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The Puck Stops Here

Does The NHLPA Have A Chance?

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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Comments

Alan's avatar

Fehr is a man who will get what he wants, or damn the consequences.

Therefore, if Bettman’s “offer” from last week was serious, don’t expect the NHLPA to budge. Fehr is the man responsible for the MLB strike back in the 90s.

The NHLPA has more than just one strategy to work with, and the writers who are ignorant of the past would do well to remember that.

Posted by Alan from Atlanta on 07/18/12 at 04:56 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Donald Fehr cannot do anything the players do not want him to do.  People like you make claims that he is some kind of boogie man who will destroy the NHL - some kind of Bob Goodenow on steroids - but he isn’t anywhere except in your mind.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/18/12 at 05:04 PM ET

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I think that if the majority of the owners get what they want, then we are gonna see a lot more elite talent go to the KHL in the next 10 years. Being a Red Wings fan, I’d prefer to go back to the free market, and I like to think that Mike Ilitch isn’t among the owners in favor of cap—might just be wishful thinking though!

I also have this dream of a 10-16 team group that breaks off to form their own league…

Posted by CFM from Michigan on 07/18/12 at 05:28 PM ET

Alan's avatar

No, the NHL-destroying “boogieman” is Bettman and his absolute bat shit insane “offer” to the players. Bettman wants things done his way, and has no qualms with stopping the season to get it.

The players brought in Fehr because of who he is and what he did. People would do well to remember that, instead of looking at the NHLPA as some sort of spineless organization at the mercy of Bettman.

I’m actually 100 percent in support of the players at this point. Fehr has something going on within the players that Goodenow didn’t have, and the league would be wise to pay attention.

I do like how you’re going to sit there like a keyboard commando and tell me what I think without actually knowing what I’m thinking. Quality stuff there. Suddenly, I remember now why I never bother to comment on your stuff.

Posted by Alan from Atlanta on 07/18/12 at 05:29 PM ET

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Come to think of it, the players hardly ever lose, because even with the last fool proof system, there were enough owners and GMS willing to spend and give outlandish contracts. It may be a fixed portion of the revenue (when not hiding guys in the minors), but since players are at a relatively fixed number of slots as long as revenue rises they just make more on average.  The last CBA was supposed to have killed the players and they are making more than ever. So each loss is really just a setback until revenues drop then the real problems will begin.

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 07/18/12 at 06:17 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Hockey 1919

That is pretty tortured logic.  As I understand it you think the players win if they get a fixed percentage of revenues regardless of what that fixed percentage is or if it makes sense for it to be a fixed percentage at all.

A simple business model is that there are fixed costs and variable costs to own a business.  As revenues increase beyond a given point they have covered all fixed costs and it is reasonable for the variable costs such as player contracts (this is variable in that i can be adjusted annually or more frequently than that if you make a trade) to increase in their overall percentage of the total revenues.

Your comment seems to argue nothing other than if revenues increase players dont lose if their total amount paid goes up at all which is a rather pointless comment and shows a poor understanding of what is going on here.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/18/12 at 06:59 PM ET

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Dumb idea to decertify. Yes there won’t be restrictions like a salary cap, but there also won’t be a salary floor or a minimum salary. You could see 4th liners and 3 pairing d-men being paid 100k or less. the union’s job is to protect ALL the players not just the Crosby’s, Giroux’s and Stamkos’.

Posted by PensFan from Pittsburgh on 07/18/12 at 07:36 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

so instead of a lockout every ten years, we could have a strike.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 07/18/12 at 07:55 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

You cant have a strike without a union.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/18/12 at 07:57 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

You can’t have a strong antitrust case while the majority of the workforce continues to work.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 07/18/12 at 08:00 PM ET

Red Winger's avatar

Take it for what it’s worth, but a good source tells me the union is telling the players to start squirreling away nuts, because a lockout/strike is almost a certainty.

Posted by Red Winger from Sault Ste Marie on 07/18/12 at 08:17 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

JJ

Here are some of the most famous antitrust cases.  In none of them was there any kind of issue about the workforce continuing to work.  Its usually a meaningless question in these cases.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/18/12 at 09:38 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

How many of those were brought against companies by their own workforces?

