Thursday, November 27th, 2014

Three Views

5

We are seeing more and more references to the expiring CBA and what will be in store for us after next season. First, there was this from Larry Brooks:

This is what the league wanted to use as evidence that the system is hopelessly broken and tilted in favor of the big markets — the system, of course, that Bettman, counsel Bob Batterman and the Board invented and painted as a utopia the last time around.

Next time, the NHL is going to introduce the ultimate one-size-fits-all cap. Percentage of the gross will be dramatically reduced. The midpoint will essentially become the cap, with the ceiling and floor separated by perhaps $4 million-$6 million. Deviations of salary within a contract will be kept to a minimum. The cap charge will be defined by the average of the three-to-five highest salaried seasons. Contracts will be kept to a minimum of five-to-seven years.

The only appealing thing about Larry Brooks is that he distrusts and despises Gary Bettman. Unfortunately Brooks seldom makes any sense because his basic premise is all wrong. Even after Bettman designed the last CBA to heavily favour the big markets, Brooks still believes Bettman actually wanted to handcuff the Rangers in 2004 and that he still wants to handcuff them today.

What Bettman wants to do is keep the floundering U.S. franchises afloat, while good teams in the big centres drive up American revenues. The Rangers, Black Hawks, Bruins and Kings have all done better – far better – under this CBA. (Obviously this is a good system for Vancouver, too.) While Bettman will surely demand a bigger piece of the pie so he can shovel more cash to the needy, he sure isn’t interested in making it harder for New York to win.

Next up? The ever reliable Stan Fischler who has already decided that Donald Fehr is the new bogeyman:

…If you’re a hockey fan, you should fear Donald Fehr. A lot…

[Nonsense snipped]

I know it’s possible, but I just can not picture Fehr announcing that he had just negotiated a deal that includes a salary cap.

The one thing that is very nearly certain is that the players will not go out on strike to get rid of the salary cap or a fixed percentage of the revenues. They’ve done that, been there and it was not a pleasant experience. But never mind that Donald Fehr has very little leverage entering the next set of negotiations. Like Bob Goodenow before him, Donald Fehr will become Fischler’s Bete Noire. It will be his fault no matter what issues are presented.

Finally, there is Bobby Orr:

“Where are [the owners] going to go? What do they want? What are they going to give and what are they going to take? There’s not a lot. For that reason, I think they will work it out. I think.”

I agree. If there is a work stoppage, it will be the owners who create it with a lockout and their key demand – their only important demand – will be reducing the player share of the pie. They will also want – but probably won’t insist upon – contract term limits. In exchange, they will concede the Olympics and promise an increase in revenue sharing.

At the end of the day, like Orr, I think they will work it out. Its hard to imagine a work stoppage actually paying for the league unless they can win a huge discount. If both the NBA and NFL players are forced into a deal that gives them less than 50% of revenues, the NHL might take a hard line, but turning out the lights on the season to reduce the player take by a few million a team? I don’t think the league will shut it down to cut salaries by 5%.

Colour me optimistic. I think.

Postscript: Optimistic only in the sense that there will be hockey in 2012-13. I don’t like this CBA or the framework or Gary Bettman, but I can’t imagine any of that changing in the near term. I’d feel burned if I cheered for a small market team, but at least this system helps the Canucks.

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Comments

5 Responses to “Three Views”
  1. I agree that the player share of the pie is what matters most in these negotiations, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat. The owners could certainly ask for the players to take a lower percentage of hockey-related revenues, but they could also try to change what’s included in hockey-related revenues. Concessions at the games or arena sponsorship, for example, would seem like prime candidates to nix from what gets shared (i.e. “That’s the arena business not the hockey business”).

  2. Roberto says:

    I think that some sort of redefinition of the cap hit will probably be on the table in order to eliminate the Richards/Luongo/Pronger-type circumvention deals. The owners want a bigger free agent crop each year in order to give the large market teams a greater selection.

    • That one should be easy to push through since the elimination of those deals also benefits a large majority of the players (those without the leverage to get that kind of contract).

      • Tom says:

        I agree. I think all of the other issues are pretty easy once they get past the percentage of revenues. Once it is fixed, everything else just shuffles the money around. The owners really don’t care very much about how the player money is split up. They would prefer a more rational labour market, but that’s trivial relative to the actual division of the pie.

        The players don’t really care how the owners split up their share as long as there is enough revenue sharing to protect jobs in the dying markets. At some point, one would suppose the players would decide the jobs aren’t worth the price – they may have already reached that point – but they still have to be willing to fight. I don’t think they are.

  3. snafu says:

    Has anyone stopped to consider that basing a payroll on everyone’s revenues (summed) and not what the lowest revenue teams can afford IS the problem? It’s always been about the revenue gap, and I think that gap has increased under this CBA, not decreased (excepting the Canadian teams whose only problem ever was the exchange rate, not local revenues).

    If you just keep lowering the players’ share of the pie, you may eventually get to the point of what the poorest teams can afford, but the windfall to the larger teams would be obscene. Can you really design a CBA that caters to a third of the teams’ affordability levels?

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