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(Originally Published Oct. 13, 2004)

No Hockey? No Problem!

At least we won't have to worry about finding the CBC National News this winter amid all the late NHL games.

The NHL would have opened its 2004-2005 season today with seven games. Instead, the lockout imposed by team owners has cancelled opening day and thrown this season into doubt. But this has been met with deafening silence by most Canadians.

Team owners say player salaries have gotten out of hand in a game that is gate-driven -- that is, a game whose revenues come largely from people buying tickets rather than from television rights. They want what amounts to a limit on player salaries.

Players reject the salary cap, arguing the current market-driven system works just fine. They have reportedly agreed to a pay cut and to a new salary limit on rookies.

There have been warnings that the conflict threatens Canada's national game. Balderdash. It threatens only the NHL and its well-paid players. Here's some fun with figures:

The average NHL player salary last season was $1.8 million (U.S.). The owners' offer would bring that average down to $1.3 million (U.S.). According to Statistics Canada, the median family income in 2000 was $55,016 (Can.) or, at the current rate of exchange, about $44,000 (U.S.). That's about 2 1-2 per cent of last year's average player salary. Put still another way, it takes the incomes of 40 families to equal one player salary. And most Canadians know it.

Most nights this winter will still be Hockey Night in Canada. But the players will be skating for teams like the Windsor Spitfires and the Kingston Frontenacs and the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League. And tickets to those games will be a lot more affordable than any NHL match.

And once it gets really cold, you can watch hockey for free in the country's backyards and its frozen ponds and its public parks and its municipal arenas. You can watch kids playing on your street -- and if you drive by, you can also get the pleasure of having your presence hailed by a kid shouting: "car!"

Nothing could ever happen to change the status of hockey as our game. But let's remember that hockey and the NHL are not synonyms, despite what the League would have you believe.

Email to joel@joelruimy.com

Copyright 2004 Joel Ruimy

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