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How NHL player bonuses landed League, fans in lockout misery (Trending Topics)

By Ryan Lambert

Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

You can say that a lot of things were the cause of the lockout and not be wrong. As Gary Bettman says, the lack of control over things like jet fuel have certainly cut into owners' pocketbooks. As have increasing player costs. As has owners' base avarice. As has runaway spending by GMs. As have a wide variety of other factors.

But of those, player costs and GMs' willingness to spend their owners' money are the two that are most inexorably linked.

Competition for players, specifically top players, has become so fierce that GMs are willing to spend anything and everything they can to acquire them. Witness the contracts collected by Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and Shea Weber this summer, when teams went to considerable lengths to woo and eventually sign them, and did so using what should be considered the kind of spirit-of-the-thing cap circumvention that Gary Bettman slapped the Devils for a few years back.

It's one area where the CBA, theoretically, should have been able to prevent this, but failed to do so: Signing bonuses are capped at just 10 percent of a player's total salary, but only for those coming into the league on entry-level deals. From what I can tell, a guy like Weber, with his $110 million contract, is free to collect as much or as little of that in bonuses as a team will allow. In his case, the Flyers — and the Predators, who took on the offer-sheet deal — allowed for a lot. He'll only be paid $4 million in actual game-check salary from that deal over the first four years of it. The rest of his cap hit, a total of $52 million, will be paid in $13 million lump-sum bonuses at the beginning of each deal.

I think we can all agree that Shea Weber, of all the defensemen (or even all the players period) in the league, is probably worth $56 million over the next four years, especially given how much he means to the Predators in particular now that Suter is gone to Minnesota. Remember, that $26 million bonus investment in a calendar year is viewed as a big reason why Nashville won't shop Weber for a long while.

But for him to collect just $4 million in real salary during that time must make owners' blood boil, particularly if their names happen to rhyme with Beremy Bacobs.

In the case of Parise and Suter and Weber, and every other player that gets them league-wide, the bonuses are a kind of lockout insurance, as they aren't affected in any way by the fact that the teams aren't allowing players to actually play, and therefore don't have to pay them to do so. As Greg pointed out yesterday, that's why these bonuses were built in.

But for all Parise's "Gary loves lockouts" talk, there must be some amount of accountability on the players' part for them to say, "Whoa hey these bonuses aren't going to be helpful to everyone else in the PA except us, and that could lead to a lockout. I mean, look how big they are!"

It's fair to get them for yourself as long as your new team is willing to give them out, but then you can't complain about them, or look around when you get locked out like you have no idea how this happened.

And I'm not saying ownership isn't culpable. They are, ultimately, the guys cutting the checks for these things, and therefore they have to sign off on the deals. They did so despite the fact that they didn't like them very much. Maybe they also did so knowing they could then use them as ammo for the lockout argument in general, but that seems like a really expensive investment to make in something that would ultimately cost them money (at least, if you buy Bill Daly's "We lost $100 million by not having a preseason" line of talk, which you probably shouldn't).

Perhaps the easiest party to blame is the GMs, who don't seem to be locked out at all despite being the ones either coming up with or agreeing to these deals. That's worthy of blame, and they probably get chewed out by owners and league executives alike on a regular basis for signing them, but that's behind closed doors. If Craig Leipold shows up to the Parise/Suter presser grinnin' like an idiot and whistlin' Dixie, then what kind of impression does that make?

So now that the NHL has finally begun canceling games, like we all knew they would, guys like Weber and Suter and Parise won't have to worry about when they start getting their escrow checks, like other players do. They don't have to get jobs overseas as a means of staying sharp and simultaneously collecting pay from KHL or Czech teams.

They're fine. Just like the owners. And they're also a big part of the reason their NHL peers have to go overseas.

Hopefully, the next collective bargaining agreement has a little more in the way of protections built into it so these types of absurd payouts are limited in the same way those for rookies are. There's no reason whatsoever that they shouldn't be. They're pricy and they're stupid and they benefit no one but the players. If the NHLPA wants a true partnership, which is the PR-friendly word every player has used in every interview about how awful this lockout is for them, they'll become more flexible in this regard.

Not all points of contention in the last CBA were avoidable, but this one very much was. One thing I think everyone can agree on going forward is that there needs to be more in the way of controls put in place so there isn't another lockout in a good, long while. The NHL and NHLPA are both guilty of a lack of foresight in this case, and everyone but the players collecting these stupid bonuses are paying for it now.

Pearls of Biz-dom

We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?

BizNasty on bizarre trends that sound dirty but apparently are not: "Google 'Japanese Bagel Head'. What's going on over there?"

If you've got something for Trending Topics, holla at Lambert on Twitter or via e-mail. He'll even credit you so you get a thousand followers in one day and you'll become the most popular person on the Internet! You can also visit his blog if you're so inclined.


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