The Hypocrisy of NHL Owners.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman claims the league is paying its players too much and seeks to change the rules regarding contracts and salaries, while at the same time, teams are rushing to sign talent before the current CBA expires.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman recently claimed, “We believe we’re paying the players more than we should”.

The ‘we’ in that sentence, of course, refers to the NHL team owners, who are apparently unhappy their current CBA – the most restrictive among the four major North American pro sports, which they forced upon the NHLPA seven years ago – still pays the players too much.

In its initial proposal, the league not only sought to reduce the players share of revenue from 57 percent down to 43 percent, but also five year term limits on contracts.

It’s difficult, however, to accept the league’s position at face value when the owners continue to sign players to expensive, long-term contracts in the midst of CBA negotiations.

The most notable example, of course, was the Minnesota Wild signing free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to identical 13-year, $98 million contracts.

Ordinarily, this would be considered quite the coup by the Wild, a club not known for making such expensive forays into the UFA market, successfully wooing this summer’s two best free agents.

No one should begrudge the Wild signing Parise and Suter to those contracts. Their front office deemed it was worth the price to improve their club, and they were operating under the rules of the current collective bargaining agreement. They saw an opportunity to land a couple of “hometown stars”, were willing to pay the big bucks to get them, and will now live with the consequences of those signings, good or bad.

What makes those moves galling, however, was Wild owner Craig Leipold, only three months earlier, decrying his club’s biggest expense was players salaries and calling for the system to be fixed.

Leipold  subsequently attempted to justify these signings in the wake of his earlier remarks, but few bought into  his explanation.

The Wild weren’t the only team to willingly sign free agents to  expensive deals in excess of five years this summer.

On July 19th, the Philadelphia Flyers shocked the hockey world by signing Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber to a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet.

What’s notable about that offer sheet – apart from the term and dollars – is it came only five days after the NHL made its initial CBA proposal. Guess the Flyers management didn’t get the memo about the league paying its players too much for too long.

Under the rules of the current CBA, the Flyers were well within their rights to make that offer to Weber. The problem arises from the  hypocrisy of making that pitch less than a week following the league’s initial CBA proposal, which sought to impose term limits on contracts.

How about the Tampa Bay Lightning signing Matt Carle to a six-year, $33 million contract, or the Vancouver Canucks inking Jason Garrison – he of the 2 1/2 NHL seasons – to a six-year deal, which saw his salary climb from $880K last season to a front-loaded contract with an average cap hit of $4.6 million?

Again, those teams can spend whatever they like on whoever they like under this CBA, but doesn’t it seem a tad hypocritical of them to make those signings whilst part of a group claiming to be paying too much for salaries and demanding term limits?

The hypocrisy wasn’t limited to unrestricted free agent signings or offer sheets. Check out some of this summer’s notable restricted free agent signings:

Edmonton Oilers forward Taylor Hall – seven years, $42 million.

Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty – six years, $27 million. Canadiens goaltender Carey Price – six years, $39 million.

Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner – six years, $34.350 million.

Philadelphia Flyers forward Scott Hartnell (six years, $28.5 million) and forward Wayne Simmonds (six years, $23.850 million).

The issue here isn’t if they’re worth those dollars and terms, but rather, how the owners of those teams can justify those contracts when they’re pushing for term limits and claiming they’re paying too much in salaries.

The owners of the aforementioned clubs won’t be called into account or asked to explain their clubs respective actions. Most will either ignore the criticims, or blithely explain it away as the cost of doing business under a “broken system”.

It’s the same bullshit that was espoused leading up to the last lockout. And rest assured, we’ll hear it again when the next CBA is due to expire.


  1. I always wonder what people in business do who don’t particularly like the regulations or rules in their industry do until those rules can be changed?

    Stop doing business?

    Nope didn’t think so. They put up with the current system and try to exploit the current system until it changes. It’s not hypocrisy.

  2. Yes, tantalum, they “put up” with the current system…which they forced upon a beaten and broken NHLPA, implementing the most restrictive cap system in North American pro sports, with escrow ensuring the players never receive more than 57 percent of revenue in a single season. A system trumpeted by the league as the cure-all for its supposed woes. Poor babies, so hard done by.

