had his knuckles rapped for simply speaking his mind. When discussing that he would be willing to take a “hometown discount” to stay with the Vancouver Canucks long-term he said, “If we’re going to win the Cup, we need guys to take pay cuts.”
There has since been a lot of “hummunah, hummunah” from Kesler since then, largely because he got some sage advice from NHLPA director of player affairs Glenn Healy. The message was simple: Don’t talk about taking pay cuts in public.
It almost reminds one of the pre-lockout rhetoric when players who had the audacity to suggest the NHLPA should at least consider the possibility of accepting a salary cap had hell rained upon them. It was this kind of attitude that, in part, caused us to miss a full season of hockey, only to have the players accept a salary cap anyway. (And, of course, history has proven the players once again took the owners to the cleaners.)
Does the NHLPA think players will begin taking pay cuts en masse because an above-average second-line player is suggesting the concept? And what exactly does the PA have to fear? Shouldn’t part of its mandate be to make sure all aspects of the player’s well-being are addressed, not just the money issue?
As much as the NHLPA doesn’t like it, the hometown discount is here to stay. For some players, the notion of remaining in a place in which they are comfortable and playing for a team they know will be a long-term contender outweighs the prospect of making more money somewhere else. The NHLPA should accept and encourage players to do what is right for them as individuals.
Ed Jovanovski has two years remaining on a five-year deal with the Phoenix Coyotes that pays him a total of $32.5 million, but there’s a chance he’ll never have played a playoff game in a Coyotes uniform by the time his contract expires. Nicklas Lidstrom, meanwhile, continues to be underpaid by market standards, but manages to pick up Norris Trophies and Stanley Cups. Who do you think is happier?
The NHLPA shouldn’t even be worried about hometown discounts because players who are chasing big contracts and merit the money will always find them elsewhere. This is the NHL after all, where Tim Connolly can get a two-year deal worth $9 million – with absolutely no provision for games played – after missing almost twice as many games as he has played over the past two-and-a-half seasons.
As players look around the league, see where the cap is headed and take stock of their personal situations, the hometown discount will continue to look attractive to them.
When Marian Hossa signed a one-year deal with the Red Wings, it was said in this space the only way he would not be a Red Wing long-term was if the Wings decided they didn’t want him, not because they couldn’t get Hossa under contract.
It will cause some pain and some loyal players will have to be traded, but the Red Wings will get Hossa under contract on their terms. You can bet on it. And it will be at a hometown discount, whether the NHLPA likes it or not.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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