Analysis of Potential Changes in Upcoming NHL CBA.

My take on some recently reported potential changes for NHL free agency, trades, waivers, contracts and more.

Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star reported Tuesday of a number of issues the NHL and NHLPA had “more or less” agreed upon, those they were moving closer to, as well as the remaining sticking points.

The latter are well-known to those who’ve followed the CBA negotiations.  Reaching a 50-50 split on hockey-related revenue, increased revenue sharing, contract term limits, and covering the damage to revenue for this season from the lockout remain significant stumbling blocks on the path toward a collective bargaining agreement.

Those factors, however, overshadowed the progress already made on the other notable issues.

What follows is a quick analysis of the “common ground” issues and those the two sides are moving closer toward, as noted by McGran.

The “common ground”:

“Change the free agent calendar, meaning the market would open on June 15 or 48 hours after the awarding of the Stanley Cup — the players want whichever is later — instead of July 1. Arbitration dates may change as well.

  Allow cap space to be included in transactions, to encourage trades and get teams out from under heavy contracts.

  A joint health committee.

  Eliminate re-entry waivers.

  A neutral, third-party arbitrator to deal with appeals for on- and off-ice discipline.

  Minimum roster requirements to avoid situations where teams dress fewer than 18 players to save salary cap room.”

Changing the start of free agency to mid-June – coming just after the Stanley Cup Final, and prior to the NHL Entry Draft weekend – will make that month the busiest on the league calendar. Imagine the crowning of a Stanley Cup champion, big name free agent signings, the annual selection by NHL clubs of the hockey world’s top young prospects, and the possibility for major trade action taking place in the same month. It’s a hockey junkie’s dream!

Best of all, if you’re a Canadian pundit or blogger, you’ll be able to enjoy Canada Day as a holiday, rather than spend it at work while  family, friends and neighbours enjoy the celebration of confederation without you.

Allowing the movement of cap space in transactions should provide a significant boost to an NHL trade market which has stagnated since the implementation of the salary cap.

Depending upon how much cap space is allowed to be moved, it should make more players – especially stars on expensive contracts – available via trade, creating the potential for more blockbuster deals during the season, rather than the off-season, when teams have more available cap space and willingness to spend.

McGran gave no indication when the arbitration dates could change, but I’m guessing they could be be moved up to late-June/early July from the current period of late July/early August.

It’s obvious the players, agents and team executives prefer getting most of the transaction business out of the way by mid-July so they can enjoy the rest of the summer. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any significant deals throughout the off-season, but it does appears business will get much slower  by mid-summer.

Eliminating re-entry waivers removes the threat for teams of losing a previously demoted player to a rival club, while remaining on the hook for half his salary.

The players have called for a neutral third party arbiter regarding disciplinary appeals for some time. It’s a good idea, provided it won’t become abused by those appealing minor infractions, like a two-game suspension. A joint health committee is also worthwhile, as both sides should have input into matters of players health.

It will be interesting to see what measures will be used to prevent teams from dressing less than 18 players to save on cap space. Will those teams get a free pass if unusual circumstances force them to exceed the cap for a brief period? Will they face softer cap penalties? We likely must await the details in the new CBA to find out.

Next, the “getting closer” issues:

“Entry-level contracts. The league wants a two-year limit. The players want to leave it at three.

  AHL salaries. The league is offering to count only those that exceed the NHL minimum ($525,000) against a team’s cap. The NHL had wanted the number closer to $95,000. The victory for the PA here is that AHL players won’t have their salaries count against the players’ share of hockey-related revenue. Accounting would be limited to players in the NHL.

  Unrestricted free agency. The league is offering freedom after eight years of service or age 28, after asking for 10 years. This year, players could become free agents after seven years of service, or age 27.

  Maintaining salary arbitration, but with eligibility pushed back to a player’s fifth season. The players are asking for arbitration after four years. The NHL initially wanted it abolished.”

Shortening the entry level contracts could prove beneficial for young stars, allowing them to cash in in big money contracts a year earlier, rather than playing a third year earning far less than their true market value. It could also prove beneficial in wooing young Russian stars from the KHL.

Moving free agency up by one year shouldn’t adversely affect the players, especially first and second tier stars, since most of them are usually re-signed within a year of their eligibility.

It’s believed the PA wants to keep entry level deals  and free agency at the current levels to ensure players can shop their services sooner via free agency.

That’s understandable, but shortening entry level deals by a year and extending free agency eligibility by a year isn’t akin to a reserve clause, as some critics have suggested. Depending upon when a player joins the NHL, they might be looking at one-two extra years at most with one team, provided they’re not traded at any point during that period.

If we go by their public statements, most players eligible for UFA status prefer to re-sign with their current teams  A few might be engaged in public posturing, but most seem sincere. They want fair market value, as well as assurances management is committed to building/maintaining a winner.

Pushing salary arbitration to five years from four  isn’t a big deal, especially when one considers the league initially sought to abolish it. Most players filing for arbitration wind up re-signing with their teams before their cases go before an arbiter, so this really shouldn’t be a show-stopper.

As for AHL salaries, considering what the league initially sought to count against the cap (starting at $95K), having only those contracts which exceed $525K count is indeed a victory for the PA, allowing more cap space to be spent on full-time NHL players.