by SENShobo on 09/09/10 at 01:33 PM ET
From seemingly out of nowhere, Dan Ellis has found himself etched into the public sphere in no time at all, and just as quickly buffed out of it. Based on the reaction of the 12,000+ followers and countless more who would read and reply to his tweets on the subject of money, it would seem less a debate than a Frankenstein’s-monster-eque mob swirling around the outspoken player.
Somehow, I once had the belief that athletes with opinions and more than dried up cliches to offer were the ones the public wanted to hear from.
Given everyone’s economic distress, his own admission of stress over money was bound not to fly with many. But it does highlight the upcoming battle with the end of the current CBA, a battle with four sides. A battle that Ellis’ tweets offered a glimpse of, and of a reality few would believe in.
With the owners, the battle is obvious. teams flush with money want to be able to drop it freely on free agents to build their team, and want to be able to dismiss their problem players more easily. Teams with less money want to control their costs with a salary cap, and either through a lower floor or higher revenue sharing need to get themselves afloat.
With the players, it’s not so clear cut. Capping salaries may have appeared to some players to have limited the amount the stars could receive, and open up more salary for themselves. Yet, despite that, it still seems as though the cream of the crop only grew marginally. Each season, this is only aggravated by the cap inflator the players have always voted in. In boosting the cap, the players do not change the amount of money they receive, only the cap within which their teams’ GMs can play, perhaps hoping that extra space would allow for more jobs and higher salaries.
While early years saw small returns, the players would always have received the same share of revenues; boosting the cap only meant that the returned escrow and extra pay was worth less per dollar of a player’s cap hit. Worse still, it would appear to an outside observer that the extra cap space would only wind up increasing the already large top-end contracts, leaving countless NHLers out of work, or scrounging for the few scraps left.
This imbalance could well be the dispute amongst NHLers in new CBA negotiations. Based on NHL Numbers, while the average salary of the 639 NHL players under contract this season is $2.47 million, the median (or 319th highest salary) is only $1.8 million, showing a heavy skew towards the top end earners. The median remaining contract term is also just 2 years of security; a far cry from the 15 years Kovalchuk has.
When Dan Ellis sighed over financial stress on twitter, it achieved precisely what you would expect: those of us not earning $1.5 million this year got upset. What was missing was the context.
Imagine if you will that you are Dan Ellis, or someone earning a League-minimum salary this season. Imagine you are living in Canada. Imagine that Excel screenshots are pretty.
In both cases, between (last year’s) escrow, theoretical agents, and taxes, that salary number you find so easily online actually translates into something less than half that size. Take, suddenly, a borderline player like ex-Senator Brian McGrattan (apologies to Grats for my theorizing).
Odds are that, as far as NHL salaries appear, he has earned a nominal sum of $2 million. He has only pocketed $1 million. He is also currently not looking at 15 years of security, let alone one. I don’t make $1 million.
But I have not spent my whole life working towards hockey. I have not sacrificed the chance at higher education, NCAA scholarships, or lifetime employability for the sport of hockey. How employable are the bottom half of NHLers who earn less than $1.8 million, post-NHL? While some players will, like Nieuwendyk and Yzerman, ascend to high posts, and a few others, like Weekes and Potvin, will find employ, many others will have a hard time marketing themselves at 30 with only a high school education.
That $1 million that McGrattan has hypothetically pocketed? Spread out until he’s 90, not considering fancy things like annuities, investments, and the like, would see him able to spend far less each year.
$16,666.67 (back to those Kovalchuk connections again, perhaps?). Even if you wanted to burn out at 60, that’s still just barely north of $33K.
I’m no hockey player, but I am confident that I can earn $50,000 a year for the next 40 years. Or, put another way, $2 million. Only I won’t ever pay anywhere near the debilitating taxes that an NHLer would, since my pay never hits those high rates. I will also never face the difficult task of taking home a cheque worth almost $250,000 at the end of a year, and telling myself that I can only live as though it were $17,000, resisting the urge to drive up to work in a BMW, live in a mansion, or enjoy life the same way a teammate such as Jason Spezza, with his vastly incomparable $49 million contract, and the sponsorships and other funds he’s received would allow. Hoping the whole time that my latest deal would not be my last.
That’s what you can’t communicate in 140 characters, no matter how many tweets you spread it across.
That’s also why I wonder who the NHLPA player representatives are. When half of the NHL’s players are under 27, half with two or fewer years of contract security, and half with nominal pay of $1.8 million or less, what would the median and mode of those player reps be? Whose interests are being better served when Kovalchuk’s contract goes through?
Dan Ellis is just the tip of an iceberg. A candid tip who will be missed, and whose departure sets a precedent that, if followed, only further blinds our view of what goes on behind the scenes, scenes we are all curious about, or else we would not find ourselves surfing to Kukla’s Korner.
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