According to Renaud Lavoie of RDS, the NHL's owners have laid out an ambitious set of demands in the opening stages of negotiation for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Players Association, to replace the one expiring this September.
Actually, "ambitious" is too gentle a word for this. Rapacious, perhaps? Remember, this is the opening salvo in what is sure to be a months-long battle, one which (we all hope) gets concluded in September. But once you see what the owners are asking for, it's hard to not get pessimistic about the 2012-2013 season starting on time.
Let's break down each of the positions as detailed by Lavoie, with a quick assessment of how it all fits together...
First off, here are the items which Lavoie shared via Twitter this evening:
NHL proposal to players: 1-reduce players hockey related revenues to 46% from 57 %. 2-10 seasons in NHL before being UFA.— Renaud P Lavoie (@RenLavoieRDS) July 14, 2012
3-contracts limites to 5 years 4-no more salary arbitration. 5- entry-level contract 5 years instead of 3.— Renaud P Lavoie (@RenLavoieRDS) July 14, 2012
Reduce Player Share to 46%
Like an opening jab to the nose, this is sure to draw the most attention, and is easily the biggest issue on the table. Currently, the players get 57% of Hockey Related Revenues, which have been estimated at $3.3 billion for the recently completed 2011-2012 NHL season. A reduction from 57% to 46% would take almost $300 million out of the players' share, and you can bet that they'll fight this point aggressively.
With the salary cap currently set at $70.2 million, this move would knock it down to $56.7 million, and you can bet that the only practical way to accomplish this would involve a rollback on all existing contracts of roughly 20%, just like they did in 2005. Otherwise, the burden of this cut would fall solely on this summer's free agent class, and force draconian moves by teams to get under the new cap.
So there you go, let's start with a 20% pay cut, everybody.
10 Years to Unrestricted Free Agency
Currently, NHL players have to achieve age 27 or have 7 years of North American pro experience to reach unrestricted free agent status, a timeline which is longer than in the other major pro sports. Prior to the 2005 CBA, the age for eligibility was 31, and apparently the owners want to get back to the good old days, by pushing the timeline out to 10 seasons of service.
To me, this is an item on which the owners can budge during negotiation in order to win points elsewhere, because as long as they have a salary cap in place, they know how much they'll spend on player salaries in total. How that money gets divided between the players is a relatively minor concern financially, but for the players, this is a major quality of life issue. Pro athletes place tremendous value on the chance for unrestricted free agency, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them concede a bit on the financial side in order to move this timeline up.
Contract Limit of 5 years
Attention Shea Weber - if you want that 12-year contract, this summer may be your last chance to get it.
Long-term contracts have been a controversial aspect of the current CBA environment, providing a loophole for teams to get around salary cap restrictions. Since each player's cap hit is determined by the average annual salary on a deal, throwing a few bogus years on at the end for $1 million apiece brings the overall average down, allowing you to pay a guy $8 million but have him only count $6 million against the cap.
Certainly the players want the flexibility of signing 10- or 15-year deals, but really, this aspect of the negotiation could have started off much nastier.
Assuming that Lavoie is touching on all the major points of the owners' proposal, it looks like the players are not being threatened on a front where they enjoy a huge benefit over the NFL - Guaranteed Contracts. In the NHL, if a player has a 5-year contract and gets severely injured in his first game, he continues to get paid for the duration of the deal.
If the owners indeed aren't going after guaranteed contracts, then perhaps things aren't going to be quite as contentious as could have been feared, and a 5-year limit could act as a limiting factor for their liability on these guarantees.
Ending Salary Arbitration
Nobody really likes salary arbitration, but at least it provides a mechanism for Restricted Free Agents to try and get a market-level contract in the event that a team tries to put the screws to them. So few players actually end up in an arbitration hearing that this shouldn't turn into a major battlefield, but when combined with the 10-year timeline to UFA status, this would take away a useful negotiating tool for most players in the league (since only a minority make it to 10 years).
Extend Entry Level Contracts to 5 years
Young players in the NHL are the best value in the biz, since they have basically no negotiating room and salaries are capped at modest levels. For most of them, they have to put in three seasons before earning that second contract (case in point - Colin Wilson this summer), and extending that time period to 5 years would really keep them under thumb.
As @SteffeG observed on Twitter, you have to imagine that many European players would say "screw that" and opt for the bright lights of the KHL instead.
If something like this did go through, however, the whole "draft & develop" model would become even more critical for team success, which would be a positive for a team like Nashville.
Update: Larry Brooks of the New York Post tosses in another couple items:
Post has learned proposal would eliminate signing bonuses and mandate same salary in each season with 5-yr term limit— Larry Brooks(@NYP_Brooksie) July 14, 2012
So... no more allowing a salary to vary from season to season? That strikes me as an odd one. It would make salary cap management much simpler, certainly.
Post has learned proposal calls for ceiling to be set $4M above midpoint, floor $8M under— Larry Brooks(@NYP_Brooksie) July 14, 2012
This move would narrow the gap between the big- and small-market teams even further (the current spread is $16 million, not the $12 million envisioned here).
The Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning?
Remember, this is just the opening move by the owners. They surely won't get everything on their wish list... right? Right?