A collection of notable reports on the NHL CBA negotiations from the past week.
Sportsnet.ca’s Michael Grange noted the NHLPA’s counter-proposal, while acknowledging the players willingness to accept less hockey-related revenue in exchange for enhanced revenue-sharing, was more of a “trojan horse” than a significant concession.
Grange praised PA director Donald Fehr for his even-handedness in response to the league’s hard-line offer, but pointed out the reduction of the players share isn’t that much, down from the current 57 percent of HRR to around 54.4 percent.
That’s a far cry from the league’s desire to slash the players share to 43 percent, along with rolling back salaries again by 24 percent.
As Grange noted, it’s understandable why the players proposed that number. The owners are trying to squeeze them for as much as they can get, while the players are trying to hang onto as much as they can.
“Fehr’s proposal doesn’t do that in what the owners would define as a meaningful way and sets the stage for player costs staying much higher than the owners want for the foreseeable future. “
At the very least, the one positive to take from the PA’s proposal is their willingness to accept not just a reduction in HRR (which I believe they have no choice if they hope to get an improved system of revenue-sharing implemented in the next CBA), but also their sensible decision not to try to fight the hard salary cap system.
Had the PA refused to accept any reduction of HRR and sought to abolish the current cap system, a lockout would be assured.
Grange did an excellent job dissecting what was essentially the heart of the PA’s proposal, and it is definitely worth a read.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for his proposal to “solve the NHL’s crisis in five easy steps”.
While his suggestions for a 50-50 split of HRR and revenue-sharing are quite sensible, he goes off the rails with his call to “contract two teams and move two others to Canada” and “limit player contracts to four years”.
The NHL has no desire to contract any franchises, and while it’s possible one or two struggling Sun Belt franchises could one day move to Quebec City or Southern Ontario, the league would prefer to keep its teams in their current locations. That’s why it has fought so hard for so long to keep the Coyotes in Arizona.
It would prefer to see expansion franchises, rather than relocated ones, in those aforementioned Canadian markets.
Contract limits are a non-issue and aren’t a sticking point in these negotiations. Only the star players get deals over five years, with most of the PA membership on contracts worth between three-to-five years. This issue isn’t a show-stopper for the majority of the PA membership. A greater concern is the league proposing to extend entry-level deals from three to five years.
Ultimately, it’s a waste of time for the punditry and bloggers to become “armchair negotiators” by publishing columns and posts offering suggestions that would “resolve” any CBA impasse.
Not because their suggestions aren’t worthwhile. Most of them are. It’s because they won’t change a damn thing. It’s the NHL and NHLPA which have to resolve it, and they’re not taking advice from pundits, bloggers and fans, no matter how sensible or well-intentioned.
Grange’s colleague, Mike Brophy, takes umbrage over fans and media painting NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman as the bad guy in CBA negotiations, pointing out Bettman is merely the team owners representative, and probably less influential than we think.
Brophy claims big market owners like Philadelphia’s Ed Snider and Boston’s Jeremy Jacobs wield the true power, and they’ll be the ones who’ll decide if there’s a lockout or not.
It’s easy to demonize Bettman, but Brophy is right when he calls the commissioner the owners’ representative. That’s not to suggest Bettman doesn’t have any influence in all this. After all, it’s his job to negotiate on the owners behalf, and while he has a strong negotiating team, Bettman remains the top dog.
While Bettman may be the front man for the team owners, he still deserves his fair share of blame.
He was flat-out wrong about this CBA resolving the league’s woes.
He misled NHL fans leading up to, and into the early months of, the last lockout by suggesting cost certainty would make NHL games more affordable.
If the league succeeds in forcing the PA to accept a CBA that once again dramatically slashes the players salaries and HRR share without the implementation of an improved revenue-sharing system, he’ll be wrong again if he again proclaims this will resolve its current ills.
Jeff Z. Klein of the New York Times noted the NHL currently has the most limited revenue-sharing among the four major North American pro sports leagues:
“According to rough estimates, the N.H.L. shares just 12 percent of the league’s portion of revenues among its clubs; according to union calculations, that figure is 6 percent. Aspects of the union’s proposal for a much broader revenue-sharing plan ($240 million in the first year) could find their way into a final agreement”.
If the league hopes to avoid more franchise relocation and the spectre of contraction over the next decade, it must implement a more meaningful system of revenue-sharing.
As this CBA clearly demonstrated, cutting the players HRR share and rolling back salaries was merely a short-term fix which did nothing to improve the franchise values and profitability of struggling markets. Doubling down on a failed plan won’t stabilize those franchises.