An Open Letter to NJ Devils Defenseman Scott Niedermayer:
Let me start with something of a disclaimer: We are
Scott Niedermayer fans through a set of coincidences.
One of our favorite delis used to serve the "Niedermeyer
burger", named after you. My son wore #27 for a year
of travel hockey, because it was the only pre-numbered
sweater that fit him. The number drove the fan, rather
than the other way around. And one of those pro stock
sticks that you broke during practice ended up in my shop,
where it was outfitted with a new blade, and I scored three assists
and a goal with it. We enjoy watching you play; we
respect the (alternate) captain's letters on your sweater; you
are, intentionally or not, part of our hockey family.
Don't leave our family.
The press has been all over your announcement that you
want to test out the
free agency market next week.
Given that you're probably looking at a serious cut in
pay no matter where you play, that's fair. But I believe
it is time for some equally serious leadership in hockey, starting
with the owners and continuing with the players, in ensuring
that the free agency free-for-all doesn't hit the "undo"
button on some of the structure put in place by
the new collective bargaining agreement.
Free agency is good for the players in that it prevents
them from being locked into one team's finances for
an entire career. Market forces are good at establishing
market pricing. However, the current economic situation
of the NHL, combined with the new salary cap, means that
the market forces are effectively constrained for a few
years. There are supply side economic forces at work
in the NHL in that the cost of goods has been limited by
So where's the upside? What's this have to do with
leadership? It's quite simple: Build a fan base. Be
loyal, and bring pride and joy (and the Stanley Cup)
back to the Meadowlands, and this will translate into
money. The new economics of hockey tie the salary
cap to league revenues. Hockey doesn't have a supply
problem; it has a demand problem. Create demand
through leadership -- the leadership that put the "C"
on your sweater in the absense of Scott Stevens, coupled
with creating (and demanding) loyalty, hard work, and
copious amounts of fun. I've always thought that's
why we played hockey, as kids or adults.
So, New Jersey needs the Nieds. Simple. Stay
for the next season, and enjoy the rules changes that
will benefit a fast skating team like the Devils.
Feed the puck to Elias, Gomez, Gionta, and hopefully
Zach Parise, and watch the statistics pile up. Use your
own speed (for those not in the know, Scott Niedermayer
has won the "fastest skater" competition at the All Star
Game more than once) and create excitement. And fans.
And loyalty. And league revenues.
It's a virtuous circle, to be sure, but it has to
start with one or a few virtuous acts. Stay in New
Jersey. I'll even
return your broken Easton stick to you.