The recent hiring of Paul Kelly as the new executive director of the NHLPA led to some discussion as to whether or not the players would exercise their right to terminate the current CBA following 2008-09.
While there has been some recent talk about the CBA being the "worst in professional sports," the reality is that considering the circumstances under which the current CBA was negotiated, it does include some pretty significant player-friendly factors that most fans are probably aware of, including: earlier ages for unrestricted free agency and salary arbitration rights; a continuation of guaranteed contracts (something NFL players do not enjoy); and an upper limit that floats with league revenues as opposed to a hard cap. Furthermore, the percentage of revenue received by the players also rises as revenues do, to the point where players could take home 56 percent of league revenues this season, up from 54 per cent in 2006-07.
In addition, there are many other aspects of the CBA that are less known that are improvements over the previous CBA. Here are four:
1. An improved pension plan. In 2003-04, under the old CBA, the NHL contributed a maximum of $15,250 (Cdn.) to each player's plan on an annual basis. That amount was increased to $42,000 (U.S.), in the first year of the new CBA and the maximum amount was $45,000 (U.S.), for the 2006-07 season.
2. A significant increase in the minimum salary. The minimum salary for 2004-05 was set to be $185,000. In the new CBA, the minimum began at $450,000 for Year 1 of the agreement and rises to $500,000 at the conclusion. As a point of reference, there were 55 players who appeared in at least 10 NHL games in 2003-04 who were under contract for $400,000 or less that season.
3. A change to how qualifying offers impacted AHL salary. The prior CBA did not contain a provision regarding how qualifying offers were to be treated in relation to AHL salary. As such, NHL teams could extend a qualifying offer to a player with any AHL salary as long as it was at or above the AHL minimum of $30,000. For example, say a player was under contract at $500,000/75,000 in 2003-04. In order to maintain its rights to that player, the NHL team only had to offer $550,000/$30,000. The net effect was that players were routinely trading away NHL dollars in order to get a higher AHL salary. However, the new CBA addressed that issue and now teams must submit a qualifying offer that includes an AHL salary at least equal to that of the prior year. So, if a player is under contract at $500,000/$75,000 now, the qualifying offer must be $550,000/$75,000.
4. Changes to the compensation schedule for signing Group 2 free agents. Perhaps one reason why there have been more offer sheets extended in the first two years of the current CBA than there were in the past several years of the old one (the last offer sheet prior to 2006 was in 1999) is that the compensation paid by the signing team is dramatically less under this CBA. For example, when the Edmonton Oilers signed Dustin Penner to an offer sheet this past off-season, the compensation owing to the Anaheim Ducks was a first, second and third round pick in the NHL entry draft. Under the prior CBA, a contract for that amount (an average annual salary of $4,250,000) would have meant surrendering three first round picks. By the end of the old CBA there was very little regard given to the possibility of a player receiving an offer sheet. Now offer sheets are a frequent topic of conversation and the threat of them is part of the reason so many of the game's best, young players have recently been locked up with long-term contracts.
Those are just a few of the many significant improvements in the new CBA that don’t get a lot of attention. Ultimately the players will have to decide if the current CBA serves their interests better than the alternative of terminating the agreement, which must be done by the NHLPA at least 120 days prior to Sept. 15, 2009.
PAINT BY NUMBERS One thing I will occasionally (maybe even frequently) do in this space is point out inaccuracies in the media so as to set the record straight on certain issues. I can't tell you the number of times I have read or heard completely inaccurate facts on a wide range of hockey-related subjects. But this week, I must say nothing in the hockey world caught my attention the way the following baseball item did.
Former Major League pitcher Rick Sutcliffe said during the telecast of Game 4 of the World Series the Boston Red Sox were definitely the sport's most popular team. When his broadcast partner questioned the comment and suggested the most popular team might be the New York Yankees, Sutcliffe insisted it was the Red Sox and, "he had the numbers to back it up."
Sutcliffe went on to say the Red Sox are more popular because they, and not the Yankees, led the majors in road attendance in 2007. Putting aside whether or not that one statistic is enough to prove that the Red Sox are more popular, doesn't Sutcliffe know why Boston's road attendance was higher than New York's – and it has nothing to do with Boston being a more popular team?
The Sox and Yankees played 18 times in 2007 – nine games in each city. When the Red Sox played in New York, the attendance was around 55,000 per game. When the Yankees played in Boston, the attendance was around 36,500 per game. That’s a function of Yankee Stadium holding nearly 20,000 more fans than Fenway Park. If you take out the Yankees-Red Sox games from the equation, the Yankees led the majors in road attendance in 2007. The Yankees also led the major leagues in road attendance in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006.
Rand Simon is an NHLPA certified agent. He has spent the past 14 years with Newport Sports Management Inc.