Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 05/20/12 at 06:24 AM ET
The New York Times’ Jeff Z. Klein and Stu Hackel fully believe that, per their reading of the labor tea leaves, the NHL’s Board of Governors is likely to approve a lockout of the NHLPA’s members at some point before the collective bargaining agreement between the two expires on September 15th, 2012, especially given the fact that the NHL formally told the NHLPA that it intends to “terminate and/or modify” the CBA earlier this week…
“We received the owners’ notice of termination of the agreement,” Donald Fehr, executive director of the union, said by telephone Friday. “That means that the agreement will expire on Sept. 15, and we look forward to negotiating a successor agreement with them.”
Bill Daly, deputy commissioner of the N.H.L., said there was “no significance” to the N.H.L.’s sending notification to the union. He said that it was “just a formality with timing that was dictated by the C.B.A.” and that “both sides have contemplated and commented on the upcoming collective bargaining process for the entire season.”
That the league sent notice, and not the union, is significant. By not sending notice, the players’ association was in effect allowing the current agreement to roll over for another year. Rather, it is the owners who want a change.
No bargaining sessions have been scheduled yet. Commissioner Gary Bettman, like Fehr, recently said there was still plenty of time to negotiate. Fehr said Friday: “You should not conclude from the fact that negotiations haven’t begun that there isn’t a lot of information exchanged between the parties preparatory and necessary to negotiations. That is going on now.”
The owners have an interest in changing the current C.B.A., which provides the players with 57 percent of league revenue. Last year, the N.F.L. and N.B.A. owners locked out their players and got them to give up substantial percentages of league revenue in exchange for being allowed to return to work.
N.F.L. players’ share dropped to about 49 percent from 59.6 percent; N.B.A. players’ share fell to 50 percent from 57 percent.
The chance to capture a larger share of revenue may prove as appealing to the N.H.L. owners. Last season, the N.H.L. claimed record revenue of about $3 billion. If the league’s owners can acquire a single percentage point of the players’ share, it would be a windfall of $30 million. Two percentage points would equal $60 million more for the owners, and so on, compounded annually over the duration of the next agreement.
Or, as the Vancouver Province’s Tony Gallagher explains the situation…
That would mean another additional $250 million per season out of the players’ jeans if the owners’ negotiating committee. If the owners do in fact go for this, it would mean almost a certain lockout because Don Fehr has been working hard behind the scenes to communicate with his players, tell them the issues and try his best to get them onside. And while the likes of Trevor Linden, Jarome Iginla, Chris Pronger and others waved the white flag the last time, signalling to Gary Bettman and the rest of the poorly run small-market teams which form the commissioner’s power base among the owners to keep driving the bus over the players, Fehr is trying his best to stiffen his troops’ resolve.
He’s been spending time going over the financial condition of each of the teams to familiarize himself with how they’re run and how much they are making — or losing in the case of a very few of the teams — and trying to get the support of the players who have seemed mostly oblivious and indifferent to how their own affairs have been run in the past. And as the acknowledged best labour leader in sports, the degree to which he can communicate and get his players involved and onside will be the degree to which he can resist the oncoming bulldozer.
The owners also want a higher age to free agency, the thought of Sidney Crosby becoming unrestricted at the end of next season at age 25 being anathema to them. They’d like to see it back up around age 29 and they’d also like term limits on contracts.
The players don’t have any real demands other than they would love to see escrow payments disappear, although if that were to happen, another way to make sure the correct revenue percentages were paid to both sides would have to be found.
The commissioner is in the driver’s seat, of course, armed with his super majority which means that if the owners wanted to make peace and accept a deal Bettman wasn’t recommending, they would need three quarters of their membership to do that. Only a 50-per-cent majority is needed among the owners to ratify any deal the commissioner recommends. That small-market power base of Bettman’s would like to see a lower floor and a narrower range between floor and ceiling of the salary cap, and that will likely be what the league pushes for.
Bettman could have problems with his owners in that he can’t afford to push the well-off teams too far in this. He doesn’t want them thinking about forming their own league, taking the top players and referees and actually having a circuit where talent counts for something and people could actually watch the games. He likes it just fine the way it is, with checkers competing for the top prize.
Clearly when push comes to shove, Fehr is going to ask for more revenue-sharing to solve the owners’ problems. And there is an easy deal to be made there by keeping the percentage somewhere in the 52-54 per cent range of revenue going to the players and the rich teams sharing more with the league’s traditional financial basket cases like the Islanders, Phoenix, Nashville and Florida. But the owners are likely to once again ask the players to bear the entire burden, and unless the skaters show some backbone this time, that’s likely to be the way it turns out.
I’d hoped that, as a fan who ends up paying both the millionaire players and billionaire owners chunks of change from my wallet, the owners would be reasonable and not assume that the league would foist a third lockout upon its players and fans, but unless things change significantly for the better in the initial stages of negotiations between Fehr and the league when the Stanley Cup playoffs wrap up, it appears more and more likely that the NHL fully assumes that its fans will stomach a third “work stoppage” initiated by ownership to ramrod its demands through—even though that high, high “salary floor” seems to be the obvious pressure point (which could be easily relieved) in terms of forcing some teams to consistently operate in the red while adhering to a salary cap determined by an average of league-wide revenues, big-market teams to write those revenue-sharing checks and the players to inevitably pay back a portion of their salary in escrow withholdings because the narrow payroll range encourages teams to spend more than the “players’ share” of earnings.
