Hard to see a winner in NHL labour truce | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaHard to see a winner in NHL labour truce

Posted: Sunday, January 6, 2013 | 02:17 PM

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, left, and union head Donald Fehr got a deal done, but at a considerable cost to their sport. (Getty Images) NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, left, and union head Donald Fehr got a deal done, but at a considerable cost to their sport. (Getty Images)

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Even after a tentative deal has been struck, I'm hesitant to say either side "won" the painful NHL-NHLPA labour war, because there are no winners here. The sport just went through a horrible process, and the only thing both sides should care about is making sure this never happens again.
Good quote from the wild aftermath of the tentative NHL/NHLPA CBA: "I wouldn't want to be a labour lawyer the next few days."

Both sides will work feverishly to write as much legalese as possible. Last Thursday's blowup over hockey-related revenue will mean all paperwork is heavily scrutinized.

More importantly, so many transition issues must be addressed: When is the season starting? How many games? When can teams start signing free agents and making trades? What will the rules be for CHL or NCAA players to attend training camps?

For obvious reasons, the NHL would like to get going as fast as possible. Board of Governors meeting Tuesday in New York City, camps open Wednesday, 50-game season beginning January 15. Easy peasy, right?

But what if the players' preference is to have an exhibition game or two? Some of them haven't been in a single game this year. Others will be competing for jobs, especially against AHL-tested players who've come so far this season. Still some trickiness here -- a lot to get worked out over the next 24-48 hours.


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Late movement by league

Mediator Scot Beckenbaugh is getting a lot of credit, and deservedly so. (He's a big-time smoker, and in one of those punch-drunk media moments from the 16-hour session that ended this farce, we were joking that he didn't really start until being assigned to this lockout.)

But the real catalyst was the calendar. We were at the end. The NHL and NHLPA were Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid deciding what to do when surrounded by the Bolivian police. Wisely, they chose a different ending than Robert Redford and Paul Newman did.

A few players thought that not using the Disclaimer of Interest was a big factor in getting it done, too. "People thought we were wimps for not doing it," one said, "but it would have thrown the situation into chaos. And it showed the league we wanted to negotiate."

(In all of the craziness, I lost some of my notes, but that player said if talks went poorly, he thought the Disclaimer would have been filed Tuesday.)

Gary Bettman and Bill Daly moved at the end, too. When I heard about a $64.3-million US cap for 2013-14, I was very surprised -- especially with the floor $20.3 million below. That's a wider gap than the league wanted, for sure.

The winner is?

I'm hesitant to say either side "won" certain aspects of the negotiation, because there are no winners here. The sport just went through a horrible process, and the only thing both sides should care about is making sure this never happens again.

There are going to be things both sides will hate about this CBA. But the reactions from the NHL and NHLPA could be very different, which is amazing to me, because Bettman and Daly did get some important concessions.

The players lost hundreds of millions in salaries and some of them were extremely unhappy. But if you look at where the process started and where it ended, the union gained by fighting hard -- just like it did in 2005.

It lost on share of HRR, which went from 57 per cent down to 50. For the first time, there will be term limits on contracts. Compliance buyouts will come from the players' share of revenue, and escrow is a real wild-card here. The league limited money "outside the system."

The 10-year CBA (with an opt-out after eight) and the variance rule -- with the maximum difference between the highest- and lowest-paid seasons of a multi-year contract set at 50 per cent -- were league initiatives. But were important, and will benefit both sides. (Those back-diving contracts are escrow killers.)

The players get a higher cap than expected for 2013-14, they kept free agency and arbitration status quo (actually made it harder to walk away from arbitration than before) and got the pension rules they wanted.

We think.

Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey said the pension "was the centrepiece of the deal for the players" but added there is still language to be worked out.

The upcoming NHL Board of Governors meeting is going to be interesting. The pension issue caused a lot of trouble over the past week. The players were angry at what they thought was a broken promise and it remained a contentious issue deep into the final staredown.

Why? The owners hated it. The liability is much greater than they wanted. I never knew this, but, in baseball, teams cannot be sold until the new owner signs a waiver accepting that responsibility.

The owners are going to want to know the final wording. What is their reaction going to be?

The higher-revenue teams were extremely unhappy during this process. They were essentially being told, "Whatever you save on player contracts, you will lose to revenue-sharing." Plus, they were losing much more sponsorship/ticket money than their smaller brethren and did not like it.

In the end, they gained a few things -- a higher cap, buyout room, etc. The concern for the commissioner is: the happier those teams get, the angrier the other guys get. This could be an awkward dance.

In the end, though, regardless of what the 29 owners thought, Bettman and Daly wanted to play. It wasn't the deal they wanted. And some owners will say it wasn't what was promised.

But the alternative was much worse.

Painful time

As I tweeted, I'm happiest for those employees/workers who saw their salaries cut and workdays cut by this. Some good people felt a lot of pain, many of them in the broadcast industry.

It was enough.

The fans? More on you later this week. You deserve a column of its own.

Cold comfort

Can't wait to get started.

Then I remember: A panel with Glenn Healy, PJ Stock and Kevin Weekes. Poor Ron. Three shows with Healy, and we'll be pining for the days of cold nights in bank vestibules.

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