The New York Rangers Blog, a fellow Bloguin site, has pieced together a fascinating analysis of the salary situations of players — not just the upper crust of the league, but the more average players as well. Much has been said over this lockout about how much the players have conceded to the owners in terms of lost pay; obviously the lost pay the players are worried about most now are the three paychecks that they've missed.
The NYR Blog spoke with former Rangers fourth-liner Jason Strudwick regarding the negotiations right now. Here's what he had to say:
"When I was playing I was very aware [of his financial situation]. I am thrilled about the amount of money I made. But the reality is when you're not at the top you have to be a little bit wiser. You have to plan ahead. Most players are making the league minimum and this is the most they'll be making in their careers. Save as much as you can because it won't last. It might sound like a lot but it won't last a lifetime."
"Pfft!" you might say. "He's making more in a season than I might see in 20 years work, or even a lifetime! How can that be bad — they can afford to lose a little bit of money. Stop whining and get back out there and play!"
Talk like that makes my inner libertarian cringe. I'm not going to stand here and say that $500,000, the league minimum, isn't a lot of money, but come on. That's their salary. They get paid that much money because A) they're basically a specialist in what they do (even if it is being an enforcer) and B) their actions on the ice is what makes people come to the games. They get paid in proportion to how much revenue they make for the team, which is part of the reason guys like Sidney Crosby make a lot more than fourth-liners like Eric Boulton. Regardless of if the player is top tier talent or the bottom of the league, they're paid that much because they generate substantial income for the owner and the team. How would you appreciate working for a company who was bold enough to tell you that they just made $100,000 directly off of work that you did, and they were going to pay you $100 for it? You'd be cranky, wouldn't you? The amount of money you make doesn't mean that you should be happy with not being paid what you're worth.
These guys also have to deal with federal taxes (up to 25% in the US), state taxes from every state they've played a game in, province taxes from every province they've played a game in, payroll tax, and the like. That's a decent chunk of money. They can expect to take home 60% of the number on their contract or so, which — if they live within their means — is still comfortable. I'm not saying it isn't. But as Adam of the NYR Blog points out, they have a much smaller window of time in which to do so than do people in other professions. After their time in the NHL is up, sometimes after as few as a couple of seasons, these guys have to find alternate sources of income or live off of the money that they've made. If they have money tied up in investments, real estate, and the like, that's less liquid cash to live off of.
"Boo hoo!" I can hear you saying. "That's still good and cushy for them. I only make $XX,XXX a year, so why should I feel sorry for them?"
You shouldn't feel sorry for them. But, and this might be tough given the current climate of class resentment out there, you should understand why they'd be upset. If you lost half of your salary to an insane tax code, a portion of your salary to a guy who helped you get that salary to begin with, and then only were able to work five years, you'd be pretty concerned about your contract terms too, wouldn't you? Who cares how much the players make versus what you make? It's not the money that matters here, it's the principle of the thing. Pretend that the NHL and NHLPA kerfluffle is going on in your workplace; that your boss is Ed Snider and you're Tom Sestito. How would you feel? You'd want to protect your salary and benefits, which is exactly what the players want to do.
I don't care how much money someone makes; I find it unfair when someone tries to not pay someone what they deserve, whether they're making $25,000 or $250,000. You can't not have the ability to understand where someone's coming from just because they're in a different tax bracket than you. After all, isn't that basically how the owners are acting towards the players? The lockout is going on because of that very attitude, and we all can tell how well that's going.