A bit back this was part of a post of mine:

When the NHL CBA talks eventually become the top news in the hockey world, don’t think for a minute this will be as simple as owners vs players. This will be big market teams vs small, older players vs younger, stars vs role players. Divisions will center around revenue sharing both among teams and with players. Escrow figures and who if anyone will be be exempt from them are a likely topic as well. One of the favorite topics of pundits over the last month or two surrounding the next collective bargaining agreement is if there will or won’t be a one time get buyout period similar to the NBA’s to rid teams of bad contracts. An issue that might or might not come up is Olympic play. With the 2014 Olympics looming, some players will be very eager to represent their country even if the NHL doesn’t formally break for the festivities. Realignment will also end up on the table. I would not be terribly surprised to see ownership pushing for a unilateral right to rearrange divisions and schedule formats.

The proposal leaked last night reminds me forcibly of what I’ve heard called “The Best Buy Model”. When Best Buy did their rapid expansion from a regional chain to the largest electronics brick and mortar store, they did it with high end product, and they paid the best to be the best. Once they hit the top of the food chain, much of that changed. The sales teams lost commissions and their service quality spiraled. Their “Geek Squad” has been accused of multiple acts of misconduct along the way, and there is serious doubt as to the longterm viability of the entire company. Labor quality is inextricably linked to financial well being for companies. When labor is the product that is even more true. Hollywood can’t survive without reasonably able actors, directors and writers, nor can the NHL survive without both star and rank and file players. I don’t take the RDS reported ownership positions as set in stone, merely as ominous.

Going over each point there is a lot of ground the owners are failing to notice or simply failing to acknowledge.

Revenue split roll back:

Dropping the cap floor would work far more effectively. Setting it to about 38-40 million and letting the ceiling rise will have a better regulating effect on salaries than just dropping the ceiling with a rollback. Better still, it allows teams more room to pay entry level players and role players like role players.  Stars who hit UFA status can be paid 8 to 15 million a year if you you’re not paying third line wingers who play twelve minutes a night four million. Multiple stars. There will be less European talent staying in Europe, and less chance of the KHL or other leagues expanding to North America.

Contract length limits:

Don’t let your general manager give out long contracts. Just like might not allow more than one no movement clause or more than two or three no trade clauses. It’s your team, run it your way. Some players however can be counted on to play well even if they have a “lifetime contract”. I doubt anyone sees Jonathan Toews putting on forty pounds and no longer backchecking if he signs an eight year contract. I don’t think Shea Weber will start showing up to the rink and doing the morning skate with a 40 of Natty Ice if he gets an eight year contract. Are some players slugs? Sure. But offering a contract to any given player isn’t something a team is forced to do. Is there a risk a player will go elsewhere for two more years on deal? Yes of course, but all business is risk. Have the right environment and the type of players who it takes to win will stick to it.

Elimination of signing bonuses:

This is honestly the most silly. For entry level contracts there is a good reason for them. Teenagers have no or limited credit, and buying a house or condo or renting an apartment requires a credit check in most places. If you don’t pass, you don’t buy or rent, or do so at a much higher price. For older players, they should be like NMC’s or long term; given to players who are worth it only.

Flat contracts:

This one is self defeating for owners. It makes trading players who may have been eclipsed by younger players harder. Yes it will allow other teams to sign $100million contracts worth 80 million in the first 5 years and 20 in the last 10 to spend cap dollars and not real dollars, or trade the cap space to other teams, but it allows all thirty teams the same room.

Five Year Entry Level:

This is another one of those things that is self defeating. A player on a three year deal knows every game counts. Telling your aver 18 year old “Yep if you suck this year, in 5 years when you don’t have arbitration we’re gonna hold it against you.”  isn’t going to do much to motivate them to improve day over day, week over week, and year over year. It can’t, it won’t. Now, a minimum of two years played full time in the NHL until expiration or three full years in the AHL/ECHL is saner.

Next post on the CBA will be a same middle ground and or counter proposals for the NHLPA.

We’ve seen the first set of Ownership demands for the CBA and they are:

  • 10 Years until UFA status.
  • 5 year entry level contracts instead of the current 3
  • No arbitration of contracts instead of arbitration after the second contract
  • 46% revenue to the players
  • 5 Year maximum on contracts

If this actually represents a hardline or even a near approximation of what the owners really want, this will be trouble. There will be a labor stoppage. The season will not get started on time at best. If the more than 25% of the season is gone before negotiations succeed the league will either be forced to contract or take over three or four additional franchises.

Some of these shouldn’t even be CBA issues. If a team wants to give out lifetime contracts such as Rick Dipietro’s or Sidney Crosby’s, that’s their lookout. If an owner doesn’t want to give out contracts over a certain number of years they should be prepared to accept their players walking. If they want players to stick around that’s pretty simple too: having a winning environment, don’t tolerate idiots at the controls, and don’t be a butthead to your players either in person or via the media.

