Back in April, at the conclusion of the NHL season, Craig Leipold made the statement that NHL teams weren't going to survive long term if they kept paying players exorbitant salaries. Allow me to quote April 11, 2012's Star Tribune article:
We're not making money, and that's one reason we need to fix our system. We need to fix how much we're spending right now. [The Wild's] revenues are fine. We're down a little bit in attendance, but we're up in sponsorships, we're up in TV revenue. And so the revenue that we're generating is not the issue as much as our expenses. And [the Wild's] biggest expense by far is player salaries.That's like saying we don't have an eating problem, we have an exercising problem. Not exactly, but I think you see where I'm going with this. The Wild's owner is saying that player salaries have to come down for the long-term success of the League, especially in smaller markets that don't have obsessive fans (read: Phoenix).
On July 4 of this year, all hell broke loose. At least in New Jersey, Nashville, and the remaining 26 teams who pursued both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter aggressively. Every fan of the Wild who uses Twitter sat dumbfounded Wednesday morning, sending forth profound missives such as "I ... uh ... I ... holy shit" as the realization set in.
Chuck Fletcher was immediately hailed as the salesman of the century for luring two outstanding players away from the only rinks they've ever known. And Craig Leipold made abundantly clear he was making a statement. Something like: "Don't Mess with The Wild."
Uncle Moneybags wrote two checks totalling $20 million. Think about that. I won't make that in my lifetime, and he wrote checks of that amount as if it were an afterthought.
The Money Shot
Craig Leipold may have cried poor in April, but doesn't it make him a hypocrite to bemoan this lack of cash, and then lay out enough money to buy, I don't know, 40 Ferraris? Well, yes. And no.
For one thing, it may be true from a certain point of view that the League is hemorrhaging money and needs to restructure the CBA to ensure the continued health of the League. Then again, someone was going to pay Parise and Suter ridiculous amounts of money. Might as well be the Wild, right?
That's kind of a weak argument, but I do think that a lot of the objection comes from the fans of teams who lost out on the Parise/Suter Sweepstakes. They have every right to question what happened, but as long as the current CBA is in place, teams will use whatever loophole they can find.
Also, let's look at the source. Leipold is Gary Bettman's buddy (or so I've heard). Leipold claiming to be in the poorhouse was surely a gambit that Bettman was playing. The Wild were probably the perfect team to do this with: out of the playoffs multiple years, midwest, smallish market. I'm sure if Bettman could go back in time, he'd have tried to get, say, the Predators' owner to get the narrative out there, or maybe the Blues' owner.
I think there's another key point here: Lou Lamoriello was crying foul of long-term contracts that gamed the system, then offered one to Ilya Kovalchuk. For which the League promptly swatted his backside. I think Lou knew exactly what he was doing and was willing to pay a price to make a point. And the fact is that GMs and owners will do what they can under the rules in place. Don't like how some GMs and owners use the rules to their advantage? Then change the rules. But get player buy-in first.
Personally, I go back and forth on this one. I admit that I'm torn. On the one hand, I don't like it from a big-picture point of view. On the other, I love it as a fan of the Wild.