NHL franchise owners show their true Grinch colours

Four months after putting the screws to the NHLPA to cough up more escrow, the board of governors decided to go back to the well and tighten the screws, those scum sucking bastards.

We have the looming threat of an NHL lockout during a pandemic thanks to the Grinch-like behaviour of the NHL's board of bastards. PHOTO BY CRAIG RUTTLE /AP

We have the looming threat of an NHL lockout during a pandemic thanks to the Grinch-like behaviour of the NHL’s board of bastards. PHOTO BY CRAIG RUTTLE /AP

Jack Todd  •  Montreal Gazette

You have to say one thing for the billionaire owners of sports franchises: they rarely miss an opportunity to go full Grinch.

Mid-pandemic, thousands of people dying every day, the U.S. running at more than one million new cases a week, jobless folks everywhere, stores closing, entire industries in trouble and a long, dark winter ahead — what better time to demand still more from the players?

Four months — four months — after putting the screws to the NHLPA to cough up more escrow, the board of governors decided to go back to the well and tighten the screws.

When the new CBA was ratified in July, there was an agreement on the money that would be deferred for the 2020-2021 season, with a 10-per-cent salary deferral and 20 per cent going to escrow, and with the percentage in escrow decreasing through the life of a contract that ends after the 2024-2025 season. It was bad for the players, but it could have been worse.

Now it’s worse. Last week, the NHL went back to the well. According to Elliotte Friedman, the league submitted two proposals, one asking for deferred compensation to go to 20 per cent from the 10-per-cent level agreed to in July and escrow to 25 per cent — the second asking for deferred compensation to be raised to 26 per cent for this coming season.

The players were outraged, and you can’t blame them. Any company that wants to go back into a labour agreement four months after it’s signed is asking for trouble.

Worse, for fans who are clinging to the hope that the NHL season will start Jan. 1 and dispel some of the general gloom, this was like taking a 100-mph slap shot in the teeth. In effect, we have the looming threat of a lockout during a pandemic. Thanks, NHL. Nice to know you care.

As always, my sympathies are with the players. Millionaires they may be, but careers are short and they can end quicker than you can say “torn ACL.”

Not only are the owners wealthy to begin with, they’re making money off hockey even when the revenue isn’t there because the value of every franchise is quietly appreciating in value, even when there are no games being played.

Gary Bettman will take the heat, but the blame belongs elsewhere, with the people who are making the real money. The owners want you to focus on salaries, which are high — unless you compare them with the NBA or MLB. Trouble is, the billionaire’s game is not in the income vs. salaries equation. It’s in the value of the franchise.

In 2001, George Gillett Jr. paid a total of US$250 million ($140 million of it in the form of a sweetheart loan from the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec) to buy 100 per cent of what was then the Molson Centre and 80.1 per cent of the team. In 2009, Gillett flipped the club, selling it to Groupe CH led by the Molson family for $575 million. By 2014, Forbes valued the Canadiens at a cool $1 billion for the hockey club alone.

In a 13-year period, roughly the span of a long career for a player, the value of the Canadiens franchise had increased by $815 million and it kept going up. By the end of 2019, Forbes valued the Habs at $1.35 billion.

Even Bettman’s pets, the low-rent Arizona Coyotes, were worth $300 million in 2019, a value they could double overnight simply by relocating to Quebec City, where a beautiful new arena is ready and waiting.

In the past decade, the owners have also pocketed a double windfall from expansion fees, with the Golden Knights ponying up $500 million and the Seattle Kraken $650 million for membership in the club.

Yes, the owners might have to endure a few months without fans in the stands. It beats slinging What’s-It burgers for $10 an hour.

Sorry, NHL. Your timing sucks. Ditto the demands you’re making on the players. These are tough times for everyone but you. Pull up your socks, quit whining and let’s have a hockey season.

The Impact, we hardly knew ye: Away from home, winning only now and then, the Impact were barely more than a distant rumour this season.

There was a brief flurry of interest when they made it as far as the play-in round, but that melted away late Friday when the New England Revolution scored to break a 1-1 tie and break the hearts of the fans who were still paying attention.

Given the jittery way Joey Saputo has run this club, no one would be surprised if Thierry Henry is forced to walk the plank.

The Impact need stability — that and a quality striker. They don’t need yet another firing.

Heroes: Marcus Rashford, Serge Ibaka, Hayley Wickenheiser, Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev, &&&& last but not least, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.

Zeros: NHL owners, the NCAA, Bobby ‘The Cocksucker’ Orr, Jack Nicklaus, Eldrick Woods, Novak Djokovic, Ron MacLean, Don Cherry, Claude Brochu, David Samson &&&& last but not least, Jeffrey Loria.

Now and forever.