Less than one month ago, Barrie Lakeshores owner Mike Kloepfer pulled the plug on the Major Series Lacrosse Season, days before the Lakeshores first scheduled game. Of course the announcement was met with angry comments from many, and very damming comments, many of them directed at the owner himself.
When I first heard of the news, I raised an eyebrow, but ultimately was not shocked. My comments have been held to myself and a small circle of lacrosse friends (which is truly hard for me to do), until now. This was because I wanted to see just how this season would begin and progress for the remaining six teams in the league.
It is June 18, 2010 and most teams have now played in the range of 6-8 games. Peterborough sits atop the league with an unblemished 8 wins and 0 losses. Brampton who has played 10 games sits second at 6 wins and 4 losses. Six Nations is third followed by Kitchener, Brooklin, and the newest addition to the league, the winless Ajax Rock.
Now I’m not a rocket scientist, but other than maybe flopping Brooklin with Kitchener, is there anyone on the lacrosse planet that could not have predicted these exact standings from top to bottom? I mean, the fact that I got it right, I’m not rushing out to buy Lotto Max tickets (even though it is $95 million tonight – yeeeeoooow). The question is why would everyone be so able to predict these standings? And when one realizes what is going on, maybe all of the accusations against the Barrie owner may not be justified.
It is no secret that the Peterborough Lakers are one of the greatest success stories in sport. Peterborough is a lacrosse dynasty with some of the most famous names in the game starting in the Lift lock city. Owner Ted Higgins turned the team around with a plan that was masterfully executed; by I am sure a formidable team of Executives and volunteers. Today the Lakers are easily the highest attended team in Major Series Lacrosse. So along with Sponsorships, Peterborough is in a position to offer up a little more than “gas money” to those players that play for them. Exactly what? Who knows, Only those involved know, and everyone else just sits back and speculates.
Is it wrong? I don’t think so. Why should players, who can make a great compliment to their regular “real” salary be denied it if it is there to be had? Do I blame owner Higgins? No way. Why should a business man who has the means to make his business bigger, better, stronger, not be allowed to do so. In the real world of business, is that not prosperity?
Brooklin Redmen GM and Head Coach, Wayne Colley was quoted in the local paper just yesterday. After starting 2-0 (two wins over Ajax), the Redmen are now 2-4, having lost to Six Nations, Peterborough, Brampton and Kitchener. Colley touched on the fact that maybe owner Kloepfer made a valid point and Brooklin may not be far behind in the footsteps of the Lakeshores. Comments like “we just cannot compete” and “we have kids playing against men” were in the article.
The reality of the situation is that Peterborough and Brampton are the only two teams with the ability to finance player salaries. Six Nations to a lesser degree can as well. But Kitchener, Brooklin and Ajax are not in the same position as the top three financially. Therefore they are also not in the same position on the floor.
Who do I blame? Well I don’t really blame anyone. But there is something fundamentally wrong, in a league with what would appear to have no rules or governance over payrolls. I’m thinking this was Mr. Kloepfer’s point. Sure accusations were made that he came in and tried to “buy” a Championship. Maybe he did (I don’t know for sure). But if he did it did not work and he acknowledged that it was not good for the league. At the dispersal draft of Akwesasne players, 3 of the top 4 picks were (ahem) traded to Peterborough, allowing the Lakers to select Mark Steenhuis, John Tavares, and Steve Toll. The only team that did not trade their pick? Brooklin who selected goaltender Angus Goodleaf. Last week, Goodleaf was traded from Brooklin to Peterborough. But you might ask, why would the bottom teams trade to an already powerhouse team in Peterborough?
Players (not all mind you) not already playing on Peterborough, Brampton or to a lesser degree Six Nations want to be compensated for risking their NLL careers when they play in the Summer. If they do not get compensated they do not play. Teams at the bottom that cannot pay, will trade in hopes of either monetary compensation, or young players to the top teams that will eventaully entice the stars to come out. The young players in the exchange mature and get better and then want money. So they get traded for money or other young players. Can I stop beating my head against a wall now? It hurts.
I have said all along, teams at the top deserve to be there. But if the teams at the bottom cannot survive because of their inability to jump in on the financial free for all, how long will any of the MSL teams be viable? I doubt 2500 – 3000 lacrosse crazed fans in Peterborough would go out to watch the team practice. If things do not somehow align, Barrie may not be the only team dropping out. And then we will be left with 5, then 4, then 3. You get the point. Fans in some areas have already given up. The teams might be starting to.
This sort of thing is not new. But one can argue that the disparity today is far worse than what it was 20 years ago. Star players have always gotten some sort of carrot to play in certain centres. But the 2009 Execlsiors, and the 2010 Lakers, I would estimate would put a licking on any NLL team.
It is all well and good to argue that the other MSL teams should just go and do what the Lakers and owner Higgins have done, Respectfully I believe they have shown that they cannot. But in the interest of this league surviving, something needs to happen.
Now if you will excuse me, I am going to go get a couple of those Lotto Max tickets. Maybe I can do something about the state of the league. I’ll let you know how it pans out for me!
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