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Jacobs sees revenue slowdown for league

Jeremy Jacobs issued the warning some 15 months ago, during an interview from his ninth-floor office in Fountain Plaza, after the NHL salary cap soared from $39 million to $44 million to $52 million in a three-year span. The Boston Bruins' owner suggested teams should be careful because the climate would eventually settle down.

Jacobs, the NHL board of governors chairman and chairman of Delaware North Cos., could have been presumed a fool for his take on the industry trends, especially after the salary cap took another hike this season. Teams can spend up to $56.7 million on payroll this season, or 45 percent more than they could in the first year after the lockout.

Heck, with leveling off like that, what's drastic change?

A little late, perhaps, but Jacobs appears to be right on the money. He wasn't loony so much as the loonie was loony. His prediction was based partly on the Canadian dollar, which soared last year and temporarily passed the U.S. buck before returning to its normal state of being 15 to 20 percent weaker.

"You can't underestimate the effect on the change of the Canadian dollar," Jacobs said at the time. "It's had a big effect on it. We report in U.S. dollars, but we've had a 20 percent jump or more in the Canadian dollar. That in itself has had a tremendous impact."

The NHL was caught in the perfect storm leading into the lockout, but it caught the perfect wave in the three years that followed. The CBA made sense for both sides, the economy was stronger, the Canadian fan base immediately returned to its favorite sport and revenue soared through the roof.

If we've learned anything from Wall Street over the past month, it's that the economy affects just about everything. Jacobs pointed to the price of oil in Canada contributing to the strength of the Canadian buck, which trickled down to the NHL. Now that oil prices have fallen, the Canadian buck is weaker and people will likely spend less.

Finally, though, the NHL economy appears to be settling down.

"If you look over history, you can see how these things level out," Jacobs said by telephone last week. "I think it's going to level out. I really don't see the inflation that we saw before. The growth of that dollar is not nearly being as artificially affected by something outside the normal income sources."

League revenues are bound to slow down this season even though ticket sales and other sources are ahead of last year's pace. The league continues to grow, but it can no longer expect the 12 to 15 percent annual increase it enjoyed for years. But even if it's reduced by half, growth is still growth.

What does it mean for the on-ice product? Basically, teams will need to plan better and spend more wisely. Players and agents exposed a few loopholes in the CBA, including one that led to skyrocketing salaries for restricted free agents. Owners continued paying big money in the open market.

However, with the salary cap tied to revenue and revenues calming, it could become much more difficult to spend for big-ticket items. Brian Campbell, for example, might have signed his eight-year, $57.1 million deal with the Blackhawks just in time because similar contracts will be rare next summer.

Several teams could be forced to unload good players at reasonable prices, as the San Jose Sharks did in trading defenseman Craig Rivet to the Sabres.

And that's the beauty of the NHL salary cap.

"Hopefully, we see a static relationship where our fans continue to support us," Jacobs said. "I don't think we're going to see the growth we necessarily saw last year.

"But that said, I hope we do. I hope we do see the salary cap going up. If we do, it means we've grown the business that much more. I don't find it as a negative. I would read anything into other than it's a function of how much income we take in."

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Max headed west?

Usually it takes about 20 games for teams to evaluate their rosters before working the phones, but it didn't stop the beloved NHL rumor mill from warming up. Among the recent subjects is none other than Maxim Afinogenov, the talented but enigmatic Sabres winger. There are whispers he could wind up in Colorado.

Avalanche President Pierre Lacroix has been a longtime Afinogenov admirer. Talented winger Marek Svatos, a healthy scratch already this season, appears to have one skate in the doghouse. He's also coming off surgery to repair a torn ACL, but he has two years and only $4.1 million remaining on his contract.

Afinogenov, who is making $3.5 million in the final year of his deal, could thrive in the West until teams learn how to defend him. Svatos would give the Sabres another scoring threat on the right side. He had 32 goals and 50 points as a rookie, 15 goals and 30 points in 2006-07 and 26 goals and 37 points last season.

