At this point in the NHL lockout, it’s ridiculous to contemplate an end to the work stoppage in terms of winners and losers because there’s been so much damage done to both sides, the owners and the membership of the NHLPA – not to mention the fan base – already.
With so much quibbling about who gets what percentage of the take and what constitutes hockey related revenue — when the sides are face-to-face at the bargaining table, which they aren’t right now — the bottom line is hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue have already been lost. Those are dollars that won’t be recouped by owners or players. They’re gone.
To compound the dollars already out the door, there’s also the matter of the people stuck in the middle, the fans, who have every right to flip a middle digit at Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr, take their disposable income and entertainment dollars elsewhere and not come back even when hockey does. I suspect the percentage of fans who stay away this time will dwarf the numbers who turned their attention elsewhere after 2004-05.
Those are the big picture issues facing the entire NHL. On a smaller scale, when I look at the roster of the Edmonton Oilers, any NHL roster for that matter, I see players with more to lose than others should the entire 2012-13 season be scrubbed – and we aren’t far off seeing that happen.
While I don’t expect hockey fans stuck out in the cold yet again to be sympathetic when it comes to the NHLPA rank and file, there’s no question some players will be hit harder than others if the entire season is lost. When it comes to the Oilers, five examples stand out for me.
Ryan Smyth’s return to the Oilers via a trade with the Los Angeles Kings was supposed to be a feel-good story and he surprised critics who thought he was near the end of the line with a hot start to last season before running out of gas.
Smyth has the benefit of a new two-year contract, even allowing for the pay cut he took ($4.5 million over the term), but money’s not the issue with No. 94 because he’s made a stack of it already. Time is the problem – Smyth is 36 years old now and there’s a lot of clicks on his odometer.
Having talked to Smyth a length upon his return to Edmonton, I can say he was legitimately excited about being a part of young and improving roster and showing the likes of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins the ropes. Smyth leads by example, by doing what he does, as opposed to taking youngsters under his wing or making dressing room speeches. If Smyth can’t play, he can’t lead. Time is running out in the twilight of his career.
At 29, Ryan Whitney is right in the middle of prime time for defenseman, so age isn’t the issue with him. Health is, and while the extra time he’s getting to heal, recover and work out after yet another injury-plagued campaign is a positive, the timing of this imposed rest is not.
Whitney is in the final year of a six-year contract worth $24 million. He was supposed to make $5.5 million this season. Obviously, Whitney has already made an outrageous amount of money compared to all the ticket-buying Joes out there, so I’m not suggesting anybody stage a telethon for him.
That said, Whitney’s wonky feet and ankles, which limited him to 51 games last season and 35 the season before, are going to cost him many millions of dollars if he becomes a UFA without a season to show he can return to form. Yes, that’s a long shot, but a season on the shelf means no shot.
At 37, Andy Sutton was nearing the end of the road regardless of the state of CBA talks, and injuries might have spelled the end of the big blueliner’s career any way, but I hate to see an honest player like Sutton unable to go out on his own terms, whatever the reason.
Yes, Sutton is a role player, a third-pairing guy some nights and a press-box scratch on others, but he knows his way around the block and there’s still a trick or two about being a good pro he could have imparted to the developing players on the blue line like Jeff Petry, Laddy Smid and Justin Schultz.
At 32, Darcy Hordichuk is getting long in the tooth for guys with his job description and if he loses this season and the $850,000 that goes with it, he’ll take a big pay cut as a UFA in 2013-14, if he gets an NHL deal at all.
Again, as with Sutton, I’m not trying to paint Hordichuk, who averaged all of 4:21 of ice time in the 43 games he played for the Oilers in 2011-12, as anything close to a necessary component moving forward, I just don’t like to see a blue collar guy ushered out into the real world without having a chance to put up a fight.
Good riddance. Yes, I understand the sentiment. I get it that there will be far more Oiler fans fist-pumping at the thought of being rid of Nikolai Khabibulin and his four-year ticket than there will be lamenting a lost season for the 39-year-old puck stopper.
While I don’t have any interest in seeing Khabibulin between the pipes for more than 15-20 games a season at this point in his career because his skills have obviously eroded, I would like to see him mentoring Devan Dubnyk as he tries to establish himself as a No. 1 goaltender for another season.
If Khabibulin goes out without a chance to play another game, that’s a shame on a personal level for a Stanley Cup winner and player who has been a good pro, but I’m just as concerned how it’ll impact Dubnyk. They have a terrific relationship and there’s no overstating the importance of that.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.