Are NHL Big Market Owners Setting CBA Agenda?

The NHL’s push for the players to shoulder the burden for revenue sharing suggests influential big market owners are setting the agenda for the league’s negotiators.

Over the course of the current NHL CBA negotiations, commissioner Gary Bettman claimed the league and the NHLPA aren’t that far apart regarding revenue-sharing dollars, to the point where he’s called it a distracting “non-issue.”

The problem, however, is the league would rather have those revenue-share dollars come from the players, in the form of increased escrow payments, while the PA would prefer that money come from the league’s wealthier teams.

According to, in 2010-11 the total losses of the NHL’s eighteen money-losing franchises was $126.1 million.

Meanwhile, the twelve franchises which finished on the happy side of par made a combined $252.6 million, of which half – Toronto Maple Leafs (81.8), Montreal Canadiens (47.7), New York Rangers ($41.4), Vancouver Canucks ($23.5), Edmonton Oilers (17.3) and Detroit Red Wings (16.3) – accounted for $228 million.

Granted, these numbers are before taxes and other deductions, so the final figures would be lower.

Still, given how much the top half-dozen earned, and had there been a better system of revenue sharing in place, it’s possible they could have assisted some of the perennially money-losing clubs – like the Phoenix Coyotes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, Florida Panthers, and NY Islanders – and still had enough remaining for themselves.

Little wonder, then, the PA believes the big market teams should do more to assist their struggling brethren.

The league’s insistence revenue-sharing must come from the dollars clawed back from the players via increased escrow payments suggests it’s the big market owners setting the league’s agenda in these CBA negotiations.

It’s difficult to believe the owners of those perennially money-losing franchises would be against their big market peers pitching in to assist them.

Those owners know that simply slashing the players share of revenue and capping their salaries failed to help them under this CBA. They have to know redefining HRR and trying to fund revenue-sharing on the backs of the players is unlikely to improve their lot.

How can an owner of one of those money-losing teams look at how much Toronto, Montreal, NY Rangers, Vancouver, Edmonton and Detroit made in 2010-11 and not feel those teams could do more to help his club?

Sadly, we won’t find out, because the league has imposed a gag order upon team owners and their respective managements. Anyone who speaks out risk expensive fines.

Opponents of revenue-sharing will argue the money-makers shouldn’t have to bail out teams in lesser markets, especially if those teams are poorly run, or in markets where hockey is a tough sell.

No one should begrudge the big market owners their riches, but for a league involved in a sport which espouses teamwork, it doesn’t help if the disparity between they and their poorer cousins only widens.

Another argument against improved revenue-sharing is it won’t make poorly-managed teams better, but that’s unfair to better-managed clubs like the Predators,  Coyotes and Panthers.

Sure, it’s easy to suggest relocating those teams to better markets, but the fact is, there aren’t that many available. Quebec City doesn’t have a new arena yet, the Maple Leafs would fight any attempt to put an NHL franchise into southern Ontario, there’s lots of talk but little action about a new arena in Seattle, Kansas City has had an NHL venue for years but no one has stepped forward willing to put a franchise there, and Las Vegas remains a dream.

If the NHL is truly concerned about the stability of all its franchises as its commissioner frequently claims, and truly serious about expanding its brand in the all-important American sports market, it cannot insist revenue-sharing come on the backs of the players while the wealthier team owners skate away without making significant contributions.

Their unwillingness to step up and assist the struggling markets merely punts this issue down the road until the next round of CBA negotiations.

Nothing will truly change. The wealthy will get wealthier, pillaging the rosters of struggling peers, which either won’t be able to afford to retain their best players, or by doing so, won’t afford sufficient roster depth to build and maintain competitive teams.

The NHL promised an even playing surface under this CBA, but that failed to materialize. It won’t happen under the league’s latest proposals unless the wealthy owners agree to share. Without it, the result could be those struggling teams becoming little more than feeder systems for the big market teams.

Unless the owners of those struggling franchises break ranks and demand a better system of revenue sharing involving their big market peers, their lot won’t substantially improve over the next several years, and might in fact become more serious when the new CBA is due to expire.


  1. Asking the Owners to share their profits with weeker teams is kinda like asking Alex Ovechkin to share his $9,538,462 salary with Wojtek Wolski 600,000! isn’t it?

