Sunday, January 6, 2013
Breaking down the NHL's new CBA
By Pierre LeBrun
NEW YORK -- My tweet went out at 5:09 a.m. ET announcing the NHL and the players’ association had agreed to a tentative agreement for a new collective bargaining agreement.
And certainly not without some of the oddest and most frustrating derailments and pitfalls in sports labor history.
We’re going to live with this document for the next decade, so might as well get to know it.
Let’s take a look at some of the components of this deal and the history behind how those elements came to be:
- Ten-year term with an opt-out at eight years.
Call this a win for the league/owners. All along the league wanted a longer term on the CBA than the NHLPA, especially executive director Donald Fehr. The union was stuck at five years for the longest time before moving to eight years in early December. Finally over the past week, the players' association moved to 10 years but wanted an opt-out after Year 7. In the end, the league got exactly what it wanted here. And frankly, I’m not sure any player in the league really cares. This was more of a thing for Fehr than his players in terms of trying to limit the term.
- Year 2 salary cap at $64.3 million, with the floor at $44 million.
This was the most divisive issue and the one that ultimately took until the 11th hour to finally iron out. No surprise it was such an important cog in this CBA. After all, the second year of the CBA is about resetting the financial system for the owners after a soft landing in the first year (teams can spend up to $70.2 million for the first year). This was really the essence of the lockout, other than dropping the players down to 50 percent of hockey-related revenue from 57 percent. For the longest time, the NHL wanted the Year 2 salary cap at $60 million and entered Saturday morning still firm at $60 million. This week, the players moved from $70 million to $67.5 million, then to $65 million entering Saturday’s talks. This is where the players really hung tough in negotiations, willing to drop only to $64.3 million -- the players refused to go any lower. The NHL moved to $62.5 million on Saturday afternoon, and that was a big move. But still not enough for the players. The league remained adamant it wouldn’t move any higher, but in the final stretch, it finally relented and accepted $64.3 million, no question higher than commissioner Gary Bettman likely ever envisioned he would accept. But it was necessary to get a new CBA done. The $64.3 million figure is symbolic for the players, as it is the same amount that last year’s salary cap was set at. This was about not going down one cent. Pretty impressive resolve by the players to refuse to move south of $64.3 million and drag the league kicking and screaming up to that figure.
- Seven-year term limit for NHL player contracts (eight years if player is re-signing with his own team).
Remember the hill the NHL was going to die on at five years? Well the league moved to six years last week, then to seven years Saturday/Sunday. But I wouldn’t call it a win for the players, who offered eight years last month before dropping to seven years Saturday/Sunday. Fact is, I feel the NHL played the rope-a-dope here a little bit by stressing for so long how important it was to limit terms to five years. I believe all along the NHL knew it could live with seven years if need be. This completely obliterates, moving forward, any possibility of a double-digit contract. So really, the league is saving the New York Islanders from themselves here.
- Salary variance: No more than 35 percent year-over-year and no year less than 50 percent of the highest year.
This was a key get for the NHL, its response to wiping out the "cheat deals" -- otherwise known as the back-diving contracts such as Roberto Luongo’s and Marian Hossa’s -- which tacked on low salaries at the end of the contract to bring down the average salary and cap hit. The league’s first volley on this was 5 percent (year-over-year) back in October before moving to 10 percent last month. This week, the league moved to 30 percent before finally going to 35 percent Saturday/Sunday. It’s a higher variance than the NHL wanted, but the league gets to eliminate back-diving deals nonetheless.
- Teams will have up to two compliance buyouts to use prior to the 2013-14 season but not before this June.
The NHLPA actually asked for the league to move up to two buyouts from the one the league offered in its proposal Dec. 27. This will allow teams more flexibility in getting under the Year 2 salary cap. Makes total sense in helping the transition to a lower cap.
And now for some non-core issues that intrigued me:
- Start of free agency remains July 1 for Years 2 through 10. (oObviously because of the late start, free agency will begin later this year.)
The NHL tried hard to move the start of free agency to July 10, wanting to move it away from the two national holidays -- July 1 in Canada, July 4 in the U.S. -- in order to give all those high-profile signings more buzz. Alas, the NHLPA hung tough on this one, wanting to keep it at July 1. It’s never been in the union’s interest to shorten the free-agent window for players trying to find jobs. Personally, I would have wanted to start free agency in late June. Guess I’ll have to wait another 10 years to get my way.
- Draft lottery system changes in order to allow all 14 teams that missed the playoffs a crack at the No. 1 overall pick.
Previously, it was only the bottom five teams that could pick first overall out of the lottery. This allows all the teams that don’t make the postseason a chance at the first pick. I like this move a lot. For starters, it discourages teams even further from tanking late in the season to try to finish as close to the bottom as possible. Sure, it will still be a weighted system, but I like the fact all 14 teams will get a shot.