We will get to hockey in a minute. Promise.
But first, let us go over a famous thought experiment in moral philosophy called the trolley problem. (Don’t worry, some lighter reading is en route from Amazon.)
The idea is that a trolley has lost its brakes and is barreling forward, where five people are tied to the tracks and they will certainly die if you don’t do anything. But there is a switch, and if you flip the switch, the trolley will change tracks — and down the new track there is one person tied down who will surely die.
What do you do?
This forces a conflict between consequentialism and deontology, both seemingly valid ways of looking at the world. To sacrifice one person to save five is classic consequentialism: The greatest good for the greatest number. Deontology says there is an implicit ethical difference between right and wrong: Do unto others as you have them do unto you. Killing one innocent person seems flat-out wrong. See the conflict?
Most of us go through life with some balance between these two moral constructions. And it is in that middle ground where the NHL has to decide if it makes sense to continue this season in some form or another once the coronavirus pandemic settles down, or to just pack it in and wait for training camp in September. (See, I told you hockey was coming.)
I understand both points of view, and I understand the huge financial implications at stake. This is not an easy decision with an easy answer. Kill one or five?
But at this point, let’s be consequentialist: It would do the NHL more good to call the season right now and start preparing for 2020-21.
The players are the ones who have to swallow the biggest pill if that is the case. As reported by our own Larry Brooks, the Players’ Association has been informed that the increase in escrow can go from four percent (if the season resumes in some form) to 21 percent (if it is canceled right now). That is on top of the 14 percent that was already taken out of the players’ paychecks with only a month left to go in the regular-season schedule.
If the league didn’t play another game this season, the players would only collect about 65 percent of the face value of their deals. Quick math just said your $5 million deal just went to about $1-1.5 million in take-home money. That hurts, unless you had privileged information and sold some stock before the market crashed — sorry, sorry, it’s hard to stay solely on hockey during these troubled times.
It’s now become even more clear just how important the NHL playoffs are to the league’s bottom line: The projection was for about $1 billion in revenue to be made before the Stanley Cup was raised in June. That hockey-related revenue (HRR) is the overall number split 50-50 between the teams and the players, a tensely negotiated agreement that necessitates escrow in the first place. In theory, the money in escrow is given back to the players once all the math is done to make sure the split is even, but it’s estimated that they’ve lost between eight and 15 percent every year since 2012. No wonder why they hate it, and why it is the most important issue rumbling among their ranks — along with Olympic participation — that could lead to more labor unrest following the current collective bargaining agreement expiring following the 2021-22 season.
But it’s not like the NHL can just say it’s going to have a 24-team playoff and it’s going to be a $1 billion payday. Or even a $100 million payday. The players are dying to get back on the ice, if not solely because this is what they love to do then because they want to make their money. But who could fathom a situation in the next couple months where it would seem reasonable for 20,000 fans to jam into an arena? Would you go?
This league is predicated more on gate receipts than any other of the major North American pro sports — and they hope to change that with a new broadcast deal in the near future. But at no point are they going to just get the green light to start packing arenas for what would surely be a really entertaining playoff. As much as all of us want to watch hockey, that’s not going to happen. And how much revenue could be generated by playing in front of just cameras and media? My guess is not enough to warrant all the stadium and team operations.
So call the season now. Get to figuring out how the lost money is going to be calculated in to future paychecks. Get to planning the combine, the draft and free agency. Allow team employees and the players to release the tension of uncertainty, allow them to focus on their health and their families, and eventually allow them to start planning for training camp in September (we hope) and a fruitful 2020-21 season.
There is no easy answer when the track splits and it’s either five dead or one. But the trolley is barreling down, and the sooner the NHL makes the call, the easier it will be to deal the ramifications.
Opening the vault
The NHL has done a nice thing for fans jonesing for their hockey. You can go to NHL.com and watch any game from the 2019-20 season — like the Rangers’ epic comeback in Montreal from Nov. 23 or Mika Zibanejad’s historic five-goal game on March 5 (which suddenly seems like eons ago).
It has also created “NHL Pause Binge,” where you can watch classic games from the 1950s up to now either on its website or YouTube channel. Also included are original productions like “Road to the Winter Classic.” Good stuff.
Opening the wallet (outside of Boston)
Nice to see 30 of the 31 NHL teams pledging to pay arena hourly employees for remaining home games. The one who hasn’t? Bruins owner Mr. Jeremy Jacobs, net worth: $3.6 billion. Somehow not surprising.
Yet there are people being let go, including the Garden laying off one from the staff for the Rangers website who were not considered full-time. Difficult decisions in difficult times.
Upcoming awards …
It got me thinking when NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said that each team having played at least 68 games gave the regular season “integrity.” He was talking about a possible playoff, but is there also enough integrity to give out regular-season awards? The plan is to explore that in this space next week.
… and upcoming mailbag!
In addition, with this downtime, how about a mailbag! Send any questions you might have to email@example.com and I will answer them soon. Bring it with the Rangers and the NHL, but also any other team, or travel, food, golf — we’ve got the time!