The Avs also could try wheeling Svatos for a proven goaltender. Nikolai Khabibulin is available but comes with a $6.75 million salary. Colorado would need to make another move to create room under the cap.

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Joel's the right guy

The Blackhawks' decision to fire Denis Savard was surprising because of the timing, but doubts about whether he was the right man behind the bench for an up-and-coming team actually were raised a month earlier.

Management became concerned about Savard's effectiveness during a sloppy training camp, which was littered with poor practices and preseason games that lacked intensity. It wasn't a good sign for Savard, who was coaching a good young team that was facing lofty expectations for the first time in years.

Still, General Manager Dale Tallon wanted to give him a chance to succeed because he holds Savard, among the most respected figures in Blackhawks history, in high regard. Chicago's lack of passion early in the year convinced Tallon to make the change after four games rather than wait until later in the season.

It appeared Joel Quenneville was hired as a scout to replace him, but that's also not the case. Quenneville was out of work late in the summer and called friend Marc Bergevin, the director of pro scouting, for a job. It wasn't until the Blackhawks decided to fire Savard that they agreed that Quenneville was the best candidate.

Savard is a terrific guy and a good coach, but hiring Quenneville was the right move.

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Lost in translation

The NHL's battle with the Russian-based KHL over former Predators winger Alexander Radulov has shown no signs of being resolved. If you remember, he had one year remaining on his contract with Nashville but bolted for more money in Russia.

The NHL challenged the contract, claiming Radulov was property of the Preds. The KHL argued it was valid because there was no transfer agreement. Last week, the KHL released a statement attributed to Radulov that said he didn't want the situation resolved through arbitration and had no interest in playing in the NHL.

"I didn't say that," Radulov told the Tennessean. "That letter was a misunderstanding. I never said I don't want to go back to the NHL or something like that."

And arbitration?

"Whatever they decide," he said. "If the court says I have to go back [to the NHL], I'll go back. If it says you're free, I will stay here until the end of the year for sure because I have a contract here right now."

Funny, didn't he have a contract in Nashville?

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The Malarchuk saga

The Blue Jackets still don't know what to make of goaltending coach Clint Malarchuk shooting himself in the chin and twice declining medical assistance. The police have called the incident "accidental but suspicious."

If anything, it's sad.

Malarchuk is a class act. He also has a history of instability and depression, some of which he believed was caused by the scary accident in which his neck was cut by a skate when he played for the Sabres. Naturally, many were left wondering if the latest incident was a suicide attempt.

The Jackets will give Malarchuk all the time he needs to recover, but they also need a goaltending coach. Ex-Jackets goalie Ron Tugnutt could be the guy.

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Quotable

Oilers coach Craig MacTavish on tough guys who fight often but play little: "When he was in his prime, I often thought you could pay a cardboard cutout of Dave Brown $100,000, just to let everybody know he was in the building."

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Around the boards

*The Jackets summoned Nikita Filatov, the sixth pick overall, from Syracuse after a rash of injuries and Michael Peca's suspension. Filatov was good friends with Russian prospect Alexei Cherepanov, who collapsed and died during a KHL game last week. "I'm excited [about the NHL], of course, but I haven't slept for two days," he said.

*Contract talks between the Penguins and third-year forward Jordan Staal have been placed on hold. Staal will become a restricted free agent next summer after his rookie contract expires. GM Ray Shero isn't worried. He signed goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to an extension after waiting until June last year.

*Les Thrash defenseman Mathieu Schneider became the 74th player to appear in 1,200 NHL games. He started with Montreal in 1987-88, two years before teammate Zach Bogosian was born. He's had eight teams, two sports hernias, surgeries on both elbows, a broken wrist and ankle and too many lost teeth. "About half of them are mine," he said.

*Red Wings GM Ken Holland on NHL parity: "You're going to have 15 to 17 games where the game might be decided after two periods, where you're either out of it or you've won it. Sixty-five times, the game is going to be decided in the last five, six, seven minutes. It's a fine line between winning and losing."

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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