Players Continue to Gamble, But Are Digging Their Own Holes in the End

Today, the NHL has announced the cancellation of all regular season games through November 1st.  Many will likely use that to claim the sky is falling or to take another jab at Bettman and the League.

Some will point to Thursday’s metaphorical door slamming that happened when the NHLPA presented their three new proposals to the NHL, as the impetus for the cancellations.  The fact is those games would have been canceled even if they had put pen to paper on a new CBA yesterday just due to logistics.

Putting all that aside, where do we stand?  The two sides are closer than ever in terms of money based upon one set of criteria (5% revenue increase) (James Mirtle’s analysis of proposals one and two).  So why all the surliness from the League, then?

Simple- every proposal from the players seems to be lining up behind the motto of “honor the contracts you signed.”



There are two big problems with that.  First and foremost is that it rings hollow- with a deep echo.  The players gave that up in the last CBA.  When they agreed to the cost certainty concept that brought in escrow and the cap, they agreed to implicit alterations of their contract to reflect the revenues as defined by HRR.  It’s also important to note that the incredible revenue increases have rendered escrow somewhat tolerable- provided that revenues continue to rise and/or players don’t continue to artificially boost the calculation like they have every year by kicking in the escalator.

The second problem with the player’s mantra is that it is an attempt to remove the cost certainty established in the last CBA.  There’s been a lot of speculation on whether the players will go after the hard salary cap.  The hard salary cap was and is a means to an end and that end is cost certainty.  It’s very apparent that the League has no intention of relenting on the cost certainty front.  Their entire “make whole” proposal reflected an attempt at resolving the “honor our contracts” mantra, but still within the constructs of cost certainty by having it count against the Player’s Share in later years.

Right now the players are gambling with their own fortunes and it makes zero sense.  Their proposals remove cost certainty- at least for a time.  They are acting very sore over “losing” the last CBA negotiations- a CBA that has resulted in the most prosperous time for a player in NHL history.  It won’t take long for them to lose as much money in this one season of canceled games as they would have lost over the length of a new CBA.

Here’s the other thing.  Gary Bettman isn’t Bud Selig.  He’s not weak and doesn’t get run over by his owners.  He has solidified his position as Commissioner and has a ton of power to wield.  Bettman canceled an entire season to get cost certainty last time.  You can be assured that the next CBA will have cost certainty completely intact.  He will negotiate around some things because the owners don’t want to miss the revenue that comes from playing the games, but cost certainty is not one of those things.  That’s where the players and Don Fehr are either missing the boat or deluding themselves.

The players should concentrate on those things that are more negotiable with the League like maximum contract lengths and the salary deviation percentage from year to year (both poison pills to the high-revenue producing clubs).  If they really want to take a stand on something, at least make it for something that makes sense like increased revenue sharing.

CBA negotiations, especially those in the NHL, are like watching Joe Pesci’s character on Casino.  The bosses tolerate Pesci because he brings more money in, enriching himself in the process, and everyone is happy.  When he continually crosses the line, bringing heat down on his bosses, he just dug that hole in the cornfield deeper.  Ultimately he got the reminder that no matter how useful he is or rich he got, he’s still an employee of theirs.

Time to go spin up House of the Rising Sun.



David Singleton

You are invited to follow me on Twitter (@SingletonPreds).  For game recaps of all Predators games as well as great insights on the Predators and the NHL, check out my HockeyIndependent colleague, Mark Willoughby (@TheViewFrom111).

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