Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Chirping The CBA: Owners Lob A Fastball

So it sounds like we're down to serious activity with the CBA negotiations.  Whether or not this is a serious offer or a serious PR stunt remains to be seen.

So let's peruse the low highlights of the offer:

50/50 split of Hockey Related Revenues

This marks a serious movement on the league after we started at a ridiculous 42-58 split.  So this is movement to what is commonly thought of as a "fair" split.  But in the longer run it doesn't mean much.  It certainly won't solve the problem of Phoenix, let alone those other southern American franchises which are not profitable -- something which was the express goal of the NHL in these negotiations.

Free agency would start at 28 or eight years of service

...which is an increase on both counts in the current deal.  Locking up players rights longer means that the owners have assets longer that they can leverage either in the arena or against each other for trade.

Entry level contacts last four years

...same reason, excepts this keeps players cheap for an additional year.  I'm not sure I like this.  The players are the lifeblood on the league, and many of them don't last long enough to see the large payouts.  Keeping them cheap longer seems a lousy way to short-change money.  If anything, the owners are offering the existing players a way to hedge their future earnings by restricting the earnings of the future union members -- if young players are cheaper longer, then they won't be providing pressure on caps -- meaning the existing players can get paid more in the short run.  But my feeling is that those young guys who are not going to make it should get paid more.  Seems... fairer some how.

Put those three things together and you have the total pool being cut, but younger players are going to cost less over the long run.  This will only inflate free agent salaries as if you make the bulk of your players cheap, you have to make up the difference somewhere else.

Maximum contract length of five years

This is such a good idea it stuns me.  I'm shocked to see such a common sense proposal -- from either side, frankly.  Now I'm sure that once the CBA is signed, the clever wonks will be all over it looking for other ways to pay players ridiculous amounts of money.  But this proposal would limit the amount of damage that owners and managers could do to their franchises, damage that all to often outlives said owners and managers.

Revenue sharing pool of $200 million

I'm not sure this is enough to make those other franchises viable.  It is a start, though.  No word on how this pool would be generated.  If it is an off-the-top skim from all franchises, including the ones in trouble, well then it is laughably insufficient.

Arbitration would still exist

Only notable because the NHL's previous offers explicitly killed arbitrarion.

NHL Players in AHL would have their contracts count against the signing NHL club's cap

...aka the Wade Redden clause.  I don't like this one, I think it penalizes a NHL club more than it should for signing a bad contract.  By all means make them pay out the contract value, but I'm not against burying that contract in the AHL as long as the hockey player gets paid.  Yes, such a clause would act as a disincentive to making bad offers.  But it would also reduce the supply of bad contracts that every year are sent up and down through waivers, which reduces the chance that someone might be picked up off of waivers.  Sure, Redden is a bad deal at $6 million.  But $3 million?  Maybe someone* would take a chance on him.

Must... not... smirk.
My Conclusion

I think this straddles the middle ground between serious offer and PR-pandering.  50-50 is widely seen as a "fair" split, echoing the levels seen in other professional sports.  Since much has been made of the revenue splits in the mainstream media, this would make Joe Q. Public think yeah, we're there, get the deal done.  The revenue sharing is an improvement -- "yeah, we're there, get the deal done." However the devil is going to be in the details.  I don't think the PA will want to give on the free agency or the entry level contracts.  The "Wade Redden" clause is a blatant throw-away clause, something the owners are willing to "walk away" from in order to gain another concession -- I doubt it will make it into the final agreement.

In total, I think that this could be the basis for a serious counter offer from the PA, and if the PA ignores or craps all over it, the league can use it as a platform to blast the media with the message "well we tried, but the union is the reason why you don't have any hockey".

Either way, the union has to respond.  I'd look for a counter offer of some form from the union, probably before the end of the week.  The media spin, of course, starts now.


*= OK yeah not me either, but hypothetically speaking.