  3. Excellent commentary, Lyle. I agree with every word. The owners and Bettman are total hypocrites.

  4. It seems to be the mantra of the business world, (and yes, sadly, hockey is a business) to explore and exploit every loophole it can. It’s a sad commentary on our economic system, everyone out to get whatever they can, and, in this case, damn the fans that support them and our wonderful and exciting sport…..Having said that, not every business, nor every owner or player is greedy, but there are enough that they are quickly gaining on lawyers in terms of perception!

  5. Not every team is created equal. I believe their is a finer line than what you have portrayed here. I agree with your overall point, but it’s more gray than black and white.

  6. Wouldn’t it be something for the owners to come straight out and say that it’s ‘my shop, their rules’. I’m not a fan of all of the doublespeak and out-right lies being put out by the owners, I’ve heard it all before and it was all garbage then too. If the owners, as a group, want to pay out less as a percentage (57 down to 43), they are entitled to do so. If they want to abuse the last few weeks of this CBA, they are entitled to do that too. They should stop pretending that they are doing any of this for the good of the game, fans, or their business model though. It’s no good for any of them in either the long or short term.
    As for the players? It’s hard to feel bad for them, they picked their place of work when they signed those contracts and agreements in the past. If they didn’t want to play in the NHL, they could have signed contracts elsewhere or trained in something else. When someone else signs your paycheque, you need to be more flexible than he/she does.

    • Oops, I meant ‘my shop, my rules’.

  7. I have just one question, maybe you can best answer it when you have time Lyle. Everyone keeps talking about how this hurts the fans and nobody cares about the fans in this, my question is what are they supposed to do about it? CBA’s happen all over North America, I am a student who has a very good chance of being shut out of school in Ontario if our College Faculty goes on strike, I am an NHL fan who might not see an NHL game if they get locked out.

    What I am getting at is business negotiations happen, I don’t agree with tactics sides nothing like that, not making commentary about that. But if two sides of a business see different things … where even if they were closer together and playing nice do the fans fit into it? Isn’t their job to do what they feel is right (both sides) to protect the NHL and ensure its longevity? I just want a concrete example of what these two sides should be doing for the fans in these negotiations that I am missing?

  8. The CBA negotiations don’t “hurt” the fans. It inconveniences them, for it there’s another lockout they won’t be able to watch their favorite teams play until a new deal is implemented, but in no way does it “hurt” them.

    Those who are hurt by a lockout are NHL staff and arena employees who face layoffs and pay cuts in the event of a lockout, businesses near arenas which rely on NHL games for part of their livelihood, and those who attempt to make a living via blogging and/or free-lance coverage of the NHL.

  9. I think it’s a division between owners. You have some teams that have cash and make out well for revenue. So they invest a lot in their on ice product to keep people paying for their products. Then you have teams who don’t have strong revenue or fanbases who are forced to keep pace with the big clubs because of increased overall revenue. I think there’s something like 18 clubs that “lost money” last year. It’s those clubs that are screwing with this because they don’t want to pay any more than they did 3 years ago and they can’t handle the rising costs of retaining their star players. After the first lockout the big contracts were around 4-5 million. Now theyre 6-8 million and the rich clubs found the loophole that gave them the advantage through huge signing bonuses and bullshit years at the end of the contracts. So the rich clubs can conduct business as usual and have the best shot at signing all the top FA’s. In my opinion, it’s the weak markets dictating what’s going on. If all clubs had fanbases like Montreal, Toronto, Philly, nyr, etc then they wouldn’t care as much because the league would be making tons of money every year. The issues would only be non salary cap/expense things. I could be way off but that’s the sense im getting. That’s why clubs with cash have been sign key players for 6+ yrs because they may not get that opportunity anymore.

  10. Hypocracy??? Something like portraying yourself as an objective pundit in lieu of a reborn Fox news anchor?

    Or perhaps Hypocracy may be defined as the players unified mantra of “we still want to play”. Of course they do, they dont sacrifice anything, resolve any issues, and draw a paycheck…..if not hypocracy, then perhaps inane.

