The latest round of CBA negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA concluded last week with no sign of a counter-proposal from the PA. Here’s the latest notable news and notes from the past week.
During last week’s CBA negotiations, the league “expanded” on their initial proposal to the NHLPA regarding “a host of lesser issues”, but did nothing to reduce its demand for salary givebacks from the players, which would push the latter’s share of revenue to less than it was before the previous lockout in 2004.
Analysts of the league’s proposal determined not only is the league seeking an outright reduction of the players revenue share from 57 percent down to 46 percent, but their wish to redefine hockey-related revenue (HRR) would reduce it a further three percent, down to 43 percent.
In other words, it would push the players’ share down to pre-2004 levels.
Despite the public restraint shown by the PA at the league’s proposal, privately they cannot be happy with this.
That being said, the expectation is the league’s offer is not their “line in the sand”, but rather one which would make what’s believe their true goal (a 50-50 split) more palatable to the players.
We’ll find out in the coming weeks if that’s the case. If the league turns out to be inflexible on this issue, a work stoppage via player lockout is assured.
Dan O’Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted the conflicting messages sent by the NHL team owners during the current CBA negotiations, demanding term limits on contracts and the elimination of signing bonuses while some hand out expensive, lengthy contracts and offer sheets heavily front-loaded with signings bonuses.
O’Neill summed it up as a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude.
“The owners don’t need a new labor deal, they need ankle monitors. They suffer from split-personality disorder. They exist in a cockeyed economy that is crushing the poor and eliminating the middle class. The haves and have-nots are easily identified in the standings. Those with bank accounts “have” been in the playoffs; those on food stamps “have not.” There have been few exceptions in recent years. “
Not every NHL owner has engaged in the practices described by O’Neill, but most of them have, because they’ve never met a CBA they couldn’t exploit to their own advantage.
Sure, they can seek term limits on contracts and elimination of signing bonuses in the next CBA, and they might just get what they want, but within weeks of its implementation, a clever GM and his able staff of capologists and sports lawyers will find loopholes which would work to their benefit.
Other clubs will howl in protest while almost immediately seeking to use the newly-discovered loopholes themselves. Just like what happened with the cap on entry-level contracts in the previous CBA, and the front-loading of contracts and burying salaries in the minors to get cap relief was done under this one.
The hypocrisy is so blatant, it’s breathtaking.
Speaking of contract term limits, O’Neill’s colleague, Jeff Gordon, believes NHL fans should support them, suggesting it’ll make team owners “behave more responsibly”.
If this current CBA has taught us anything, it’s that there’s nothing that can make NHL team owners and their front office staff to “behave more responsibly” regarding contracts. If you implement term limits on contracts to prevent teams from heavily front-loading them for a better cap hit, they’ll simply find another way around it.
Incidentally, I do expect term limits to be in the next CBA. That issue on its own isn’t a show-stopper. Indeed, most NHL players don’t get contracts exceeding five years. Only the star players do. Most NHL players contracts are usually no longer than three years, so it won’t be a big deal to them if their betters are limited to five-year deals.
Jesse Spector of The Sporting News believes what the NHL truly needs isn’t another series of salary givebacks from the players, but a better system of revenue sharing.
“To make hockey all that it can be on the North American sports landscape, the solution for the NHL is not to rig the system with penny-pinching rules to guarantee success for the poorest teams. The answer is quite the opposite—a rising tide should lift all boats. It is clear from the events of 24 days of free agency that the policies of the last CBA have allowed many smaller-market teams to battle the largesse of their major metropolitan rivals. Rather than proposing a system that would bring the NHL back to 2002, the owners should be looking at a way to grow the game toward 2022.”
Unlike the negotiations leading up to the current CBA – in which a majority of the mainstream media and a good number of fledgling hockey bloggers bought into the league’s propaganda claiming “cost certainty” as its only salvation – many observers appear to share Spector’s view on revenue-sharing.
So far, we’ve yet to see the league crank up its propaganda machine as it did leading up to the last lockout, but I daresay if the calendar turns to September with no sign of real progress in negotiations with the PA, we’ll see a blizzard of media releases and the return of “NHL CBA News” as the league attempts to justify its position.
This time, the league unlikely to find as many willing believers among the press and blogosphere.
Even so, the league is unlikely to care. it needed the press on its side last time to sell cost certainty to the fans. The league probably doesn’t need it this time, as the team owners probably believe the lockout will be a short one, overall revenue for 2012-13 won’t be adversely affected, and the fans will come running back as they did last time.
Ken Campbell of The Hockey News wonders if league commissioner Gary Bettman might use the threat of contraction as a means of persuading the players to accept a reduced revenue share, perhaps by pointing to the uncertainty over the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes.
In my opinion, that’s an empty threat. Bettman in the past rejected any notion of contracting franchises, and as we saw with the Atlanta Thrashers last summer, given the choice, the league prefers to relocate a franchise rather than fold it.
If there’s simply no way of selling the Coyotes to a buyer willing to keep it in Phoenix, Bettman will simply contact the representatives of Canadian media mogul Pierre-Karl Peladeau, and the Coyotes would be playing in Quebec City for 2013-14, regardless if their new arena is ready or not.