by PuckStopsHere on 07/18/12 at 03:34 PM ET
In 2005/06 the NHLPA was broken. They accepted the NHL framework for the CBA. The important factor was linkage between NHL revenues and player salaries. This is what matters to the owners. Everything else moves money around. The linkage between salaries and revenue is an absolute limit on how much owners can pay. It doesn’t matter how big a contract they hand out or for how long the contract runs. The total amount of money they pay out does not change.
Now that players have agreed to this framework, the only argument that matters in future bargaining sessions is what percentage the players get going forward. The owners have asked the players to take a cut by over 20% and to reduce the pot that is defined as revenue. They threw in a bunch of other restrictions on players which are likely window dressing and can be negotiated away as long as owners get a further reduction in the percentage of revenues they pay players. They are asking for this because they can. They broke the union in the past and there is little reason to believe that the union will be able to stand up to them now. There is no financial need for this other than the owner’s desire to get an extra truckload of money.
Tom Benjamin writes a good piece outlining perhaps the only NHLPA strategy. The NHLPA could accept the best possible terms they can get from the NHL. This is a reduction in pay. This is a further reduction in pay every time the CBA comes up for re-negotiation. For players who have short careers this may be the best they can do. Any lockout or strike takes away from their career and they will not make up the lost money. This has been the NHLPA’s path in the past.
In order to change the framework of the CBA in this negotiation and go back to a situation like 2004 where the free market instead of the CBA decided how much money players got, the NHL would be out for at least a couple of years. A player cannot win in this scenario. They may have made a better situation for tomorrow’s players but they hurt themselves by not playing in the short window of their careers.
The best longer term strategy for the players is to decertify the union as soon as legally possible in the upcoming CBA. This would prevent the NHL from obstructing this in court by claiming it is only a negotiating ploy as the NFL did. Without a union in place, the players are subject to the same rules of any other set of employees. The draft, entry level contracts, salary caps, restricted free agency and many other things the NHL takes for granted today would not be legal. These would be worked out through anti-trust lawsuits into the future. It would create a very different NHL from the one we see today but it would be one without the threat of lockout or strike perpetually hanging over the league. It would be one where elite teams would be able to exist, unlike today’s league.
Right now we have a group of owners who are dictating the direction of the NHL. Their only concern is maximizing their profits. They are willing to hurt the sport if it makes them more money for doing so. The fans should want another path. The question is how do we get there. The only answer that I see is if the NHLPA radically changes its past behaviour of capitulating to NHL ownership demands every time a new bargaining agreement is negotiated.
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