Stupid is as stupid does, and there is no man more oblivious to the fact that burning down the village in order to save it, three times over the course of 17 years, isn’t a particularly bright way to run a sports league than one Gary Bettman.
For whatever reason, the Board of Governors marches lock-step with the commish, even if it involves approving some hastily-hammered-out plan that half of the Board hates in, say, proposing a radical realignment and refusing to address players’ concerns about travel (eventually, the air miles have to be paid for by the teams that aren’t traveling less) before a drop-dead date simply to make the NHLPA look out of touch with fans, and when the realignment issue fell through, with Jimmy Devellano taking to Toronto sports talk radio in the middle of the night to rail against the evils of the intransigent players’ organization…
I knew we were in trouble, and my friends, we are in lots of trouble in terms of our chances of witnessing NHL hockey played by NHLPA members come October.
And I know this is going to sound crazy, but in a media landscape where the NHL will move far beyond the ineptitude of its “CBA News” website and the bogus report filed by former SEC chief Arthur “Enron” Levitt that cemented the league’s Big Lie the last time around—that player salaries and ticket prices were inexorably linked, and that reducing said player salaries would stem, if not stop, the “inflationary spiral” regarding ticket prices that are, in fact, determined based upon supply and demand as opposed to salaries-versus-expenditures, or as so many of you know, team’s on-ice performances…
Larry Brooks of all people is going to be the one player-friendly voice of reason as the league ensures that Kevin Dupont re-hashes his “Just Say No PA” line, Stan Fischler starts sounding like one of the members of the Purple Gang that beat up my uncle when they went union-busting (hint: The Malik Report just might take the players’ side in all this mess, just as I did on message boards back in 2004) and the rest of the “insiders” who are reliant upon “league sources” for their rumors and thought bubbles floated by the league (see: sure website traffic-boosters like “banning staged fights,” getting rid of the trapezoid, said realignment issue, etc.) snap to attention and espouse the league’s party line…
And here’s what Brooks has to say about the labor situation this morning:
The failure of the NHLPA office to communicate with the rank-and-file it represented was a primary reason the union fractured during the latter stages of the 2004-05 lockout and became ripe for the picking by league hardliners and enemies within.
That wasn’t an error of omission, rather enforced confidentiality was a central ingredient of then-executive director Bob Goodenow’s leadership style. That approach had worked to the benefit of the athletes for more than a decade, but when the players were given neither advance notice that Goodenow had put a 24-percent rollback on the table to the owners in December 2004 nor asked for their input into the precedent-setting maneuver, the absence of communication became a debilitating dynamic within the union.
I don’t know if many of you remember it, but the PA’s December 9th, 2004 proposal ended up forming the backbone of the CBA that Ted Saskin, Bill Daly and Trevor Linden ended up negotiating toward the league’s favor when that guy who charges money to read bogus rumors actually served as a blog “front” for open leaks from both sides of the negotiating table…
That mistake will not be repeated under Don Fehr, who directed the MLBPA under a big tent theory that he has brought to the NHLPA. Fehr, who according to several sources is enmeshed in the process of financial fact-finding regarding the league and individual franchises, repeated his invitation for players to participate in bargaining sessions via a memo he sent to the PA members on Wednesday after the NHL gave official and required notice of its intent to “terminate and/or modify” the current CBA upon its expiration at midnight Sept. 15.
“As I’ve said on many occasions, all Players are encouraged to attend as many of these bargaining sessions as possible,” Fehr wrote. “In fact, there’s no better way to send a message to the League that Players are engaged in the process of bargaining for a fair new contract.”
Several agents have told Slap Shots they expect significant player attendance at the bargaining sessions that likely will commence in some form in July.
It would have been mighty interesting last time around to have been able to see on which side of the table a number of players would have chosen to sat, especially those Flyers in the employ of Ed Snider.
Very regrettably, that kind of stuff might drive wedges between players and their employers once again, despite the diligent efforts of people like Chris Chelios, Trent Klatt and Dwayne Roloson to educate their peers on exactly why Goodenow got the heave-ho from the executive council back in 2005, and despite the lessons the players are still learning from their own backroom brawl in Chicago that forced Paul Kelly out and pissed none other than Ted Lindsay off so much that the former Lester B. Pearson award had to be renamed in his honor for him to have anything to do with the union he attempted to establish back in the 50’s.
As much as you might fear Fehr, he is, at least, only the second NHLPA executive director, Kelly, Saskin, Goodenow and dear old Alan Eagleson included, who’s actually ran the players’ union like a union representing players’ concerns, and while people like you and me may root for NHL teams, if and/or when a lockout goes down, it’s going to be the NHLPA that’s going to fight harder than the Board will to ensure that hockey is played at all during the 2012-2013 season.
Bettman and that goon Daly have made the players blink before, and I’m sure they believe that they can get away with the same thing by disrupting your ability to pay to follow your favorite teams for the second time in only eight years, so yes indeedy, folks, I’m in with Fehr and the players here, and if you’re going to be taking sides, I’d suggest that you choose wisely.
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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.
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