Magazine article Newsweek

Now, a Season on Ice; This Year's a Bust and Pro Hockey's Future Looks Grim

Magazine article Newsweek

Now, a Season on Ice; This Year's a Bust and Pro Hockey's Future Looks Grim

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Starr

The National Hockey League has long been regarded as this country's "fourth" major professional sports league. But in recent years, with its dwindling fan base and minuscule TV ratings, the NHL has been flirting with minor-league status. Now its very survival appears to be at stake.

Last week, after one final effort by the league and its players union failed to forge a new contract agreement, the NHL announced it was canceling the remnants of its 2004-05 season, thus becoming the first North American professional league ever to scrub an entire season. "This is a sad, regrettable day which all of us wish could have been avoided," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

In the end, that sentiment was about the only thing on which there was real accord. The players union had never really bought the league's fundamental negotiating premise--that NHL teams had lost more than $225 million last year and almost $2 billion during the past decade. And indeed it was hard to fathom as the league expanded to 30 teams and free-spending owners drove the average player's salary up to $1.8 million, 50 percent more than the NFL. Bob Goodenow, executive director of the union, said players had surrendered much to the league since owners locked them out of training camps last fall--most notably agreeing in principle to a salary cap--but they had simply run out of concessions. …

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