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A note on the NHL's problem

The story is title "Money no object." When it comes to competition among Russia's oligarchs, this bit of hyperbole is not far from the truth. Roman Abramovich, Chelsea's big spender, is spending a sufficient portion of his billions to get Jaromir Jagr to play in Siberia, for a club named Avangard Omsk (or Omsk Avangard, depending on which story you read).

One consequence of the "battle of the oligarchs" is that there is significant competition for hockey players, competition which might render a hard salary cap unworkable for the NHL:

The NHL all-star game hasn't been cancelled after all. It's just been moved to Russia.

The agent for New York Rangers winger Jaromir Jagr confirmed Monday that the Czech star had joined Omsk Avangard while competing Russian club AK Bars Kazan continued its mind-boggling spending spree...

How has AK Bars Kazan lured 11 NHLers, five of them all-stars, to a Russian outpost? By offering the kind of money no other European club can afford to.

"Absolutely, it's not even close," Jay Grossman, the agent for Khabibulin, Kovalchuk and Morozov, said Monday. "These teams (AK Bars and Omsk) are competing salary-wise with what the NHL would pay."

Here's the story. Read it and you'll see that it's not so much the talent that's suffering in this strike, but the owners, to a much greater degree at least. It's one thing for MLB or the NFL to keep wages down by playing hardball with the player's union. But it's a whole new ballgame when there are other viable competitors out there willing to snap up the talent. Do the owners understand the nature of the game they are playing? This isn't your typical North American monopoly sports league. If the NHL were to go the MLS route and pay sub-market wages, the top European hockey players will catch a plane and go (more or less) right back where they came from. European hockey on Fox, anyone?