NHLPA will offer plenty of input when it responds to league’s deal
By Rob Rossi
Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012, 10:42 p.m.
Updated: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Any notion that the NHL and players' union had not agreed on anything by Day 39 of the lockout is not entirely true.
Neither side is fond of referring to talks about issues in this labor dispute as actual negotiations.
The NHL has, however, proposed a new collective bargaining agreement. An offer made Tuesday by commissioner Gary Bettman was aimed at beginning an 82-game regular season Nov. 2, he said.
The union led by Donald Fehr planned to respond with a counterproposal Thursday during a meeting in Toronto. A breakdown of the NHL's main proposal points and where there is room for negotiation:
Hockey-related revenue accounting
The NHL calls for hockey-related revenue that is “subject to mutual clarification of existing interpretations and settlements.” This sounds swell, but players see a devil in the details — and, as Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said, “There aren't a lot of details.”
The NHLPA will seek clear definitions of HRR, likely ones that make up for a revenue share the NHL has proposed drop from 57 percent in favor of players to an even split.
Payroll range/cap accounting
The NHL has computed for a $51.9 million midpoint, which would result in a $59.9 million cap and $43.9 million floor this year. Clubs can exceed the cap as part of “transition rules,” but no club's average salary can top the pre-CBA cap of $70.2 million. The union can haggle over calculations, but the NHL is unlikely to move higher for the first cap of this CBA.
The union will fight a five-year max on veteran contracts, and it will probably see a concession from the NHL.
The NHL has adopted a union idea of trading cap space, with restrictions. That could help the owners score a win for their general managers, who have long loathed the idea of burying players on one-way contracts in the minors to save cap space. The NHL has pushed to eliminate that option, and the union may cede that ground to keep the cap space trading option.
Owners wanted to eliminate long deals that are heavily back- or frontloaded. The NHL offer calls for a maximum year-to-year increase or decrease limitation of 5 percent. The union could contest this point, but owners are unlikely to budge.
This is a complicated but important aspect, and the union and NHL are not on the same page.
The union believes higher revenue clubs should better help lower revenue ones, and the NHL's commitment to a $200 million pool for this season probably will not fly with the NHLPA.
This point of dispute is about more than just that number, but that number could be a problem for the union, even though the NHL's previous offer was a $150 million pool.
A “neutral” third-party arbitrator would preside over appeal of what the NHL has defined as a “clearly erroneous” standard of review. The union favors a third-party arbitrator ruling on discipline matters, but it will likely fight for that to be the only standard. The NHL may have to give on this to get something else.
Bettman said this offer contained “no rollback” of current salaries. The offer “retains all current (contracts) at their current face value for the duration of their terms, subject to the operation of the escrow mechanism.”
The union is adamant that previous contracts be paid to the dollar, but players do not trust this is possible if immediate implementation of a 50/50 revenue split is mandated.
If anything wrecks possible negotiations between the NHL and union, it should be the “Make Whole” provision proposed by the league. Simplified, the NHL has proposed that current contacts be honored but not immediately — rather in later years of the CBA. The union contends this will lead to players paying players because the counting of those later years against clubs' caps will leave less money for future free agents.
Rallying the troops
Excerpts from NHLPA chief Don Fehr's email to players and agents sent Tuesday night, hours after the NHL made a new offer to end the lockout:
• “They want to ‘clarify' (hockey-related revenue) definition and rules. It is not immediately clear what this means, but so far all of their ideas in this regard have had the effect of reducing HRR, and thereby lowering salaries.”
• “The proposal includes a ‘Make Whole' provision, to compensate players for the anticipated reduction in absolute dollars from last year (2011-12), to this year and next year. However, it would work like this. The Players Share in subsequent years would be reduced so that this ‘Make Whole' payment would be made. It is players paying players, not owners paying players. That is, players are ‘made whole' for reduced salaries in one year by reducing their salaries in later years.”
• “They also proposed that the players could appeal supplemental or commissioner discipline to a neutral arbitration, on a ‘clearly erroneous' standard, which, as a practical manner, makes it very unlikely that any decision would be overturned.”
• “We do not yet know whether this proposal is a serious attempt to negotiate an agreement, or just another step down the road. The next several days will be, in large part, an effort to discover the answer to that question.”