I’ve spent years in sales, negotiated contracts, hell I’ve written them from scratch and this is silly. Low balling your opposite number is a time honored tradition. But low balling someone and spitting in their faces are two different things. I’m sure the ownership group believes this is a Churchill like pose of defiance and strength, it comes across more like Montgomery Burns or Yosemite Sam.

Did the owners learn nothing from watching the recent NFL labor dispute? The players have more sex appeal, more cache, are better loved, and are the backbone of the product. Fans will side with them. This isn’t the NBA where everyone makes a couple million a year and the biggest danger is having your opponent sweat on you. The NHL players risk their lives and safety every shift. Tyler Seguin, Carey Price and Corey Perry are going to draw much, much more sympathy from fans than Jeremy Jacobs, Geoff Molson, and Henry Samueli, that’s just the way it is.

Before we all panic and start looking for fall entertainment that doesn’t involve NHL hockey, I honestly believe this is just a (completely moronic) opening position.

There are quite a few things that separate the good teams from the bad, and the perennial contenders from the serial pretenders. In some cases it is money. In others it is ownership that is either over involved or under-informed. Unrealistic pressure brought on by a fan base who has been whipped into a frenzy by local media owns a place on the list as well. But one of the clearest hallmarks of serial failure to flourish is an inability to draft and develop talent.

The Detroit Red Wings built their system over the years by draft talent they believed in regardless of the round and making those players perform to the best of their abilities within the Detroit system. Henrik Zetterburg 7th round pick, Pavel Datsyuk 6th round pick, Jonathan Ericsson 9th round pick, Joey MacDonald undrafted. All these players were on the Red Wings roster last season. All of them contributed to yet another playoff run.

Then there are the Edmonton Oilers. Once the NHL’s finest team, today a safe bet to be in the lottery. Why? That’s pretty easy. They can non draft and develop talent. In the drafts between 2000 and 2011, they took 36 defensemen. Of those defensemen, the only two to play more than 150 NHL games are Matt Greene (now with the Kings) and Theo Peckham. Pekham hits well, and frequently, blocks tons of shots and averages around 17 minutes an night over his career. Of the other defensemen, 28 have played between zero and fifty NHL games. 2 out of 36 is a pretty damned low success rate. Throwing darts at prospects names would work just as well.

Not all markets will support a team that can’t get out of it’s own way. Edmonton is lucky in that regard. They’ve put up with a pretty putrid product for the last half decade. But this CBA negotiation presents a unique chance to turn a dead letter, the current offer sheet system, into a way to get more talent into the NHL.

The idea is: Any team that misses the playoffs three years in a row, is required to submit at least one offer sheet per year each season after that they miss the playoffs. If a team has a player signed away, they get whatever the current compensation is, an additional 2nd round pick and a contract ceiling waiver for those draft picks. The team losing the prospect would also get protection for that year from any other prospects being signed away. The team losing the prospect could also choose which year they wanted each pick, potentially allowing a team with low talent levels to sign two or three players to offer sheets.

The team submitting the offer sheet gets the talent it can’t find or develop in its own. The team losing a prospect acquires additional draft picks they can trade either as picks or as prospects for mature talent or retain in their own system. Young players have a higher chance of being developed in a useful system, and experienced players will have the chance to play their whole career in one place, and have a chance to win.

It likely doesn’t stop there though. Player movement, particularly of hot young talent, generates merchandise sales, can impact advertising revenue, and obviously the product on the ice. Reasonably speaking teams with more talent are more likely to be entertaining and win. This means that the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and other flourishing teams get to keep more of their money. An expansion market or team that was struggling due to the local economy could find a way back to the top with one or two careful offer sheets.

 

Yesterday Justin Schultz chose the Edmonton Oilers. Today his contract will be registered with the league. For the Anaheim Ducks this is an ugly blight on their off season. But things like this don’t happen in a vacuum. He was drafted back in 2008 and has had time to observe the Ducks organization in action for all that time. They’ve gone changed coaches, a player has been publicly and repeatedly scapegoated. Collectively the players on the ice have taken the first half of the season off two years in a row.

Then there is a drafting and development record that doesn’t deserve mention. Justin Schultz is 21 years old, he’s an adult. He didn’t choose the team that drafted him. And a team that doesn’t. compete well and douses its stars in public scorn isn’t someplace many will want to play there. When one of the biggest stars in the league who isn’t know for piping up does so just days before the draft maybe this. should be a wake up call.

Some might see this as a reason to change the CBA. I see this as a way to keep players who don’t feel a team offers what they needm or who may be toxic to stay out of low growth situations. As we saw with Jeff Carter thisyear and others in years past; unhappy players don’t perform well. What team really believes a miserable player is good for their team? Let it go, growand learn from it and move on.

One of the things that I hope both sides of the NHL/NHLPA showdown over how the next decades money will be split is that the current discipline system is utterly inadequate. As mentioned previously diving is an issue that needs to be shot dead. With fines that might as well not exist despite their being cheating as unfair as performance enhancing drugs (and far more common) nothing has been done to curb it.

