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Why the NHL Can’t Rely on Replacement Players

Josh Rimer of NHL Home Ice reported via twitter this evening that Bill Watters, former assistant general manager for the Toronto Maple Leafs, suggested on NSSRadioTV that he believed the next move for the NHL and commissioner Gary Bettman would be to bring in replacement players in November.

He also stated that he believed this tactic would be successful.

“It’s not so much that he’ll get replacement players. They have a reserve list of 50 players as you know… 23 of them that play in the NHL… 27 of who are available to play either as American League Players, juniors, that would put in emergency rule.”

In addition to the younger players, it was suggested that the league could find players who were unable to sign contracts as free agents along with veteran NHLPA members who were looking for one last season before retirement.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the NHL were to take this course of action in the event that no progress was made towards a new collective bargaining agreement by the end of October, but I can’t see this tactic working, and for a variety of reasons.

  • Hockey players are a tight knit group and it would basically spell the end of one’s NHL career if they “crossed the line,” regardless of their age. No player in the AHL is going to look at this as an opportunity to prove themselves, knowing that they would be alienated once the NHL “returned to normal.”
  • The market for hockey is simply not there for replacement players.  Franchises like the Philadelphia Flyers might be able to sell a respectable amount of tickets for a starting line-up of, let’s say, “Axelsson-Nylander-Knuble-Jones-Kubina-Esche,” but what about the southern markets? Even if their player costs are reduced, there are still operating costs that must be considered between travel expenses, staffing, utilities, etc. Gate sales may not be enough to cover this when all is said and done.
  • Who is going to tune in for a Winter Classic with Vesa Toskala* in goal?
  • AHL, CHL and ECHL teams are not owned by NHL franchises. There are transfer agreements in place that benefit both entities- the big club has a place to send their prospects to develop while the small club has marketable, talented players to sell tickets around.  Pulling players from these leagues sours those relationships and does nothing to support the game at the lower levels.  The AHL is in an excellent position at the moment to promote itself as the best competition in North America; it has no desire to feature the worst competition in November if half of their players are gone.

Finally, there is no scenario in which the NHL hires replacement players for an entire season and comes out on top at the end, and it all has to do with Lord Stanley.

In every major sports league besides hockey, the championship trophy is an after-thought. It’s a paperweight presented to the owners.  Nobody sips champagne from the Vince Lombardi Trophy, or celebrates their one day with the Commissioner’s Trophy on top of a mountain.

Nobody dreams their whole life of winning the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.

The presentation of the Stanley Cup is one of the most meaningful moments in sports, and any presentation of the Cup to replacement players would be an empty experience for both the fans and the players themselves. It wouldn’t mean anything to anyone.

There is a legitimate chance that the NHL may attempt to start the 2012-13 season with or without the NHLPA’s support, but it would be a worthless gambit that only further damaged the league’s respectability beyond what the 2012 NHL lockout has already done.


*Yes, I know, he retired today. on Facebook

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Posted by on Oct 2 2012. Filed under BREAKING NEWS, Flyers, News, NHL. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

3 Comments for “Why the NHL Can’t Rely on Replacement Players”

  1. Not enough people care either way..Hockey has no business starting until January anyways.. (Winter Classic should Open the Season)
    Move to a 60 Game Schedule to make more meaningful Regualr Season Games. Start Playoffs late April, shorten the 1st Series to best of 5 and finish the Stanley Cup by June 15th

  2. I miss hockey. The Grace of Soccer with the Brutality of Football and on ICE= Priceless.

    If there is no NHL season. The owners should arrange for their AHL and or other affiliates to use the NHL facilities for games and broadcasts and split the revenues. That would put pressure on the NHL players and allow (force), AHL players to play without stigma of crossing the line.

    As long as they don’t sell me the Phantoms and call them the Flyers I can live with that.

    Players need to remember that the GAME is BIGGER than THEM. I love our players but when my kid is my age she will love different players because it’s about the poetry of competition.

  3. While there are logistical issues with AHL arena lease agreements and the risk of alienating local fanbases… that’s a really good idea. There would certainly be a market for AHL games in a larger venue, especially with the advent of high-end talent from younger NHL stars.

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