So What Just Happened?

The Subban negotiation and the state of sports reporting

PK Subban just signed a big fat, 8 year, 72 million dollar contract. It makes him the highest paid defenceman in the league. Well, by average value, Shea Weber’s circumvention deal pays him heavy up front.

So big sigh of relief for Habs fans right? We’ve got our superstars locked up long term and life is good in La Belle Provence.

While I’m psyched Subban is signed and glad we didn’t have to pay the ~12 million he definitely would have gotten as a UFA, I’m more interested in what the Subban negotiations say about the state of sports reporting in Canada.

That said, I am not a sports reporter. I am a dude who likes hockey and follows a bunch of sports reporters on twitter.

Canadians love hockey. We like hockey the way Americans like football. By that I mean we will tune in for news about it 12 months out of the year. So obviously the Subban arbitration was big news, especially when of the other 25 RFAs this summer, 23 were settled before arbitration. This is where first issue appears; nobody seems to have any idea how arbitration works.

In simplest terms, the player and his representation make an argument for why they are worth X dollar value; “when I skate, the ice turns to gold beneath my feet”, “I urinate blue Gatorade, saving us thousands in refreshment costs, “I am the demigod son of Zeus himself, blessed with a holy slapshot” yknow, that sort of thing.

Meanwhile, management makes an argument for why said player is worth Y dollar value (usually much less); “Your ligaments are made primarily of string cheese at this point”, “You didn’t chip in for pizza that one time and then you totally ate like 4 slices”, “your wrist shot and slap have the accuracy and power of the stream of a 95 year old man with prostate issues”

The arbitration ruling is typically a number between X and Y, decided by an impartial arbitrator, let me know if I’m moving too fast for anyone.

So when hundreds of journalists state that Subban’s representation and Canadiens Management are 2.75 million dollars apart (8 – 5.25, MATH) and speculate on what that means for the potential deal…

They are talking out their asses.

 Those numbers are initial bargaining positions, Bergevin did not believe Subban was only worth 5.25, that is where he chose to set his bargaining position for a potential arbitrated RFA contract.

All those journalists predicting doom because of the “almost 3 million dollar difference” were either A) woefully misinformed about how any part of this process works or B) bad journalists using clickbait tactics and I’m not really sure which one is worse.

While sports journalists not knowing how arbitration works is mildly distressing, what followed the Subban hearing was even more so.

After both parties left the hearing, the reports from everyone were that Subban felt personally offended by the proceedings and the relationship between the player and the team was potentially permanently damaged.

These were not wannabe hockey bloggers ranting from their parent’s basement (I’m in my Mom’s living room, its completely different) this was major media outlets; TSN, the Score, CBC and respected hockey “insiders” like Elliote Friedman and Bob Mackenzie.

They all, ALL stated how damaged the relationship was, that we should be prepared for Subban to play another 2 years and then go UFA. That was how bad it was, the sky was falling and Bergevin had continued the recent history of horrible GM moves in Montreal (McDonagh for Gomez still stings).

24 hours later and the insiders did a 180 and were reporting the terms of the deal half an hour or so before the team announced it as they’ve always done.

Okay so they got this one wrong (“super wrong!”) super wrong, yes, which is concerning.

Canadian sports journalism, especially with regards to hockey, is predicated on the Insider. These journalists that have knowledge we can only dream of, their unlimited access allows them to break these stories for our consumption.

Obviously we want these journalists to break these stories for us, but its not ALL we want; ideally we the stories broken to be true, and for the people reporting on these stories to know what they are talking about. Elliote Friedman wrote a 700 word blog post about the damage done to this relationship and 16 hours later is reporting the terms like he didn’t just predict doom for the Canadiens.

You’ll always gain more respect for being right than being first, here’s hoping at the next negotiation a few reporters remember that.

But again, I’m no sports reporter.

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Shut Up and Cheer

(I wrote this when the NHL lockout had just been resolved, I promise it was super topical back then -WH)

Hockey’s back. I can’t wait to embrace my national stereotype, pound some Molson and cheer myself hoarser than the last day of Management Carnival. Although I’m incredibly excited, I’m more concerned with the state of the game and the NHL in general. One side of me wants to spend my remaining grocery money on Canadiens tickets and warm Molson Export, whereas the rational me wants to analyze the latest lockout.

Rational Wyatt: There have been three NHL lockouts in the last twenty years. In the wake of each, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has had to deal with the potential loss of fans and market share. In Canada, however, this will never be an issue. We return to the game with the same passion that compels Canadiens fans to flip police cars when they win. Even if the Air Canada Centre crowd mostly consists of businessmen eating sushi, the Canadian attendance is there. Since Bettman took the job as commissioner in ’93, the emphasis has been on the growth of the American fan base. While this offends many Canadian fans, from a business standpoint, it’s not practical to focus on Canada where the market is already well in hand.

Fan Wyatt: Who cares about viewership and attendance? It doesn’t change the games. Plus, it’s fun to crush those small American market teams. Bring it Columbus.

Rational Wyatt: The NHL should increase market share in the States but the current pattern of labour disputes continues to hamstring efforts to grow the game in the USA. Hockey has always been the fourth sport in the US, lagging far behind football and baseball in popularity. Even though it attracts nearly as many viewers as basketball, hockey still gets far less attention from ESPN, or any news outlet that isn’t TSN.

As the NHL continues expanding in the States, attendance and viewership rise, Gary Bettman annually announces record revenues, and then every six to ten years, like clockwork, hockey surrenders a large portion of its season to a lockout. How can Bettman expect American expansion when he subsequently turns his back on new fans by taking the game away every time the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expires? Does he really think last year’s fans, such as those drawn by LA’s unlikely Stanley Cup, are going to come rushing back?

Fan Wyatt: Who cares about the American fans? I’m in Canada and hockey is always going to matter here. It’s Montreal versus Toronto tonight and I’m revving to see the Habs knock the Leafs back to 1967. 

Rational Wyatt: These lockouts have become the de facto negotiating tool of the NHL. The NHL Players’ Association and the Board of Governors refuse to discuss the terms of the next CBA until right before the season starts. The season can’t start without a ratified CBA and this is never achieved until many games are cancelled. Furthermore, games lost to these lockouts are over problems the team owners created in the first place.

The NHL Board of Governors’ issues revolve around player salary. They argue about implementing new rules that limit the term, value, and circumstances of player contracts. The problem is that the team owners and GMs who issue these contracts then proceed to complain that the very same contracts kill profitability. Prior to the recent lockout, Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold commentedWe’re not making money… …And [the Wild’s] biggest expense by far is player salaries.” The Minnesota Wild then signed Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to contracts totalling $196 million.

Fan Wyatt: I don’t care about these contracts as long as the Canadiens have a solid team.

Rational Wyatt: Evidently, NHL owners are not interested in their own advice. They refuse to curtail spending and conform to the rules that they cry for. The same issues will resurface as a result of this CBA, and they likely won’t be resolved until part of the 2022-2023 season is lost. At this point, I have no hope for any CBA negotiation ending in an equitable deal along with a full NHL season. That being said, this CBA expires in ten years, so until then I’m going to enjoy being Fan Wyatt for just a little longer.

Fan Wyatt: Exactly. Lets split a 24 of Canadian and get our hockey on.