But the diving is just one small part. There needs to be power for oversight of officiating given to the NHLPA. Some officials clearly are incompetent to hand towels to the officials who do take the ice. Some mechanism for forceful correction of the egregiously bad officiating needs to come into being, immediately. It could even be a joint General Mangers/Governors NHLPA work group to address the worst of the mess.

The third level is bringing in a person or persons to be the basis for appeals. Currently the disciplinarian is installed by Gary Bettman, who also get’s to in his own sweet time decide on appeals. As we’ve seen with the Raffi Torres debacle, without a strict deadline Bettman is able to effectively pocket veto any suspensions he doesn’t wish to address. Him doing so is unfair to the team owners, the players and the fans. Is Raffi Torres going to be the reason a team wins or loses a playoff series? Unlikely, but what if the next person appealing is Alex Ovechkin who is now a “repeat offender” if Bettman answers in any less time than elapsed in the Torres case he’ll clearly be showing favoritism. He’s doubly undermined the system and it makes the NHL look bad.

There are other problems that need to be dealt with sure, but these issues can affect teams bottom line by millions of dollars a year and should not be ignored.

One of the things the NHLPA and Ownership desperately need to come together on is a reasonable system for suspensions and fines. Currently Brendan Shanahan and the Department of Player Safety can decide to suspend a player for a hundred games with no real recourse for the player, the players association or the team that player is a member of. Not only is there no written and unambiguous system for fines and suspensions there is no sane appeal system.

As we’re currently experiencing with the Raffi Torres suspension, there is no deadline on the reviewer to enact their decision. Worse the appeals court as it were is the person who put Shanahan in place. So Bettman is put in the position of either undermining his employee(s) or looking ineffectual. Further either call he makes is a judgement call. As it is, he can simply drag out announcing any finding until after the suspension is served in full. Without a firm time limit no one even has firm ground to stand on to say he’s taking too long.

Any arbitrator should not be an NHL employee. It should certainly not be decided by any one person. Either a group of three players or player representatives together with a retired official as tie braking judge and three general managers or team governors should be involved, or possibly an entirely independent arbitrator.

But before there can be an appeals system, there needs to be a valid process for discipline. Currently, as evidenced by the spaghetti thrown at the wall approach we’ve seen this year there is no system, and we don’t even know what’s a capital offense and what’s jay walking. As inadequate as many feel some of the punishments spelled out in the NHL rulebook are, at least they exist.

The jockeying for position at the negotiations has already begun. It would be nice if both sides remembered this minor issue while trying to steer the league into the future. When you can’t get through a single playoff series without one or both teams and their fanbases, not to mention the neutral fans questioning the system, its efficacy, and the quality of it’s agents on a daily basis there is more than a problem, you have a threat to the long term health of the league.

With the CBA negotiations looking more and more likely to vent heat from both sides, the possibility we will see a large number of high end UFA’s all at once is growing daily. In addition to those top UFA’s this season: Suter, Parise, Semin, Selanne, Whitney, Jagr, Parenteau, Holmstrom, Garrison and more if there is cancellation of this season, the next year the market gets even more mouthwatering. Add in some or all of: Crosby, Iginla, Staal, Quick, Alfredsson, Backstrom (goalie), Perry, Getzlaf, Thomas (goalie), Vishnovsky, Lupul, Streit, Hartnell, Clowe, Howard and well, you get the picture. Coming out of the last lockout we saw a number of players sign with friends to teams and go for it all. We also so the Avalanche load up with a who’s who of hockey in their last cup win.

Even going with just the players from this year, that’s more talent than most teams boast.  Even cup winning teams. If the labor negotiations stretch to a point where the season is shortened, say camp starting the week before (American) Thanksgiving, and the first real games being played on December first, organizations hungry for a championship might be willing to accommodate the wishes of a group of players who all wanted to play together for one (shortened) year for a reasonable sum.

Say for example the Coyotes sale does actually go through. They currently have 17 players signed for next season, and total cap hit of just under $35,000,000. If they somehow magically (wanted and got) all nine of the above, to sign one year deals for $3,300,000 they could trade a few other pieces for roster space and draft picks or assign players back to the AHL, and still have wiggle room under the cap for injuries, and or other additions. The nine would have a total cap hit of $29.7 million, and for a team in need of a shot in the arm that could be just what the accountant ordered. Even Nashville would be in position to make a similar move, they have only 12 players signed for next year and already have a solid goaltender.

Assuming the dispute did cancel next season, the possibility of one or more super-teams goes up. A team that could play a duo consisting of a combination of a well rested Quick, Thomas, and/or Howard in net is absolutely frightening. If they managed to push each other to still higher levels of performance the potential goaltending records for the year are absolutely mind-numbing. Forward lines that had Parise, Staal, Iginla, Afredson, Crosby, Semin, Selanne would be unlike anything the NHL has ever seen. We aren’t talking an All Star semi-competitive practice billed as a game, or even an Olympic campaign where the players practice together for a couple weeks. We’re looking at months of synergy building practice, play, and travel from some of the biggest talents in the game.