    Or perhaps Hypocracy is when an NHL players making an average of $2.4 million dollars for an average career of 5 years, (for a total after taxes of $6 million), whining about being able to survive financially when their careers are over. It takes a family of 4 (both parents working) 96 years to make that money, yet the down trodden players are struggling (oh and by the way, lets not forget their pension).

    Now back to the owners, using your logic, 18 teams in the NHL should not even try to be competitive or sign players, not until they at least show a profit. Boy that is going to encourage people to buy those season tickets.

    And lets not acknowledge the fact that some owners maintain their franchises and responsibility to fans by operating to the ceiling dictacted by the current CBA, even though they know without doubt that it will come at a loss. No we will automatically paint them all black with the same greedy brush.

    If ownership didnt allow their GMs to pursue players, and improve their teams as much as they can “under the existing rules”…..pundits would be screaming to the high heavens about “collusion” and “not negotiating in good faith”. So based on your statement about Hypocracy…..what should the owners do, what would be the solution? Intentionally not sign a single player (which is illegal) until the players realize and acknowledge their demands are too high and lower them? LOL, isnt that what is trying to be negotiated right now?

    In fact, if there werent a majority of those owners, there wouldnt be an NHL, this is not the NFL where simply existing guarantees a profit. This is a league that first worked hard to introduce parity to allow fans in Tampa, Carolina and Anaheim to enjoy championship teams. This is the same league that is trying to create an equal playing field financially for all its members so every team can enjoy prosperity, and to do so without jeopardizing the big flagship franchises. The logic of individual business owners sharing their profits with competitors takes socialism to an extreme and is very simple for people not financially invested to recommend. Good luck sellling Leaf fans that a chunk of their money just paid for a championship team in Nashville.(hypothetical)…..I would love to hear that reaction.

    “the most restrictive cap system in north america?”

    Really Lyle?

    So the only league to have guaranteed contracts without exclusion is restrictive?

    The only league to have more than 51% of its revenue go to the players is the most restrictive?

    The only league not to enforce term restrictions in any way shape or form is the most restrictive?

    Ask the NFL, NBA, or MLB players what concessions they would give up just to have those guaranteed contracts?

    And then to add “forced upon them”…..these are adults, many older than some of the boys I have had over seas with me, and they have very pricey representation in every aspect of their lives and yet we are supposed to feel pitiful?

    As much as I admire some of your work, I really have to wonder if this wasnt written “tongue in cheek”

    Ownership has stated, quite clearly, no bull, that they think the players are making too much money. Is either side to blame for that? No, not at all. The rules are the rules, and right now the rules allow for the contracts we have seen the last 2 years, and there is not a fan of any team that has signed a player to one of them who wasnt thrilled when their GM did it (ask Philly fans). But that doesnt mean the rules cant be changed. Which is what the league is trying to do.

    • Old Soldier: I understand your position that the owners take the risks, the owners put it all on the line, it’s their right to make the rules, blah, blah, blah…and as a business owner I understand that position better than most who believe the employees should share all the profits while the company owner somehow owes it to everyone to do so while making no money themselves and guaranteeing their employment no matter how the economy affects them is ridiculous yet many, many people think this way.

      That being said, I believe you miss the point of this article. The owners touted this CBA as the cure all and the perfect scenario for themselves. They have since exploited the hell out of it and now need to be saved from themselves. Saying as a group they can’t afford high salaries and long term contracts WHILE HANDING THEM OUT is hypocritical.

      By the way, your posts are generally well thought out and well spoken. The insult to Lyle was hardly necessary to try to get your point across. It takes away you credibility.

