Q: Canadian teams are doing well now, and one of the things you hear up here is, ‘Why don’t they just fold teams like Phoenix?’ Why is it important to the players that those teams survive? What if rosters of the remaining teams were expanded to prevent job loss?
A: My understanding is that the NHL went to the so-called southern strategy in an attempt to develop a national footprint in the U.S. for the purposes of a much larger national TV contract. There are a lot of people who think that strategy failed. From the players’ standpoint, we want a healthy league with as many teams as we can have and that raises two questions: If a team in city A could be doing much better in city B, and the fact that it’s still in city A is causing us labour problems, why don’t we move it? Atlanta moving to Winnipeg and getting rid of those problems is an example of that. The second question in bargaining is: If a team is kept in a city in which it is not doing very well, and there is another place it could be relocated and do better and make labour relations and everything else easier, and the decision is to leave it in the first city, whose responsibility is that and who ought to bear the cost for it? Those questions from our standpoint have self-evident answers.
Q: Why shouldn’t the owners get a bigger share of revenue? They are the ones who take the risks. Why shouldn’t they be entitled to a bigger share?
A: First of all, when you get into entitled, you’re getting into a very strange concept in a capitalist economy. A player is entitled to a job, but if he can’t play, he doesn’t have the job. Not only that, if he plays this year as well as he did last year, but you find somebody else better, he won’t have the job. Second, were this an industry in which the owners were prepared to say: ‘We will have a free market, and let the owners do whatever they want with salaries on an individual basis and players can negotiate and if it works out better for an individual player or worse for an individual player, that’s the way it is?’ As long as they didn’t conspire on salaries, the players would take that tomorrow, and every club could have its individual risk and every owner make a judgment. The problem is that the owners want a salary cap, and any salary cap – even 57 per cent – underpays the players in the aggregate. Otherwise the salary cap is no good to the owners. It’s only good if it caps or artificially limits what the salaries would be.
Q: What differences have you noticed negotiating with Gary Bettman compared to baseball commissioner Bud Selig?
A: I don’t want to get into personality differences for any number of reasons, one of which is after these negotiations are over and time goes by I’ll probably have a more balanced view than I do now. Secondly, you have to remember that in Gary’s case and in Bud’s case – David Stern and Roger Goodell, too – the notion that they are representing their own personal view of the world rather than what their constituents want them to do is not consistent with my understanding of what happens. If you put Roger Goodell in Gary’s job or Gary in Roger Goodell’s job you would get positions which are more or less the same because they are dictated by the owners and not the commissioners, unless they’re dictated by the common labour strategy of lock out and ask questions later, which exists in the cap sports. Baseball is different in one particular way, and this strikes me as more important as time goes on: Bud Selig is different than any other commissioner I know of with the exception of Al Davis in the early years of the American Football League and the reason is he owned a club and ran a team and he understands what it’s like at the ground level. Without that experience I’m not sure your perspective can be the same. The other thing is that the central operations of the other three sports have for a long time been more significant and larger than they are in hockey. I’m not sure why that is, and I’m not prepared to say it’s a significant difference yet.
Q: A lot of people wonder about NHL players going overseas during the lockout to take other players’ jobs away …