NHL CBA News and Notes – January 19, 2012.

My take on some interesting tidbits of recent CBA news.

Last Sunday, Kevin Paul Dupont of The Boston Globe reported NHL players, prior to the 2004-05 lockout, were earning an average of $1.8 million per season, and now are earning $2.3 million per season.

More interesting, however, was the following sentence:

“A number of NHL owners and GMs stated during the lockout that they hoped ticket prices would level off or perhaps drop once a salary cap was in place…”

This link sums up my immediate reaction (WARNING: Not suitable for work or those who don’t like bad language).

Any team owners and general manager who believes a salary cap would lower ticket prices shouldn’t be allowed near the bargaining table during CBA negotiations.

Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the economics of professional sports knows player salaries have no bearing upon ticket prices. It’s the markets, not the salaries, which determine ticket prices.

I wrote about this extensively during the lockout, and as recently as last fall, on my blog on Kukla’s Korner.

My recommendation for those team owners and general managers is go find a copy of “Leveling the Playing Field”, by Harvard sports law expert Paul Weiler.

I also recommend the book to NHL pundits, bloggers and fans, so if the league tries to drag out the tired canard that player salaries must be lowered to make the game more affordable, you won’t get fooled again.

 

Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times recently reported International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) president Rene Fasel is hoping the next round of NHL CBA talks won’t adversely affect the NHL’s participation in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Elliott suggested with “the current labor deal expiring Sept. 15 and nothing in the air but hostility, prospects are dicey that the NHL will again halt its season to send players to Sochi for exposure that’s not in prime time.”

Fasel, meanwhile, remains optimistic the NHL will send players to Sochi, but added the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would have to know by 2013 if the NHL won’t participate, so alternate arrangements, likely involving US and Canadian made up of players from college or European teams, can be made.

I understand the concern over the NHL and NHLPA getting a new CBA done prior to September 15th, but I’m not buying this media meme there’s “nothing in the air but hostility” between the two camps.

That’s the way things were like eight years ago, and while I don’t expect the two sides will join hands and sing “Kumbaya” in the upcoming labor talks, the air today contains decidedly less hostility.

The concern over future Olympic participation is legitimate, though I doubt it’ll have an effect upon the Sochi Games.

Over the past couple of years, the NHL has improved its relationship with Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. A number of Russian stars, including Washington’s Alexader Ovechkin and Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, have expressed a strong desire to participate in the Sochi Games, even hinting at leaving their teams – at the risk of suspension – to represent their country on home ice.

The players want to continue playing in the Olympics, but it’s believed a number of owners have grown cool to shutting down the season for two weeks, and have their best players risk serious injury participating in Olympic hockey.

I believe the NHL will participate in the Sochi Games, but it remains to be seen if they’ll take part in future Winter Olympics beyond 2014.

 

ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun recently responded to a reader’s concern over another season interruption by a lockout or player’s strike:

“I speak to officials at both the NHL and NHLPA all the time — neither side has a real sense of whether or not games will be sacrificed next season. All they know is what they’re going to be willing to fight for once labor talks begin. Both sides agreed talks would begin sometime after the All-Star break. The league and owners will want to decrease the players’ share of revenues from the current 57 percent. The players will argue they already gave in big-time seven years ago when they agreed to a salary cap. “

LeBrun also provided a link to a labor preview story he wrote in October, covering many of the issues likely to be on the table for the upcoming CBA negotiations, which is well worth the read.

I have no doubt the labor talks will be contentious, though to what degree remains to be determined.

What I’m confident about is the players lack the stomach for another lengthy labor battle which could jeopardize an entire season. Most of the PA membership were around for the last one, and they remember only too well how badly it went for them, even though the cost certainty system imposed upon them turned out far better for them than most supposed “experts” believe it would.

For all the fear over the PA’s hiring of Donald Fehr signalling another lengthy labor war between the two sides, I feel it’s indicative the players hired him to get the best deal possible without costing them a significant portion of next season to get it.

I would also hazard a guess if you buttonholed the team owners one by one, a number of them (especially those in lucrative markets) would express reluctance over staging another nasty labor battle this time around.

The NHL is doing far better now (revenue and popularity) than it did prior to the last lockout, especially in the all-important American sports market.

While there are some issues which will be difficult to navigate through, I still believe both sides will get a deal done, if not prior to September 15th, then in a time frame which might at worse delay the start of next season by four to six weeks.

Wishful thinking on my part? Perhaps, but judging by the relationship between the two sides today compared to eight years ago, I think the odds are good something gets down without killing half of a season, let alone an entire one. And they just might surprise us and get it done before the end of the current one, though I doubt we’ll see that anytime before September.

Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to aging stars like Nicklas Lidstrom, Tim Thomas, and Ray Whitney to lose a season, or be forced into retirement, because of another season killing lockout.

If not for the fans, do it for them…;)

3 Comments

  1. The NHLPA (union) saying no to realignment was just the opening salvo to set the tone for the upcoming negotiations. The Players Association wants a lot this time around and the owners do not want them to have much. It should be very interesting how far it goes and how close to an actual work stoppage/lockout.

  2. Short and simple.

    Get ready for a long Lockout.

    My prediction is there will be no NHL hockey until the 2013-2014 season.

    The consensus regarding the majority of NHL players is that they want EVERYTHING they have lost in the past and this is the perfect time to address it as NHL Revenue is at an all time high and this is their best opportunity to take action.

  3. delvecchio: While you’re entitled to your opinion regarding a lockout, you are dead wrong about the majority of players wanting everything they lost in the past. That is pure BS. The players know the salary cap is here to stay. While they will make the point in negotiations that they’ve already given up a lot, they realize trying to get back everything they lost is a no-starter.