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Calling Fischler’s Bluff—Chelios Won’t Lead Another PA Revolt

by George James Malik

As Paul noted on Monday, the inestimable Stan Fischler had some choice words for Chris Chelios, who Fischler believes will succeed Ted Saskin as the NHLPA’s chief executive:

One hopes that some good will come of the Sheila Block-Union probe, which is due for a public revelation next Thursday. If the finger is pointed at Ted Saskin it will be old news. Chris Chelios insists that Block’s report will confirm the hiring of Saskin as the head of the Union was not within the guidelines of the NHLPA’s constitution. What really matters is where the Union goes from here. You can bet that if Chelios becomes the new, chief Association power broker there will be another civil war in two years. …

Ol’ Comrade Stan is barking up the wrong tree in looking to unleash his hatred for the PA upon Chris Chelios. 

Chelios never intended to run the NHLPA—first, and foremost, he’s very busy both managing two successful restaurants and playing hockey for the Detroit Red Wings, which he plans on doing so for at least a few more years.  Moreover, he never wanted to stage another lock-out—Chelios wanted to get Saskin’s butt kicked out of office, and he wants the NHLPA to act and operate as an honest, open, and accountable union.  That’s all. 

Chelios has his beefs with the collective bargaining agreement, there’s no doubt—Chelios and the dissidents certainly believe that Saskin and Linden looked at Bill Daly when they realized that Goodenow and Bettman really weren’t listening, and that they could craft their own compromise CBA and answer to no one if information was managed and mismanaged correctly (a certain hockey blogger asks for your money because he was an obedient “leak”), and one of the first things Saskin and Linden agreed to was a cap linked to a fixed percentage of revenues—but undoing the salary cap is not a fight Chelios or anyone else can win at this point. 

The union wants to put this Saskin mess behind it and keep playing, and, at this point, the best thing that Chelios and the dissidents can accomplish is instilling an understanding that the NHLPA’s individual members may feel that they simply “can’t be bothered” by silly things like both holding the NHL accountable for its revenue projections and growing the game in a business sense—in this case, effectively managing their present and future as business-savvy partners with the league—and that the job of a player includes both the governance of a democratic or at least republican union as well as that of a group of individuals who should have 55% of the say in matters pertaining to hockey operations, whether we’re talking about rules regarding hot-button issues like head-shots, revisions to the NHL’s schedule, or potential expansion to new markets.

Neither the union nor the NHL would benefit from another lockout at this time, and Chelios of all people should know that, having been such a vocal critic of Bettman during the first lockout.  The players don’t have the leverage to demand a larger percentage of revenues from the league, and they will never, ever un-do the salary cap because, as the sales of the Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lighting indicated, the owners have everything they could ever want in “cost certainty.”

The business of owning and operating professional sports franchises isn’t about simply making money off a strict ticket-and-sponsorship-revenues-which-outstrip-one’s expenses basis anymore.  It’s a complex business venture that involves leveraging the tremendous amount of economic “clout” that a pro sports team adds to one’s business portfolio, and the biggest and best reason to own a hockey franchise these days is “cost certainty.”

As far as banks and financial planning institutions are concerned, there is no more sound an investment than one in which costs are capped to a certain percentage of revenues, and regardless of whether a professional sports franchise makes or loses money on a day-to-day basis, it remains an economic venture which will increase in equitable value consistently.

In other words, the lockout was about equity, and in a capped world, regardless of whether you’re the Nashville Predators or Toronto Maple Leafs, your franchise’s bank value increases on a year-to-year basis, and increases by substantial margins.  That means more economic clout in leveraging sponsorship agreements, arena deals that may be partially or fully subsidized by governmental agencies, and the opportunity to do what any homeowner can—cash in on some of that equity, whether that’s by getting some fast cash from 1-800-reverse-rink-mortgage or starting a consulting firm that guarantees its financial planning and even loans on the bank value of its franchise…

Or cashing out when you feel that your investment has appreciated to the point that you’d rather hand off the actual day-to-day financial losses to some other schmoe. 

The NHL has no real argument with the Forbes reports—other than to privately snicker when their owners look at the sales of the Predators and Bolts and say, “They always under-project our franchise values.” 

If the NHLPA wants to try and undo the tie that binds costs and revenues, the NHL will happily lock them out for a decade to retain the cost certainty that was so dearly won by canceling the 2004-2005 season.  Chris Chelios and the rest of the NHLPA’s members, whether they wish to be business-savvy partners in a more democratic union of players and owners, or whether they’d rather simply play, cash their paycheques, and wait to find out how much escrow they’ll get back in June as what is probably “bonus money” in the eyes of their own financial planners, all know it.

Chris Chelios is fighting to transform a union that has operated, from its outset, in a private and complicit accordance with the good old boys’ club which now controls those 30 sound financial investments, into a union that actually represents the interests of its players, and actually attempts to not only honestly operate as a labour union, but also demand a seat at the NHL’s table, whether they’re asking the NHL to finally provide an objective, external financial audit of their Hockey Related Revenues, or to ask for a say in the governance of the game and how the game is “sold” to those, “Thank You, Fans!”

Maybe that’s what Fischler’s really afraid of, and maybe that’s the war he’s really referring to—a war against happy, staid convention—and maybe Chelios and the dissidents’ collective cajones to stand up and demand the responsibilities as well as benefits of their “partnership” will be overruled by the guys who want to “just play” and let other people worry how the league works, what the rules are—aside from having a seat or two on the competition committee—and how the game is marketed and sold…

But there is at least the possibility of change, change which, as fans, will allow us to gain leverage in the governance and “selling” of the game by asking the NHLPA, as equal partners, to be more responsive to our needs and concerns than the people who take 100% of our dollars are, and that is a good thing. 

Even if things remain the same, at least the players won’t be lied to by both the league they play for and the union that’s supposed to protect them and represent their best interests in their workplace, and as far as this Detroit-born son and grandson of line workers is concerned, that’s also a very, very good thing in itself.

Especially if it scares Stan Fischler.

Filed in: NHLPA, George James Malik, | KK Hockey | Permalink


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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.

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