[Ed. note: this FanPost originally ran on July 14, 2012.]
I understood 2004-2005. I didn't like it, not one bit. But I understood. The system really was broken. When you looked at player salaries as a share of revenue, it was untenable. I didn't like how the owners approached it -- how they forced the solution to a problem that was largely of their own making to come primarily from the players -- but it was at least clear that something had to happen. Something had to change.
Today, things are going well. There is no dire situation. Revenues are way up and everyone is doing better with their share of that bigger pie. Apart from the contract term/average value circumvention games that folks are playing by adding extra small value years to the ends of contracts, the salary cap is working out very well. The system ain't perfect, but it's working out pretty well for almost everyone.
And that's why the Owners opening CBA proposal is so tone-deaf, so out of line, and ultimately, I believe, so counterproductive. Fan response can make some, small difference in these negotiations, although our ability to affect them is extremely limited. I think we ought to use our limited and tiny voice to let the owners know that their current negotiating stance is bad for the game.
Here are the owners' current demands (from Renaud P Lavoie of RDS in Montreal by way of Puck Daddy):
1. Reduce players' hockey-related revenues to 46% from 57 %.
2. 10 seasons in the NHL before being eligible for unrestricted free agency.
3. Contracts limited to 5 years.
4. No more salary arbitration.
5. Entry-level contract are 5 years long instead of 3.
I've been in enough negotiations to know that opening offers matter. They send signals and can set a tone that is hard to break. And this opening offer seems frankly crazy.
This would be a major overhaul of the system. And the fundamental questions are "why?" and "what problems are being solved here?" 46% strikes me as a low opening gambit, but OK, we can all trace out the midpoint between the two numbers as 51% being what the owners really want. That doesn't bother me much. It's the rest of the proposals that are shocking. The owners got their substantial overhaul last time around. Why are such severe limits on the ability to contract being proposed now?
10 seasons in the NHL before a player becomes a free agent? This would essentially do away with unrestricted free agency entirely for many if not most players. And with no more salary arbitration, there would be no way for a player to get fair value for his talent other than through offer sheets under the RFA system. And we've all see how often those get used. Do you think guys like Karl Alzner are going to agree to have as little negotiating leverage as he had last year for his first 10 years in the league?
Limiting contracts to 5 years is the wrong response to the rarely-used, if prominent, cap circumvention techniques that have developed over the last few years. Those can be solved through a number of more limited changes to the CBA -- basically anything that discourages teams from adding low-value years to the end of a long contract. Some long contracts are good for the game. And I believe in the freedom of two willing parties to enter into agreements with one another. If a player wants to stay somewhere for a long time, and that team wants him, and the contract fairly allocates his value across his career without cap circumvention, why would we prevent that?
This opening proposal from the Owners is bad for the game. Worse, it displays a complete unwillingness to assess what might be good for the game, and what might be bad. It's a naked statement of things the owners want, with no recognition that there are other parties involved as well. It's frankly insulting, and a nonstarter.
As far as I'm concerned, the CBA negotiations went backwards yesterday. The owners took the first move, and it was such a poor one that I suspect the next move is on them too. Will they demonstrate that they are serious? That they don't think they're standing alone in a room wishing for things that they cannot have, and that would damage the NHL if they actually did receive them? If the owners don't start dropping stupid requests and quickly, then I fear there won't be any NHL hockey this fall. And I'm no booster of the players union, but given what we've seen so far, the blame for any work stoppage would have to fall squarely on the owners and their unreasonable demands.