In under two weeks, the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NHL and its players’ association (NHLPA) runs out.
San Jose Sharks fans should brace for the worst, because it looks like a safe bet no new CBA will be in place by then. Last season’s poor performance could be the last thing in everyone’s mouth while an old team moves another year from its prime.
The two sides are talking, but the may have reached an impasse: NHL players want to keep their current salaries as is and the league refuses to do that. NHLPA chief Donald Fehr had this to say after negotiations broke down Friday, August 31:
“The response that was made to us is that if the players are not prepared to agree to an immediate reset in their aggregate salary levels, that is to say, as we understand it, a meaningful, absolute reduction in the players’ share in dollar terms for next year as compared to last year, that they see no point in discussing or responding to the proposals that we put forward at the meeting today.”
In practical terms, what the players are asking for is not plausible. A system that allowed the players’ share of the hockey-related revenue (HRR) come down without decreasing current salaries cannot work by simple math.
The Sharks, for example, would have to drop over $5 million in cap expenditures when they only have 21 players on the payroll as it is. Moving that much salary under the agreement as players see it would be extremely complicated.
Since many others would be waiving players, no one is likely to pick anyone up, building a glut of overpaid players that cannot be simply moved down or the players’ share of the HRR would be exceeded. Buyouts still cost the teams one-third as much in cap hit this upcoming season as they would have, forcing them to have to send extras down, not to mention cover the costs of that many in the minors being promoted, which sees their HRR share go up as they go from the minor to major league salary…
There are always solutions. Perhaps the players could allow the teams out of certain contracts, but that would probably require teams like the Sharks be able to cancel more than one. They will need to take rollbacks in their salary to get a deal done even though they should not have to.
They are being asked to do the same job for 24 percent less. If the owners need that much help, let the owners that are making money share more with them. Only the owners get the payoff when they choose to sell, as franchises grow in value faster than any team loses money. They just have to go into this knowing they will lose money until they sell, when the payoff will make it more than worth the dream ride of owning a sports team.
Perhaps they can do what NFL owners did and reduce the workload outside the game time. Travel time could be reduced with the new alignment the league suggested last year. The number of games could be reduced, especially in the preseason. Players could report later and morning skates could be optional.
The best players may be the ones most efficiently using their free time honing their skills. The best teams those that get the time together to make those players already a cohesive unit. That would be the kind of hockey most fans want, and offset some sloppier starts to the season.
But one way or another, these sides have to find a way to get this done within the month of September. And if they do not agree on a new CBA by the 15th, it will be the third lockout in the three negotiated by the league’s current commissioner Gary Bettman.