Is No News Good News?



Eight years ago, at the conclusion of the last collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHLPA, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and then NHLPA director Bob Goodenow were set in their respective positions and firing salvos at each other through the media. Today, Bettman and new NHLPA director Donald Fehr are approaching the end of another CBA in a very different matter: by putting negotiations off.

The current CBA is at its end. The 2011-12 season was played under the agreement negotiated in 2005, after the NHLPA exercised its right to extend the agreement for one additional season. They don’t have that option this year, and so both parties must come to an agreement before September of 2012 or risk the cancellation/postponement of the 2012-13 NHL season.

At this time in 2004, Bettman was denying that the NHL had proposed a hard cap, Bob Goodenow was calling that “ludicrous,” and Bettman was “optimistic” because in his words “the lines of communication are open” and “when the time is right this can move quickly.” Of course, at that point the NHLPA was questioning the results of an NHL-commissioned audit, offering a 5% pay cut as its primary concession, and standing fast against a hard salary cap. We saw how that turned out.

The tone is different today. It’s mostly non-confrontational – though of course the NHLPA’s rejection of the NHL’s realignment plan hints that ‘warm and fuzzy’ probably won’t be the tone throughout the negotiations. Unlike in 2004, where negotiations were underway and both sides were miles apart, negotiations haven’t even started. The one thing that remains undiminished, however, is Gary Bettman’s ability to sound optimistic about the process:

"We’re ready and we have been ready, but the union has had some work to do. We’re being patient. I’m not concerned about the time frame."

Despite Bettman’s lack of concern, there are obvious issues that will need to be dealt with. I was halfway through putting a list together when I came across David Shoalts’ article from earlier this week identifying some key issues. I encourage anyone interested to give it a read, but here are a few in point form:

  • Revenue: Players currently get 57% of NHL revenues; some owners want to push that number below 50%, more in line with the recent NBA deal.
  • Escrow: Players see big chunks of their current contracts held in escrow until such time as league revenues are fully calculated at the end of the season. Typically they get that money back, but it’s not a widely-loved system.
  • Salary Floor: Some teams are struggling to keep up with the salary cap floor and want to see it reduced.
  • Contracts: Some owners would like to see term limits; some players want to see over-35 restrictions reduced.
  • Player safety: Because if we can’t work concussions into the discussion, we clearly aren’t talking hockey
  • Realignment: The NHLPA’s rejection of the league’s plan puts this squarely on the table.
  • Olympics: Owners have always been lukewarm to Olympic participation, while players typically push for it.

Beyond the issues that Shoalts highlighted, we could probably name a few others. A limited contract amnesty has been suggested before, and the NHLPA would undoubtedly have opinions on that. The current buyout process, one that makes it very difficult for teams to get out from under the weight of their own stupid contracts, might be scrutinized. One wonders whether guaranteed contracts are a target for some owners. The exposure of players who start the season outside the NHL to waivers has cost NHL teams guys they’ve signed – that might be a topic for discussion too.

Revenue is obviously the major issue on the board. But there are a host of other issues that will need to be worked through, and right now we don’t really know where the league or the union stand. More importantly, the two parties may not know where the other stands – since they aren’t talking right now.

It’s good that we haven’t seen fireworks between the two sides. But the fact that negotiations haven’t started yet is a little troubling.

  • Stocc

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    I think I’ve had a pretty good run but it’s time for me to hang up the gloves and officially retire from the sport of competitive FISTing. Now it’s up to you, FIST nation, to find new, better, and more exciting ways to FIST.

  • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

    I don’t think No News is Bad News. How little did we hear about the CBA negotiations in MLB and how fast and without issue those were taken care of. While at the same time you couldn’t go a day or two without hearing about the NBA/NFL. Frankly if things stay quiet I’m a litte more optimistic. Once players, GMs, NHLPA, NHL, etc… all start talking, whether through the media, twitter or whatever, then we are in trouble cause they want people to take sides. Once lines are drawn and people take sides things don’t always work out so rosey(Looking at you NBA).

