The Nied For Speed and Demand Side Economics

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 laywers.

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.

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