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Wizards' owner Ted Leonsis likes NHL-style hard salary cap. Must like lockouts, too.

Sep 29, 2010, 4:23 PM EDT

Leonsis_Wizards.jpgWashington Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis went through the ugliness of the NHL lockout that cost the league an entire season — and set the sport back considerably in public opinion. Check the television ratings.

But Leonsis seems to like what came out on the other side of that, enough that he thinks the NBA should go down the same road. He said as much meeting with a Virginia business group today, as reported by Fanhouse:

“In a salary cap era — and soon a hard salary cap in the NBA like it’s in the NHL — if everyone can pay the same amount to the same amount of players, its the small nuanced differences that matter,” Leonsis said.

Because Leonsis is not officially authorized to speak regarding the ongoing NBA labor negotiations, he refused to expound on his remarks when asked to clarify after his speech. But he did note that he is a huge fan of the NHL’s system, praising it and noting that it is a good one that works fairly.

“It’s working,” he said. “The teams are very, very competitive. There is no way that big markets teams can outspend small market teams. So when the season starts everyone thinks their team can compete for the Stanley Cup.”

Two thoughts here.

First, the NBA Players Association is not going to take a hard cap — not when the owners just sold $100 million more in season tickets than they did a season a go. After a year where the overall league revenue was up. If you want a hard cap you’re in for a long, drawn out, ugly fight.

Commissioner David Stern has countered that teams had more expenses to get that revenue up. They had to discount tickets and hire more sales staff, for example. My thought — welcome to the recession. At my favorite restaurant down the street from me, the owner is surviving and doing pretty well but he has to give away more meals now, market more and smarter, and generally work harder for a little less. The NBA is no different. Suck it up and don’t complain about it.

Secondly, the NHL salary cap is not the simple solution you may think?

As of this year, NHL players will have a salary cap set based on 57 percent of “hockey-related income.” Which is almost identical to the percentage of Basketball Related Income the NBA players get right now. It’s divided up differently (and the NBA’s pie is larger), but the percentage is the same. If the NBA used that model, the salary cap would likely be much closer to or higher than the luxury tax line now.

Also, some sites keep talking about the $40 million cap the NHL had when it came back from a strike. That was 2005-06 season. This year, the cap is $59.4 million with a salary floor of $43 million. As Joe Yerdon from our own ProHockeyTalk told me, a lot of teams are now complaining the must spend more than they could spend at all just a few years ago. Not all NHL teams are raking in money.

In the NBA’s case, whatever system is in place will need much better owner revenue sharing. And don’t for a second think all the owners are on the same page with that.

Also, if fans think you get a deal out of this, think again — NHL ticket prices now are higher than they have ever been.

One final note on all this — the NBA is having a renaissance of popularity. The Lakers/Celtics finals followed by what happened in Miami this summer vaulted the sport up the popularity ladder to Jordan era levels.

A lockout that costs games kills that. Fast. Dead. The NBA will lose the casual fan it is getting back now, and it will be 10 times harder to get them back. And then everybody’s revenue goes down.

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