Negotiations set to intensify
Even though the NHL and the NHLPA have been discussing a new CBA for over a
month, real negotiations are about to begin.
TORONTO, ON -- With 25 days to go until the current Collective
Bargaining Agreement between the NHL and the NHLPA expires, fans are
starting to get the same worried feeling in the pit of their
collective stomach they had in 2005.
The feeling is justified because there are very real signs of a
postponement of the start of the coming campaign.
Interestingly enough, though, neither the owners nor the Players' are
willing to say that another lockout is inevitable. In fact, both sides
keep insisting there's enough time to save the upcoming season.
Considering how quickly the last seven years have come and gone, time
isn't on anybody's side.
On Wednesday, the heads of the NHL and the NHLPA will meet again in
what's expected to be two days of back-and-forth negotiating, we're
While NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director
Donald Fehr haven't sat down face-to-face since last Wednesday,
they've had a few conversations since. There have also been several
sub-committee meetings, which continued on Monday after a day off on
The fact that the two sides are in constant communication is a good
sign. Bettman and Fehr don't need to be present at every single
discussion. But given the latest bit of confusion, perhaps they should
According to one League source, the NHL has not yet received a
response, or counter proposal, on what they're calling "system
issues," which refers to free agency, salary arbitration, entry-level
contract, etc. In the NHL's initial proposal, they pitched various
restrictions on some of these items, including the elimination of
salary arbitration and a five-year cap on player contracts.
While the NHL sits back and waits for a response, Fehr claims the
Players' have already given it.
"Players ought to have a right, we think, to engage in ordinary and
normal kinds of contract negotiations -- to apply for a job, and if
somebody wants to hire them, to go to work there. That's what
everybody else gets to go," Fehr said during a conference call with
the media on Friday.
"In the last negotiation, one of the trade offs for reduced salaries,
was to have more liberal player contracting rules, shorter free
agency, and all that kind of thing. What the owners seem to be saying
now is we have to have even larger salary reductions and there's no
trade offs; we have to go back the other way.
"We have let the owners know that the players basically aren't
interested in those things. We have told them that there are a couple
of proposals we may make in this area on our own, one of which we did,
some smaller ones we are considering -- they know what those are --
and if we decide to make them, they'll have them (this) week. But they
don't have any doubt, I think, about our response to their basic
player contracting proposals."
Perhaps they haven't yet voiced those doubts? The League source did
tell me they plan on discussing those "system issues" this week, but
shouldn't that have been brought up sooner? Maybe. Probably. It
doesn't really seem to matter now.
There are two items that seem to be confusing most: a) the timing surrounding these
discussions, and b) players currently signing long-term contract
extensions. With roughly three and a half weeks until Doomsday the
end of the current CBA, shouldn't we be a little further along? You
can definitely make the case that negotiations should definitely be at
a stronger point than they are right now, and both parties are to
blame for that, but the odd optimism from both sides seems downright
Both parties agree that the salary cap will remain, and that the NHL
has some serious financial issues. Perhaps a little more serious than
the public thinks.
On Monday, a story in the San Jose Mercury News revealed Sharks Sports
& Entertainment (the Sharks' parent company) lost $15 million last
season, despite selling out every game. For a franchise like this one,
valued in the middle of the pack of NHL teams (around $215 million)
and being as successful on the ice as it has been (yes, Sharks fans,
we know the playoffs haven't been overly kind to you), you'd think
they'd be turning a profit. As surprising as it may be, ownership
"We're OK with that because that's a decision we've made to stay
competitive," Kevin Compton, one of the team's head honchos, told the
Mercury News referring to his team's player payroll, which is
currently sixth most in the NHL.
While it's great to have an ownership group like the one in Silicon
Valley, as they don't bother with bank loans, they dive into their own
pockets -- like real owners do -- it's also a nice eye-opener for both
the NHL and the Players' Association.
From an NHL standpoint, it would love to have more owners like the
ones in San Jose (and with Canadian billionaire
Bill Gallacher trying to buy the New Jersey
Devils, the League may have another in the coming months).
They cough up their own cash and aren't bothered by rising bank debts.
From the NHLPA's point of view, this type of owner is your best
friend. They're willing to pay top-tier players to perform, even if
that means losing a few million each season.
But being the wealthiest doesn't mean you have the biggest voice in
the room. Just ask David Thomson, one of the owners of the Winnipeg
Jets (he owns part of True North Sports and Entertainment Limited,
which owns the Jets). Thomson is the richest man in Canada, the 35th
richest man in the world, and the richest NHL owner with a net worth
of $17.5 BILLION (Philip Anschutz, who's AEG runs the Los Angeles
Kings, is only worth $7 billion). Do you think Thomson has a say
greater than that of Boston owner Jeremy Jacobs or Philadelphia's Ed
Snider? Hell no. After all, his team is only in Winnipeg.
So as Fehr tries to force the hand of "smaller" (loose term) owners,
the League's big boys continue to run the show. And that's what will
make this week's negotiation process so fascinating.
It's almost as if player contracts are secondary. Yes, they're a very
important part of this process, and something Fehr has made pretty
clear the Players' don't want altered, but until the two sides can
find a common ground on where revenues are to be properly split, any
additional terms will either be put on the backburner or used as a
tactic to adjust certainly elements of revenue sharing.
Wednesday, it gets interesting. Thursday, even more so.
If tomorrow's meetings end abruptly, we could be in some trouble. If
they move in the right direction, we'll all know. The game has begun,
but the puck is just about to drop. These next few days could make or
break the 2012-13 season.