NHL CBA News Roundup – June 24, 2012.

Now that the thrill of the NHL Entry Draft is over, it’s time for a quick jolt of reality before the unrestricted free agent market opens next Sunday. Here’s the latest CBA news and notes.

Ed Willes of The Vancouver Province on June 16th reminded us the NHL could be facing its fourth work stoppage since 1992, and isn’t optimistic the stewards of the league – the team owners – will avoid another potentially disastrous work stoppage, nor does he expect they’ll actually take a serious look at the on-ice product to find ways to improve it.

Count The Globe & Mail’s Roy MacGregor among those expecting another lockout, as the team owners try to squeeze the players to accept a reduction in their share of revenue, term limits on contracts, more leverage with unrestricted free agents and entry level contracts, and lowering the cap floor.

NorthJersey.com’s Andrew Gross isn’t buying NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s attempt to put a positive spin on upcoming CBA talks, citing the negativity amongst pundits and fans and expectation of another work stoppage. He doesn’t expect the season to start until late-November.

Plenty of negativity among the media, but given the NHL’s contentious labor history, I can’t say I blame them. The overall expectation is for a lockout which lasts about two months, leaving room for surprise if the league and the PA can actually work out an agreement prior to September 15th.

 

Jonathan Willis of The Edmonton Journal gets to the heart of the matter regarding the crucial issue of the upcoming CBA talks: the salary cap minimum, or “cap floor”.

Willis lists four possibilities to address that issue. One is killing weaker markets (which the league won’t do, but in my opinion could be facing that prospect down the road).

Another is expanded revenue sharing, which I encourage, though Willis points out big market owners won’t be keen to share revenue with poorly-run franchises. On the other hand, they’ve been bailing out some of those teams already (Coyotes, Devils, and until this year, the Stars), so it’s an option which should be on the table.

The likely option the league will pursue is reducing the players revenue share, which will be the main issue of contention and surely result in another lockout if the owners push the issue.

Willis’ fourth option is widening the salary range between the cap ceiling and floor by lowering the latter, which I believe will take place, though it remains to be seen by how much.

What I foresee is the players being forced to accept a reduced revenue share, the lowering of the cap floor, and lowering the cap spread from $16 million to at least $20 million, perhaps more. I’m not holding out hope for improvement to the revenue-sharing system currently in place. In other words, the league will kick the can down the road.

 

Sports Business Journal last week tracked the season ticket sales of all 30 NHL teams.

Of note: The Panthers tickets sales jumped 148%, the Stars showed modest improvement, the Cup champion Kings are expected to sell out for the first time since moving to the Staples Center, Blues renewals are up significantly, Predators renewals are up,and Coyotes renewal rate (90 percent) at a franchise high. To no one’s surprise, the Blue Jackets numbers are down.

 

NHL Commissioner GaryBettman may have revealed himself to be a fan of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” when he said last week CBA negotiations would begin “in the not too distant future”.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly claimed the league and the PA have scheduled talks but declined to say when or where. It could be assumed it’s more fun to keep fans and media in suspense, but the real reason is not to distract from the recent NHL awards, Entry Draft weekend, and the upcoming free agent frenzy.

NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr, however, was a little more precise, suggesting talks could commence at some point this week.

The PA, meanwhile, will conduct their annual meetings this week (Monday to Wednesday) in Chicago, where a high turnout of players is expected. The Canadian Press reported high-profile NHLPA members like Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews are expected to be there.

For those who might suggest Crosby and Toews are merely “window-dressing” by the PA, both have an active interest in PA matters.

Three other notable NHL players hope to contribute to the upcoming CBA talks.

St. Louis Blues forward David Backes, along with Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and center Patrice Bergeron, are hoping they have something to add to the negotiations. They also expressed their hope a deal can be implemented without cutting into next season ‘s schedule.

For all the cynical talk from the PA’s critics suggesting the membership isn’t engaged in the important issues facing them in the upcoming CBA talks, it appears they’re actually more interested than suspected, which is a good sign for the PA. Credit Fehr for choosing to keep the players informed and encouraging their feedback.

 

In either the spirit of optimism or wishful thinking, the league released the full schedule for 2012-13. Interestingly, the Phoenix Coyotes remain on the schedule. No mention of Quebec City or Seattle anywhere.