Burke offers solution to NHL labour problems

Hockey Night In Canada analyst Brian Burke suggested ways to resolve the NHL labour dispute during Tuesday's broadcast of the World Cup final, detailing a theoretical 15-point plan during the first intermission.

With the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire Wednesday at midnight ET and a lockout looming, the former hockey executive offered up his own "working solution" focusing on the key issues being negotiated by the NHL and the NHL Players' Association.

"It's not a cure-all. There's parts of it that aren't going to work," admitted Burke.


1. Phase in agreement over two years

Burke argues the CBA, whatever form it takes, should not go into effect immediately.

"I argued vehemently against transitional rules, but now I'm convinced we're going to need them, so you're going to need to phase-in [a new CBA] over two years."

2. Commit to a 12-year contract

While Burke concedes that a 12-year contract is a long deal, he believes his system will work if the players are guaranteed their percentage of the designated hockey revenue, in combination with an "escrow portion of that and a portion of what the league has for revenue purposes." [see point #3 below]

3. Escrow:

  • Seven per cent of player payroll
  • Ten per cent of designated hockey revenue (DHR)
  • Arena construction fund

"The arena construction fund is something that they've done in the NFL with stadiums and I think the players will be in a lot better shape if we didn't have debt service on all our buildings."

4. Agree to share revenues of $200 million with $75 million coming from playoff pool

"I'm proposing revenue sharing be considered at $200 million, which is more than any of the other proposals I've seen," said Burke. "Only $75 million of that would be from the playoff pool. I think that should come from some of the wealthier teams."

5. Avoid luxury tax by establishing a payroll threshold at $38 million and payroll minimum of $33 million

"I don't like the term 'luxury tax'; players aren't a luxury," said Burke. "I'm not coming off the idea of a salary cap; I think it's the best system in pro sports. I think it has worked miracles in the National Football League. But if you have to go to something else, this might work."

Burke's numbers of a $38 million payroll threshold and a $33 million minimum are not set in stone.

"They're [flexible] numbers," explained Burke. "You would have to figure out what the hockey revenues are and [adjust] the players' percentage to come up with that."

6. Set overage fees at:

  • 1st million = $0.50 on the dollar
  • 2nd million = $1 per dollar
  • 3rd million = $2 per dollar
  • 4th million = $3 per dollar
  • 5th million or more = $5 per dollar

Burke characterized the union's luxury tax proposal akin to "changing a side-view mirror on a bus that's going off a cliff."

"It will have absolutely no impact on spending. This is a realistic, ramped up tax that should have an effect on what clubs spend."

7. Reward good business behaviour by charging fees to repeat offenders

Under Burke's proposal, teams that exceed the payroll threshold year after year would be charged a fee, with that money distributed to teams that stay within the threshold.

"If a team repeatedly is up there and is inflationary, in my mind, the tax rate should change. You should reward good behaviour on the business front."

8. Guarantee players 55 per cent of DHR

Under Burke's plan, 55 per cent of the DHR would include "the income streams that are normally allocated to players in systems like this in the NBA and NFL."

9. Build trust with joint audit controls:

  • 1st offence = $1 million fine
  • 2nd offence = $5 million fine

Burke argues the league and union need to agree on a joint audit system similar to the NFL's in order to build trust between the two sides.

Under Burke's plan, any team that tries to hide money would be slapped with a million-dollar fine, while a second offence would see the fine rise to $5 million.

10. Establish four-year entry-level system with a maximum $250,000 in rookie bonuses

Burke helped negotiate the entry-level system part of the CBA ten years ago, but he feels that it is "ridiculous in terms of the bonuses that rookies can earn."

"That's money that should go to veteran players," argued Burke. "Tack a year on [the entry-level system] and cap what they can make in rookie bonuses."

11. Allow unrestricted free agency at age 29

Burke feels that unrestricted free agency should drop from 31 to 29 years of age.

"I'm sure that people will say that's not enough of a move, but I think unrestricted player movement has led to a loss of confusion of identity with players in the NFL and in Major League Baseball."

12. Amend qualifying offers to restricted free agents:

  • The team with the rights to a player only has to match 75 per cent of the offer from another team to players over 26 years old
  • 50 per cent for players 26 years old and under

Under the current CBA, the qualifying rate for restricted free agents is 100 per cent, depending on the player's salary. Burke thinks this is a "highly inflationary practice."

Under his plan, players over 26-years-old would get qualified at 75 per cent, while players under 26 would get qualified at 50 per cent.

"This means that once a player gets to a certain level and stops performing, he doesn't stay there forever and the team doesn't lose the rights to him.

13. Reduce regular-season games to 70 from 82

"I believe we play too many games. I think we should play 70 regular-season games and I think the product would be better, injuries would drop and I think our fans would be rewarded for that."

14. Revise salary arbitration by:

  • Adopting baseball's hi/low system
  • Allowing clubs to bring a player to arbitration
  • Permitting a team or player to file only once every 3 years

Burke argued that salary arbitration has to be amended if it stays in the new CBA. He believes salary arbitration has to adopt Major League Baseball's model where the arbitrator picks either the player or owner proposal, and not decide on a dollar figure somewhere in between.

Burke also believes that clubs should be able to bring a player into arbitration and that teams and players should only be allowed to file once every three years.

"Guys that file every year [make it a] highly inflationary process," states Burke.

15. Set a drop-dead date for player signings

Burke wants to adopt the NFL model where players that aren't signed by the start of the season are out for the year.