  11. I have to agree with Lyle in a way.
    The league (owners) wants the end of high dollar contracts and obviously had meetings and agreed on taking that stance during the negotiations with the players association and just days after Betteman fed that line of crap to Donald Fehr and the NHLPA, Philadelphia’s owner agrees on giving Shea Weber a 14 year, $110 million dollar offer sheet. Talk about sending a mixed message.
    I believe this is actually about where the owners thought they would be based on the previous contract and not thinking for a second that NHL revenue would grow from $2.1 million to $3.2 or so.
    No wonder Bettman is saying that the NHL has the greatest fans.
    They underestimated the fans last time though and now they seem to be guilty of taking them for granted.
    The owners thought they had the players over a barrel last time and forced them into accepting the previous contract, but now that the terms of that last agreement are making the players more money than the owners want them to have they want to close up shop until the players capitulate to giving those poor owners more of the pie.
    I would loved to have been a fly on the wall in the next league/union meeting after Snider of Philadelphia made that offer to Weber. How could Betteman sell the terms of the new contract with certain owners cutting him off at the knees. (insert short joke here).
    This is all about GREED. Owners greed and no matter how you spin it, in the end it comes down to those that have wanting more and those that haven’t got as much getting screwed.

  12. Alright, just to think on something.

    1. What is the point of owning a team if you are not going to make money? Yes, like all sports it is still a business and the owners want to bring in money not lose it.
    2. If each Owner & GM isn’t doing everything in their power to build a competitive team and improve their fan base then are they not doing a bad job?

    Owners have to make money to be sustainable and spend money to improve their team in order to compete for the cup, sustain a fan base, and have a good hockey product. All in all I have to come down on the side of the owners on this one. Yes, it is dumb that the type of contracts we’ve seen given out has happened when clearly its not what the owners want, but at the same time its within the rules and the best way to get a competitive team at a reasonable cap hit in this salary cap world. AKA the owners are doing the best they can to improve their team and compete for the cup, while improving their fan base.

    Yet 18 teams in the league LOST money this year. Overall the league gained money because the large market teams like Toronto, Montreal, New York, Vancouver, Philly, Detroit, can pretty much sustain the entire league revenue on their own. Here is an example

    Last year, teams who operated at a negative operating income lost a total of $126,100,000. A pretty big #.

    Toronto and Montreal were the two highest operating income teams in the league last year … they made a total of $129,200,000. Two teams in the NHL made more combined then 18 teams in the NHL lost. So yest a better form of sharing needs to come into place and it has to be on two levels.

    1. Players salaries need to be reduced and the salary cap needs to come down to spread talent throughout the league and level the playing field.
    2. A better form of revenue sharing between the teams needs to take place. When the five highest income earning teams in the league bring in over $200,000,000 then its time to look at sharing.

    This should not be hard to accomplish. Without going into a complicated system, just a basic system (that wouldn’t be adopted, but a starting point) saw a revenue sharing plan put into place to help offset low profit teams, then teams who made money would have to contribute a total of less than 2.5% of their revenue in order to offset the entire leagues cost. This becomes even less if salaries are rolled back and players make less as this would likely put fringe teams like Pittsburgh, LA, Dallas, and St.Louis into the green columns and increase the revenue of other teams who were making money.

    So improved revenue sharing and reducing player salaries and contracts is the way to go, as well as likely relocating Phoenix and Columbus to better markets, they lost over $38 million between the two of them nearly 30% of all team losses, for teams that only make up 11% of the teams who lost money.

    So I guess I am kinda against my own argument as I see things needed from both sides of the coin. But overall the fact of the matter is the owners much put on a team that can compete and the NHL has to do a better job of increasing teams profit margins to create a competitive and sustainable league. (I also do like the NHLPA idea of selling cap space as a way to create revenue for lower market teams).

    End of rant.

  13. I tend to agree with the article. If you disagree with the system then stand up and negotiate for 5 year contracts do not sign players for more years and more money. But they all do why because they can not help themselves and need longer term deals with franchise players to try and build a team around them. If the owners want 5 year contract limits then let everyone be a free agent at contract expiry. Take a look at the raises the executives received from the owners these guys are making serious cash in most cases 3 to 4 times the league average for the players. How can they justify this kind of money? If you believe what they are saying they should all be FIRED. Think about it Bettman lead a group that locked players out lost mega revenue and fans took years to rebuild. He now says that contract is not good for the owners. He cost them and the game massive amounts of money for what he now says is a really bad deal! He is as much as saying I did a terrible job last time BOSS (owners) lost you all sorts of money and I negotiated a really bad deal for you. Give me a really big raise and I wont ____ it up this time. Oh by the way we may need to lock the players out again and get all the fans up set and questioning spending their hard earned money on tickets and merchandise. Oh do not worry about the TV contracts TV is over rated……. Any one would be fired if they admitted to such incompetence but instead the owners say to Gary here is your raise $$$$ million now go and get us a better deal because the last one you really ____________ UP. What a joke no wonder these guys lose money!!!