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 07/18/12 at 09:58 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Does it matter?

All you need for an antitrust case is for example an Eric Lindros to challenge the draft.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/18/12 at 09:59 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Yep, it would just take enough people willing to get themselves blacklisted to fight a multi-billion dollar operation on the way they run a well-established system that works across multiple sports.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 07/18/12 at 10:14 PM ET

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More hysterical crying and whining.

Posted by timbits on 07/18/12 at 11:11 PM ET

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1) What will happen in the coming months is easy to predict.  Just look at istory for the answer.  In the short term the NHLPA will bluster and hold firm.  There will be a 3rd Bettman instituted lock out. The players wil ultimately fracture, probably around ThanksGiving.  the season will begin around the holidays
2) Its an oft used but TRUE saying that Billionares can outlast Millionares.  Its also easier to keep 30(29 right now) individuals united, than it is to keep 700 unemployed players together.
3)  The NHLPA SHOULD decertify.  They serve no real useful purpose for the players. As many correctly point out, it serves more the owners than the players.  For without it the owners could not institute a salary cap

Posted by faxrumors on 07/18/12 at 11:50 PM ET

tuxedoTshirt's avatar

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.

Astute, ThePuck.

The best longer term strategy for the players is to decertify the union as soon as legally possible

Or to use this nuclear option as the leverage to get closer to a 50-50 split.

Posted by tuxedoTshirt from the Home of the 1937 World Champions on 07/19/12 at 02:42 AM ET

tuxedoTshirt's avatar

Great piece, by the way.

Posted by tuxedoTshirt from the Home of the 1937 World Champions on 07/19/12 at 02:43 AM ET

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I love the over reaction to anyone that would dispute your world view. I recall how the players got hammered and lost the CBA war completely the last time. They had finally asked for a hard cap of $39M and were stuffed into a cap and revenue sharing agreement. Instead of $39M they now have 57% percent of the revenue and a cap ceiling of $72M.  You may be the one with tortured logic because you either fail to read beyond the first sentence or comprehend what you read.

You can rationalize all you want that the owners are somehow these brilliant titans of industry, but they never seem to figure it out either.  I’m glad you seem to have all the answers. The fact that player salaries are a fixed cost can also help the players if revenue slides as well.  If the revenue stream were to decrease to the point where the owners fixed costs exceed a fixed portion of the revenue, the players would still get their share regardless of whether the owners were making a profit on their share.  Besides, I never said it doesn’t matter what the percentage is, you injected that to try to make a strawman argument, I said the major issue is generating MORE revenue. You can have 60% of a dollar and I’d rather have 50% of a million. 

Will the next deal be worse for the players? Maybe. Will that mean they lost? We’ll know when the owners ramp up their rhetoric the next time around. The one area I do agree is that player movement, safety etc means little to the owners as long as they see increased profits.  It is the GMs that care because they need the tools to be profitable.

So players that have on average a 5 year career should throw half of it away in a prolonged lockout/strike/decertification process is the way to “win”? Just making sure I understand your logic.

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 07/19/12 at 10:29 AM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Hockey 1919

You have some major problems in your rant.

1)  You seem to view labor disputes as having been won by the players if their share goes up at all.

2)  You ignore the significant amount of increase in the amount of money owners get.

3) You don’t seem to care that this process is bad for hockey as you cheerlead for the owners.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/19/12 at 02:56 PM ET

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I NEVER cheerlead for the owners, so you must have missed every post I have ever written. I just don’t think the owners are as savvy as you think and although some win, just as many lose. They could have had $39M fixed and chose to go the percentage of revenue route, so that isn’t really a win either. So nice try, you are the one in charge of the condescending rants trike boy, not me.  Goodbye.

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 07/19/12 at 04:41 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

It is kind of pathetic that the only attempt you make to state in that rant is They (the owners) could have had $39M fixed and chose to go the percentage of revenue route and it is false.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/19/12 at 07:23 PM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.

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Email: y2kfhl@hotmail.com