A wasted day in NHL labour talks | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaA wasted day in NHL labour talks

Posted: Thursday, January 3, 2013 | 07:14 PM

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NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, front, and the players' union have been involved in an ongoing labour dispute with the National Hockey League. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, front, and the players' union have been involved in an ongoing labour dispute with the National Hockey League. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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As I write this at 6:20 pm (ET) Thursday, this looks like a wasted day in NHL labour talks. A lot of you have pointed out on twitter that these have been four wasted months. Touche. But this is poor form because it poisons the water so close to the end of the process.
After a difficult Thursday in the CBA negotiation game, here's where it looks like things stand:

You've heard that both sides disagree on the cap for the 2013-14 season. The NHL wants $60 million US, the players $65 million. They disagree on contract length, with the NHL at six years for someone else's free agent, seven years for your own. The NHLPA wants eight years overall.

The players are determined to get their pensions as previously agreed to. The league unveiled some new concerns this week, involving shortfall responsibilities and what happens after the next CBA is completed.

According to several sources, here are two other issues:

  • Both sides accept a 10-year term, but the league wants the mutual out after eight seasons. The players want it to be seven. According to the NHL's proposal, anyone wanting to use the opt-out has to notify after Year 6. I didn't realize it, but the league wants the expiration date to be June 30, instead of Sept. 15 (The NHLPA would like it to stay the same). That would prevent another spending orgy right before pleading poverty.
  • Variance: various reports have had it bouncing around from 10 to 20 to 25 per season. Whatever the case, one source outlined the league has proposed 30 per cent, but that no year in any multi-season contract can be lower than 60 per cent of the highest-paid year. That kills the Kovalchuk/Luongo/Weber cap-buster. I can see the benefit for both the NHL and the NHLPA, since those deals hurt escrow, but allows for flexibility in the "middle-class," which will please a lot of the membership.
Wasted day

As I write this at 6:20 pm (ET) Thursday, this looks like a wasted day. A lot of you have pointed out on twitter that these have been four wasted months. Touche. But this is poor form because it poisons the water so close to the end of the process.

The players were angered this morning because the HRR package received from the NHL was "missing" some key language. The critical part involved penalties for teams hiding HRR. In 2011, the two sides had a dispute over what was reported by Washington and Nashville, and with such erosion of trust right now, you can imagine the reaction to this. 

This led to a meeting where the NHL restored the penalties. All I try to do when analyzing this process is consider how I'd feel in each sides' shoes. If I was a player, I'd be supremely annoyed. Even the moderate guys were cheesed, believing this to be proof the NHL is not serious about making a deal right now.

Ultimately, strong leadership and cooler heads will prevail, because the alternative is worse. But it adds an extra, unnecessary, layer of trouble. 


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'Disclaimer of Interest'

This is why the NHLPA will vote again on the 'Disclaimer of Interest,' and the interesting thing will be what date is used as a deadline to file. Will it be Jan. 11, coinciding with what appears to be last possible day to save a season? 

Whatever the case, can't imagine the players going through this process a second time and not doing it. Would make them look really weak.

Compliance buyouts

Finally, Wednesday, at the NHLPA's request, the NHL agreed to a second compliance buyout for the 2013-14 season. That's two per team. (Some of you have asked if players can be bought out right away if there is hockey this month. I'm under the impression the answer is no, because the concern is those bought out would be unable to find new work so quickly).

On its face, I understand why the players would want this. The more flexibility under the cap -- and the league is pushing hard for $60 million per team next season -- the more player movement there can be. But, in order for the NHL to accept, players had to agree that, while the buyout numbers would not count against a team's cap, they would count against the players' share of HRR.

That is not good for the NHLPA, which is already worried about escrow payments.

There's no guarantee that 60 players actually will get bought out. But, buyout money plus any new contracts those players receive expands the overall escrow burden. It shows two things: how concerned the players are about freedom of movement; and that the league was not kidding about keeping players' salaries "inside the system."

This is one case where the union believed Gary Bettman was not bluffing. That's a win for him.

Over the past couple of weeks, most players named escrow as their number one concern in the new CBA. Clearly, movement is a huge issue, too.

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