NHL Lockout: Why Small-Market Owners Should Be Steering the Negotiations

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NHL Lockout: Why Small-Market Owners Should Be Steering the Negotiations
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman

Much like the NBA lockout last year, one of the goals during the current NHL work stoppage is to make a collective bargaining agreement that helps the financial strength of the smaller market teams, which is why the owners of these teams should be steering the negotiations.

We know that several of the large market owners such as Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs are driving the bus during these labor talks, but to achieve a deal that benefits all of the owners, the ones from small markets should have a significant impact on the creation of the proposals that the league makes to the NHLPA.

Until the league and its players figure out ways to help the large number of teams losing money (18 was the amount during the 2010-11 season according to Forbes.com), there is no chance a new CBA gets done any time soon.

For the NHL to work long-term in non-traditional and small markets, there has to be a method(s) in place to help these teams so they can remain financially stable off the ice and competitive on the ice.

As I've said before, the best plan to accomplish this goal is through a more effective revenue sharing model, which is what the players have proposed in each offer that they have made to the owners.

NHLPA leader Donald Fehr has experience in creating a good revenue sharing system that works for small markets because he was instrumental in making the current model that Major League Baseball uses, which has helped small market baseball teams quite a bit.

The gap between the team that took in the most revenue during the 2010-11 season (Toronto Maple Leafs, $193 million) and the team that earned the least amount of revenue (New York Islanders, $63 million) is too wide, and the only way to close that gap is to expand revenue sharing.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

If NHL commissioner Gary Bettman doesn't want the teams that he put in small and non-tradition markets to fail, such as the Phoenix Coyotes, then the league needs to make a stronger effort to implement a better revenue sharing system.

Aside from revenue sharing, helping small market teams keep their stars from leaving for big market teams in free agency will also help these clubs stay competitive longer, which will also help the bottom line.

Here is one compromise that would benefit the players, the small market owners and the owners from rich teams.

  1. Create a six-year term limit for long-term deals, regardless if a player is a restricted or unrestricted free agent. The players don't want this, but the NBA has term limits and it doesn't stop players from making good money. It also helps them avoid being in one place for a long time if the team they sign for isn't a good fit, or isn't a contender.
  2. Teams should be able to go over the salary cap to sign players they drafted. This helps all teams because if you draft and develop talent well, you shouldn't be forced to rebuild or tear down a contender because of salary cap restrictions. In the future, if the Minnesota Wild want to re-sign Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle to huge long-term deals, they should be able to go over the cap to sign them because they drafted, developed and marketed these players. They are a crucial part of the franchise because homegrown players are often times fan favorites.
  3. Large market teams use the players' revenue sharing system proposed in their latest offer to help small markets. The rich owners don't like this plan, but if they were able to go over the cap to keep their homegrown players, they may be willing to pay more revenue to small markets than they are now.
  4. In conclusion: The owners get term limits, large market teams will be helped by being able to go over the cap to re-sign homegrown talent, small market teams get more money from revenue sharing and the players won't have to take a smaller HRR share than they want because of better revenue sharing. This compromise is something that could help each side make some progress toward getting a deal done that benefits everyone involved.

The only way for large market owners to accept the players' revenue sharing plan, or at least embrace the idea and maybe make minor tweaks, is to give these owners something that will benefit them in the new CBA, such as being able to go over the cap to keep homegrown players and creating term limits.

The consequences of not creating a CBA that helps small market teams could be devastating. If these teams aren't helped in the new agreement, some of them might not be able to function long-term, which is when contraction and relocation could be the only option to save these franchises over the next three to five years.

The rich, large market franchises are going to be fine long-term regardless of what the next CBA looks like, but to ensure that the small market teams achieve long-term prosperity, the next agreement has to include ways to help them be successful on and off the ice.

The small market owners need to stand up to the large market owners and take control of these labor negotiations.

 

Nicholas Goss is an NHL lead writer at Bleacher Report. He was also the organization's on-site reporter for the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. Follow him on Twitter.

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