Sometimes a great party can be ruined the morning after; when drama surfaces and everything is dirty. After the Stanley Cup Finals, the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement will expire in September. For the past twenty years, the NHL has been the worst of the major sports in solving Collective Bargaining Agreements; the NHL went on strike just before the end of the 1992 regular season; another lockout shortened season derailed the momentum the NHL gained from an outstanding 1994 playoff in 1995, but worst of all was the labor strike in 2004. The NHL & NHLPA were so far apart on their issues that the league was forced to shut down for a season. Many writers claimed the cancellation of the league’s season was inevitable and that owners preferred the shutdown over playing with the current CBA. Since then, the NHL Players Association has changed leadership after “getting whipped” in the last negotiations to former MLB Players Association President Donald Fehr. If you think that means labor peace… as Judas Priest said, “You got another thing coming.”
Donald Fehr’s leadership led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series and doomed the Montreal Expos franchise. Now the NHLPA has a bad track record of commissioners with Alan Eagleson, Bob Goodenow and Ted Saskin, but Fehr is a fighter for his players- even if it hurts them in the long run. The average MLB salary rose from $289,000 (1983) to $3.3 million (present). The NHLPA would like similar success, but one note must be the Steroid Era. Fehr presided over Baseball’s Steroid Era (1988-2003) and fought for the players rights to privacy from drug testing. His union abused that privilege by taking performance enhancing drugs. As a result MLB introduced Drug Testing in 2003, which is still causing controversy. Now drug testing is already collectively bargained and not an issue, but that Fehr went as far as to Capital Hill to argue on behalf of his players and took a beating from senators as well as the media. THAT is the leadership the NHLPA wants.
Hopefully for the good of the game, Fehr will consider that this sport CANNOT prosper with a work stoppage, but needs some changes to help his players. As a hard line negotiator, Fehr will challenge NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and get some changes.
Here’s a few suggestions:
Create a Redden Rule - Wade Redden signed a six year/$39 million dollar contract on July 1st, 2008. Redden was supposed to be the top blue liner and a quality leader for the Rangers. He wasn’t. Redden’s two year numbers with the Rangers never amounted to his final season in Ottawa. On September 10th, 2010, Redden was sent to the Rangers’ AHL team in Hartford to play for his millions. While every Rangers’ prospect has credited Redden for being a leader and a quality pro, Redden deserves better. If there was a player buyout option or something to alleviate this situation, Redden could resume his career elsewhere. The problem is Redden’s contract. No team will touch him and if the Rangers recalled the former All-Star, they’d be stuck with half the salary if Redden is claimed on waivers. Now, this was also used by the Edmonton Oilers on Sheldon Souray so it’s not just a big market advantage, but it is a mechanism for big market teams to circumvent the salary cap if needed.
Revenue Sharing - This would help teams that are struggling to meet the salary cap floor like the Phoenix Coyotes, New York Islanders and Florida Panthers. More money to more teams around the league means more jobs for players currently in the union instead of teams calling up cheaper minor league players to fill in holes.
Realignment - Though this seems simpler than what it should be, the NHL proposed a radical realignment that would isolate the Florida teams. The NHLPA rejected that proposal and Fehr said that the players should be consulted. Then again, how hard is it to move Columbus to the Eastern Conference South Division?
Limit Salary Rollback- The league is going to ask for a rollback from 57% towards a more league friendly 50-52% like the NFL & NBA. The NHL makes $2.27 billion in revenue after it hit home-runs with the Winter Classic and partnering with NBC and HBO’s 24/7. Asking the players to take a lower percentage isn’t such a bad thing, but how greedy will the owners get?
The Ilya Kovalchuk Contract Limits - Long term contracts have been a black eye (see Ilya Bryzgalov) and a disaster for the league, but when the league vetoed the Ilya Kovalchuk’s 17 years/$102 million contract in 2010, the NHLPA received another issue for the table. The Kovalchuk deal violated the “spirit of the salary cap”, but what exactly is that? The HEAVILY front loaded contract would have paid Kovalchuk till he’s 44 with only a $6 million dollar cap hit during its span. The depreciating value of the contract was the issue. Kovalchuk would have made $10 million on his 36th birthday, but drop to under $1 million by his 39th-44th. Other players got away with those contracts, but the league was adamant to not let this one go through. The reworked deal now has the last two years payout at $3m & $4. However, the precedent was set and the New York Rangers used a similar contract to pay Brad Richards $57 million until his final three years when he makes $1m per season.
Fehr has his work cut out for him. If he is to help the NHLPA, he must know that a lockout or strike would devastate what he is trying to accomplish: the growth of the game to benefit it’s players. Fehr has always been brilliant in helping out his players and former Rangers’ defenseman-now-player-agent Tom Laidlaw credits him with understanding that hockey mentality isn’t baseball’s. Hopefully, he’ll get a good enough deal to not hurt to sport. As much as NHL fans want to be calm, they have plenty to Fehr in this off-season.