Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 08/27/12 at 01:00 AM ET
I can use a thesaurus' worth of words to describe the CBA negotiations that will determine whether NHL fans get to watch hockey on time this fall--from tedious and innervating to infuriating, humanity-sapping, intentionally emotionally manipulative, inevitably wrapped in propaganda, and in the case of the NHL's CBA proposal, mind-numbingly arrogant and downright brutish--but I would never use the word boring to describe a process by which fans will learn the parameters by which the businesses they support will operate, what restrictions will be imposed upon how much or how little they can spend to attract players to play for their franchise, retain the ones they currently employ (especially given that there may or may not be another round of dispersal draft-style buyouts imposed upon the highest spenders) and what rules they'll have to abide by in terms of drafting and developing new talent, etc.
I'm interested in finding out what "market values" will be imposed upon player contracts, how player mobility will change, and I'm very, very interested in finding out whether the NHL and NHLPA plan on addressing or not addressing the fundamentally flawed revenue-sharing system that's currently in place.
The Tornoto Sun's Lance Hornby, however, suggests that the average fan will find himself or herself incredibly "bored" as they wait out an almost inevitable lockout and a third attempt by Gary Bettman to "save the owners from themselves":
[E]ight years forward, on the precipice of another extended work stoppage, there’s a better chance that some fans die of boredom from rich-man rhetoric than any boardroom violence. The NHL is a $3.3-billion industry, the players are hardly starving and the pro game is generally an entertaining product that’s going global.
So when they finally settle, all that matters to them is which side did a better job covering its assets. The players have to maximize their earning power in short careers and set themselves up for life after hockey. The owners want a bigger share of league revenue or a way to bail out some of their weak U.S. markets. That’s hardly news or grounds for a street brawl, in fact the fan on the street is already yawning about a possible lockout with a “wake-me-when-it’s-over” attitude.
“This time, we know going in that a lockout won’t kill the game,” said Gord Stellick, former general manager of the Maple Leafs, now with Hockey Night In Canada. “We know the players aren’t as militant, we know the fight won’t get as personal as it was between Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow and we know a lot of NHL people think games in October and November are for the dogs and can be compressed later. It won’t be the end of the world if a lockout starts. In 1994 (when a lockout claimed half a season), people said they’d ruined the game, but they came back. And as bitter as 2004 was, with the whole season getting flushed, fans returned almost the next day.”
[sarcasm] Yeah, "for the dogs." Gosh, I sure hate watching hockey in October and November [/sarcasm]
Thus, both sides have spent this past summer sparring in the media, watching the clock tick down to Sept. 15. The players had faint hope the league would play beyond that date under the current agreement or that commissioner Bettman and the 30 owners might get a bit excited about its peace overtures on revenue sharing.
If there is any glimmer from two days of near wasted negotiating time in Toronto, the two actually considered tenets of the other’s main proposals ahead of this week’s key meetings in New York. The players are going to concede some of their 57% edge in revenues, if the owners show they have a viable long-range plan to grow the game.
If a lockout ensues, many think the season’s drop-dead date will be Jan. 1 — the Winter Classic and the halfway point of the schedule. There will be 100,000-plus ready to jam the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., for the Leafs and Red Wings, with a continent-wide TV audience. Before that happens, someone has to blink.
“What’s missing so far is someone who has the ear of both sides,” Stellick said. “Either someone from the owners’ side who emerged in past lockouts such as Pittsburgh’s Paul Martha, the late Harley Hotchkiss from Calgary or a player with the status or Mario Lemieux. That would be a positive.”
Hornby continues and suggests that there's no side to root for--perhaps echoing Justin Bourne's belief that if there are only various degrees of culpability as opposed to men in white hats and men in black hats, fans "shouldn't" take a side in a battle between people whose business plan involves continually cutting employee wages to address its business model's flaws, and people who want to both keep every penny of salaries disproportionate to the rest of society while actually addressing the money-sharing issue--and Hornby offers analyses of the four "major" team sports' CBA's, including the NHL's present standard operating procedure:
ROOKIE SALARY CAP: Entry level players, aged 18 to 21, get a base contract of $925,000, a number that began at $850,000 at the dawn of this CBA in 2005, in addition to signing and games-played bonuses.
STANDARD PLAYER CONTRACT: Guaranteed, however, some players have two-way contracts that pay less if they’re sent to the minors and more if they’re with the NHL club. A player’s annual salary must not top 20% of that year’s salary cap.
BUYOUTS, BONUSES: Players can be bought out for either one or two-thirds of their salary, though age is a factor. The buyout money is then paid to the player over twice the length of the original contract, while he’s free to sign elsewhere. Some of the departed player’s salary goes against the cap. Performance bonuses apply only to entry-level contracts, those signing one-year contracts after returning from long-term injuries and veteran players on one-year deals after age 35.
MINIMUM SALARY: $525,000
AVERAGE SALARY: $2.4 million
CAREER EARNINGS: On current projections for average career length, a player could get between $12 million and $13 million.
SALARY CAP: Keeps going up as revenues climb, almost $31 million since 2005, to a projected $70.2 million if this season were played under the old CBA. The trouble is that small market teams have difficulty reaching the cap floor, projected at $54.3 million.
PLAYERS SHARE OF REVENUES: Now at 57% in the players’ favour, but they’ll have to accept below 50% to satisfy owners in next round.
Again, as a rather subjective NHLPA supporter, I might point out that the salary cap is determined by averaging league-wide revenues, which automatically places it into an "inflationary spiral" thanks to large-market teams commanding significant figures for sponsorships, business partnerships, advertising opportunities and of course tickets whose prices are determined by supply and demand as opposed to any sort of relationship with teams' salaries, and I might also point out that the narrow $15 million span between payroll "floor" and "ceiling" was Bettman's idea, not that of smaller-market teams which could benefit from a lower "floor," nor players who might appreciate giving less of their paychecks back to the league in escrow withholdings to ensure that teams don't pay out more than a penny more of hockey-related revenue dollars out to players than the CBA requires, but hey, what do I know. I'm just a fan who's not "bored" by any of this.
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