2012 NHL CBA: Arguing against an oft talked about subject

In the past, during times of labor peace between the NHL and NHL Players Association, there are always wishful-thinking subjects that pop up in discussion regarding the next collective bargaining agreement. These are things that should be proposed, or at least talked about during negotiations.

Yet, with the negotiations here and lingering since earlier this summer, there hasn't been word on one of these subjects in the press... So it looks like the topic likely hasn't been proposed / talked about during closed-door meetings between the league and the Union.

While many fans would jump on rule changes to the game as something that should be discussed, the CBA is more about money than about the on-ice product. We've seen that all summer long: hockey related revenues, revenue sharing, salary cap structure, escrow, contract lengths, etc.

But one topic we have not seen brought up in talks, something tossed about among idle fans in the past, is contract restructuring.

It's almost comical that you hear a term over and over again for years on end, thrown around casually in both the news and conversation, and yet the actual definition / explanation of the terminology in context isn't readily available without extensive research. "Contract restructuring" is a perfect example. The National Football League has had it for years. The National Basketball Association was throwing it around with their new CBA. But what is it? How does it work?

In essence, it's changing the terms of an agreed-upon contract between a player and a team for one reason or another. What you'll hear most often is that a player has his contract restructured in order to provide salary cap relief for a team.

Sounds like a plus, right? It's something that may be worthwhile to have in the NHL, especially when you look at some of the (outlandish) deals around the league that are structured to circumvent cap rules (extensive length, ridiculous money)... A contract restructuring toward a player who is overpaid makes sense.

But consider it in the context of the NFL and the ideals behind it become obfuscated. Players do not have guaranteed salaries in that league, and it's far and away easier to cut players from a team without substantial penalties under the cap. That's a necessity when a team is carrying 53 players on the active roster, where a revolving door is already in place. The tool of contract restructuring between a player and a team becomes an ultimatum for cap relief: Take less money or you (or someone else on the roster) will be cut.

While NHL fans have heard for years of players taking hometown discounts with new contracts (less money to play in certain cities), contract restructuring is a move phrased as "taking one for the team" that I'm not so certain players would go for. In the context of the NHL, it's not so easy to cut players or cut ties with player contracts. Buyout rules limit how often players can be bought-out and penalize teams for doing so (with extended hits against the salary cap that exceed the duration of the bought-out contract). While the idea of contract renegotiation must be more appealing than a buyout, it lessens the value of an agreed upon contract between the team and the player.

A counter-point would be to cite No Trade / No Move clauses and how often teams request them to be waived (why offer such terms if you're not necessarily going to honor them?). Those clauses are there for the sake of security, and a player retains the right to tell his team "no" when a franchise requests he waive the clause. The ability for owners to request a contract renegotiation with players is basically saying the terms of an agreed-upon contract are not iron clad in any facet.

The idea of a contract renegotiation or restructuring should appeal to ownership - being able to change terms on a whim. It gives them a clear domination over players and looks like a microcosm of what has been ongoing with the CBA discussions.

In the end we haven't heard of contract renegotiation and restructuring in these labor talks, and I doubt we will. The NHL Players Association already clings to guaranteed contracts, and we saw how adamantly they were against the implementation of a salary cap in 2004. Having a mechanism that further dilutes the value of a signed agreement between a team and an individual just isn't going to fly with them.

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