Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Fact or Fiction with the WHA!

Neil Macrae resident sports guru at Vancouver radio station CKNW, has given legs to a rumour that is quickly making the rounds of the hockey world. McRae is reporting this morning that the NHLPA had explored the option of purchasing the WHA but chose to pass on the opportunity.

The story it would seem has it that, the players association thought that a way to get around the NHL lockout might be to buy their own league and get back to work. Having the players working at their sport, the pressure of a rival loop would thus put some pressure on the NHL to settle on the union’s terms. In a way it would become a league of convenience; to be used as a gambling chip in this giant game of ice poker currently going on.

You can listen to Macrae and Brian Burke discusses the idea on the NW morning sportscast at 8:20, check it out here on their audio vault.

If indeed the rumour has something to it, the questions that are out there make for interesting study. It would be interesting to see what factors the NHLPA used when determining that investing in a hockey league was not a wise decision. Was it the possibility of losing its members money that scared off the idea of buying a rival circuit?

Perhaps after doing some number crunching the NHLPA realized that the challenges of organizing a league with arena leases, insurance, player salary structure and such wasn’t going to make for a profitable situation. Salaries would have been an interesting case study, suddenly players that were making multi millions of dollars would have to try and balance the cash coming in with the cash going out. How long before some players used to making a huge salary would have to be told that due to financial constraints they needed to take a pay cut? Who would run such a collective group, would they nominate one of their team reps or would Goodenow become a defacto commissioner, giving him some common ground with Gary Bettman and ironically perhaps some sympathy.

We’ll probably never know, as there is not much likelihood that the NHLPA will ever admit to having given the idea serious consideration. The necessary due diligence of starting into such a venture might have indirectly given them some insight into the situation that the NHL faces at this time. That would not be helpful to their current stand, that Hockey is making enough money to share among the stake holders, without the need for “hard salary caps” or “cost certainty”.

In a way it’s unfortunate that the rumoured plan didn’t proceed, it would have been interesting to see if the union’s position on the state of hockey would stand up to the test of the marketplace. Is their current stand nothing but pure posturing, designed to apply the maximum pressure to obtain the maximum reward? Or were we on the brink of a brand new revolution in the world of hockey? Was this story Fact or Fiction? It’s an intriguing question, but one that apparently will go unanswered.

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