BOSTON — Back when Pat LaFontaine was a player and not a president, it didn’t take much money to kick off a Thursday or Friday night. My buddies and I would head to Garcia’s Irish Pub or Jim Kelly’s Network and get a ticket to the Sabres game, two beers and a pregame buffet for $17.
Just like the establishments, those deals are long gone. It’s $31 to $64 just for the cheapest seat to a game this season in Buffalo. Based on the latest salary-cap projections, folks are worried it will get a lot more expensive.
The cap is expected to rise to $71.1 million next season, the NHL estimated at its board of governors’ meeting this month. The salary floor, which is the minimum teams need to spend on players, could be $52 million. Those totals are up from $64.3 million and $44 million.
If teams are going to spend that much more on salaries, the cash has to come from somewhere, right?
“The reported increase in the salary cap for next season alone will not drive our ticket-pricing decisions,” Sabres President Ted Black said during an exchange of phone calls and emails. “With the current season not yet half completed, we have not made any decision on ticket pricing for the 2014-15 NHL season.”
While it’s possible fans could catch a break on tickets, the league’s collective bargaining agreement makes it unlikely. Here’s why:
1. Teams such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Toronto are expected to spend to the cap. To make up for the hike, they’ll probably raise ticket prices.
2. The CBA dictates that clubs that receive revenue sharing must keep pace with the league’s average ticket price. If the teams fall below 75 percent of the average they “shall be required to submit to the league and Revenue Sharing Oversight Committee a forward-looking three-year business plan to establish a framework for improving its financial performance.”
In other words, if a bunch of teams charge more, the Sabres need to follow suit in order to get a revenue-sharing check and avoid a trip to the principal’s office.
“With any revenue-sharing club, and I’ll speak specifically to the Sabres, to not jeopardize that you have to keep pace with what the league average growth is in ticket revenue,” Black said. “That’s the benchmark in order to not jeopardize that revenue source.”
Despite an owner with billions of dollars, the Sabres remain a business. They qualify for revenue sharing. If there’s free money available, it makes sense to take it.
The possible good news for fans is there are different types of funds available. The first wave of revenue sharing comes from the 10 teams that gross the most money. Playoff receipts are shared after that. Finally, there’s centrally generated league revenues.
The last clause includes the new 12-year, $5.2 billion deal the NHL signed with Canadian television broadcasters. The teams will get more money from that so – in theory – they may not have to raise ticket prices much to make up for the rising cap costs.
“Local revenue growth is obviously an important component in the ability of clubs to remain competitive on the ice,” Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, said in an email. “That’s always been the case and will continue to be the case.
“But the good news here is that the significant increases in rights fees generated from the new national television deals in the United States and now Canada, and the significant growth in league-wide revenues associated with our other national businesses have contributed to a much larger percentage of club revenue streams being sourced centrally, through the league, and not locally, primarily from gate receipts.”
As Daly says, business is booming. The estimated cap number for next season means that between $1.56 billion and $2.133 billion will be spent on players in 2014-15. Since the league and players have a 50-50 split, that means the league will take in about $4 billion.
That’s a long way from tickets, beers and buffets for $17. Prices won’t head back to that, but there’s a chance ticket prices won’t jump as much as the salary cap because of the league’s monetary intake.
“I think it’s a great sign for the health of the industry,” Black said. “I think it’s also a testament to the work that the commissioner and his staff have done to grow the profile of the league.”
Futa in Sabres GM running
The Sabres have asked for permission to speak with Los Angeles’ Michael Futa for their open general manager job. The 46-year-old is in his seventh season as the Kings’ co-director of amateur scouting.
Before joining the Kings, Futa was the Ontario Hockey League’s Executive of the Year as the GM of Owen Sound. The Attack went to the postseason in all five of Futa’s seasons. The Toronto resident played professionally in Europe.
Meanwhile, the Calgary Flames’ GM search could extend into the summer. Brian Burke, the president of hockey operations, said there are three to six people on his short list. He continues to insist he does not want the job.
Rare illness stops Doan
The Coyotes will be without captain Shane Doan this week when they visit Buffalo. He’s been out since Dec. 4 with a mysterious illness, which Phoenix has finally defined as Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s a tick-borne bacterial disease that affects the cells in the lining of your blood vessels. It makes the vessels leak, which can cause serious damage to internal organs, especially the kidneys. Antibiotics can take care of it, but it’s lethal if untreated.
“It’s certainly not to the point that we’re worried that he’ll never return,” GM Don Maloney said. “There’s an uncertainty of how long it’s going to take him, and that’s why it’s hard to describe it because ideally you’d like to say after the holidays, another week or 10 days of rest, he’ll be ready to go. But that may not be the case. It could very well take weeks and weeks and weeks. We just don’t know.”
It’s good to be good
Patrick Kane is one of five players reaping the benefits of being a star. The Blackhawks forward is using new skates and equipment from Bauer that are lighter than anything else out there. The skates weigh a half-pound less than other models, and the carbon composite blade holders are customized to the users’ skating style.
“You fall in love with them right away,” Kane said. “As far as turning and skating, you feel like they’re like a lot quicker.”
The only skaters who have the gear are Kane, teammate Jonathan Toews, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, and Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux. While more NHL players might get to use the equipment, the public will not.
“This would be cost prohibitive for the consumer,” said Steve Jones, Bauer’s director of global marketing and brand strategy. “This is not something we’d like to market to the masses.”
On the fly
• What does a league-leading save percentage of .941 get you? A spot on the bench. The Kings’ Ben Scrivens has watched as Martin Jones became the third goaltender in history to win his first seven games.
• Nathan Horton, who left Boston for a seven-year, $37.1 million deal with Columbus, could make his Blue Jackets debut after Christmas. He had shoulder surgery in July.
• Minnesota’s Josh Harding, who is 18-5-3 with an NHL-best 1.51 goals-against average, is expected to return to the crease after the holiday break. He left the Wild for three games to alter his multiple sclerosis treatment.
• The below-average Ottawa Senators could begin making moves soon. “I’m not as quick to pull the trigger maybe as I should be sometimes,” GM Bryan Murray said. “There is a frustration here where you’d like to rock the boat somehow, and maybe that’s what will happen after the Christmas break.”