CBA Negotiations: Owners Need to Pay Up

The NHL lockout has taken fans on an emotional rollercoaster the past few days. After several meetings over minor topics, the owners provided a resurgence of hope with their surprise proposal to the NHLPA, finally offering a “50-50” split of Hockey Related Revenue, or HRR. As bad as I wanted to quell the optimism of a full season starting on November 2, I couldn’t. I’ve been struggling through this desert known as the lockout, and the owners finally showed up to save me.

As I was about to run and leap into Gary Bettman’s arms with tears of gratitude, he turned into a cactus. Just another mirage.

Donald Fehr and his NHLPA army didn’t agree to the NHL’s terms yet again. However, they did offer (3!!) counteroffers of their own, but they were dismissed as easily as a shot from center ice.

The positive to take from all this is that offers from both sides included a 50-50 split of HRR. After all, the division of money is the central obstacle in this battle of wills, so reaching this point represents significant progress.

Since the players were getting 57% in the previous deal, they’re going to have to give up a whole lot of money to drop down to 50%. They’re willing to do just that, but not at the cost of deals that were consummated in the previous CBA. Shea Weber was signed to a 9-digit contract this summer (by the same owner that is locking him out. I’m not bitter at all!) Other players like Roberto Luongo and Marion Hossa have been receiving paychecks for years on front-loaded, long-term deals.

From ESPN, deputy commisioner Bill Daly said the following:

“The so-called 50-50 deal, plus honoring current contracts proposed by the NHL Players’ Association earlier today is being misrepresented. It is not a 50-50 deal. It is, most likely a 56- to 57-percent deal in Year One and never gets to 50 percent during the proposed five-year term of the agreement.”

Basically, the NHLPA wants to work their way there over five years. It’s unavoidable that the players are going to lose money from the new CBA. By embracing a 50-50 split, they’ve already accepted it. They’re just not willing to get there next season. Or the season after that. Why should they lose money now because the owners couldn’t control themselves?

This gap that is separating the owners from the players – and more importantly, the fans from their season – is how the players drop from 57 to 50 percent, and how soon. It’s going to be difficult impossible for the players to take any of this grandstanding seriously.

Look no further than Minnesota Wild owner, Craig Leipold, and his matching 13 year, $98 million contracts for Parise and Suter. That’s $196 million given to two players in the months leading to a lockout, because… wait for it… the owners need more money. These types of contracts are giant obstacles in dropping down to 50-50.

The CBAs create the limitations for player contracts – along with deciding how to split league revenue shares – and that’s why it’s so important that both sides agree to them as well. But how effective is it to alter the contracts and terms of contracts conceived during the previous CBA? All it does is belittle that CBA’s worth and the sacrifices made in the debacle of the lost 2004-05 season. It’s maddening to think that fans lost an entire season and players lost a year of their careers over a CBA that isn’t even going to be honored completely.

Gary Bettman
(Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE)

Unfortunately, if the owners get their way, that’s exactly what will happen. The players will give money back on these contracts that were written within the limitations of a CBA that cost an entire season to create. Personally, I don’t blame the NHLPA for not complying. It wouldn’t be right.

I understand it’s Bettman’s job to fight for the owners, and that the owners want to maximize their profits with the growth of the NHL. The 50-50 split of HRR would give the owners the profits they desire. However, that should only affect contracts conceived after this Frankenstein of a CBA comes to life. These owners are extremely wealthy and successful people, who are voluntarily missing out on millions of dollars of income. I’m not buying for one second that they happened to mismanage hundreds of millions of dollars in payroll, especially in a league that is was growing in interest and revenue.

Luckily, he doesn’t have to convince me, or any of the fans for that matter. He just needs to convince Donald Fehr and the NHLPA that the owners deserve their money at the players’ expense. Apparently, when the previous CBA expired, the laws of contractual obligation went out the window with it.

Good luck with that, Gary.

As the commissioner of the NHL, Bettman can try to get as much as he can from the players in the future. But pay the players what you owe them. For the sake of the season – and the future of the league – I hope he realizes that you can’t change the past.