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Duhtaschek: the NHL can ‘idiot-proof’ the CBA, but it can’t ‘competition-proof’ it

The Globe and Mail's Eric Duhatschek looks into his crystal ball at the close of a very disappointing week in collective bargaining news, suggesting that, regardless of whether the lockout ends sometime this month, sometime next month or after a salvageable season is scuttled for the sake of winning an abstract argument and/or ego war, the NHL will eventually "lose," and will "lose" for one reason:

As soon as the ultra-unified Jeremy Jacobs, Ed Snider, Craig Leipold, Ted Leonsis or whichever other owner finds himself present at the signing of an eventually inevitable CBA leaves the room satisfied with their "win," those gentlemen will instantly revert to the aggressively competitive owners of big boys' toys that they really are, and they will proceed to direct their general managers to out-compete their fellow owners for high-priced players' services, no matter how high the inflationary costs upon both themselves and the league as a whole may be:

The players will win because the minute the ink is dry on a new collective agreement, agents and general managers will find clever ways to circumvent the spirit and language of the new deal.

This is the unchanging way of the NHL world, where 30 teams annually compete for one prize. Team owners get frustrated by losing and eventually instruct the people who work for them to do whatever it takes to stop losing.

So you get a situation where, in the 1990s, the Boston Bruins discovered the loophole that killed that collective agreement. The Bruins – run by a notoriously tough bargainer, Harry Sinden – devised a complicated system of paying high-end entry-level players a series of A and B schedule bonuses that virtually quadrupled their salaries. Contracts for Sergei Samsonov and Joe Thornton became the model for other clubs to skirt a system that was supposed to keep salaries down in the early stages of every player’s career.

Ah, lest we forget, the man whose team is closest to the cap at this point is one Jeremy Jacobs, with, per Capgeek.com, $1.33 million in cap space under the $70.3 million upper limit (Team #2? Minnesota. Team #4? Calgary. Team #5? Philadelphia. Why are these guys trying to shoot themselves in both competitive feet again?)...

In the 2000s, the Columbus Blue Jackets killed the entry-level system and all its prohibitive restrictions by signing Rick Nash to a second contract worth $27-million (all currency U.S.) over five years, a practice that eventually brought riches to all the top players in that category.

The Detroit Red Wings started the process of signing players to long-term contracts (Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg) to mitigate the effects of their annual salary-cap charge. Others hopped on that bandwagon until the New Jersey Devils gave Ilya Kovalchuk a 17-year deal two summers ago and the NHL said enough. The league kicked the contract back on the grounds that it was a blatant attempt to circumvent the salary cap. In many respects, that contract got the league to where it is today – stuck on an issue, contract length, that threatens to undermine the 2012-13 season.

The point is this: Whatever language Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly come up with in the next collective agreement, whatever restrictions they impose, whatever they do to regulate a system designed to keep the playing field relatively even, it won’t matter. Teams will find a way to get around them. They always have. They always will.

Continued, and his article's worth your time.

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.

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