My take on the NHL’s latest CBA proposal.

Just when it appeared the NHL CBA negotiations were destined to move from the boardroom to the courtroom, the league on December 27 made a new, comprehensive CBA proposal to the NHLPA.

ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun got hold of the details of the 300-page offer through a player source and posted the highlights. What follows is my take on the more significant points, and my guess on the NHLPA’s reaction.

– NHL proposes contract term limits of six years, except for seven years for re-signed players. That’s up from their initial proposal of five years, but two short of the eight years sought by the NHLPA. So much for Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly’s claim that five years was the hill the league would die on. Common sense suggests agreement on seven years across the board, but as we’ve seen, common sense is something which has been sorely lacking throughout this pointless lockout. My guess is the PA will come down to seven years.

– 10 percent year-to-year salary variance, up from the five percent the league previously proposed. As The Globe & Mail’s James Mirtle recently observed via Twitter, “the league says new proposal on variance would allow a contract to go from $10-million to $4-million over seven years.”

Compared to the five percent variance the league initially sought, ten percent would allow for more front-and back-loading of contracts, though not by the wild amounts we saw under the previous CBA. The PA might find that workable, as it would free up more cap space to re-sign lesser paid teammates.

-Each team allowed one compliance amnesty buyout prior to 2013-14 season. The buyout won’t count against the team’s salary cap, but would come out of the players’ share of revenue.

That’s bound to excite fans of teams carrying expensive players who aren’t playing up to their contract value (hello there, Montreal Canadiens fans who can now almost taste a Scott Gomez buyout), as well as some team owners wishing to shed such salaries.

NHLPA director Donald Fehr reportedly pushed for amnesty buyouts, but it remains to be seen if he and the players are willing to accept those buyouts coming from their share of revenue.

-The “Make Whole” provision remains at $300 million. Once again, something NHL commissioner Gary Bettman claimed was off the table in fact never left the table at all. I expect the NHLPA might try to squeeze more out of the league, but considering how they’ve apparently backed off from demanding the owners honor all existing contracts, the PA probably won’t get much more than $300 million.

-The CBA proposed would be ten years with a mutual “opt-out” at year eight. Last time the league proposed that, the PA counter-proposed a shorter term. I wouldn’t be surprised if they offer up an eight year term with mutual opt-outs at year six, but I expect they’ll grudgingly accept the league’s proposed term.

A couple of interesting new points were added, such as an interview period for unrestricted free agents, and allowing all non-playoff teams to participate in the weighted entry draft lottery to determine which club gets the first overall pick.

The league also proposed improvements to player safety and health, as well as more joint committees involving both sides. Most of those points, however, were discussed in earlier talks, so there’s no surprise seeing them turn up in this proposal.

Otherwise, most of what the league is offering isn’t much different from what was discussed in previous talks. Indeed, as blogger “Tangotiger” suggested, the fact the league barely moved the needle on this proposal vindicates NHLPA director Donald Fehr’s claim on December 6 the two sides were close to a deal, which was subsequently denied by Bettman in his now-infamous press conference.

The salary cap for this season remains at $70.2 million, but drops to $60 million for 2013-14.

No changes to existing rules governing entry-level contracts, free agency and arbitration.

Money paid (above a certain amount) to players on NHL contracts playing in other leagues will be charged against the team’s salary cap but not against the players share.

Teams will be allowed to trade salary cap space.

Revenue sharing will increase to $200 million, including an oversight committee with NHLPA participation.

Elimination of re-entry waivers,

Availability of performance bonus cushion in each year of the CBA,

Updated and improve Grievance arbitration system.

That the league made a 300-page proposal, with a start date of January 19th in order to stage a full 48-game 2012-13 schedule, indicates we’ve now truly reached the “end game” of this negotiation process. Now, we await the NHLPA’s response.

Some pundits and bloggers have suggested the league has made “concessions” with this proposal. Actually, it’s more a softening of demands. It’s been the NHLPA making the concessions by accepting a 50-50 revenue split, a “make whole” provision, term limits on contracts and a limit on salary variance.

It’s also been suggest if the PA tries to “overhaul” the league’s latest proposal, that’ll be all she wrote for this season, but if the PA is willing to discuss “tweaks”, a deal might be possible.

Given how much the league’s prior threats turned out to be empty, I don’t expect the PA to believe them this time. NHLPA director Donald Fehr repeatedly told the players over the course of these negotiations they would get better offers if they stayed patient and united, and he’s been proven right every time.

It’s also been rumored the NHL owners don’t consider cancelling the season to be a viable option this time. If so, that could explain why we’re seeing this proposal from the NHL now, scant days before the NHLPA’s January 2 deadline to file a disclaimer of interest. It could also be used by Fehr and the PA as leverage in this weekend’s talks.

So,  it’s up to Fehr and his lieutenants to decide if this is indeed the NHL’s “last, best offer”, and if so, what can be “tweaked” to their advantage.

3 Comments

  1. Personally I feel they should just accept it an be done. This farce has gone on long enough, and they are getting a good deal.

  2. The NHLPA response will tell us who has been lying. If this offer isn’t good enough, it’s obvious they were never “close.” If it is good enough, it’s obvious the NHL has been disingenuous in their presentation of the union.

  3. @Icebear

    “Getting a good deal”??? Are you kidding? The players have given on several items that they previously had. They took a pay cut, a contract length cut, contract variance drop(huge) among other things. What did the owners give up?? Well they gave up… re entry waivers and …… some money, that they will get back over the next couple of years. (cap drops to $60 million from $70 million= $10 mill / team = $300 million. Hold it !! That matches the make whole provision!! )

    I want hockey too, but lets be realistic while we are at it.