Donald Fehr is leading the NHLPA through the CBA negotiation process for the first time. (Getty Images)
As the NHL lockout drags on, there will be (and indeed, already have been) many concepts of what a collective bargaining agreement solution could look like. I think it ought to be one that is fair to both sides - by which I mean a deal that includes concessions from both players and owners.
Right now, all the NHL owners are asking for are player concessions, making this (as a former NHLPA executive told me recently) more of an extraction than a negotiation. In response, the players have dug in their heels, leading to the extended staredown the league now faces.
That said, here’s my 11-point plan for a new NHL CBA:
Duration Of Agreement: Seven years.
1. Players’ Hockey-Related Revenue split drops one percentage point in each season of the CBA.
Rather than demanding drastic and immediate clawbacks that make the players’ association bristle, the NHL could allow players to slowly ease into a 50/50 split over the life of the labor deal. The bite of the reduction will sting NHLers less significantly, while still getting the owners their obsessed-over halfsies.
2. Dollar-For-Dollar Luxury Tax implemented, with all funds directed to improving revenue-sharing for small-market teams.
In return for giving up more of the HRR pie, players should receive some acknowledgement from owners they want to be part of the long-term solution to ensure nobody has to endure this lockout disgrace ever again. The way to do that is the way NHLPA executive director Don Fehr suggested in the union’s first CBA proposal: increased revenue sharing via a luxury tax for big-market teams that wish to exceed the cap.
You could be as creative as you want in terms of the particulars of the tax: you could allow teams to go over the cap by, say, 10 percent - but you could also dictate that any one team only can do so every other season through the CBA (or in four out of seven years), so as not to give the big-markets a permanent advantage. Or you could allow it every season.
You also could structure the luxury tax so it serves strictly as a way to keep intact teams that draft and develop properly (rather than continue to force Cup champs like the 2010 Blackhawks to drastically change their lineup) by instituting an NBA style “Larry Bird exception” permitting teams to exceed the cap by a particular percentage so long as they spent that money on players originally drafted by that organization.
Regardless of the final version, a luxury tax is a show of good faith from the owners that they aren’t just pocketing their bigger share of revenue - and it’s also a gift to those successful franchises (or driven owners) who could flex more of their financial muscle.
3. Salary Floor/Ceiling Decided By Percentage.
Critics of the cap often argue the salary minimum should be scrapped altogether to give small-market teams a better chance at profitability. The problem with this is it creates potential for the NHL’s have-not teams to not put a cent of their revenue-sharing monies back into the lineup (the best example can be seen with Major League Baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals, whose owners have made those teams glorified feeder systems for big-market franchises).
Instead of doing away altogether with the cap floor, you could calculate it differently. For instance, the expired CBA had a hard-money fixed differential of $16 million for the past seven years, but if you established the cap floor as a percentage of the ceiling, it would give teams much more financial leeway.
Take the differential in 2005-06: the cap ceiling was $39 million and the floor was $23 million; the floor was 58.97 percent of the ceiling. If you applied that same percentage every year instead of the $16 million, you’d be looking at a cap ceiling of $70.2 million and a floor of $41.4 million for the 2012-13 campaign. (Currently, the floor would be $54.2 million.) That change gives much more breathing room to small-market franchises without totally absolving them of a responsibility to invest any foreign aid in the product they claim to care about.
4. Contract Lengths Capped At Seven Years.
There are elements on the players’ side who think there should be no maximum number of years on any given NHL contract. I disagree. Many of these long-term deals become more of an albatross to the player - just ask Wade Redden, Roberto Luongo or Rick DiPietro - than a benefit.
The easy response to capping contract term is it hurts the players, but with the exception of those who suffer long-term injuries, shorter contract terms can add up to more money for many, if not most the league’s top athletes. There’s not as much security, but the tradeoff comes with knowing those NHLers who have extended careers will receive more opportunities to return to the negotiating table and assure themselves of current market value (rather than a below-market pricetag that almost always comes along with a long-term pact).
5. Entry level contracts extended to four years.
The owners’ first proposal wanted rookie contracts to be extended to five years, while the players wish for them to remain at the current three. This is one of those areas where compromise in the middle works.
The owners and GMs still would have to project what a young player will become to some degree after four years, but if that player has given them four years of solid service - or has come on strong and progressed every season - owners should have to recognize that by making a serious investment in their future.
6. Unrestricted Free Agency status remains attainable after seven years.
The owners’ demand that UFA status only be attained after 10 years is preposterous and an abject denial of the reality the average NHLer’s career lasts half that long. If a player has carved out seven years in hockey’s top league - and the owners are getting their 50/50 split - it shouldn’t matter when he gets to decide his future. The status quo works here.
7. A Ban On All No-Trade/No-Movement Clauses.
This factor is important to fans because it opens up the trade market that, for the most part, has been mind-numbingly stagnant. Players will be loathe to give it up, because at a time when teams are leaning on them to take “hometown discounts,” the security of a no-trade clause is one of the few assurances of stability they can get.
But you know what I say to that? In return for giving up veto powers in a trade, players should stop taking hometown discounts. But even if they didn’t want to give up full no-trade clauses, players could compromise here as well: it could be stipulated that players only get to submit a maximum list of five teams they refuse to be traded to. That would stir trade possibilities without robbing players of all their employment options.
8. Full NHL Participation In All Olympic Games.
It’s important to the players, it grows the game, fans adore it. Owners may have logistics problems depending on where the games are located, but just as players have to deal with their logistics problems after giving up full no-trade clauses, owners have to give back in other areas like this one.
9. Mandatory Visors Grandfathered In For All Players.
The NHLPA wants members to decide on eye protection, but I don’t. If the league can insist on forcing players to take less of a cut of revenue, they also can insist on half-shields for all players entering the league. This is long overdue.
10. A Supplemental Discipline panel and tougher punitive measures.
The NHLPA is caught between a rock and a hard place here: they don’t want players hurt and believe cheapshot artists must be made more accountable, but they also don’t want to be bilked for hundreds of thousands of dollars as James Wisniewski was last season - and they definitely don’t want the only appeal process for NHL chief disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan’s rulings to lead to the office of the commissioner who employs Shanahan.
That’s why involved leadership on both sides is necessary; players must realize a safer league means tougher suspensions, and owners must come to terms with giving the players more of a voice - or at least, an appeals process that has real teeth.
11. A standardized, more consistent and meaningful treatment for concussed players.
Most people acknowledge the issue of head injuries in sport will grow in prominence in the years to come. But despite the NHL’s insistence they have drastically improved the way in which they deal with concussions, the reality is there is no standardized response and no league-wide regulations that go far enough.
There needs to be a minimum sit-out period for any concussed player (just as there is in the UFC/Mixed Martial Arts business for other players who punch each other in the head). The same therapeutic options must be made available for players on all teams (something that isn’t a reality now). And there must be more league funds directed to (a) assisting players who have suffered long-term concussion effects and (b) research into the issue.
The players and owners have shown they can be strident as hell when it comes to finance, so they certainly can be just as insistent on a better, safer working environment and post-playing-career quality of life.
Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His Power Rankings appear Mondays during the regular season, his column appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature Fridays.
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