The roller coaster ride continues. If you’ve been following the NHL lockout for any length of time, you know what I’m talking about.
Last week, the NHL and NHLPA met over the course of several days and it seemed like a deal may have been imminent, but then the bottom fell out and it looked like we’d be without hockey for a long, long time. Now it seems as if there is still hope to get a new collective bargaining agreement in place.
That hope came when special counsel Steve Fehr spoke on Monday at the PrimeTime Sports Management Conference (h/t to ESPN). “One thing Bill Daly and I agree upon is that when the moment is right, the deal could be done very quickly,” Fehr said.
When that moment comes will be depend on three things according to Fehr: the split of money, player contract rights and who absorbs the costs associated with the lockout.
Not one of those three things could be termed a small item, but at least the list of concerns is only three deep at this point.
Right now, it seems as if contract rights are the hot-button topic. The NHL is looking to constrict contracts considerably in this new deal, and the NHLPA is understandably not very happy about it.
The NHL wants to limit contract length to five years. You can understand why the players would be unhappy about that. Previously, NHL general managers had pretty much free rein to throw insane contract terms out there. 15 years for Rick DiPietro, anyone?
The reality is that the NHL needs to limit the length of contracts because the GMs have shown that they have no self-control. They’re like eBay addicts, caught up in the frenzy of trying to win and never thinking about how much they are pushing up the price.
Another sticking point is rookie contract length. The NHL is looking to reduce rookie deals to two years. This too is something that the owners want in order to protect themselves, as it limits the loss on a rookie that tanks when he hits the NHL. On the other side of the equation, it could also cost them when they get a young phenom that exceeds expectations.
The NHL also realized that the front-loaded contracts that it has been handing out are just plain silly. To correct this problem, it has proposed that contracts need to essentially be the same over the life of the deal.
The other two items the NHL is seeking to get in the new CBA are delayed arbitration and free-agency rights.
In short, it’s all take and no give from the NHL side of the table.
The question is, will the NHLPA give in to these demands? That’s hard to say. The contract length stipulation sounds like a bad deal for the players, but when you consider the average length of an NHL career is five to six seasons, it seems as if this stipulation only benefits a limited number of NHL players. With that in mind, a majority of the NHLPA rank and file may not have too big of an issue with this limit.
Rookie contract length is another issue that only impacts a small number of players each year; it’s hard to see this being a deal-breaker for the NHLPA.
The idea that contracts must be worth the same amount over the term of the deal may sound good, but it also may serve to drive contract dollars down—something the NHL is surely counting on. This one may be a sticking point for veteran players, the very players that usually have the most say during contract negotiations.
The arbitration rights and free agency being delayed also impact those veteran players, so again, this may be a big hurdle to overcome.
What it all boils down to is how much leeway does the NHL have in its demands? If it relaxes a little on the contract length—say, eight-year limits—as well giving a little on arbitration rights and free agency, a deal may get done. If the NHL digs its heels in, we’re probably in for a long run of no NHL.
So, is there hope? Two of the biggest names in negotiations seem to think so. Let’s hope they’re right.