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Shorter contract lengths would be curse in disguise

Following a day of negotiations with the NHL Players Association, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly had nothing but bad news for fans. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Following a day of negotiations with the NHL Players Association, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly had nothing but bad news for fans. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

NEW YORK – Some random thoughts on the heels of the debacle known as the latest round of collective bargaining negotiations:

WATCH WHAT YOU WISH FOR

I thought the most interesting thing anyone said Thursday came from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, who said that restricting players to five-year contracts is “the hill we will die on.”

You have to wonder how a so-called moderate owner such as Ron Burkle of the Pittsburgh Penguins felt about that one. Burkle’s Penguins have Sidney Crosby signed to a 12-year deal that is supposed to kick in next season. The same goes for the Edmonton Oilers, who have Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall locked up long-term and will likely do the same when it comes time with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The Los Angeles Kings have Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick tied up for another 22 years combined.

The league had better watch what it wishes for here. There’s a good chance what you’ll begin to see instead of 10-year contracts worth $70 million are five-year contracts worth $70 million, or seven-year deals worth $70 million. The same amount of money the owners are putting out now would just be crammed into fewer years, which will create a system where superstars are highly paid and the rest make minimum wage. It would effectively wipe out the middle class in the NHL.

And despite the notion that players will not honor the final years of front-loaded deals, we have no real evidence that’s actually going to be the case. Daniel Alfredsson, for example, was prepared to play this season for $1 million, an amount that will be even less during a truncated season.

During his address Thursday night, Gary Bettman pointed out that prior to the last CBA, there was one contract in excess of six years and now there are 90. Well, of course that’s going to be the case. It’s the salary cap system that the NHL so desperately needed that has created all those long-term deals in the first place. Teams are signing players to these absurdly lengthy deals and tacking years on at the end at low salaries only as a means of bringing down the annual average salary, thereby reducing the cap hit. Superstars aren’t going to suddenly start commanding less money, so they’ll get it all within the confines of a shorter deal.

FEHR AND BETTMAN WERE NEEDED, AFTER ALL

Winnipeg Jets defenseman Ron Hainsey, who has been one of the most active players on in this negotiation, said Thursday night that there’s no way this deal gets completed without the principals on each side taking part.

Which underlines the criticism I had of the owner-player negotiation tactic in the first place. If these deals could get done without scads of lawyers and advisors, the league wouldn’t be paying Gary Bettman almost $8 million a year and the players would not have gone and hired Don Fehr.

If it’s impossible to do a deal without the involvement of Fehr and Bettman, then they should be in the room at all times. Including more people and more ideas is a great thing, but all it does is create false optimism and an artificial sense of accomplishment when those same people go back to their leadership only to have the progress halted. If you can’t get a deal that satisfies the ownership hawks, the small markets and the players, you don’t have a deal. And there’s no creative way of bargaining around that.

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BYE BYE, TV

If I’m a player watching Gary Bettman’s news conference last night, I’m in the market for a new television because I’ve put my foot through the one I had.

Kick No. 1: “Ultimately (the owners) keep giving and giving and giving and giving and the union keeps taking and taking. At some point, you’ve given as much, if not more than you probably should have and at some point you have to draw a line in the sand.”

No matter whose side you’re on this dispute, that was patently absurd. The owners keep giving and giving? Really? Well, if you measure their benevolence against their joke of an offer to open negotiations, then perhaps they are. But if you compare it to the starting point, which was the last CBA, the league is taking back in almost every area. For Bettman to portray the league’s stance as one where it’s making concessions is ridiculous.

Kick No. 2: “The players have been, and I think it’s great, very well treated under this collective bargaining agreement. You look at our new arenas, the way our teams travel, you look at the number of coaches, the number of trainers, the number of masseuses…”

For Bettman to bring up the number of masseuses, which by the way is not the first time he’s done it, would be tantamount to the players bringing up something like hospital visits on behalf of the teams. A $3.3 billion industry is going down the sinkhole and its leader is talking about how the players are so well treated because they get treatment.

WHAT'S FEHR? WHAT'S FOUL?

Bettman, however, does not have the market cornered on disingenuousness. He said he found it incomprehensible that Fehr characterized things as being so close to an agreement and he had a point. Even if Fehr were wearing the world’s largest set of rose colored glasses, there’s absolutely no way he could have left the meetings yesterday thinking the two sides were close to a deal. They were close in some of the key money issues, but light years apart in others.

He had to know that. One would think he also had to know how bad the league would look in throwing cold water on the optimism he created.

 

Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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