Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

(Update:)

Fans of all sports, in their darker and more bored moments, have been following possible plans or proposals on how to finish various seasons around the globe. And seeing as how we’re all entering the darkest and most bored moments now, this has become rather weighty for some. If you’re a panicky Liverpool supporter with really annoying friends like I am, you’ve been reading up on any strand or thread you can find to assuage your fears that you’re going to listen to a year or more of endless mocking (or at least a different kind).

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The NHL is no different, as hockey fans, media, and players are staring at missing out on their precious playoffs for the first time in more than 100 years. Perhaps no other sport anywhere considers its playoffs as hallowed as hockey does, and basically uses it to justify every piece of idiocy and fuck-up that takes place the rest of the time. Even as the playoffs themselves have dived deeper into silliness, chaos, and outright crime, those inside the too-small and too-insulated world of hockey use it as proof of the passion and why it’s simply better than anything else.

Empty arenas and lost games have put the NHL in a corner.
Empty arenas and lost games have put the NHL in a corner.
Photo: Getty

You might have heard slightly more about hockey’s possible resolutions on how to finish this season, including yesterday’s report of a players’ brainstorm (and the phrase “NHL players brainstorm” is truly something to behold) of finishing the regular season in late July after a brief training camp, with the playoffs taking place in August and September, a European soccer-like offseason merely contained to October, and then starting the ’20-’21 season in November.

You’ll probably hear more of these kinds of things, because none of the three major sports currently on hiatus need to finish more badly than the NHL.

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Of the four majors, no sport is more dependent on gate receipts and asses in the seats than the NHL. It doesn’t have the multi-billion dollar TV deal of its three cohorts, but one in the hundreds of millions combined between NBC in the Colonies and Rogers above the 49th parallel.

And even an NHL player, with their likely 7th-grade education, can put it together that a portion of the season and the entire playoffs getting banged means the salary cap is going to take a major hit.

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The NHL salary cap is calculated by splitting hockey-related revenue down the middle. And that HRR is defined as a lot of things, including the TV deal which would be mostly banked, but also ticket sales, and everything connected to ticket sales — concessions, parking, merch, etc. That doesn’t get into what ad revenue the NHL and its teams locally would have to return or miss out on, depending on what those contracts look like.

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Currently, the NHL is set to miss out on 14-17 percent of its season, as every team has 12-14 games left. That doesn’t mean that if they didn’t play another game next year’s salary cap would go down by that same margin, due to all the other things that go into HRR.

Still, gate receipts make up somewhere just south of 40 percent of total revenue for the NHL, much higher than the other three major sports.

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Some rudimentary math would suggest that if the NHL didn’t play another game this season, next year’s cap would deflate somewhere between $5 million and $7 million. There had been talk, before the Coronavirus shutdown, that next year’s cap could rise to $85 million or so. Even a drop of $5 million would keep next year’s cap under this year’s, and leave a lot of teams scrambling.

If this were to happen, you would have to imagine the players would use their full 5 percent bump escalator, and not have to worry too much about escrow this time around. Any projection next season, whenever it gets started, would be better than this year’s actual revenue simply because it would be 82 games instead of the 68-70 games they might get this season. That would put the cap up to around $82 million-$84 million, which at least is something of a rise for teams even if not the one they were hoping for.

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You can be sure that’s what all these plans that have been thrown about, and much more publicly and numerous than other sports, are aiming to save. That includes the 24-team playoff that would just so happen to lasso Chicago and Montreal into it, two buildings that the league can count on to be sold out for however many games they would get in that Seussian system. Both the owners and players need it.

Which is why the players, even if it’s just a handful of them, are willing to go to such lengths to try and preserve this season as close to form as they can. The players hate having to use that escalator, as it increases escrow, because no one has told them that a system based on projections needs protections. But mostly they want the most amount of money possible whenever and however free agency comes about. And owners don’t want to have to see their GMs cut adrift a third or quarter of their team just because.

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For instance, the Tampa Bay Lightning are already fucked, as they have $74 million committed to just 15 players for next season. The cap remaining stagnant — or worse, it sinking — could see them have to jettison some truly nice pieces like Tyler Johnson or Ondrej Palat to keep Anthony Cirelli and/or MIkhail Sergachev in town. And pretty much every team would have decisions like that to make.

I’d get into Toronto’s massive problems, but I don’t need stuffed-animal wielding weirdos who drink their own piss to survive chasing me down the street, Or additional ones, at least.

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When season cancellations come about, you can bet the NHL will hold out longer than the NBA does. It kind of has to.

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