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NHLPA head Paul Kelly is all business

Adam Proteau over at the Hockey News has excerpts from an interesting interview with NHLPA head Paul Kelly posted today, and it's well worth harkening to the man who's lent credibility to an organization that was faltering in the wake of the Great Lockout. While Kelly's professionalism is welcome, his ideas still need to be vetted:

"...under the collective bargaining agreement, the players have no voice and no role, in a technical manner, as it pertains to relocation or expansion. And we don’t derive any financial benefit from that, which I think is a mistake."

That's a pretty odd misstatement on Kelly's part. If the NHL expands, the NHLPA instantly grows by ~25 members for each team. No, they don't get a cut of the expansion fee, but the NHLPA definitely benefits. In the event of relocation, there's no windfall either, but if a team moves to a more attractive market, hockey-related revenues will increase, of which the majority goes to the players.

"But if you’re in Phoenix or you’re in Florida, it’s really tough for those teams to put people in the seats and sell the game. We understand that and maybe the revenue-sharing system is part of the answer. But our view is that if teams in any region suffer (financial) losses three or four years in a row, then stop complaining about it in a (business) system you created and imposed here, and start asking the question whether you’re in the right place."

There are definitely concerns as to how the tight, $16 million range in the salary cap relates to the widely varying revenue of various teams, due in part to the relatively minor role that revenue sharing plays in the NHL compared to the NFL or NBA, which boast more lucrative, league-wide TV contracts. However, the notion that after 3 or 4 bad years a team should start the process to leave for a hungrier market is distressingly mercenary.

In the vast majority of (particularly American) markets, pro sports teams leverage long-term relationships with the cities they settle in, committing to lengthy stadium leases in return for tax breaks and arena funding. I'm convinced that part of why the NHL turned so suddenly against Jim Balsillie's attempt to buy the Predators is because he ran the risk of exposing the team and the league to breach-of-contract liability, with his blatant efforts to sell NHL hockey in Hamilton before making even a token effort to do so in Nashville. The risk there was that a Major League scenario would occur, with an owner deliberately sabotaging his team in order to drive down attendance and trigger a release clause. Rather than look at "losses three or four years in a row" to determine whether a market is viable (in which case the Blues, Islanders and Blackhawks would probably be relocating), it makes sense first to look at the competitive situation, and whether the team has failed to draw well even after achieving success. Teams like Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Carolina seem to be doing decently, well after having a sip from the Stanley Cup. Losing fails to sell anywhere, whether in Atlanta, Florida, Chicago or St. Louis.

Kelly did, however, extend a helping hand towards Gary Bettman, with a rejoinder to those who (myself included) wondered whether his job might be on the line over the Del Biaggio situation:

"You know, I was a federal prosecutor for 10 years and a white-collar practitioner for 12 years thereafter, so I know a little bit about due diligence and financial fraud. We at the NHLPA don’t get involved with any of this, but I think if someone is a sophisticated fraudster, they can conceal anything from anybody. It’s pretty hard to find."

Overall, it's a welcome insight into the thinking of one of the most pivotal figures in our sport.