  14. Lock out the owners, let the weak franchises die, revenue-sharing and contraction, Go Marlies Go!

  15. for me it was the predatory manner in which the Flyers made their offer to Weber. apparently they’d been trying to make a trade with Nashville for Weber and when Poile said it would take at least a couple of their young players (rumored to be Brayden Schenn & Sean Couturier), when Nashville wouldn’t accept less than fair value Philadelphia signed Weber to an offer sheet they felt the Predators wouldn’t be able to match.

  16. Lyle,

    Why don’t you take a look at Travis Yost’s latest column in Hockey Buzz (yeah, Eklund is an idiot, but a few guys there can write.)?
    It’s on “Snake Oil” and the media.
    Had never read him before, but bingo – I’m a fan.
    His previous column also good.

    Now, you were head over heel in love with the union the last go-round too, not that that’s a bad thing, but a little balance and insight is always a good thing, no?
    You’re not going to be getting all boring, repetitive and preachy on us this time, are you?

    When the large majority of the “experts” in any situation are piously bleating the same thing, I always get a little nervous.
    Orwellian ovine.
    You’re too good for that.


  17. Flying V, you are absolutely right in reference to my insult to Lyle, and I apologize, though I still believe it had to be written sarcastically.

    Now I ain’t no business owner, just a big, mean, old, crusty soldier that takes a few hours to string a few words together, but the one thing I have learned travelling and working all over the world in pretty much all forms of government and society is the difference between right and wrong. And there absolutely no way to logically say the owners is wrong.

    The players are overpaid. Is it their fault, no? The negotiated CBA at the time (which they didn’t want by the way) turned out to create an even higher revenue stream for them.

    Are the players entitled to 57% of hockey related revenues? No. The only people who can even pretend to reasonably justify it use the owner’s income as an example, yet even the most hard core pundit agrees a 50/50 split is reasonable.

    Was the player’s proposal reasonable? No. The UAW represents all autoworkers yet even they don’t ask GM to give money to Ford. The argument that seems to be the mantra “we lost last time” is infantile in its logic. Yes they gave concessions last time, and look what happened, they benefited. More so than the league as a whole. And they did not address a single issue that even the most casual fan knows has to be addressed (contract term, contract caps, ELC, Free agency, NMC/NTC).

    Is the owners proposal reasonable? No. But at least it provided a starting point for negotiations.

    I am willing to bet a paycheck that when all is said and done, the players share of revenue is down to 50%, there is a rollback of the cap and salaries that is commensurate with that. There will be a term limit and cap limit on contracts (perhaps only 2nd contracts), and Free agency will be adjusted.

    JJB, great post, the one thing you don’t hear when the players are singing the mantra of revenue sharing is just how thin that thread is……and god help the NHL if the Cdn dollar drops.

    • Everything you are saying is just as true as the perception that the owners are hypocrites by saying one thing while doing another. As Lyle alluded to I think that if the owners were upfront AND didn’t try to add ‘it’s not my fault I agreed to stupid policies to run my business by” spin they would again this time around have a little more support from the fans than they currently do. The owners are more than entitled to have their cake and eat it too. It is just bad PR to say they can’t afford to have it while stuffing it in their mouths at the same time. P.S. This world would be a far better place with a few more “big, mean, old, crusty soldiers”.

