A Crash Course In NHL CBA Negotiations

Making her debut as HSN’s NHL Correspondent, Cait Platt’s first offering looks at what’s what in terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement currently being disputed between the NHL and it’s players.



If you were to look at the contracts recently awarded, you’d never guess that the owners of the NHL were demanding the NHL players to take a pay cut.  For those of you confused about the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), in the simplest terms, the owners are requesting the players to take a pay cut.  Currently, NHL players are receiving 57% of the Hockey Related Revenue, but the owners want to roll the players HRR’s share back to 46%.  In addition they want to lower the salary cap and put limits on contracts, signing bonuses will be banned, front loading will be banned, UFA and ELC contracts will be reworked, and salary arbitration will be eliminated.

Let me break this down for you step by step, because trust me, if you’re a fan of this game, you’re going to want to know exactly what each demand by the owners means for the future of this sport:

Lowering the salary cap and putting limits on the contract  will mean what players have been signed for this off season means nothing now.  Those matching 13 year $98 million contracts Ryan Suter and Zach Parise got aren’t actually going to be worth that much if the owners get their way.  The salary cap will restrict how much the team can budget per player.  Lower salary cap will mean a roll back on contracts.  How much?  All depends on how much the owners want to reduce the salary cap by.  Right now $70.2 million is the proposed salary cap for 2012-2013, but there are teams struggling to meet the salary floor (the lowest possible total the salaries can come to), you know the owners of smaller hockey markets will want to roll back the salary cap, not increase it.  The NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA) agreed to this salary cap increase (means more money for them) but this could change if the owners’ demands are met.

Signing bonuses and front loading contracts will be banned, meaning cap circumvention will be harder to do.  Owners want to make it harder to offer players these behemoth contracts (see: Minnesota Wild), but at the same times, these are the same guys that are creating these massive contracts.  Two of the biggest advocates of banning these cap circumvention tactics are Ed Snyder, owner of the Philadelphia Flyers, and Lou Lamoriello, owner of the New Jersey Devils, are the two biggest offenders!  The Devils have Ilya Kovalchuk on the payroll.  Does Lamoriello think we’ve forgotten about the originally proposed contract for Kovalchuk?  In 2010 the Devils offered Kovalchuk 17 years, $102 million and it was set so he’d receive 98.5 million of the $102 million in the first 11 years, the NHL ruled it as cap circumvention and his contract was reworked to what it is now, 15 years, $100 million.  And Snyder is another vocal objector of cap circumvention and he is the one offering Shea Weber 14 years, $110 million!  And I know there’s more owners like that, but there’s more to talk about.  Signing bonuses are a way around the cap, players get big money without it influencing their cap hit.  And front loaded contracts are beneficial for the players, big cash up front means if they end up hurt after 30 or 35, they’ve already gotten their payday.  Using Weber again as an example: his cap hit is the same through all 14 years, $7,857,143, but by the final three years of his contract he’ll only be making a $1 million.  His value is worth the same in the cap hit, but his actual payday is much less.   Good for him, not so good for the team’s finances.  Owners want to keep it so the pay is more evenly spaced out so the players do not have such a giant payday right from the start.

Unrestricted Free Agents and Entry Level Contracts (and by default Restricted Free Agents) will be reworked.  In the current set up, UFAs have free range when their contracts are up, however the age of UFAs are being pushed up further and further, meaning it’s more unusual to find a player under 27-30 who isn’t an RFA.  If UFA contracts are changed, you can almost guarantee RFA contracts will change.  And the tiered system of ELC’s is going to change.  Confused about how RFA, UFA, and ELC work?  Leave a comment or tweet at me and I’ll make that my first request post.

Salary arbitration is the only thing that I’m excited to see leave.  A silly pointless method of setting a player’s worth.  As we’ve seen in recent weeks, offer sheets are a true testament of a player should be paid.  A third party doesn’t take in account the fact that Team B might need a left winger more than Team A and is therefore willing to pay more than Team A.  If Team A wants to hold on to said player, well, they better price match or watch their left wing walk away.  The third party looks at the player and the team in a vacuum, but nothing in hockey occurs in a vacuum.  Taking into account the demand of a player, what the rest of the league needs, AND what the player is capable of is a far better source of judgement than third party rulings.  So for this, I am in agreement with the owners.

Obviously this is only their opening offer, how it is supposed to work is the NHLPA gives a counter offer, and they have.  They are willing to take the pay cuts to make the season happen, they are willing to work with the owners.  But the negotiations are slow moving.  Owners aren’t willing to budge, the players believe they are worth more to the league than what the owners want, and the September 15th deadline (set by the owners) is looming in the future.  It’s less than a month away and there’s no clear resolution.

