The current state of the NHL's labor negotiations
[This was first posted at SB Nation Seattle.]
The NHL and the NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) are in the midst of labor negotiations. The details of which are as much hearsay as they are fact, for all anyone knows. However, how they got to this point goes back to the end of the 2004-2005 full-season lockout.
On 16 February 2005, the NHL officially canceled a season. There was no Stanley Cup champion that year for the first time since 1919, when the Seattle Metropolitans and Montreal Canadiens series final had to be canceled due to the Spanish flu epidemic. The Stanley Cup itself is engraved with the words "2004-2005 Season Not Played" in the space where the team that won the Stanley Cup that year would've had their names engraved. It was the first time a major North American sport had canceled an entire season due to labor issues.
The biggest thing that the NHL owners wanted to institute a salary cap. Previous to that, the NHL had never had one. Obviously, the players' union didn't want that, so they held out on that one point for as long as possible. There were other, lesser disagreements, but that was the biggest one by far.
The NHL lockout officially ended on 21 July 2005 when the players' union finally agreed to a salary cap system, which tied player salaries to the league's revenues. The 2005-2006 season started on time, and that was, as they say, that. (For a more complete overview of what occurred during the last lockout, please refer to the CBC Sports' website on the topic. It documents all of the goings on eight years ago.)
The biggest problem with the NHL is that the revenue is largely gate-driven. Unlike the NFL and the NBA, the NHL does not have any truly lucrative TV contracts. It's been speculated that perhaps the fact that hockey doesn't translate well onto TV may be key the problem, but it may also have something to do with how the NHL itself is run. Regardless, the NHL's revenues are very dependent upon getting people in the seats at games.
And that leads us to where we are today.
The NHL's initial proposal back in July was not exactly compromising. The NHL wasn't trying to meet the NHLPA in the middle with a reasonable proposal. Instead, what they stated exactly what they wanted, which was very far away from what the NHLPA wants. Naturally. One could see it as a wish list, or as what they expect. However it's viewed, this was their starting point for negotiations:
NHL proposal to players: 1-reduce players hockey related revenues to 46% from 57 %. 2-10 seasons in NHL before being UFA.— Renaud P Lavoie (@RenLavoieRDS) July 14, 2012
3-contracts limites to 5 years 4-no more salary arbitration. 5- entry-level contract 5 years instead of 3.— Renaud P Lavoie (@RenLavoieRDS) July 14, 2012
The NHLPA took a month or so to put together a more reasonable proposal, which they presented to the NHL last Tuesday. They were obviously trying to be more compromising than the NHL. They termed their proposal as an alternative proposal, not as a counter-proposal.
(Instead of inserting all of Aaron Wards tweets on the topic - there are 10 of them - I'll just write down the text. You can find the actual tweets on his Twitter page. Aaron Ward is a former NHLer who now works for TSN.)
In NHLPA proposal,the artificial slowing of salary growth by players will go as follows: year 1 will increase by 2%,year 2 by 4% and in year 3 by 6%.If Revenue growth exceeds 10%,anything over 10% is subject to 57% that exists under present system #NHLPA #NHL
Important to remember average revenue growth is 7.1% so this is a three year payroll reduction of $465M to help teams in need. #TSN
Further clarification to NHLPA proposal to limit non player spending by teams. Player concessions in 2005 lowered player costs while non player costs sky rocketed. These costs can be defined as GM/Coaches salaries on down to Jet Fuel. Speaks to proposal theme of shared financial responsibility in the PARTNERSHIP. The extra draft pick for teams in financial trouble is very discretionary and would be mutually agreed upon by NHL/NHLPA on case by case basis with the intent to target the market/team in need. This would be very limited but the pick itself would serve the purpose of helping to revitalize a team. Lastly, a franchise in distress under special circumstances,would be permitted to trade/sell up to $4 million in cap space to another team giving the team a way of getting another 'paycheck'. This would be VERY limited and only available to teams in need. #TSN #CBA
As nothing has been released publicly by both sides, all of this may be viewed as a mix of speculation and fact. The NHL owners have not yet said anything publicly about the proposal, of course. But Commissioner Gary Bettman, their spokesman in this venture, has said that the owners were not happy with the NHLPA's proposal.
As with any sport, this isn't just the owners versus the players. It's also owners versus owners. In the NHL, there can be a large gap between the haves and the have-nots. Those that "have" are likely in charge of what the owners decide; they have the money, so they have more power. In all likelihood, those "have-nots" are probably fairly okay with what the NHLPA has presented, as what the players' union wants also helps out the teams that are struggling financially.
The deadline for this to be decided upon is 15 September, and the NHL owners have already stated that they will lockout the players if nothing is agreed upon by then. Many in the hockey media have been saying for months that the NHL season probably won't start on time. The consensus among much of the media seems to be that the season will start either in December or January, which happened before during 1994-1995 season and its partial lockout.
While there isn't any sort of public timeline in regards to this, it's probably reasonable to expect some news from the NHL owners' side of things sometime next week. There's a lot of posturing going on right now, and they haven't really said much in regards to the NHLPA's offer. Whether this gets done by the 15 September deadline is anyone's guess.
However, here is one interesting article to consider: Gary Bettman's language of NHL labour talks, then & now