    • Basicly what this comes down to is, the owners AND players exploited the hell out of the current cba…the nhl realizes this and needs to find a fix so that teams dont lose money end of story. Now both the players and owners realize this AND both agree change is needed, and here is the kicker…they BOTH agree its not comin out of their pockets…this equals no nhl this year. Both the owners and yes THE players are equally at fault…i see alot of opinions bein touted by people and the site owner…pointing fingers at the owners or the players…and thats the problem with this whole situation..finger pointing…both parties are at fault.
      In the end this time everyone is gonna lose..from and people whos work is somehow related to the nhl in someway. I personally do believe players should reduce salaries to help pay for these low pressure small market teams they are all scrambling to play for, and i also believe the nhl should be definetly be helping to pay for these teams losing money that they will just absolutely not give up on….but unfortunatly comprimise and compassion are 2 words owners and players do not have in their vocabulary….my 2 cents

  18. Someday, maybe, one of these elite unions will arise that concentrates of increasing the minimum salary, improving the terms of two way salaries, perhaps increasing the number of roster spots, The owners are, by definition, greedy capitalists. Fans either see value and buy the product, or don’t. The laws have enabled employee unions, and banned “collusion”. But, the laws that evolved, from the Wagner Act in the US, are ill suited to conversations among parties with essentially equal power. The Hockey players, like other unionized athletes, are elites by virtue of performance and command the fans attention thus; they are not, like auto workers, easily replaceable with a large number of equally competent performers. John L Lewis never envisioned a star shovel operator negotiating his own pay, and holding out if he didn’t get a better contract, after the UMW signed a deal. He didn’t envision the shovel operator making as much from endorsements, due to his performance within the mining team but not shared with his peers (or the min owner, for that matter). Trying to manage player-owner relationships within the context of union labor laws guarantees foolishness; the premises are false from the opening puck drop.

  19. I’ve said this in another response in the past: The owners are their own worst enemy in how the old CBA became what it is today. I’m not saying that the players/agents haven’t played a hand in it, but, the owners were the ones that started offering the ridiculously long “lifetime” contracts in order to acheive an acceptable cap hit. The players/agents began taking advantage of this as a negotiating tactic and the owners continued down the slippery slope.
    I agree with Lyle that the owners are taking a hypocratic stance in an effort to save themselves from themselves. Unfortunately, regardless of what the new CBA ends up being, the owners are probably going to be in the same position again unless they can police themselves and are willing to enforce said policiing.

  20. LOL, kudos Flying V, you put a smile on the old boys face. Now to your point, and “watching nba this year (excellent post by the way, brings things down to the bare bones). The worst thing that could happen in any CBA is involving the media and playing the PR game. There will be constant battles and war of words in the blog and commentary universe with little that will result.

    The absolute worst thing that has weaseled its way into these negotiations was the concept of “winners and losers”. In reality, no one wins, and no one losers, hell look at the last CBA that folks think the owners won, and yet the players are now fighting to keep it as written. As with some mediated negotiations in the “real world”, I think that the two sides pick their negotiating teams, fly to New Guinea, and do their talking without media to talk to and the public to persuade. If both sides came back and said “its done”, who the hell would care whether one side had the perception of losing.

    As for the owners being more upfront, I absolutely agree, and I think that finally happened last week when Bettman summed things up with “We think the players make too much money”. That doesn’t leave much room for doubt does it? And to be honest, taking emotion out of the equation, it’s hard to argue, whether you look at salary growth comparable to other industries(and sports leagues), average salary when compared to overall revenue. The players “in my opinion” do make too much based on growth and comparison.

    I think for those who are siding with the players need to really look at the deal Fehr negotiated for MLB players. The revenue sharing plan of the MLB wouldn’t work in the NHL, first of all 18 of the 30 teams did not earn a profit, but under the MLB system only the bottom 15 would receive compensation. Every team in the majors pays in 31% of their net local revenue, and then that money is divided up and equally distributed to every team. In the NHL 3 teams (NYR, MTL, TO) generate more profit than all the other teams combined, the equivalency of NYY, BOS and LAD supporting the MLB. What the players are asking is that those 3 plus a few others support the bottom 2/3 of the league. And using the CBT (Competitive Balance Tax) utilized by MLB, the revenue of those 3 teams would drop substantially based on the taxes placed on them.

    It won’t work in the NHL, plain and simple, but sure sounds good.