There has been a great gnashing of teeth and plenty of grumbling from the
owners regarding rising salaries in the NHL in light of the new Paul Kariya and Eric
Lindros contracts, but considering how things appeared just a few months ago, the owners
(and fans) should consider themselves lucky.
Remember how the market looked after Chris Gratton hit the $9 million signing-bonus
jackpot, courtesy of the Philadelphia Flyers? Analysts around the league predicted that if
Gratton drew that kind of money, then the real superstars, like Kariya and Lindros, would
command upwards of $10 million a year, if not more. After having seen the ludicrous
contracts paid to NBA players recently, there was every reason to believe that a new era
was at hand.
But something derailed this crazy train of excess. There seems to be an underlying
uncertainty around the NHL about future revenues - as seen by the lack of long-term
contracts. Lindros, Kariya, and Derian Hatcher each signed for two seasons. Joe Sakic got
a three year deal. Mike Modano signed a one-year pact in hopes of negotiating again next
summer, as did Doug Gilmour.
The league recently signed a new 5-year contract with the Labatt Brewing Company
and the CBC netting more than $50 million per year for Canadian TV
rights, a substantial increase from their previous contract with Molson.
In a couple more years, the U.S. rights go up for grabs, and nobody truly knows where the
bidding will stop. For players, the risk of signing a multi-year deal is that should the
U.S. TV contract prove lucrative, salaries around the league will rise while they lag
behind. For owners, it's hard to project what future revenues will look like, so making
such a major commitment to one player is difficult, particularly in the injury-prone sport
For fans, the good news is that for now, at least, tickets prices aren't likely to keep
rising to support an entirely new level of player compensation. On the contrary, some
teams have realized that they are testing the limits as to how much the public will pay
for tickets, and Pittsburgh management has openly stated that a rollback in prices might
be necessary to once again fill up the Civic Arena. For the moment, it seems, fiscal
responsibility has become trendy in professional sports. Enjoy it while it lasts!