Willie Mitchell: Marxist mule-killer?

Here's an interesting article from The Province -- which I'm pretty sure is a newspaper in Vancouver -- written by someone named Tim Tony Gallagher, on the topic of ex-Canuck now-King Willie Mitchell.

The Province: Some of the big stars don't earn enough money

[...I]t seems [Willie Mitchell]'s had another blow to the head, what with the quote he gave our Jim Jamieson on Thursday upon the news of the ultimatum the league gave the Players Association on the Ilya Kovalchuk and Roberto Luongo contracts now thankfully settled [sic]. Quoth Mitchell: "We have a big gap in our union where you have the star player and the blue-collar player. All those top-end guys are getting paid more and more and the bottom-end guys are getting less and less. Maybe if we come to something more level, it might help the rest of our union."

That's perfectly sensible. [MORE AFTER JUMP]

Now we know what he was driving at but the question is, when did Mitchell become a socialist [...]

I understand that's supposed to be insulting, calling him a socialist. But I'm not sure what the Gallagher's point is. Mitchell is saying, extreme income disparity is not good for the union. I would add, it's not necessarily good for a team, either. Or, the league. Who thinks otherwise?

[...] and when did he start quaffing the Bettman Kool-Aid.

But. You just said "socialist." Now, he's pro-management?

No wonder the owners are in such great shape if this is the quality of understanding of the CBA at the player-rep level.

How about this then: the CBA has this thing called a salary cap. I happen to like the salary cap (I guess I drank the Bettman Kool-Aid, too), because I like that it stops teams from Yankeeing themselves a Stanley Cup team, and I like that it rewards smart GMs who can plan long-term and punishes the ones who aren't and can't.

A major effect of the salary cap, though, is that if the biggest salaries get too big, GMs are required to squeeze out mid-level salaries in favor of younger cheaper players on ELCs. This is the effect Mitchell is talking about. It's called unemployment.

The reality is no one group of players is held back more than the top-level superstars in this league.

So, so true. Wait. What?

For starters, it's mandated that no player can make more than 20 per cent of a team's payroll [...]

I'm getting out a pencil. Ready. The first thing holding them back: they are prevented from making more than $11.8MM per year. Check.

[...] and then, far more effectively beyond that,

Don't know what that means.

[...] they are constantly reminded that every extra dollar they take from the team comes out of the pocket of a teammate.

Got it. The second thing holding them back: their feelings get hurt when they are reminded how the CBA works. I doubt they actually are "constantly reminded," but if they are I doubt it bothers them very much. Even if they were crying themselves to sleep at night (which is a funny thought) it would still be true that:

  • The CBA requires that the total payments to all players in a given season is fixed, and it is tied to revenues.
    What this means is, there is a set amount of money (each season) for the players, which depends on how the league is doing as a whole.
  • If a bunch of big salaries push the players' total over the calculated "players' share," then everyone has to give back a percentage of his salary. Last year, it was 11% that everyone gave back.
  • This is mostly due to fluctuations in revenue causing the "pie" to shrink. But part of it is due to little things like a superstar's front-loaded cap hit being millions of dollars lower than his salary. I went over this in excruciating detail here. But the bottom line is that the discrepancy between cap hit and salary is paid for by the rest of the players in the league, in the form of escrow. /

The more they take, the less likely they are to win, they're told.

The way that works, though, is that some GMs are willing to pay salaries that are exorbitant to the point of being self-destructive, and some (like Dean Lombardi) are not. The superstar will find his money one way or another, and he's going to do that on a team that embraces the imbalance, because sooner or later, they have no choice.

This year Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin and Alex Ovechkin -- whose agents should be dismissed on the spot and their commissions returned to the player -- will all be paid $9 million exactly. These poor goofs signed long-term contracts before the alleged 'loophole' deal was conceived and now both Kovalchuk and Luongo will make more than these three superstars of the league.

Right. The third thing holding back superstar players is...other superstar players and their crazy contracts. If there happens to be a parallel universe where that's not stupid, it would only help Mitchell's point and -- well, I don't know what it does to Gallagher's point, because I don't know what it is yet.

And they're all locked in longer than Willie Pickton.

