The Lockout Continues
After beginning these current CBA negotiations with the National Hockey League Players’ Association earlier this summer featuring a profit margin split of 57% to 43% in favor of themselves, the 50-50 offer the NHL tabled this week made it seem as if they were bending over backwards to accommodate the players at the negotiating table.
The NHL’s revised offer to the players association that dropped on Tuesday afternoon sparked hope among the hockey world that meaningful games could begin as early as November 2nd of this year.
At least we didn’t have to wait long to have the wind taken out of our sails.
The NHLPA returned the favor this afternoon by preparing three separate CBA proposals in return, the latter of which contained the same 50-50 split in revenues that the NHL proposed just two days earlier.
There was, however, one major caveat in the union’s deal.
The players were willing to accept the 50-50 revenue split if the owners were willing to honor current contracts.
That proposal disgusted NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in such a way that he viewed the offer as “a step backwards.”
For a more solid understanding of the bizarre nature of that comment, let’s take a step back and remember how we arrived at this moment in the first place.
Gary Bettman last locked the players out for an entire season because the league needed cost certainty. The market wasn’t such that low-budget teams could manage to stay competitive in a world with no salary cap.
The purpose of the salary cap, of course, was to mitigate financial disaster at the hands of a wide open shooting gallery in the world of free agency.
The salary cap was going to dictate the market. Every team had to spend to one point but not beyond the other. General managers were not only faced with the challenges that come with orchestrating a hockey team that works together, but now he had to do it under fiscal restraints and handcuffs.
But as time went on, and as revenue steadily increased, the salary cap the owners sacrificed an entire season for began to take on a different shape; it had become mangled. As time wore on, circumventing the cap became a new and exciting challenge in the NHL. Regardless of the fact the cost certainty had made its arrival into the league successfully, the more trade deadlines and free agent signings took on a look of a new nature.
When an asset becomes overvalued in a major way, the entire market can change as a result. It can skew the fiscal view of nearly every NHL player on a professional roster.
When ridiculous contracts get handed out with regularity, we experience moments like Jeff Finger receiving a 4 year, 14 million dollar contact offer from the Toronto Maple Leafs in July of 2008.
From there, we head to Scott Gomez receiving a deal that results in a 7.3 million dollar cap hit courtesy of Glen Sather and the New York Rangers.
Fast forward again to Ville Leino, a player that has scored a total of 38 career NHL goals, is on a contract of 5 million dollars per year.
To be quite frank with you, things got out of control in a big way.
That doesn’t mean that every team has bent the rules in such a flagrant, Philadelphia-esque manner. Take a look at your own Pittsburgh Penguins, for example. In comparison to some of these “legacy deals” that are being thrown about, the Penguins had the best player in the world, Sidney Crosby, signed to a competitive 8.7 million dollars per year. The deals they’ve orchestrated recently with both Chris Kunitz and 40 goal scorer James Neal turned out to be extremely competitive and fair to both team and player.
But it only takes a few (a few being 8 in the NHL’s case) teams to change the entire fiscal landscape of a sport.
The oft-scapegoated Paul Martin often gets trashed by fans for being signed to a 4 million dollar cap hit, but it isn’t so bad when you consider that Joni Pitkanen and Sergei Gonchar make more than he does.
At the end of the day, the numbers did end up foggy for the owners. It appeared that if they had accepted the NHLPA’s third offer that featured the 50-50 revenue split, the split would actually favor the players and might not even reach the 50-50 mark that the union is actually proposing. Those numbers haven’t been published yet.
At the end of the day, any hope for an agreement seems to be dimming by the week. More game cancellations are on the horizon and there are no further talks to take place.
It seems that the NHL doesn’t see the appeal of accountability in this case. The suggestion that they honor the contracts they signed with the players has somehow made the gap even larger than it was before.
I suppose the main question that begs to be asked in the midst of all this would be why sign those contracts in the first place?
Pardon my sarcasm, but are we to think that Minnesota signing Ryan Suter to a 13 year, 98 million dollar, front-loaded contract was a bad idea?
If that is the owners stance, then perhaps the road to watching the game we love may have just stretched farther than we’d ever anticipated. In these negotiations, words like “posturing” and “honor” are enough to make even the most seasoned of negotiators squirm in their chair.