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Campbell's Cuts: 2008 playoffs have owners and players seeing dollar signs

Dallas Stars fans celebrate a series-clinching win against the San Jose Sharks during game Game 6. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Dallas Stars fans celebrate a series-clinching win against the San Jose Sharks during game Game 6. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

The San Jose Sharks could not become the first team in 33 years to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series, but they can take comfort in the fact they did a small part to put more money in the pockets of both their employers and union brothers.

No comfort for Brian Campbell, though. Two years ago his errant shot over the glass resulted in a penalty in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final that led to his Buffalo Sabres losing the series. Sunday night, his tripping penalty led the way for the Dallas Stars to score the overtime winner in a 2-1 victory in Game 6.

But back to the money matters. Hey, that’s the way the hockey industry thinks these days. I was speaking with a player agent after the Penguins took a 3-0 lead in their second round series against the Rangers. He has clients on both teams, so it’s not as though he had a rooting interest.

But he did make an interesting observation.

“I just hope the Rangers can pull one out and extend the series so they can increase the HRR,” he said.

HRR, in case you haven’t heard, are Hockey Related Revenues and they’re crucial to the level to which the salary cap gets set each season. Back before the lockout when the owners lied through their teeth about how much money they were making, the number of playoff games didn’t really matter to the players. But these days, more playoff games equals more revenues equals a higher salary cap and higher salaries.

(It also means Canadian hockey fans are subject to more installments of advertisements for Grand Theft Auto IV. If I hear, “What motivates…you,” and “I don’t care if I live or die,” one more time I just might go postal. Of course, it beats, “So…no nook.”)

With the Sharks extending their series to six games after going down 3-0, there will have been 20 games in the second round this season, two fewer than last season and the same number as the 2006 playoffs.

But thanks to a first round that featured three series that went the distance, the playoffs have had 68 games through the first two rounds. That’s three more than last season and four more than 2006.

The first two rounds have attracted a total of 1,268,281 fans, compared to 1,195,387 through the first two rounds last spring and 1,205,415 through the first two rounds in 2006.

And when you take into account ticket prices for the playoffs have risen each year, that’s a tidy chunk of change for the partners to split up each season.

What’s even more encouraging for everyone involved is that through the first two rounds, league wide, there have been an average of 261 more fans per game than there were last season.

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So what does it all mean? Well, there were 72,894 more fans through the turnstiles in the first two rounds this season than last. At an average price of about $150 a ticket in the post-season, that’s in excess of $10.9 million more in revenues without even taking into account the increase in ticket prices from last year, or all the extra concessions they sold at the American Airlines Center in Sunday night’s marathon.

And remember, that’s just through the first two rounds of the playoffs.

But by far the best news possible from the standpoint of both the players and owners is that the increased revenues will continue to come in during the last two rounds of the playoffs.

That’s because even if both conference finals and the Stanley Cup final end with the minimum four-game sweeps, the league is all but guaranteed as many playoff games this season as last. So far there have been 68 playoff games and with at least another 12 in the bank, the league will have a minimum of 80 playoff games (and a maximum of 89 if all three go the distance) this season. That would be just one fewer than last season.

There were 83 games in 2006, so it’s almost an ironclad certainty the league will have more post-season games this year than any other since the lockout.

And with teams increasing the price of their tickets with each passing round, the best-case scenario from a revenue/salary cap standpoint for the final three rounds is to go the way they did two years ago when there were 19 of a possible 21 games.

Last year, not so good. There were just 16 games in the final two rounds.

So next season when the salary cap goes up to somewhere between $56 million and $57 million and the floor goes to at least $40 million - which is where the ceiling was coming out of the lockout - you’ll be able to look back at this spring’s playoffs and get a small indication of how it was the same owners who were crying poverty before the lockout could suddenly afford to pay these kinds of salaries now.

Oh yeah, and remember we all missed out on a complete season of hockey three years ago for all of this.

Ken Campbell is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Tuesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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