Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Contract issues latest sticking point

Ladd says owners' stance overly restrictive

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AS negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement inch along, sometimes forwards and sometimes backwards, every day seems to be a blend of hope and frustration.

After nearly a week of intense back-and-forth, including weekend phone conversations and a Sunday meeting, Monday was a quiet day in the story.

Which is likely a good thing, so labour matters didn't completely overshadow the annual Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.

But while the NHL and NHL Players Association took a day to reflect on the state of affairs and celebrate the HoF inductees, there was no burying the latest matter in which the two sides are stuck.

Contract issues.

Namely, how the NHL, from its offer of Oct. 18, is demanding the system and rules be changed to put a chill into the climate of salary escalation.

The items it's insisting upon (see chart) work in concert -- that's why the league isn't eager to stand down on one or another of them -- and are a clear attempt to have players go through at least three contracts before they hit the frequent jackpot of unrestricted free agency.

But since there appears to be at least a conceptual agreement that the future revenue split between the league and players will be 50-50, the players' side continues to bristle at further changes to contracting rules.

Jets captain Andrew Ladd has spoken of this frustration many times in the last month, and stuck to his guns Monday.

 

"Unfortunately we've seen this before," Ladd said. "We feel as players, the amount we're giving back on the economic side (the 50-50 split), that we should be able to negotiate on these player contracting issues that they seem to need to move forward.

"I don't know how they justify needing all that stuff in order to make the game work.

"Nothing seems to amaze me at this point."

Ladd and many of his NHLPA brethren believe it's simply overkill on a system that already has a lot of restrictions.

"For the amount we're giving back in different areas, they keep putting more and more restrictions on us and at the end of the day, it just comes down to the principle of the thing," he said. "We feel we've given up enough. Now it's their turn to be respectful of the process and fair in the bargaining process."

In particular, the league is alarmed at all the "home runs" that are being hit by players coming out of the entry level.

Three of the best examples of contracts that are considered inflationary, deals that raise a bar that never comes back down, belong to Toronto's Phil Kessel (2009), Ottawa's Erik Karlsson (2012) and Winnipeg's Evander Kane (2012).

Kessel scored a five-year deal at the end of his entry-level three years, that averaging $5.4 million per season. His points chart in his three entry-level years were 29, 37 and then 60.

Would he have scored that big if he'd had to sign after the 37-point season?

The same goes for Karlsson, who got an average of $6.5 million for seven years this summer. His points chart was 26, 45, 78. It's worth noting Karlsson was minus-30 in his 45-point season but made the big contract score the next year, in which he was voted the Norris Trophy winner.

Kane's tale is similar.

When he hit restricted free agency the first time, the Jets paid him an average of $5.25 million over six years after seasons scoring 14, 19 and 30 goals.

Though things were not left in a happy state when the sides parted after a short meeting in New York Sunday, both the league and players have left the door open for the resumption of talks this week.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

 

 

 

Contract rights -- the latest NHL/NHLPA impasse:

 

ItemThe way things wereThe way the NHL wants themContract length (beyond entry level)No limitFive-year maximumSalary variableDifference in years may not be greater than the amount of the lower of the first two years; any decrease may not exceed 50 per cent of the lower of the first two yearsStrict 5 per cent maximum variance up or down throughout a contract.Unrestricted free agency27 years old or 7 years played28 years old or 8 years playedArbitration rightsafter 4 years for any player who first signs between the age of 18 and 20After 5 years for any player who first signs between the age of 18 and 20.Entry levelMandatory 3-year contract for any player first signing between ages 18 to 21Mandatory 2-year contract for any player signing between ages 18 to 24

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 13, 2012 C1

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