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Canadians weigh in on how the NHL can avoid work stoppages and save the season

Daniel LeRoy | Fulcrum Contributor

Photo illustration by Mico Mazza 

NO STATISTICS ARE needed to show how much the nation is hurting from the NHL lockout.  To us Canucks, hockey is as Canadian as the red maple leaf.

Given that hockey is such a big part of many Canadians’ lives, the NHL lockout has hit hard and left many people looking for answers.

“I feel like most Canadians will be affected by the lockout in some way,” says Alex Murata, a die-hard NHL fan and communications student at the University of Ottawa. “At the most basic level, everyone knows a hockey fan … It’s intense to think about how popular hockey really is in this country and to see all the little ways it’s tied into our lives.”

The main issue of the lockout is a debate over revenue share between teams, owners, and players.

Let’s look at the example of the Phoenix Coyotes, who have a stadium filled to quarter capacity on average nights and tickets being sold for almost half the price of the average Montreal Canadiens game. This means that a lot of money has to be transferred from Montreal to Phoenix to ensure that the Coyotes can compete with “Les Glorieux” when they hit the ice together.

This is commonplace, though, because after the 1994-95 NHL lockout—the first of three since Gary Bettman took over as league commissioner in the early ‘90s—it was agreed that a percentage of the revenue taken in by the top 10 teams would be shared amongst the bottom 15. This is what allows teams to survive in areas where hockey is less popular. To compare, the Coyotes lost an estimated $16 million last season and are competing against teams like the Habs, who gained $70 million.

This poses a question: Why should Canadian NHL cities, most of which are in the top 10 in the league for revenue, pay for a relatively small number of fans living in cities like Phoenix, AZ and Columbus, OH to go to a game for lower costs?

Trevor Drummond, commentator for the McGill Redmen and sports contributor to the McGill Tribune, says the issue can and should be solved not by constantly giving the employees (players) less money, but by moving the teams to locations where they’ll be profitable.

“I would move them from where they can’t make money to where they can,” says Drummond, who also adds that of the six or so teams that should be moved right now, at least four of them should be moved to Canada for economic reasons alone.

With all this said, why is there yet another lockout? Well, the players have been asked to take another cut in salary so that the team owners in those downtrodden markets can keep more of the money for themselves.

The players feel that it’s unfair, which is understandable. It also seems unfair to the Canadians who count on the action of the country’s seven NHL teams to lighten its long and dreary winter months. Fans and analysts would agree that if Bettman were to move the 10 NHL teams that are losing money north of the border to profitable cities like Quebec City, Markham, and Hamilton, it could solve a lot of problems and a lockout wouldn’t be necessary.

“I’d love to see some of the struggling American teams move up north,” says Murata. “When you hear stories about free tickets being handed out with the purchase of a case of beer in the southeast division and see [only] 9,000 strong at a [Columbus] Blue Jackets game, it seems like an obvious decision.”