CSNWashington.com’s hockey columnist Chuck Gormley recently noted the one-year anniversary of the last NHL lockout, wondering if the league has benefited from the work stoppage.
On the surface, it certainly seems so.
The league and the NHLPA reached an agreement which salvaged the 2012-13 season, allowing for a shortened 48-game regular season schedule plus a full playoff, culminating in one of the greatest Stanley Cup Finals of all time between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins.
Both sides believe the new ten-year collective bargaining agreement – centered upon a 50-50 split of league revenues – will produce a more cost-effective system which fairly benefits both sides.
The two sides were also relieved to have avoided another lost season which could’ve crippled revenues. The fans not only returned, but the league attendance actually rose by 2.6 percent.
Entering this season, the first full one under the new agreement, fan excitement remains strong, stoked in part by anticipation over a full regular season schedule, six outdoor games throughout North America, and the participation of NHL stars in the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Revenue-sharing was increased from $150 million under the previous CBA to $200 million, but that could do little to benefit struggling franchises.
Rather than implement a more robust revenue-sharing system, the NHL punted the problem down the road.
The strict limitations on entry-level contracts (term, salary and bonuses) could make it difficult for NHL clubs to attract promising Russian and European players, who can earn considerably more overseas (especially in the KHL) as they begin their pro careers.
Under this CBA, a growing number of teams attempted to re-sign young stars coming off entry-level deal to short-term “bridge contracts”, dampening down those players potential earning power.
Those type of players, particularly Russians and Europeans, could become tempting targets for more lucrative offers from emboldened KHL teams.
The salary cap remain tied to revenues, albeit with a new midpoint calculation designed to slow the increase of the salary cap minimum.
With the league hoping to add another $1 billion in revenue over the next three years, its steady rise will -as it did during the previous CBA – continue to make it difficult for struggling teams to keep pace, widening the gap between big and small market franchises.
Just over six months following the end of the lockout, the signing frenzy of ageing stars and over-rated second-tier talent during the opening day of NHL free agency proved that team owners and their general managers learned nothing. Those who could afford to overpay for free agents talent continue to do so, a trend which will continue over the course of this CBA.
That type of spending, as well as the expensive re-signings of stars like Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, assures team owners will once again seek more player contract restrictions when the next round of collective bargaining roles around.
The term of the current CBA – 10 years, with a mutual “opt-out” at year eight – could result in problems festering into potentially contentious issues between the league and the PA.
Just as with the last two collective bargaining agreements, the NHL in the short term of this deal appears to be doing well. Revenue-wise, it will certainly do better Over the course of this deal, however,the aforementioned potential problem areas – as well as those currently unforeseen – could be to the detriment of the league.