“The only thing I can say is that I want us to play hockey.”
-New York Rangers owner James Dolan to ESPN New York reporter Katie Strang on September 9th, 2012
There might not be another NHL team that has benefited from the last collective bargaining agreement the way the Rangers have.
In the post-Stanley Cup years, they overspent hand-over-fist on a hodgepodge of mismatched, over-the-hill stars and were heading nowhere fast. The 2005 collective bargaining agreement essentially forced them to change philosophy and build the team the right way – with solid drafting and (mostly) complimentary free agent signings. Glen Sather has been able to turn many of his post-lockout free agent mishaps into shrewd trades to better the organization. The product improved leaps and bounds with a payroll lower than it was in 2004. Money is being made.
The Rangers could potentially be the NHL team with the most to lose on and off the ice if there is a long-term lockout or cancelation of the 2012-13 season.
The Rangers catapulted themselves into the ranks of the NHL elite last season and are now viewed as a serious Stanley Cup contender. Henrik Lundqvist is coming off a Vezina-winning year and, at 30, is in his prime. Younger players like Ryan McDonagh and Chris Kreider have yet to hit their peak, and there’s no guarantee that the caliber of goaltending behind them now will still be there when they do. The window to win is open now, and it would a shame to see a year of Lundqvist at the top of his game go to waste.
Rick Nash (HC Davos, Swiss League), Carl Hagelin (Södertälje, Allsvenskan League) and McDonagh (Astana, KHL) are the only Rangers currently on the rosters of European teams. More will likely follow the longer the standoff goes. Nash already had an injury scare and fortunately suffered only a bone bruise. He was listed as day-to-day and finally returned to action Tuesday (he scored a goal in the team’s 3-2 win over EV Zug). Had their prized offseason acquisition been more severely injured, it could have been disastrous for a team that already has Marian Gaborik still recovering from shoulder surgery. Granted, any of these guys could suffer an injury at any time playing in the NHL, but the NHL is where they are signed to these substantial contracts, not these leagues overseas.
The cancelation of the preseason and the first two weeks of the season have not yet had an impact on the revenue that the New York Rangers would have made from games at Madison Square Garden. With phase 2 of major renovations going on, there was no October hockey on the schedule. If the next 2-week block of games goes by the wayside, the Rangers will lose their first three home dates.
For those three dates alone, that’s about 54,600 people not coming through the turnstile and along with it, all those opportunities to sell $10 beers, $15 pastrami sandwiches and $20 lobster rolls; all those brand-new Nash and Kreider jerseys that would go for $200 or so sitting, collecting dust, because there will be no one there to buy them. Projected out over 41 dates, that’s close to three-quarters of a million customers lost, not even counting the potential sixteen postseason home games that would be lost to cancelation. While we’re at it, throw into the mix lost advertising dollars on the MSG Network (and MSG+, which carries New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils games as well) while the NHL is dark. That’s a tremendous amount lost revenue and not good when there’s a billion-dollar arena renovation to pay for. It can’t be good for shareholders of the Madison Square Garden Company either.
The NHL has imposed a gag order on its teams under threat of fine. Makes sense to give the appearance of solidarity because, as we all know, if there’s fracturing of the ranks on public display, leverage disappears. We’ve heard that Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider, are “driving the bus” in these negotiations. Both of these teams are making money, but they are not the only ones pulling in revenue for themselves and the NHL.
We really don’t know how much pull, if any, the owner of the second-most valuable and second-highest grossing team (according to Forbes’ 2012 valuations) in the NHL have in these negotiations. Dolan challenged the League in 2007, suing over control of the Rangers’ website and online merchandise sales. They settled out of court in 2009, but not without the NHL countersuing that they had the right to punish ownership for their insolence. Despite being a major money-maker for the League, it’s not likely he’s in Gary Bettman’s good graces to be as influential as one might expect.
Rangers fans should have been preparing to pull a late Friday night to watch them open up against the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. Instead they’re finding other ways to spend the evening. Season ticket holders should have been anticipating the giddiness of the FedEx guy delivering their tickets in the coming days and catching up with their section-mates on November 1st. Instead they’re being notified of and deciding on their refund options for canceled games.
Mr. Dolan wants the Rangers to play. While it might not necessarily be for the same reasons, so do the fans.
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About the Author: Likes: Hockey, the New York Rangers, King Henrik, singing the Rangers goal song, "The Save", the sound skates make against ice, heckling Marty Brodeur. Dislikes: 3-point games, front-office mismanagement, Denis Potvin, overpriced arena beer. Interested? Follow me on Twitter: @CC_927