Last week the NHL made another in a line of "last offers" to the NHLPA. From what has been leaked to various media outlets, this has been the most complete offer I have seen. In the past, the offers have focused mainly on the "make whole" provision or the various ways to curtail player contracting rights. This is natural because they are the biggest issues between the two sides.
Enough has been said about the big obstacles between the two sides, I want to take a deeper look at some of the small improvements for the players in this offer. I don’t know if the NHLPA asked for these or the NHL volunteered these adjustments. Either way, as a player I would think some of these would be appealing.
If the NHL voluntarily put some of these little details into this offer I say good on them. If not, it doesn’t make a big difference. This is a negotiation in which the players are giving up and the owners are taking. Some minor concessions from the owners could go a ways in helping the players swallow any agreement.
Most of the following are not huge issues. I do think that they have been overlooked by most.
1. On and off-ice player discipline procedures.
Any player facing either of these issues will be able to appeal to a neutral third party. A perfect example of this would be Raffi Torres. Instead of his appeal going to Gary Bettman, which makes no sense, he would have a different set of ears hear his case.
This will only affect a small amount of the NHLPA members in each year but just like insurance you don’t realize you want or need it until you are in trouble.
2. Playoff pool increase.
This will be increased from$6.5 million to $13 million in year one. This will be increased from year to year. It isn’t clear from whose share the funding will come from, but still a bonus for the players.
3. Working conditions.
I know this sounds odd to have included for the NHLPA. They are treated very well. This doesn’t mean nicer hotels, softer beds or faster planes. For the most part it relates to scheduling. I think this is very important.
There will now be mandatory days off during training camp. There is already a rule in place that players cannot be at the rink for more than three hours during training camp. This seems more like a guideline though, the players don’t just walk off at the three hour mark. There is no rule for days off during training camp. That is at the discretion of the coaches.
I never understood why many days off were not given during camp. It isn’t forty years ago when players would come to camp to get into shape. They are all in shape and the season is very long. A little rest during camp would keep the guys fresh and I believe help teams go into the regular season with healthier clubs. Under the terms of this offer, a number of days off would be mandatory during training camp for all teams to schedule.
There would also be a mandatory number of days off required for the regular season. I played on teams where we got nearly no days off the whole season. Crazy!! Physical as well as mental rest is important during the marathon of a NHL season. Sometimes I think coaches don’t want to give a day off because of the perception. The media or fans would frown upon a team getting a day off during a cold streak. Believe me, at times a day off is way more valuable to ending a slump than hitting the ice for a half-assed practice.
There were always rumours of the NHL wanting to schedule Christmas Day games. Pretty tall order to go against the NBA, might be a tall order in the U.S. Under this new offer, the Christmas break would be three days rather than the past two days.
Everyone likes time off at Christmas, if you can get it. I think this is great. Not only do the players, coaches, training staff and management get a longer break during the holidays, but so does the staff that works the games. I am talking about everyone from the guy selling the popcorn in the upper decks to the person handing out 50/50 tickets. This three day break is a no brainer!
A surprise under the work condition header for me was a tighter restriction on off-season conditioning requirements. Currently a team cannot force any player under contract to come to a team workout or skate session in the off season. This of course doesn’t mean that the recently drafted or rookies won’t all come to a summer development camp. That is in their best interest.
I thought the NHL might want to work towards an approach more similar to the NFL. Something where the team would bring all their players in for a week during the summer to get a jump on the season. It just makes sense for me, and quite frankly it is something I would have been interested in doing when I was playing.
A coach could go through some on-ice issues and off-ice workouts, nothing too crazy. In my mind the real benefit would be for the group of players themselves, as it would be a great chance for team building. Golfing in the afternoons and a couple of team dinners would really bring a group together. Especially when you would have signed a few free agents in during the summer. This would allow guys to get to know each other before camp and make the newcomers fell more welcome.
4. Changes to the performance-enhancing substance programs.
- Illegal stimulants will be included
- Testing for HGH
- Adjustment of times of testing during the year.
I think this is important for both the NHL and NHLPA to agree upon. The first two issues aren’t big ones, but the adjustment of testing times during the year is. Currently any player can be tested up to four times during the regular season and no less than three. There is no testing in the off-season.
It would be a big hassle to incorporate off-season testing into the program. That being said I think there should be out of season testing. I don’t think there is a big problem in the league with steroids or HGH, but it’s better for everyone involved to get in front of the issue.
NHL players are scattered all over the world. Each player would need to submit a schedule to the testing authorities to let them know exactly where they would be all summer. It would have to be very detailed and accurate. If the testers came to a location a player said they would be at and the player was not it creates a big problem. Under other testing protocols a missed test can be considered a failed test.
The off-season testing would be crazy to incorporate and a big hassle for everyone involved, but I feel strongly that it should be a part of any new CBA.
5. Interview period for unrestricted free agents.
I love this one! It should have been done years ago. This would allow potential free agents to visit with clubs, and their city, they may choose to sign with as free agent. It would give a player and his family a chance to get to know the city and the organization. Getting a chance to sit down with the coach, G.M. or current players of the team would be a huge bonus. Trying to make a decision about who to sign with, sometimes in literally one hour, is a huge task, and this interview period would make it easier and clearer for both the player and team.
I think this would help the Oilers a lot. Let’s face it, winter in Edmonton can be a little cold and dark. For most visiting players the idea they have in their head of our great city is this. They arrive at the airport after a game somewhere at two in the morning and then drive forty five minutes to a hotel downtown. The wind is blowing the snow around and it doesn’t look great. They get up the next morning and drive to Rexall through areas that are not the best. If that is all a potential free agent has to base his judgment of Edmonton on, would it make it a compelling place to sign?
Given a chance to visit our great city during a free agent interview period in June, their minds would be opened. Winter is gone and they get to see other areas of the city. An Oiler staff member could show them where they could live, schools their kids could go to or the great rec centers that are all over the city. It would be a fuller picture and one I know many players enjoy once they get to see it. It would make the Edmonton a more desirable place to play.
I know many of you are saying with all the talent that has been assembled here players will be fighting to come here. That is true, but there are other teams with talent as well. This visiting period would help a lot.
I still think a deal will get done and a season will get going. Will any of these issues push the deal over the top or hold it back? No, but they are little things that will be a change from past CBA deals. The one topic to watch for will be the drug testing. I am interested to see which way that goes.
Happy New Year to everyone!