    • BOOOO!!!! Haha. I know what your saying but I would rather the Oilers finish last next year then have no hockey.

      I am an Oilers fan but a hockey fan as well I love watching other games and teams and I love watching playoffs if there is a lockout I will be devastated…NO MORE POKER ON PRIMETIME TV!!!

      • Quicksilver ballet

        Not sure yet a third poor finish would sit well with 4 and 14. Their frustration level must be at a slow simmer by now. I’d rather take the two excellent picks (2012 and in 2013) and save the wear and tear/grief on the kids. I’m not sure you’d find much support to have it your way. To each his own eh.

        • DieHard

          Agreed especially with Hall (Used to winning) and another poor finish next year would not sit well, but hopefully they can pick it up here and next year I think they will be more improved (Ever heard that yet? haha) But I would miss hockey way too much if there is another lockout.

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    Weren’t the Oilers suposed to reap the benefits of the CBA 8 years putting us on par with Detroit and New York? We had 1 amazing run in 06 but what happen after that. I don’t see any new CBA contract really helping the Oilers in the near future.

  • Copperblueandwhite

    Great, a basketball guy and a baseball guy are determining the immediate future of hockey…can’t wait…a strike or lockout should wipe out Phoenix and or Columbus and or…etc.

  • Time Travelling Sean

    Columbus’s attendance isn’t really too bad considering. About 82% filled for a boring, crappy team, that has been boring and pretty bad since its inception.

  • DieHard

    The economy sucks and will for some time going forward (maybe not Alberta). If the players reps cannot see this, we are screwed. If they cannot do anything then at least keep what they have for 5 years and then talk again.

  • book¡e

    I suspect that the players and teams will come to a stand-off that costs them both a full season of revenue. In the end the players will gain about 1-3% than what they would get if they just bargained hard but accepted the ‘final offer’ just prior to the lockout.

    My math suggests that the players will accumulate enough revenue from this additional revenue to cover the lost year of wages within 33 to 100 seasons.

  • DieHard

    There are no NHL owners that have their primary source of income coming from the team. This means one thing. If the owners and Bettman don’t get what they want there will be a lockout. The players association will collapse under the pressure of no income after about half a season. These are millionaire players that have small earning windows. While there will be a ton of posturing on both sides, I think everyone understands who holds the power.

    The only real concern is losing many Russians and some Europeans to the KHL. They can make good money there and be closer to their homeland. If the lockout drags on watch for more and more to be………….. defecting to Russia?

    • Aussie Oiler

      Yeah, it seems like another lockout would be a free kick for other leagues, especially the KHL, to take up a greater share of the global market.

      Smart business people would see the danger of a lockout and recognise the damage it does to the brand. The NHL big wigs, on the other hand, are not know for their s m r t’s.

  • John Chambers

    The players learned last time that their bargaining power is extremely limited. Whatever transpires they’re still going to make tons of money … but only if they play.

    The majority of owners can tolerate a half- or full-season’s worth of lost revenue.

    The players’ share of revenues will dip below 50%, they’ll get some concession when it comes to safety, and they’ll be back playing in the Olympics.

  • John Chambers

    This potential lockout is going to work out really well for the Oilers. Last time salaries stayed really low right after the lockout.

    If salaries again get rolled back or teams are pressed to keep them under a ceiling, we could see Hall and Eberle get re-signed long-term for contracts in around the $5M range.

  • Simpsonite

    This is going to be really interesting. For us in Alberta we are going to have a tough time with this whole thing because the economy here is cooking and that will effect (affect?) how we view the negotiations. We’re givener like a fist in the air while every other market’s economy, especially in the US, is in the toilet. I bet THAT will affect (effect?) the bargaining position of owners I think.

    That’s where the revenue share will come in…teams in weaker markets (majority in the US I suggest) are going to want that lower…players might go for 50-50…maybe.

    We in Alberta will be pissed because we’ll be working and givener and making dough while the rest will be pissy because it is rich players vs richer owners. And that’s when the proverbial shizer will hit the fan.

    It’ll be neat to see how our comments in AB differ from everywhere else.