David M Singer
Sep 18, 2004
With the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the NHL has announced a lockout. Unlike 1994, where people kept carrying hope with them, the most hopeful this time around are predicting a half-season, while many are already predicting the complete loss of this season and some are already pushing the labor disagreement into the 2005-2006 season.
The owners and players will both lose money. The owners claim it will be less money than if they would have played under the CBA, but the numbers have been fiercely debated by the Players' Association. Many players have already headed to Europe to earn a living, some with no desire to return to North America . Some will play in small tournaments, still pulling in cash from ticket sales. Of course some team employees, arena vendors and anyone living off the sport who's not a player or owner is affected as well, if not more than the players and owners themselves.
Everyone knows the sticking point by now: a hard cap or "cost certainty", but the NHLPA has said they will consider anything linking revenues to salaries a cap, and they will not accept any cap.
The CBA consists of more than just cap or no cap though, and we'd be fair to look over some other things that should be much easier for the NHL and NHLPA to modify and agree upon.
Lower the unrestricted free agent age
Currently at 31, it's the first time a player truly gets to test the market and see what he's worth. Many players are past their primes at that point, but big names will still draw big money. Call the players greedy all you want, but no one put a gun to management's head to sign players for the amounts they did. Unrestricted free agents were and are overpaid in dollar amounts. This in turn caused many restricted free agents to demand higher salaries using numbers as an argument - and when cases went to arbitration, the players generally won big.
If you're an owner, you're going to spend the big money on the best available free agent. Cap or no cap, that's not going to change.
Lowering the unrestricted free agent age creates not just a larger free agent pool, but more talented players in their prime into the pool. Not only will player be paid salaries closer to their actual production (relative to other players), but arbitrated salaries should be more on-target as well. It's not that the arbitration system is fine as it is, but that may be a whole article onto itself.
Lower the number of games played
Brian Burke just mentioned it. Gary Bettman mentioned it towards the end of last season. I wrote about it here a couple of years ago as well. Fewer games can benefit the league in a variety of ways.
For the players fewer games mean less fatigue and less injury. A preseason plus regular season plus playoffs is a lot of strain to put on one's body.
For the league fewer games could mean a more pleasing schedule to fans. More weekend games and no hockey in June to start off with.
Revise schedules completely
Don't just lower the number of games, but revamp who everyone plays. Have division rivals play each other seven or eight times per season and keep the rest of the games in conference. Eight games against division rivals and four against conference rivals is 72.
Division games create interest, create sellouts and they're generally cheaper travel as well. Makes sense for the fans, the players and the owners' wallets.
If you really need to have teams play interconference games we can borrow from other leagues' interconference play: have teams play non-divisional conference rivals three times instead of four and then pick a division from the other conference and play twice against each team in there; and then rotate divisions each season. If scheduling permits, make the games close to each other in the schedule to create a home and home like interest. If you have a heated game, you'll obviously sell more tickets if a rematch is sooner rather then later.
Even with a small interconference schedule, it's still less travel with likely more interest in regular season games. 12
16.5% looks good
Nothing special here, but if players are playing 12% less games and already said they'd give up 5%, after you take some sample numbers salaries should be scaled back 16.5%. This shouldn't be too hard to agree upon; owners have fewer seats to sell with fewer games and would probably have to take a hit on some television contracts as well.
Finishing up with the schedule
Lop off a preseason game or two for these guys. Rookies already have their own camps before normal camp even opens up. Players take care of themselves year-round nowadays. They simply don't need all those games to get into shape. So just to be nice to them, take a game or two off, let them rest.
Two-way contracts and lower buyouts
If players want to keep their guaranteed contracts, something has to give here. Owners (and fans) are tired of being stuck with players who sign large contracts and then lose all motivation to play the game.
Currently buyouts are two-thirds of a contract and then a player becomes an unrestricted free agent. While they should certainly be a UFA , the price is just too prohibitive for it to be exercised as much as it should be. Chop it in half, make it one-third, and also allow the team to pay it out over the period of time the original contract covered to allow for better budget management. For example: a player signs a 5-year $30 million contract ($6 mil per year to make things simple). After the first year, the team decides to cut that player. $6 mil has already been paid and $24 million is still owed. Instead of the team having to pay $8 million immediately, which would be more then what is budgeted for that player that season, thereby making the team having to reduce costs even more all-around to buyout this contract, allow them to pay $2 million over the next four years, which then makes a buyout a choice for a team that would like to immediately make room in their budget to bring in another player.
No one-way contracts are another option for highly paid players not performing. Make their minor league salary a percentage of their salary (higher then 33%, the buyout option) and allow any player who clears waivers to be sent to the minors.
Where there's a maximum, there's a minimum
With all this talk of salary caps and cost certainty you cannot forget that a minimum must be set for teams to spend. Where there's a ceiling, there's a floor. 80% of the maximum is a good start, so if the cap was set at $40 million, the minimum would be $32 million.
Punching through the ceiling
Simply put, allow teams to go over the cap, but tax them a ton with the money going to the lower-spending teams.
Directing the flow of the stream
Any money given to a team from revenue sharing or a luxury/over the cap tax system must be directed into player salaries, or at least a large percentage of it. In no way, shape or form should a team be allowed to pocket any of the shared money.
Long-term CBA and some grandfathering
Current contracts are what they are, even after a hypothetical 16.5% reduction. If you want to grandfather certain things into the new CBA, as some long-term signings should be, you need to have a long-term CBA for any of it to make any sense. If you've got a couple of players signed for 4+ years, a 6-year CBA agreement doesn't change management and planning like a 10-year deal could. Sign it, with some double-digit before the word "years" and let management and the fans each let out a big sigh of relief.
Don't forget about us, the fans
Some teams already lowered some ticket prices, others are promising to and Gary Bettman likes to mention that the league wants to lower ticket prices for games. When this is settled, we'll be waiting. One season of lower prices isn't going to do. Things should decrease and stay that way or rise very slowly compared to how they have over the last decade. If salaries are lowered and are more controlled, but ticket prices remain ridiculous - no one's going to be fooled.
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