Just over a month ago I wrote about the NHL lockout, brimming with positivity, believing that it would end and we would get to see NHL hockey this season. Well, I’m still positive, but this time I’m also angry.
I still believe there will be NHL hockey this season. The owners and players are simply too close to cancel a season. It could still happen of course (anything is possible), but I don’t think it would be in either side’s benefit to do so.
So why am I angry this time you ask? Well, because the solution to the lockout is so obvious now! How both sides could break off talks at this juncture and continue to waste more time when the finish line is in sight is ridiculous. Neither side is likely to win big at this point, so they might as well be deal makers.
The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle outlined where both sides are at today. He outlined the three main issues that stand in between the players and owners brokering a deal.
1) The length of the collective agreement.
The owners have proposed a 10-year deal with an opt-out clause after eight. Players have proposed an eight-year deal with an opt-out after six.
The owners effectively want a 10 year CBA with an opt-out after 8 years, which effectively makes it an 8 year deal. Why on earth the players would want less than that boggles my mind. Every time the CBA expires, Gary Bettman locks out the players and demands more concessions. If I’m an NHL player, I want as long of a deal as possible.
My theory is that the players are using the CBA length as a bargaining chip. They know the owners want a long term deal, so they argue for a short term deal with the hope that it will result in the owners giving up something else in return for the long term deal. I believe that eventually the NHLPA will give up on this ploy and we’ll end up with a 10 year deal with an opt out after 8 years.
2) Buyouts and other “transition mechanisms.”
The league doesn’t want teams to be able to use compliance buyouts (which don’t count against the cap) or an escrow cap to get under what may be a much lower salary cap than last season. The NHLPA wants to give teams greater flexibility to transition to the new collective agreement, which will see the players’ share of revenue drop to 50 per cent from 57.
Buyouts and “transition mechanisms” are an important issue for the players, because buyouts result in non-salary cap money going to the players. If teams are allowed to buyout players (without salary cap implications), that could mean guys like Keith Ballard could end up like Bobby Holik in 2005.
Holik got a ridiculous 5 year, $45 million contract from the New York Rangers in 2002-03. Holik had the final two years of his deal bought out at two thirds of his salary. Holik then took two thirds of his salary (after the 24% rollback of course), and then signed a three year deal worth $12.75 million with the Atlanta Thrashers. In effect, Holik’s pre-lockout income remained in tact after the 24% rollback and the buyout. The owners don’t want to see that happen again.
If a transition mechanism is necessary, then the NHLPA won’t be getting buyouts at two thirds like last time. What about buyouts at 50%? Maybe less? Whatever the number, they ought to be able to meet in the middle somewhere.
3) Limits on contracts.
This includes the length of deals, the year-to-year salary variance and penalties for cap circumvention using long-term contracts. Owners want contracts capped at five years for free agents and seven for players re-signing with their current team. Players have offered an eight-year limit.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of the latest impasse is about player contract limits. The owners want 5 year limits for teams signing new players, and 7 years for teams re-signing their players. Players are willing to accept an 8 year limit.
The real concern owners should have aren’t long term deals across the board, it’s long term deals before and after the prime of a player’s career. The owners should concentrate on stopping deals like James van Riemsdyk’s 6 year, $25.5 million deal before he had really accomplished anything in the league. Deals like James van Riemsdyk force teams to give players money before they’ve earned it. They should also focus on stopping contracts like Shane Doan’s latest deal. Doan got a 4 year deal worth $21.2 million at age 35.
There is a deal to be made. I think a fair compromise would be to have a sliding scale of contract lengths dependent on your age. Have a maximum of a 4 year contract under age 22, 6 years under age 25, 8 years under age 30, 6 years under age 33, 3 years under age 35 and 2 years over age 35.
I believe we will see NHL hockey in January of this year. In order for this to happen, the owners and players will need to ensure that cooler heads prevail and that their leaders act as deal makers going forward. There’s a deal to be made here.