The final hurdles in NHL talks | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaThe final hurdles in NHL talks

Posted: Saturday, November 10, 2012 | 05:58 PM

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The megabucks contracts signed in the summer by new Minnesota Wild members Ryan Suter, left, and Zach Parise are among the pacts affecting the tenor of the NHL negotiations. (Jim Mone/Associated Press) The megabucks contracts signed in the summer by new Minnesota Wild members Ryan Suter, left, and Zach Parise are among the pacts affecting the tenor of the NHL negotiations. (Jim Mone/Associated Press)

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What the first year of the new NHL collective bargaining agreement will look like is the subject of intense negotiations, but there are also systemic issues for the two sides regarding the overall framework for player contracts.

Now that everyone's cooled down with a double Macallan 18 (neat, of course), it's a little easier to try and determine where things actually stand in CBA Standoff 2012. Obviously, I'm not in the room, so this involves guesswork.

Bill Daly and Steve Fehr met for an "informal lunch" on Saturday. While guzzling down their Hot N' Juicy combos, they probably discussed what appear to be the two significant hurdles between them and the finish line.

Don't know which one to write about first, so I'm flipping a coin. Heads we go with systemic contract issues. Tails is the first year of the new CBA.

Ready?

It's heads.

You've heard about the league proposals: Contracts no longer than five years; unrestricted free agency moved back to age 28 or eight years of service (meaning it could still happen as young as 26); salary arbitration eligibility moved back from four seasons to five; a maximum salary change of five per cent from year-to-year.

There is some discrepancy about what's been conveyed between the parties. The NHL has stated that there is room to negotiate, the NHLPA claims no such offer has ever been made. I'm not in the room, so I don't know. One player said Saturday he's under the impression the latter is accurate.

Whatever the case, I admit one thing: I underestimated how important some of these issues were to individual players. I believed that if the NHL came at the players with a legitimate "make-whole" offer, the rest of this would fall into place.

In retrospect, it's a dumb mistake, but it happens when you're looking at the big picture as opposed to sweating the small stuff. Sixty per cent of players are under contract for next season, but the number drops as the calendar turns. Those who aren't on long-term deals aren't thrilled some of their brethren will make out better than they do. They want the ability to max their bargaining position on a case-by-case basis. The tighter the restrictions, the harder that will be.

As one source said Saturday: "We're accepting 50/50. Our slice of the pie is going to get smaller. Why should it matter to the NHL how that money is divided?"

The answer to that question is the league has had enough with the Suter/Parise front-loaded contracts. That's why it's my belief that "the five per-cent rule" is going to be the NHL's cornerstone "want," but that opinion doesn't do anyone any good until this discussion begins.

There is one good reason for the majority of the NHLPA to agree with the NHL on this. While those front-loaded deals are cap-friendly for the teams, they are murder on player escrow.

The second problem

There were many conflicting reports Friday night. The NHL agreed to take ownership of $211 million US for the "make-whole" provision over the next two years. The PA responded that simply didn't make everyone whole.

Meanwhile, Larry Brooks of The New York Post tweeted the NHLPA asked for a revenue guarantee that "would likely eat 65-67 pct of revenue in 66-68 game season."

That was immediately disputed. Here's the problem:

From what I understand, the NHLPA's proposal is based on an 82-game season. That sounds preposterous, and looking for an explanation, I was told, "We decided to work on the overall framework first, and adjust for a shortened season after."

The NHL's position includes provisions for a loss in overall revenue for 2012-13.

"We're not looking at a $3.3 billion business anymore," one governor said to me, referring to the effect of a compressed schedule.

And, if fans follow through on their threats to stay away in droves, the damage will be severe. There are different projections -- 10 per cent less, 17 per cent, etc.

So what we've got here are two different approaches. This becomes the critical part of the process. Now that an 82-game season sits with the dodo bird, New Coke and ColecoVision, there are going to be losses.

Who's going to pay for it? That's your Final Jeopardy question.

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