You would think with things like ticket sales, merchandise sales, tv deals, sponsorships, money made from miscellaneous things, and every other little thing, would drive the owners to try to lower their demands.  But they aren’t thinking long term.  Sure the Winter Classic will pull in big money, but the league is busy patting itself on the back because they have up until January 1 to pull the plug if the season doesn’t happen, and they only lost $100,000 instead the $3 million it would cost to put on.  IF the game does happen, they would recoup the cost threefold on advertising, merchandise, and other odds and ends.  Without a season, people won’t be running out to buy 75 different versions of the same damn logo shirt, sponsors won’t be pouring in to get their logos slapped up on the boards.  And for 16 venues, the NHL is the primary resident!  That’s a lot of people being affected, from the vendors supplying food to the parking attendants.

Those 16 venues?

  1. Vancouver
  2. Edmonton
  3. Winnipeg
  4. Montreal
  5. Ottawa
  6. Buffalo
  7. Columbus
  8. Nashville
  9. Pittsburgh
  10. St. Louis
  11. Toronto (the Raptors are not the same money makers as the Maple Leafs)
  12. Anaheim
  13. San Jose
  14. Carolina
  15. Florida
  16. Tampa Bay

The owners demands reach much further than the players.  While everything fleshed out in their demands is directed at the players, the overall season influences so much more than just player salaries and fan satisfaction.  Thousands of jobs are on the line.  The owners and the NHLPA have 19 days to pull it together.  19 days to come to a conclusion that satisfies all parties involved, direct and indirect.

How do you think this will all end?  Will we have an NHL season?  Make sure to leave your thoughts in the comments.

Any other questions about the CBA negotiations? Leave them in the comments or find me on Twitter.

by Cait Platt

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Cait Platt

Cait Platt

Cait Platt is not the Purple People Eater, just someone who doesn't sleep much. She's located in New Jersey, it's that small landmass just south of New York City. Despite this she twitches at the thought of being a New Jersey Devils fan. Her love for the New York Rangers and Calgary Flames is equal. Please don't ask her to pick which one she loves more, this question has caused her to hyperventilate on more than one occasion. Cait survives on a steady diet of pizza, Coca Cola, hockey, and punk music. Don't try to talk her out of her 3rd Line Love Affair or expect her to call it a "hockey match". And yes, it's true, she stalks the AIHL. Find her on Twitter @_CaitMonster and don't hesitate to tweet at her or email her at caitplatt@gmail.com. Like we said, she doesn't sleep much.
Cait Platt

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  1. Have already suffered through two lock-outs in my NHL following days. The last lock-out did massive damage to the game.

    The TV networks needed something to fill the slot, so we saw the emergence of televised Poker. Cheaper and easier to produce than a live hockey broadcast. Even has similar sized viewership in some markets. When we got the NHL back, they were well down the food chain as far as networks were concerned.

    Idiotic greedy actions from Players and Owners (both backed by the NHL), most hurt the stadium and matchday staff as well as the fans. Owning a hockey team is a money pit, the owners are better off financially with their primary business interests, the players can take their talents to the lower leagues and Europe to earn a reasonable pay day. The guy who sells hotdogs, well he’s screwed ……

  2. What hypocrites these owners are! Can you imagine what would have been on the table if Sidney Crosby was UFA and not wanting to stay in Pittsburgh? If there is a lockout it will just drive fans to the minors and other leagues which might be a good thing if it stops these unsustainable contracts and brings ticket prices down.

    I’m thinking there will be a lockout this season, I will just have to find something else to watch. 🙁

    • There’s always hockey on, you just have to get creative. When I’m denied of the NHL in the summer, I watch the AIHL and NZIHL for a quick hockey fix. Hockey is growing internationally so there’s always a game on. It stinks but there are ways to get some hockey.

      • Where do you catch AIHL games? I like _in_ Australia and can’t see them anywhere but at the arena…

        • I can only see Melbourne Ice games here, they stream them on their Livestream page. Not the greatest but it does give me a way to see games

  3. This is insane. I’d very much like a piece on RFA, UFA, free agents, offer sheets, etc. I never feel like I have a solid grasp of that stuff.

  4. 1. Players salary packages are not presently sustainable. They need to grow uniformly at fixed rates for business viability. 2. Clubs in genuine need of assistance should get it through a better revenue sharing system and increased trading flexibility. The NHLPA already accepts both principles. The Owners know it makes commercial sense for them too, but in the longer term. They want more now. Well, there is no more.