It Was an Excellent Weekend for Whining in the NHL

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Artemi Panarin is just one of the NHL players constantly whining about the league escrow. Image: Getty

For a group of people who have considered themselves the toughest, most down-to-Earth, fight-through-everything bunch for decades, NHL players and fans sure do bitch a lot. We got an excellent example of that this past weekend.

It all kicked off with Artemi Panarin moaning on social media about the favorite target of the NHLPA’s one percent, and that’s escrow. It didn’t take long for another member of the league’s penthouse, Ryan Kesler, to join in. This has been a long-standing tradition among the players who make the most, as Jonathan Toews has been a frequent critic/fire alarm about it in the past. Toews is also a member of the league’s eight-figure salary club, it should be noted.

A quick refresher: because the league’s salary cap is pegged to the projected earnings of that current year, a portion of each player’s salary is withheld in escrow as protection for the owners should actual revenue fall short of the projection from the previous summer to assure the 50-50 split agreed to in the CBA.

While it must certainly suck to see 10-15 percent of your paycheck every two weeks simply disappear, especially when that could total over $100K each month, it’s also the nature of the beast. It goes to prove that either the union isn’t explaining the details of its CBA to every member, or hockey players remain some of the more rock stupid around, or both.

It also shows that even at the top of the food chain, and again in a sport that claims team overall, players will still look out for themselves. What Panarin, Kesler, Toews, and all the others making the most and whining the most don’t seem to realize is that basing the cap on projections for revenue in the current year raises the cap from where it would be under other formulas. This gets more people jobs and more people more money than they might have gotten. The league’s cap is already forcing out the “middle class” of players, evidenced by the wealth of PTOs (Professional Tryout contracts, essentially an invitation to training camp without an official deal) we see every training camp for established players trying to find a roster spot on teams that are simply capped out. Teams have their stars, their young players on entry-level deals, and struggle to find room for those in between. Panarin may hate that 12 percent of his salary is withheld, even if it’s only for a little while, but that helps Jesper Fast make nearly $2M. Kesler is a world-class griper, but while he’s bitching about whatever share his $6.8M is being held up, it keeps Carter Rowney skating.

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What Panarin and Kesler were probably hoping was that they could piggy-back on the MLBPA’s recent fight with Major League Baseball and paint NHL owners in the same light as baseball’s. While owners in hockey are hardly a likable bunch, it’s not the same fight. Their playing counterparts in baseball were fighting because the owners were trying to go back on something they’d already agreed to in March.

Well, the players have agreed to this. And it helps other players, whether they like it or not. If they truly hated escrow that much and wanted it gone, they would have agreed to a salary cap that is pegged to the previous season’s revenue, or just a fixed number altogether. Then there wouldn’t need to be any protections.

And it sounds like they’d better get used to it because the NHLPA is rumored to be close to agreeing on a new CBA with the owners that will see escrow grow to 20 percent next year. That’s due to the cratering of revenue that the pandemic will cause, and the players can expect to see none of that 20 percent returned to them. And even in two years, which is when the rumored “fixed escrow” will reportedly disappear, the cap will still be tied to projected revenue. They’ll still be dealing with it. And they’ll probably still be complaining about it, when they had a chance to do away with it and simply missed it. It’s all about the information, people.

Ah, but that wasn’t all the tantrums being thrown in the league this weekend. The NHL had its Draft Lottery, where the big stories were we still don’t know who will have the No. 1 pick, and the Detroit Red Wings were “rewarded” for having one of the worst teams in recent history by slipping from No. 1 to No. 4.

The reason we don’t know who will be drafting first — whenever the draft is held — is because the NHL put together a convoluted system that represented the teams that will lose in the play-in round of their restarted season in an amorphous blob. That blob won the lottery, and there will be a separate drawing of all the losing teams in the play-in round to see who grabs that top pick. So yes, there are 16 teams right now that have a chance at either the Stanley Cup or the top pick in the draft.

But perhaps the epicenter of the crying quake was Detroit. The Wings took the biggest fall in the lottery, and their fans will never let you hear the end of it. Especially as Steve Yzerman’s quote of “I’m not surprised” could be used by them as proof of their delusions of conspiracy.

Which is hilarious on all fronts. One, the Wings have been the league’s darlings for nearly 30 years now, and even as they put forth a collection of duct tape and bile as a team this year, they still appeared on national TV eight times this abbreviated season. That’s more than the Hurricanes, Jackets, and Islanders combined, all teams either entrenched or competing for playoff spots.

Second, the Wings themselves, and fans, love to document in soul-crushing detail how Detroit teams of yore were built in the late rounds of the draft. Except the last time that happened was 18 years ago, and very arguably with Valtteri Filppula. The Wings’ problem is they’ve drafted just one difference maker overall in a decade at least, and that’s Dylan Larkin, who is probably a really good No. 2 center. Which makes Ken Holland somehow sashaying his way into the Hall of Fame on the back of Mike Illitch’s checkbook, Jimmy Devellano’s work, and dumb idiiot luck simply larceny.

But hey, when there’s no hockey being played, it’s prime bitching season.



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