When you look at what the NHL Players’ Association brought upon itself when it agreed to a salary cap under what is essentially understood as the current structure, it’s quite clear Bob Goodenow was right about the whole concept.
The former NHLPA executive director claimed at the time it was basically a poison pill swallowed by the players, one that would go on harming their ability to get anywhere near market value for their services for years to come while the owners pocketed the lion’s share of the fruits of their labour.
Hockey players still make very high salaries, of course, and to many that contention sounds absurd. But when you consider the hockey owner brings nothing to the table in the way an owner of a traditional business does, it’s abundantly clear these hockey owners have no business claiming the percentage of the revenue they do right now, let alone what they’re after.
When the players consented to the present agreement they put themselves into this structure, and now all the league has to do is keep insisting on more.
The NHLPA’s first proposal talked about making some significant changes to that structure, but Gary Bettman’s second proposal Tuesday — which was supposed to have ‘significant’ and ‘meaningful’ movement — simply ignored that part of the NHLPA thrust.
Bettman’s response turned a deaf ear to the players’ attempt to break free of some of the structure they saddled themselves with in the past and simply restated another hardline position with exactly the same structure the NHL now delights in, with the added kick in the jollies of changing the definition of Hockey Related Revenue or HRR in the owners’ favour.
Where the NHLPA wanted to get away from escrow payments, that thrust was ignored to the point where the latest pitch would increase those payments to somewhere between 15 and 20 per cent of a player’s salary. And he had the temerity to claim this wasn’t a rollback, which has to be the line of these negotiations so far.
When the players suggested lowering their percentage from 57 per centto 54to create an industry growth fund, the idea was ignored.
According to this latest foray, which fortunately the players won’t come anywhere near accepting, at least until it’s significantly modified, the teams at or near the cap would have a significant bit of work to do to get from roughly $70 million now down to $58 million in this proposal.
One would expect an amnesty clause for at least one contract and some other plans to help teams accomplish this, but with 16 teams having to dump contracts, how effective would such an amnesty be with so few teams taking on new contracts? They would end up being virtual buyouts, maybe worse than buyouts for the dumping teams.
Even if the parties settled on a deal which resulted in, say, a $62-million cap in a first year when all is said and done, how difficult would it be for the Canucks and other high-spending teams to get down to that level while the weaker, revenue-sharing slugs with lower payrolls sat back, picked off amnesty players and benefited from the work of their helpful commissioner?
The owners of the top teams might be a little sour short term, but they would be more than financially mollified because they wouldn’t be forced to come up with increased revenue-sharing payments and their respective bottom lines would do nothing but increase.
And when the bottom line increases, so does the asset value of the franchises, which is what this little exercise is and has always been about.
At least this time around, the naive fan has been spared the absurd contention that ticket prices will go down as a result of the players being paid less. If there is anything these last seven years has taught the fan, it’s that ticket prices go down only in cities where nobody is interested in buying them.
There’s no telling when these two parties will actually come to an agreement and get back to playing, but one thing is clear. The NHL very much likes the discussion taking place within the present structure, give or take a tweak here and there favouring one party or another, usually themselves. And the players are going to have an awful time changing that structure now, or in discussions to come down the road.
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