I had to look it up. Willie Pickton is a Canadian pig-farmer and serial killer currently serving a life sentence in a Canadian penitentiary. So you see, just as Willie Pickton murdered close to fifty women and apparently fed them to his pigs and is now in jail for the rest of his life, so too are Crosby, Malkin and Ovechkin locked into the "prisons" of their pathetic contracts that insist on guaranteeing them several million dollars a year for the next several years. And there's no escape!

Sure that's a lot of money, but compared to what they do and what they bring in for their respective franchises, it's a blatant financial injustice.

I understand. Superstars should get even more money than they get, because they're, well, super. That's essentially an argument for abolishing the salary cap, or, alternatively, for lowering everyone else's salaries to channel that money to Ovechkin et al. Or (in reality) both. Which was Mitchell's point.

Are you telling me Ovechkin couldn't get at least $15 million a year if he became a free agent if there was a strong Association and there was no salary cap in place? You can't imagine the bidding war for this guy. [sic]

Yes, he could get more money. He could get even more money in the KHL. There are lots of ways for him to make more money. Like, winning a cup for example. Like, endorsements. Like, moving to Florida or Texas or Arizona, where there are no state taxes. I personally find it hard to conceive of what the difference between $9.5MM and $15MM is to Alexander Ovechkin. Either amount, wisely invested, should allow him to live in boundless luxury for the next hundred or so years. And either amount, poorly invested (and this happens more often than not; see Fedorov) won't be enough.

Yet here he is stuck to this plow horse of a contract and taking shots from Mitchell in the bargain.

At this point, I start wondering if this article is satire. Crosby et al have gotten out of jail and are now plowing fields like farm animals. Farm animals which Willie Mitchell is shooting at from an undisclosed location. Willie Mitchell is mean in this story.

In the case of Crosby and Malkin, without a salary cap they almost certainly would have split. The Pens most likely would have paid top dollar for Crosby, which would have been as high or perhaps even a tad higher than Ovechkin. Malkin, who came up a year later, would almost certainly have been forced to play out his option or, more likely, sit out and force a trade because under the old CBA terms he wouldn't have been a free agent as quickly.

But. That's good, right? The team was able to keep them both. Score one for the CBA. I love that Malkin "would almost certainly" do x, yet it's "even more likely" that he would have done y. Let me see...even more likely than almost certainly is, I guess, certainly, which means that almost certainly is actually not even possible. Yeah, that sounds about right.

But upon forcing the trade much the way Pavel Bure did, his new team would have been paying the tariff. You tell me. How much would Sidney Crosby be worth to the Vancouver Canucks franchise?


Now I get it. Willie Mitchell is an idiot because the salary cap sucks because it keeps Vancouver from signing Sidney Crosby. Even though...you already said that if there were no cap, the Penguins would still have signed him.

[...] Hell, they're cheerfully paying Luongo $10 million. How exactly did Pat Brisson sell Crosby on what service he would provide? Imagine the quotes. "I'm going to get you about 60 per cent of what you're actually worth, but I will get you maybe a hundred grand more than this other guy will get you!" What kind of sales pitch is that?

Well, it's one that you just pulled out of your ass. I think Crosby and his agent probably discussed being well-paid to stay in Pittsburgh so he could win a cup. Which is what happened.

[...] The truly great players don't need agents any more. They just need to wrestle with their conscience [sic] and tell the GM exactly what they want or they'll become free agents.

So, in a few short paragraphs, the guy has come out against the union, agents, the league, players who aren't superstars, and (for some reason) Willie "cow sniper" Mitchell.

But he's pro-superstar. Apparently they will be negotiating, writing and vetting their own contracts, with their parents' help. Yeah, that will work out just fine.

Why pay some agent who can't do a thing for you unless it's off ice.


And hockey agents traditionally aren't the best at landing those deals.

But you said the cap was the problem. How can the agents "land those deals" if the cap and Willie Mitchell prohibit it?

And because of this overall team cap, big stars on teams that have a bigger star players [sic] -- like Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Alexander Semin for example -- are being paid much less because of the one big salary that is already taking up a huge percentage.

So, you might even say, "We have a big gap in our union where you have the star player and the blue-collar player. All those top-end guys are getting paid more and more and the bottom-end guys are getting less and less. Maybe if we come to something more level, it might help the rest of our union."  Wait, who said that?