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The Tennessee Plan: How to Help the NHL & NHLPA's Partnership

[Editor's note: JJfromKansas is the newest member of Winging It In Motown and is going to be providing some extra punch to our writing. Welcome him in to the fold]

Since before the lockout which stole a year of hockey from the best fans in sports, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has been talking about the "partnership" between the league and the players.  Two groups, often at odds, working together to make sure that everybody was making the most money possible working toward making the sport of hockey the best product possible.  Of course, this is a facade fed to the fans to put a pretty ribbon on what has only at the best of recent times been an uneasy truce. 

Nothing brings two warring sides together quite like a common enemy.  I think we have one that, for different reasons, could help the NHL and the Players' Association work together, which should help when it comes time to negotiate a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in two years.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the state of Tennessee.

Earlier this year, Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski brought up a grievance about a Tennessee tax which went into effect July 1, 2009.  Tennessee's "jock tax" is nothing new for professional athletes, with 17 other states levying some charge against professionals to play within their borders, but it seems the Tennessee tax remains the only one which does not allow a player to gain tax relief elsewhere for money already paid.  The tax charges players $2,500 for each game played in Tennessee with a maximum charge of $7,500.   Bottom line is that every player for a Central Division NHL team who plays in Nashville three times per season will pay as much for the privilege of visiting their fine state as do the home-team players who have 41 games per year in the land of stupid whistles and Tim McGraw goal celebration songs.  In total, this tax brings in over $2.5 million worth of revenues from the NHL to a state with no ordinary income tax.

Rafalski claims that he lodged the complaint on behalf of 17 teammates which he says would be paying more in taxes than they would be earning.  Since nobody asked him to show his work, I did some of my own.  You can't only consider a player's salary by games played; consider that Andreas Lilja was paid his full salary last year while playing only a handful of games.  The way I calculated was by taking a full American work year of 260 days (5 days a week for 52 weeks) and gave that player 12 whole weeks of vacation.  I think this is a more conservative figure than needed, especially for the Red Wings who have had less time for golf than any other team in the league since the lockout on account of them being awesome.  A player doesn't have to be on the ice in front of television cameras during a game to be considered working for the organization.  I realize there are a lot of people who work significantly more and harder hours for substantially less pay than professional athletes, but those people also don't have to pay $2,500 out-of-pocket for the privilege of showing up to work on any given day.  Using that math, a player making league minimum of $500,000 working 200 days a year makes $2,500 per day he works.  On a day he works in Tennessee, he pays $2,500 in taxes.  When you consider federal income taxes and the income taxes from their home states, not to mention the equipment they have to buy, the NHLPA escrow payment they make, the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the gas they buy to get to the airport, and the cell phone plans they purchase to call their wives when they get there, you have more than just league-minimum guys paying more than they're earning for a day trip through Nashville to do a little business. 

This may seem like a problem only for the NHLPA, and for the most part, it is.  The league owners don't really care what happens to the players' money after it begrudingly leaves their checkbooks.  But, the league should have an interest in helping out here.

If the league challenges Tennessee lawmakers to change things to benefit the players next summer, they put themselves in a no-lose situation.  A threat to move the Predators out of Tennessee should be enough to make them capitulate very quickly, giving the league a big bargaining chip when it comes to talking about how much the league cares about the players' futures when the next CBA talks heat up for the following year.  If the Tennessee state government refuses, then the league has every reason to take one of the best-run clubs in the league and direct them to a market where averaging 14,000 attendance is of no concern.  Even better, they get to do that while spinning the entire thing as Tennessee's fault.  The Predators franchise gets a fresh start in an area that's already hockey-crazy (like oh, say, Canada), they probably get a name-change that makes people stop making Chris Hanson jokes, they get a fanbase that has more teeth than the players and, if we're lucky, get people who would also rather take a blowtorch to each of their toes than listen to any more of those ridiculous train whistles.

Hopefully, they'll also get moved out of the Central Division, so the Wings don't have to witness first-hand what Barry Trotz can do with players when he's given more talent up front than just Marty Erat and a couple of leprechauns too.