Visors aren't a joke, but free market is funny

Updated: June 15, 2004, 1:18 PM ET
By Adam Proteau | The Hockey News

As the NHL's postseason draws to an end, we thought it time to dip into the wellspring of vitriol and venting otherwise known as our reader mail. Some of your missives have been brilliant, while others stand up as a shade less legitimate than Shelly Long -- who was fortunate enough to play the WASPiest hooker in cinema history -- in "Night Shift." So let's have at it:

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After our article lauding Steve Yzerman's decision to come out in favor of mandatory visors for NHLers, we received a torrent of similar-minded correspondence.

"As a hockey fan (of) nearly 50 years," wrote "Michael" from parts unknown, "one has to wonder why any player in this day and age fails to recognize the value of visors. The NHL could (solve the problem) with the able assistance of insurance companies who should state, and rightfully so, that any player injured around the eyes while not playing with eye protection will not qualify for insurance. Think about the cost to the players! Bottom line: place the risk on the player and the (players') union will force the issue. It is a simple business proposition."

Michael understands that players can't use the "it's a business" cliché to explain away trades and contract disputes, yet in the same breath deny owners their right to treat a player's good health as a business asset. Such a view is unadulterated hypocrisy and needs to go the way of pet rocks and man-perms.

But the most powerful response to the Yzerman column came from Lyman Haakstad, a 1970s-era center at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, who suffered a catastrophic eye injury after he'd left pro hockey.

"I started playing for fun in a senior league, coaching and playing and having a few beers afterwards," Haakstad wrote. "Two years of this, for fun, (when) a puck deflected off a stick and hit me square on the eyeball. It traumatized the eye so severely, I lost sight in my left eye, which is why I am with Stevie Y when it comes to wearing eye protection.

"It is much harder to adjust to anything in life with one eye. Your depth perception goes on you and all kinds of sports become a real challenge. I loved all sports and excelled in most, but when I lost my eye, most sports weren't fun anymore.

"If someone wants to experience what it is like to live with one eye, cover one up for a day and try playing ping-pong or any sport that requires making solid contact with a moving object.

"Just the perspective of someone who lost an eye playing the sport he loved."

Hard to put it better than that. Thanks for your candor, Lyman.

Another article that struck a nerve was our rant regarding the need for a salary cap in the NHL's next labor agreement. Our suggestion -- that the only proper way to convince the ticket-buying public that all teams have a genuine chance to compete for talent is via an NBA-style soft cap -- wakened the usual fringe-oids and space-wasters from their slumber. To wit:

"What else should I expect from a commie from Canada?' wrote the thoughtful and not-at-all-insane Steve N. from Denver. "If the Avalanche run their franchise successfully and sell out the building every game, why should the boobs in, say, Edmonton get to enjoy the cash that the Avs would have to pay out under a soft cap, luxury tax system?"

There are two problems with Steve's argument. Firstly, one franchise's success does not ensure the continued success of a league. Indeed, George Steinbrenner's Yankees arguably are the planet's most lucrative sports franchise, yet baseball has never been more poorly regarded.

Furthermore, Steve's reference to the boobs in Edmonton is obviously misguided. Judging by the civic festivities after Flames playoff victories, all the boobs are in Calgary.

But most Screen Shots readers got our point.

"Right on!' wrote Dale J. "I'm a Calgary fan, but I know that what we're experiencing now is a once-in-a-lifetime fluke under the current system.

"If there is no cap, Robyn Regehr, Jarome Iginla, and all our key players end up in Detroit or the like while we draft and develop the next generation of stars for the big market teams and hope to make the playoffs once in a while. The past 10 Stanley Cup winners and the list of teams that regularly make the playoffs tells you all you need to know about how well the current system works.

"Without a cap, hockey dies."

One reader, Russ F. from Alberta, said it better than we did:

"Can we get a court injunction to stop the NHLPA from referring to the current collective bargaining agreement as a free-market system?" he wrote. "Let's get one thing straight ­ it isn't. The NHL's current CBA is a franchising system. In a free-market system, firms use their resources to compete for market share and profit with the ultimate goal of establishing a monopoly or near monopoly. In that way the goal of, for example, Coca-Cola, is to take away Pepsi's market share and drive it out of business.

"By contrast, NHL teams are franchises of a parent company, and NHL franchises do not directly compete with each other. They are like a McDonald's; one franchise doesn't strive to drive every other nearby McDonald's out of business. For that reason, McDonald's parent company ensures its franchises are well spaced, that all menu items are priced the same and that the advertising of the product is identical. There is no such thing as a Big Mac price war!

"Why do I care? Because the suggestion NHL teams should be allowed to function in a free market implies the function of the Rangers is to maximize market share by driving the Islanders, Devils and Sabres out of business. It's stupid! The NHL markets and thrives off its rivalries!

"As a guy with a business background, I hate seeing an economics term inappropriately used to justify something that does not apply to it. It amazes me to see players claim major league sport franchises are in competition with one another, then pursue anti-trust legislation against the owners. How can the NHL be a monopoly if there are 30 independent companies in a 'free market' system?"

That's a good question, Russ. Perhaps the enlightened thinkers at the NHLPA can answer it ­ and maybe include their grand plan to save the game as well­ by the time the players are locked out. They certainly haven't seemed in much of a hurry thus far.

E-mail Adam Proteau at aproteau@thehockeynews.com.

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