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7:48 pm EST        65°F (18°C) in Leesburg, FL

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I had to waste the whole weekend to get my service job done; I arrived at the terminal late Friday night, expecting that they would get around to me on Saturday and get me right back out again. They ended up having too many trucks left over from Friday to finish on Saturday; when I asked what was going on in the shop on Saturday afternoon, they told me it would be this past morning before I would get in. The down side of that will be felt most by my wallet; however, the three days of rest were a godsend. I managed to catch up on a ton of sleep, make some long-delayed updates to this site, and catch yesterday's Super Bowl. Honestly, I thought both teams played a pretty sloppy game, but the Patriots managed to make fewer mistakes in the second half.

Speaking of sports, as many of you probably know, I am quite the hockey fan. When one grows up in an area with excellent professional (1997, 1998, 2002 Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings), college (1998 NCAA champion Michigan), and high school (1994, 1996, 1999-2003 Michigan Division I state champion Detroit Catholic Central) teams, that has a tendency to happen. However, this year, the North American hockey scene has gone quiet, with the owners of National Hockey League (NHL) franchises imposing a lockout on their players. Though no official "drop-dead" date has been set by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, I'm willing to bet that at this point, you can kiss the 2004-05 NHL season goodbye.

I personally blame the owners more than the players in this labor dispute. First, it was owners who got themselves into the huge financial mess Bettman claims most NHL franchises are in; they didn't have to launch a financial "arms race" for the best talent that now allegedly threatens to bankrupt small-market teams. Secondly, I feel that the players have made several perfectly reasonable proposals; the one they put forth in December featured an immediate 24% salary cut and a highly-punitive luxury tax scheme, under which teams that spend more money than a negotiated threshold would have to contribute a negotiated percentage of the overage amount into a fund that would be distributed among lower-revenue teams. The owners (probably egged on by Bettman) refuse to consider any proposal that doesn't contain the words "salary cap"; that is to say, Bettman insists that there will be no agreement unless league-wide player payroll costs are limited to 53% to 55% of overall league revenue.

What Bettman and the owners want to do is adopt a system like the one currently in use in the NFL: a hard salary cap based on league revenues. While this system has made the NFL the most financially-viable professional sports league in North America, the product on the field has been largely watered down. (It is a result of the salary-cap system that 8-8 teams in one conference can qualify for the playoffs, while 10-6 teams in the other conference stay home. It is also a result of the salary-cap system that teams such as the 2001 New York Giants can go from Super Bowl runners-up one year to missing the playoffs the next.) The players, on the other hand, are attempting to institute a system similar to the one in use in Major League Baseball; this system, with its luxury tax and revenue-sharing, allows all teams the greatest freedom in deciding how much to spend on players. Small-market teams receive assistance to help them land better players, and by extension become more competitive; at the same time, insane billionaire lunatics like George Steinbrenner can spend $200 million per year (and pay one hell of a luxury tax every year) trying to make the New York Yankees the sport's pre-eminent dynasty.

A salary cap, were it to be instituted in baseball, would limit Steinbrenner-types to spending, say, $65 million per season on players. All that this would accomplish would be to bring the high-spending (and theoretically better) teams down to everybody else's level; as I mentioned in the football examples, you'd probably see a lot of sub-.500 teams qualifying for the playoffs. If Steinbrenner wants to throw $200 million into the Yankees every year, he ought to have that right; at the same time, he ought to pay some penalty for being so grossly out-of-whack with the other franchises in MLB. I think the same idea — a harsh luxury tax and revenue sharing — should be used in the NHL. There's no reason to explicitly prohibit the Detroit Red Wings, Colorado Avalanche, and New York Rangers from out-spending everybody else, but they ought to be forced to share some of that largesse with the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, and Carolina Hurricanes.

Unfortunately, the owners don't seem to see things that way, and negotiations have barely managed to get anywhere. The league insists a salary cap is needed, while the players say they'll make any concession short of a salary cap; we're looking at a case of "the immovable object vs. the irresistible force." Even to have a 30-game season comprised entirely of in-conference games, an agreement would need to be in place in no more than about two weeks; this would still entail cutting the first round of the playoffs to best-of-five and pushing the potential ending date of the Stanley Cup Finals almost into July. Given the state of negotiations at the moment — agreement on few issues, with no future meetings scheduled — I don't think we will be seeing NHL hockey again until at least October, if not even January 2006 (when, as I understand it, the NHL will be able to get a court to declare an impasse and impose the owners' work rules unilaterally).

I'm waiting to get called over to the dock here to get loaded. After that, I'll be off to Maryland, and then I'll be getting back home a week from tomorrow.