With the rumoured initial offer from the NHL owners to the NHLPA hitting the internet last night, we have seen no shortage of freak outs. I guess itâ€™s understandable as not many people are familiar with labour negotiations, and everyone wants to see hockey start on time in the fall.
The reality is much more optimistic than it appears. For one itâ€™s encouraging that two weeks into discussion one side has already put forth a proposal. Secondly, itâ€™s damn encouraging that the scheduled meetings for next week will proceed as planned, and that there are three of them. A lot can be accomplished in three days.
While part of me is being naive or optimistic itâ€™s at the very least too early to panic. Considering the long wait for these talks to start, the league and union are certainly making up for lost time. Itâ€™s also damned encouraging that the NHLPA provides regular updates on the talks from Donald Fehr on their website. When the PA is unhappy youâ€™ll notice a sharp change in his tone and these updates will cease.
So letâ€™s look at what actually proposed according to Renaud Lavoie (via Pro Hockey Talk.) Itâ€™s safe to say that these proposals are quite ridiculous, but most initial offers are, and the fact that Donald Fehr didnâ€™t storm out of the room shows that heâ€™s a pro and above certain tactics that are far too common in these types of proceedings.
â€œOwners propose that players should reduce their share of the revenue from 57 percent to 46, a nine percent decrease.â€
Okay, thatâ€™s a pretty drastic pay cut (22%) if that is what is intended by this proposal. Most people are looking at this as a straight salary slash. I donâ€™t see that. I also donâ€™t see a time frame for implementation. If this is over a 5 year transition in the revenue sharing amount it may not be that bad. Itâ€™s also worth noting that there is plenty of room to find middle ground. Optimistically, as long as the players are above 50% and the change isnâ€™t immediate, this doesnâ€™t seem horrible.
This proposal also seems to reek of rich teams growing weary of paying for struggling ones.
From the players point of view, Iâ€™d imagine this would be the proposed change that they would use to leverage the removal of escrow.
â€œOwners want players to go through 10 NHL seasons before they qualify for unrestricted free agency.â€
This one is interesting because it certainly puts a dent in the already uneventful Unrestricted Free Agency. It makes it more challenging to add pieces (though it might encourage offer sheets and more frequent trading,) and many players already lock themselves up past their free agency date. However this certainly puts some control on contracts. You can dig your heels in a little deeper when the player needs to negotiate through one team for their salary.
Now of course the 10 years seems like quite a job from 7, but of course there is plenty of middle ground. What is sparking this is players starting their careers sooner. An additional year or two seems like it could come about, but the NHL will have to concede something along the way. This might give the PA some leverage to advocate for NHL teams not being able to bury contracts in the minors without consequence.
â€œContract length limited to five years.â€
Iâ€™m shocked by this because I would say teams are just as guilty of this as players. I donâ€™t see this going anywhere. Teams want the lower cap hits, players want a guaranteed pay cheque. This seems like something that can be a healthy, collaborative process in fixing a loop hole, or it could be something scrapped all together. Weâ€™re not going to see a lockout because of this point.
â€œNo more salary arbitration.â€
Both sides have issues with the current process. I donâ€™t think it completely goes away, because when organizations and union members confront each other there needs to be some form of mediation available, but Iâ€™d imagine thereâ€™s an huge appetite for change here.
â€œOwners want entry-level contracts to last five years instead of threeâ€
This is another item stemming from players starting their careers earlier and I can see some value in this from the owners standpoint. From a players standpoint youâ€™d have to imagine theyâ€™ll be arguing for a higher payday for rookies if they have to wait an extra couple of years. You can also plan on the draft age not going up to 19. If the players wonâ€™t budge on the 3 year entry level contract I wouldnâ€™t be surprised by draft age shifting to 19 year olds. Itâ€™s also unlikely that if the league goes to a five year ELC that the players would allow the slide rule to continue and might shift to wanting only one year to sign players before they head back into the draft. I also wouldnâ€™t rule on this proposal bringing about more Eric Lindros type situations where players are going to be reluctant to join organizations because they are locked in for such a long period.
This might be the most contentious point in the NHL ownerâ€™s initial proposal.
Finally, as always, take what the media is reporting with a grain of salt. Sports Journalists know about sports. They are not up on negotiations and labour law. They know as much as fans do and some have a hard time admitting that. I have been fortunate enough to have been involved in work related to large labour CBAs in the past and certainly would not call myself an expert on this subject matter. I would say that there is too much â€œthe sky is fallingâ€ out there on the subject and look forward to occasionally providing my perspective.