Well, that was a rather impressive and speedy about-face by the NHL, wasn’t it? Just yesterday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the following words: “A lot of you know we don’t negotiate publicly, and I’m not going to break that habit because I don’t think it’s constructive.” Then, less than 24 hours later, the league made every word of its seven-page proposal to the players available to anyone with a computer and an ability to read.
We can see now the public relations war is clearly more important to the owners than the players. And it will undoubtedly have a positive effect. Many fans will look at the fact that revenues will be split 50/50 and wonder why the players haven’t already packed their bags for training camp.
Of course, it’s not that simple. It never is. A couple of things about the NHL proposal that come to mind at first blush:
• I don’t think there’s any way the players accept this proposal as it’s currently constituted. What it does, however, is provide at least a base from which to begin legitimate collective bargaining. There is a lot of work to do, chiefly finding a way to get the players’ share of revenues up higher in the early years of the deal. If the league’s revenues can allow for the players to receive the full value of their contracts with a 50/50 split in subsequent years, that works. But as it stands, the haircut for the players is just too drastic in the short term.
• I keep hearing about how the league has made all kinds of concessions. Nothing could be further from the truth. The players were getting 57 percent of revenues and would be getting only 50 under the terms of this deal. That’s nothing even close to a concession. It represents a concession off their initial offer, which was laughable, but not off the terms of the previous CBA, which should be the benchmark. The reality is, there is almost nothing in this proposal that doesn’t represent a takeaway from the players.
• If I’m the Philadelphia Flyers, I’m really, really, really hoping Mike Richards and Jeff Carter don’t hold long grudges. Under the owners’ proposal, “all years of existing long-term contracts in excess of five years will be counted against a club’s cap regardless of whether or where a player is playing.” It also says those deals can be traded, but if the player stops playing, “the effective cap charge would revert to the club that originally entered into the contract.”
So if Carter decides at the age of 35 in 2020-21 that he doesn’t feel like playing for a measly $2 million, he can retire and his $5.3-million cap hit will go back to the Flyers for the last two years. If Richards decides at the age of 33 in 2018-19 that he doesn’t fancy pulling in only $3 million, he can hang up his skates and the Flyers will be on the hook for $5.75 million the next two seasons.
What if one or both of those guys get traded again, this time to a team in the Flyers’ division? Perhaps the GM could convince the player to retire, thereby putting one of his close rivals at a huge competitive disadvantage. And what does all this mean to the possible trade of Roberto Luongo? Will Canucks GM Mike Gillis be as willing to trade him knowing the Canucks will be stuck with a $5.3 -million cap hit for three years if Luongo retires in 2019, when he’s making just $1.6 million?
• The league is reducing the entry level period from three to two years, but increasing arbitration eligibility from four to five years. That means players coming off their entry level deals will basically have no recourse for three years, with the exception of sitting out to force a deal. That will be bad news for average and below average players who will basically be at the mercy of their teams.
• This is probably good news for Wade Redden, who has been buried the past two seasons in the minors. With the Rangers having to take on his $6.5-million cap hit, one of two things might happen. He’ll be traded to a team that needs to get up to the floor – getting credited with his $6.5-million cap hit while paying him an actual salary each of the next two seasons at $5 million – or the Rangers will buy him out, making him an unrestricted free agent. (No word yet on whether teams would be granted one amnesty buyout as part of this agreement.)
• The “Make Whole” provision that would make up for the reduction in dollars going to the players in the first two years of the deal looks a little like a shell game. That’s because the “Make Whole” dollars they receive later in their contracts would be applied to their overall share of revenues, meaning they’ll be receiving less than 50 percent of revenues when those payments are made.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.