An NHLPA Strategy
Anyone who thought Gary Bettman and his employers were going to approach this CBA negotiation like a reasonable partner with the players has had hopes dashed with the leak of the opening NHL position in respect of the player percentage, term limits of contracts, the elimination of arbitration and later free agency. Aside from sending a message to the NHLPA that the league intends to play hardball, it is a simply bad joke.
First, there is only one issue that is important: The money. Everything else is a detail, something that shifts the money from one player to another or the cost from one team to another. The only issue that is a dealbreaker, the only issue that will lead to a lockout? The money. The owners have one demand and a wish list they will happily compromise. They will even be flexible on the demand. The aim is 50%, so the opening salvo is 46%. The other unacceptable (to the players) positions are mostly fluff because in the end, the league doesn’t care which players actually get the money. What really matters is who pays and how much the players get collectively. It’s all about the Benjamins. Period.
The issue is about how revenues are defined and how big of a slice the owners get to keep. The NHL says they want the players to take more than 20% less of a revenue pie that is redefined to be smaller. Is there any industry besides sports where the employer brags of a booming business and still insists that employees have to take a pay cut?
As I’ve said before – many times – once the negotiation is reduced to “What percentage of revenue should the players get?”, the owners can’t lose. The players aren’t going to have to take a 30% paycut, but they are going to take a paycut. Furthermore, they will be forced into a paycut in every negotiation for the forseeable future, at least until a significant chunk of the talent starts getting better offers from Europe. If the players can’t win – or expect to be treated fairly under this system – what is their best strategy when the last thing they want is to miss any games?
1) Take the long view and use this negotiation as a springboard to destroy the framework without having to sit out the next two years.
2) Negotiate the best deal possible within this framework. That means conceding a lot of money. The key demand for the players should be the term. Three years would be great, four would be okay and five the absolute maximium.
3) As soon as the ink is dry on the new CBA, decertify. As things stand, the NHLPA cannot do anything but shelter the employer from antitrust rules while facilitating the transfer of money from the players to the teams. Decertifying now doesn’t prevent a work stoppage now because the owners will dismiss it as a bargaining ploy, lock the players out and threaten to spend the next year in court instead of on the ice. If the players decertify after a new deal is signed, it clearly is not a bargaining ploy. It is the end of collective bargaining, the salary cap, the draft and any restrictions on free agency once the CBA expires.
Even three years would give the NHLPA time to recast itself as an organization that administers pensions, the money players get from video games and the like, and represents the players in any legal challenge made by the owners. It gives the NHL plenty of time to reorganize into a league that operates in a free market.
When the union does more to help the employer than it does the worker, it’s time to kill the union.