  2. Why isn’t contraction brought up as part of the solution? The league is watered down and uneven. Brass tax here people. Two teams need to go.

  3. Armand makes a good point… But also consider how the league has done everything it can to create parity, ie those 3 point games, cap things not necessarily advantageous to big market teams.

  4. Of course profit sharing not a good deal for big market teams….but, with a few exceptions, it’s the GM’s of big market teams that go crazy and pay whatever it takes to get players, causing a huge raise in salaries and forcing teams in bad markets to lose out on top players.

    On that basis, I agree with contraction, but will that really solve the problems between the have and the have not teams remaining? I don’t think so….

  5. I think the upper teams also can point out to Mr. Baseball Fehr that his precious example baseball does not work as he claims.

    Look at it since he was there in the 90’s and not much has changed.
    The big spenders still spend pushing salaries through the roof and the cheapos are still cheap letting players go or trading them before the big payday comes.

    The in betweeners have a good season here and there before fading away and rebuilding again.

    And of course the icing on the cake is the cheap teams just keep the revenue sharing in their pockets and the in betweeners use it sometimes and pocket it sometimes so in the end it really has no effect on its purpose of making all teams more competitive.

  6. The nfl teams share and yes its a bigger leauge and better advertising dollars and bigger tv contracts but all owners need to be responsible.You cant pay out tons of money to players than cry about how much your spending.Nobody made the wilds owner give out those 98 million dolar deals ,same with new jersey or nashville.Why not a hard cap at 65 million for three years a minimum 45 million to be spent but have the franchise player tag like they do in nfl where they dont count that players salary against cap make buyouts easier and cheaper for teams.And if players sign a contract then refuse to play aka tim thomas that players salary should not count against cap and he is not allowed to play anywhere in nhl for that year.

  7. Some people are viewing the NHL as a loose confederation of individual, independent businesses (which is what the owners would have us all believe). Try a different perspective. Look at it as a single corporation with multiple divisions. Some of these divisions make tons of money. Some lose tons of money (either due to market conditions, such as Nashville and Phoenix, or abysmal management, such as Islanders and Columbus). “Revenue sharing” is what any corporation does internally. Successful corporations also fix the weak sisters. Perhaps the market won’t support a 30 team league. If every team has to make money, they all have to have similar markets and similar management. If they don’t, then the rich ones have to help out the poorer ones, or the poorer ones have to be culled from the herd. Maybe Miami, Raleigh and Columbus are really AHL cities…

  8. the hypocritical nature of the owners has already destroyed their credibility. how can they cry poverty when signing huge contracts? no one is forcing them to sign these players (Nashville gets a pass as it was Philadelphia that forced Weber’s contract on them) yet they continue to do so even while claiming losses in the tens of millions.
    Minnesota signed not one but two of the most coveted free agents to contracts with a Cap hit of over $7.5 million EACH! the Wild tried to spin this as a win for the have nots of the league but owner Craig Leipold has a long history of going to the NHL with cap in hand claiming poverty when he owned the Nashville Predators.
    the NHL appears to have solved the issue of parity on the ice with a salary Cap that levels the playing field somewhat by limiting what teams can spend on players. off ice it’s a different story as owners are resistant to a player suggested revenue sharing plan to stabilize weaker franchises. it appears the owners want the players to save the owners from themselves but only by giving up salary rather than contributing out of the box ideas.
    a lockout appears inevitable at this point as owners appear unwilling to accept anything other than total capitulation from the NHLPA and players are unwilling to accept responsibility (in the form of salary cuts) for the owners failings.

  9. Just wondering about a 5% to 10% “tax” on all players salaries. Put them in 3 categories of 5% is 10%. Also, it is based on $ paid in that season, not cap numbers.

    So if you are paying a guy $2.5 mil, you pay the league $125k at the end of the season. The money is then distributed to team’s who require extra funds, based on a set of rules decided on by the board.

    The money is never intended to go to the players (ie not escrow), but goes to the NHL office to do revenue sharing. But since all teams contribute equally to the system it makes more sense. Plus it also gives GM’s some more thought on what to pay a player.

    And if some teams go down (ie the Devils) then they might get help in a down year. Essentially it is a bit of a safety net for the league.

    The funny thing is that this doesn’t have to be collectively bargained, because it is an NHL team matter, not a player issue.