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as seen on phillyBurbs.com

Puck U.
Financial cheap shot the real lesson of NHL lockout.

Usually I favor the underdog, anyone willing to put their livelihoods on the line against a faceless corporate machine. I don't know why, must be the Philly in my blood.

But I'm having a hard time finding sympathy for pro hockey players - especially the Flyers - now that the owners have locked them out of training camp.

And I consider myself a diehard, lifelong fan of the sport.

Don't get me wrong, their cause is just. The NHL players association wants the owners to stick to the contracts they signed, but is willing to bend to the point of a luxury tax like the one baseball imposes on the Yankees' franchise annually.

Citing hard economic statistics that make even the national debt make more sense, the owners want a hard salary cap like pro football. The idea is to act as a financial Zamboni and level the playing field.

Arthur Levitt's report on the status of the league, released in February during pre-playoff jockeying by both sides, says 19 of 30 NHL teams lost a total of $272.6 million in 2003. The other 11 franchises averaged a profit of $6.4 million. Levitt, the former head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, says 75 percent of each club's expenses goes to players' salaries.

Well, who's fault is that? Who signed those contracts - even without a big, lucrative TV contract and packed arenas to help defer expenses?

Gotta blame bad management.

To make matters worse the owners are lumping the financially sound Flyers, whose payroll hit $68.2 million last year in a pre-lockout bid to finally recapture the cup on the 30th anniversary of their last championship, in with the lowly Buffalo Sabres, whose payroll was just under $33 million.

My mind reels.

Let me get this straight, the black and orange, who sell out most games even at $85 a seat for the worst regular season matchup and have a guaranteed TV contract from their owner, Comcast, are not in the black?

Yep, that's what Comcast chairman Ed Snider claimed to Calkins Media's Wayne Fish last week.

This from a team, whose top paid player, John LeClair, made $9 million last year - $2 million less than what the Phillies shelled out to pitcher Kevin Millwood?

This from a team, whose mean salary is just $2.4 million, but came within a game of going to the finals.

This from a team with one of the most loyal fan bases in all of sports and whose value as a franchise was pegged at $262 million in 2002 by Forbes magazine, the third-best in the league?

I'm sorry, but I find Ed's allegation as tough to swallow as a puck in my throat.

Standing united as owners is one thing, Ed. Dispensing false propaganda to the media is just stupid. Leave that job to the people you employ at SportsNet.

As for the league, I say it's high time you found better owners and more favorable cities.

For instance, management in Pittsburgh was so bad and the team owed Mario Lemieux so much, that they basically handed the Penguins to him.

And if the New Jersey Devils can't sell out their hockey arena, despite winning God knows how many cups in the last decade, then maybe they should move.

Just ask the people in Quebec and Hartford how much they miss their teams now.

Dave Ralis' Pave The Grass column appears on Mondays. You can e-mail him at or call him at 215-269-5051. To read his previous columns, click here.

Sept. 20, 2004