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Contract issues keeping players and owners apart as season shrinks

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Just for the record, the last NHL collective bargaining agreement with its players is a wordy, complicated 475-page tome with enough "whereases" and "heretofores" to put even the most diligent lawyer into a deep snooze.

And as hockey fans have discovered, getting to the point where the NHL and NHL Players' Association legal teams can pore over the placement of every comma has been no simple task.

The two sides met again Wednesday in New Jersey with mediators, but the talks went nowhere and the lockout is reaching the three-month mark.

So consider this a bit of a refresher on where they were, where they are today and what key issues are keeping arenas dark all over North America.

 

No. 1: THE REVENUE SPLIT

Arguably the meatiest of all issues, the two sides are said to be close to a 50-50 agreement, although how quickly they get there is still to be hammered out in the boardroom.

Under the last CBA, the players received 57 per cent of all hockey-related revenue. The league's first offer during the summer asked for that share to be reversed, with players taking 43 per cent.

Our take: Not the deal-breaker it was once thought to be, especially back in the summer.

 

No. 2: THE LENGTH OF THE DEAL

The league wants labour peace, especially after losing the 2004-05 season and already a good chunk of this winter. It first asked for a five- or six-year deal and moved in its last offer to a 10-year deal with an opt-out clause after eight for both parties.

The NHLPA, has also moved on this, countering with an eight-year deal with a six-year opt-out clause. Originally, the union asked for a five-year deal.

Our take: Go for 10 to eliminate going through this nightmare again for awhile. But, if that can't work, split the difference with a nine-year CBA.

 

No. 3: ADJUSTING THE SALARY CAP

Under the expired CBA, the 2012-13 salary-cap max was set at $70.2 million -- up $6 million from last year -- and the floor was $54.2 million. Those figures were set by adding or subtracting $8 million from the midpoint in team payrolls.

The NHL's last proposal called for the $70.2-million max to remain in place for this year, but for a max of $60 million for the next two years and a number reflective of a 50-50 split after that. The players asked for the cap to start at $67.25 million and never drop below that, and that the cap and floor be now set by moving 20 per cent from the midpoint. Essentially, that would allow a greater payroll range and spread the difference between the rich and tight-spending franchises. The NHL wants nothing to do with entrenching a "have" and "have-not" system that would potentially compromise competitive balance.

Our take: Again, seems like there could be some middle ground found here.

 

No. 4: MAXIMUM CONTRACT LENGTH

The players have moved on this issue and have accepted the idea of maximum contract length. The NHL wants to limit the length at five years while allowing teams to re-sign their own players to seven-year deals. That's the "hill we will die on" issue for the league, as laid out by deputy commissioner Bill Daly last week. What the NHL wants is to protect itself from its GMs who sign players to long-term deals that are front-loaded early in the contract. It would do this by preventing salaries from varying more than five per cent from year to year. Pointed out last week: In 2004, there was one contract six years or longer; now there are 90.

The players have countered with an eight-year max. Their concern is that this new arrangement will mean star players will get their coin, but there will be no "middle class." Instead, rosters will be filled out with players earning considerably less than the elite.

Our take: Again, seems like there could be some middle ground found here.

 

No. 5: 'MAKE-WHOLE'

NHL owners were said to be livid last week when their offer to bump up their total in make-whole money -- a way to guarantee existing contracts under a new deal -- was pushed from $211 million to $300 million as part of a 50-50 revenue split. The NHLPA had been asking for $393 million.

The NHL also dropped its idea of changing the rules on unrestricted free agency, entry-level contracts and arbitration -- all of which were to be adjusted under their first offer last July -- in the hope the NHLPA would bite on the total package. The league's first offer had players spending 10 years in the NHL before reaching unrestricted free agency, the abolition of salary arbitration and entry-level contracts lasting two years instead of three.

Our take: Given the losses sustained through the first three months of the lockout, it's hard to imagine the NHL moving much more -- if at all -- off $300 million.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca
Twitter: @WFPEdTait

 

REVENUE SPLIT:

50-50

Where they were: Players/owners 57/43 in the last CBA

Where they are: Much closer to 50-50, although how quickly they get there is still on the table

 

CBA LENGTH:

10 years

Where they were: This has been all over the place with the league first asking for a five- to six-year deal; the NHLPA wants a five.

Where they are: The NHL is now at 10 with a mutual opt out at eight. The NHLPA has also moved, offering an eight-year deal with an opt out after six.

 

THE CAP:

$70.2 million

Where they were: The cap ceiling was to be $70.2 this year under the old CBA, with a floor of $54.2

Where they are: The league has offered to keep the number at $70.2 million this year, but drop to $60 million after that. The NHLPA doesn't want that great a drop from Year 1 to 2 in the deal.

 

CONTRACT LENGTH:

5 vs. 8

Where they were: This is an issue the NHL wants to push, in essence, to protect general managers from themselves. Capping contracts at five years prevents GMs from inking players to those long, front-loaded deals that inevitably handcuff teams.

Where they are: The NHLPA has moved here and is now cool with the idea of maximum lengths, although their number is eight years, not five.

 

MAKE WHOLE:

$300 million

Where they were: One of the most-complex issues of a new CBA will be 'make-whole' or how to help guarantee the value of existing contracts under a new deal. The NHLPA had been asking for $393 million, the league first countered with $211.

Where they are: The NHL has moved on this, to $300 million, but it was said to be part of their overall package and was yanked last week.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 13, 2012 D1

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