CBA negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA are set to begin on June 29 in New York City. Here’s a brief roundup of some of the notable news items leading up to the big day.

John Vogl of The Buffalo News doubts the upcoming CBA negotiations and uncertainty over what will be contained in a new agreement will have an adverse effect upon this summer’s free agent market.

That’s because the teams intend to conduct business as usual under the conditions of the current agreement, which expires September 15th.  A notable change from the lead-up to the last CBA, when a number of teams were dumping salaries, even allowing some free agents to go unsigned until a new agreement was in place.

Is that an indication the team owners and general managers expect a new CBA without a lockout, or aren’t expecting a lengthy work stoppage? Perhaps they’re confident they’ll get whatever they want and aren’t concerned over the consequences to their payrolls?

Read into it what you will, but the mood is different this time around compared to the summer of 2004, when everyone was bracing for a major labor dispute. Heck, you’d almost think the current deal wasn’t due to expire in September.

 

Sportsnet’s Michael Grange spoke with former NHLPA executive committee member Bill Guerin about his memories of the last lockout, which aren’t fond ones. Still, Guerin hopes the negotiations this time around will be more straightforward, considering there’s now a salary cap system in place.

That appears the difference this time around. The overall feeling is there doesn’t need to be a significant change to the current system, only some minor changes. That being said, it’s also possible such minor changes can turn into significant sticking points if either side opts to dig in its heels. Compromise on both sides will be required if a new CBA is to be implemented without any delay to next season.

 

Yahoo! Sports Nick Cotsonika points out the players are “more organized and better prepared” than they used to be, but time will tell if they can remain that way.

What could help, as Cotsonika also noted, is the use of social media to keep a membership spread out around the globe better informed and updated, which was lacking the last time around.

We’ve already seen the impact of Twitter and Facebook in breaking NHL news. Expect both, especially Twitter, to play a significant part in the dissemination of information – reliable and otherwise – during the upcoming CBA negotations.

 

PA director Donald Fehr, meanwhile, speaking to reporters following the opening day of the PA’s three-day strategy session earlier this week, suggested the possibility of next season starting without a new CBA in place.

Fehr believes the league could operate under the terms of the current agreement as long as both sides were willing to continue negotiating toward a new one. Of course, it remains to be seen if league HQ and the team owners feel the same way.

I’m sure Fehr realizes that notion won’t fly with the league, but it does score a PR point by putting acros the PA’s willingness to negotiate, as well as remind everyone which side ultimately determines a work stoppage.

The PA director also dismissed the notion the PA could go on strike, something they haven’t done in twenty years.

Too often I’ve heard or read comments from hockey fans expressing the fear of another “strike”. The last two work stoppages weren’t strikes, but lockouts, in which the team owners decided the players couldn’t return to work until a new CBA was implemented.

Rest assured, the players have no intention of going the strike route this time, just as they didn’t the last two times.

 

Dejan Kovecevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review points out what fans, bloggers and most pundits already know: there’s no reason for the NHL to stage another work stoppage.

The NHL has grown its total revenues by 50 percent in the seven years since the lockout, now at $3.2 billion. Attendance and TV ratings also are at all-time highs. And franchise values have soared 47 percent, led by the Penguins erupting from $101 million to $264 million.

The owners are fine.

At the same time, the average player salary has nearly doubled from $1.46 million to $2.4 million, trailing the salary cap from $39 million to $64 million. Players take 57 percent of all revenue, more than any other sport, even baseball. And they’re eligible for free agency earlier than ever.

The players are fine, too.

Best of luck to both sides explaining why a single drop of the puck should be missed over that”

Amen, Dejan. And it must be remembered it was the league which filed to terminate the current CBA on September 15th, not the players, who’ve indicated they’re willing to continue under this CBA, despite some of the obvious features (escrow) about it they don’t like about it.

The onus, as always, will fall upon the league to explain their justification for locking out the players, if it goes that route this fall.

 

David Shoalts of The Globe & Mail reminds us the NHL has the same problem it did in 2004: Ten or so teams making lots of money, those in the middle struggling to break even, and ten at the bottom losing millions every year.

While the owners wish to reduce the players revenue share from 57% down to 50% or lower, the players believe an improved system of revenue sharing is a better alternative, which could gain traction among those team owners who are losing millions.

Undoubtedly, something must be done to fix that system. It serves neither side to have a dozen teams hemmorhaging money for years. Reducing the players share, however, didn’t work last time, and that included a triple-tiered cap system and a 24 percent salary rollback. A further seven to ten percent reduction is obviously not the answer. I believe a better system of revenue sharing is the most viable solution, but we can expect the big market owners to fight that.

If a suitable solution isn’t found this time around, it could result in the relocation of two or three franchises to other markets, and contracting half-a-dozen others. Sure, that sounds fine, provided you’re not the fan of a team which could move or fold. Then, it’s not such a great idea.

 

Rick Westhead of The Toronto Star, meanwhile, took to Twitter recently with some interesting factoids:

After growing revenue to $3.3B, NHL says biggest untapped revenue source is international.  

Often reported that Canadian dollar increase has been a huge help to NHL revenue. Not that much, actually. ‪ 

NHL rev up to $3.3B from $2.2B in first year after lockout. CDN currency gain accounts for only $120M of the rev increase, league tells me 

Playing with numbers? NHL owner tells me league inflated puchase price of his franchise by $20M+.  

Owner says NHL included yet-to-be-paid stadium naming rights $, value of coming rev from local TV/radio deals in purchase price. ‪ 

NHL owner: “Players say they gave up so much in 2004. To who? Many owners from 2004 are out of the game now. It’s a new world now.” 

What was most interesting to me was the increase in the value of the Canadian dollar only accounting for $120 million of league revenue increases over the past seven years. That seems a little hard to believe, but if true, the NHL has done a fine job tapping into more lucrative revenue streams than ever before.

It could punch holes into the argument against enhance revenue sharing.

As for the unnamed owner’s flippant comment regarding what the players gave up, he’s correct it’s a new world now, one where the givebacks which led to the current CBA cannot be blithely dismissed, plus there’s a different leadership guiding the PA this time around.

It should also be remembered nearly two-thirds of the PA membership who went through the season-killing lockout of 2004-05 aren’t in the NHL anymore. Most of today’s stars therefore aren’t carrying the painful memories of that period, yet they don’t want to face a lockout.

 

Sports legal analyst Eric Macramalla, meanwhile, suggests the lucrative revenue streams from sponsors and television could be a factor in preventing a lockout.

It’s a notable point. If, as Westhead indicated, the league’s significant increases in revenue aren’t tied as much to the rise in value of the Canadian dollar, then the bulk could be coming from ticket sales, merchandising, broadcasting contracts and advertising revenue.

Considering the significant increase of revenue from $2.2 billion in 2005-06 to $3.3 billion this season, there’s a lot more money involved in the league. There’s more at risk here than fan support.

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