Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The NHL wants the Canadiens around and their money, but damned if they appreciate it.

I'm probably just venting over the loss to the Flyers, but I have to say it anyway.

Montreal is one of the richest franchises in the NHL, they have a legion of fans which is second only to Toronto and that fanbase is largely bandwagon when they have their modest winning streaks every 30 games. Their profits ensure that the NHL's welfare franchises like Atlanta, Florida and Phoenix can continue to exist with revenue sharing.

Montreal fills buildings wherever they go, arenas are always packed because the Original Six, legendary Montreal Canadiens are in town. Perhaps not so legendary anymore, but the name still has great power and ensures higher TV ratings and ticket sales wherever they go.

They've been good members of the NHL, always holding up their end and never needing to ask for financial aid as they stumble through a 5-10 year slump, leeching off of the NHL's revenues while they wait to draft franchise players in the draft for several years while they fail and other teams pick up the check for them.

However, that doesn't mean anything to the NHL it seems. I've always studied game a lot by numbers and when you examine the numbers, some things are just not right.

I'll start with the salary cap, created to ensure parity across the NHL, the cap never considered taxes. If you play in Montreal, you are inevitably going to pay very high taxes compared to other NHL players. Montreal can offer the same as another team, but taxes mean a player might earn millions less. These players are counselled to look after their own interest so they inevitably go where there is more money. Montreal simply gets outbid and finds themselves paying more than another rivals will for the same player. This can add up to a few million dollars each season that other teams have free on their cap. In the age of calculators, team capologists and tax lawyers, I would say would it be impossible to put a Tax Adjustment Clause of some sort in the Collective Bargaining Agreement? The Tax Adjustment Clause would allow the teams with the highest local tax rates to spend over their cap with that spending amount rated against not even the lowest overall local taxes (or lack of, in some NHL cities) but the median rate across the league. They want parity, how about two teams offering 5 million dollars over 5 years but the other team truly offering millions more because their state lacks local taxes?

Television, the Canadiens bring in viewers but damn if they ever get credit for being any good. Hockey Night in Canada is a Maple Leafs cheerleading organization nowadays. If you take a picture of the HNIC staff, close your eyes and put your finger somewhere on the picture, chances are you will have selected someone who nurses a grudge against the Canadiens and thinks they ruined their mediocre career. Now flip over to TSN, now while they are much more competent and Bob Mackenzie is probably the best hockey insider in the country/continent, his fellows can leave much to be desired. The Canadiens find it hard to pick up any credit, especially when Pierre Mcguire their go-to colour man tends to be bipolar about every single player in the organization, discrediting them one game than praising them to the level of elite players in the next game. After the Leafs, the Canadiens are the 2nd-biggest media pull among hockey teams in Canada, it would be nice if the English networks could recognize that now and then.

Officiating, okay a tired horse for a Habs fan but when I think of the games that just stunk of bias or incompetence, it adds up sooner or later. The most famous incident for some Habs fans in recent memory was the 2008-2009 NHL season, a road game against Carolina in which the Canadiens would take 11 minor penalties to the Hurricane's 1. I still have a grudge over the non-call on Justin William's stick slashing Saku Koivu's eye from Game 3 of the 2006 Montreal-Carolina playoff series, but I admit Koivu was my hero for the Habs. In the 2010 playoffs, goaltender interference seemed to be abolished and the Canadiens had to win in spite of bad officiating on several nights. The Habs have now played through 3 straight games only drawing 4 PPs in that time. If that seems like not much, well you'd be right. Of the last 23 games played in the NHL not involving Montreal, 15 teams have drawn at least 4 power play opportunities.

I don't know why the officiating goes this way against Montreal, is it the Southern Ontario referees nursing grudges against Montreal from the 1970s? Could be some of them I suppose. But again, it's not like Montreal has benefited greatly when a French Canadian official calls the match. Is it incompetence? It could be considering the size of the NHL expansion, the switch to dual referees in a game and an aging core of veteran referees that retire, leaving much less capable ones in their wake. The NHL does not seem terribly invested in seeing that the Canadiens get their games called fairly or that the officials give them any leeway. Tinfoil hat territory? I don't know, for a team that is accused of being a fast, skilled team that may be too small and soft it seems peculiar that they've drawn 104 power play opportunities and assessed for 140 minor penalties on their season.

Am I ranting? Probably but I don't really care right now. The league has to have a little more respect for a team that keeps it flush in cash, puts bums in the seats, keeps strong TV ratings and doesn't leech off the draft to build themselves up. Whether it's telling Subban he can't be an energetic player on the ice, that the Canadiens just get lucky when they win, spitting in their face for equity on the salary cap or not looking into possible officiating biases, the Habs deserve better for what they do for the NHL.

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