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NHL CBA Negotiations: Just Over A Month Until Labor Agreement Armageddon

The NHL is pushing a deadline to get a CBA in place to keep games being played. Right now, those negotiations do not appear to be going well. Where are we, and what is going on?

Will this be the last crowd meeting at the X for a hockey related gathering for awhile?
Will this be the last crowd meeting at the X for a hockey related gathering for awhile?

There are few things in the sports fan's world that bring a chill to the spine faster than talking about collective bargaining agreements. CBAs are dry, boring, and serve to remind sports fans that the games they love really are businesses. It's the "millionaires vs billionaires," and the only ones who ever lose seem to be the fans and the businesses that rely on those sporting events being played. No one wants the fantasy shattered, the escape from reality to be brought back to reality.

Last season, the NBA lost games to the negotiation process. MLB lost the entire 1994 season, the NFL brought in replacement players, and in 2004-05, the NHL lost an entire season themselves. These serve as the reminders to all sides that the worst possible result is not a bad deal for one side of the other, but rather the loss of games being played.

Of course, for Minnesota NHL fans, losing games this season would be especially cruel with the signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, along with the long awaited arrival of Mikael Granlund from Finland. The loss of games, or an entire season, would be just the luck of Minnesota sports fans.

Where are we at?

The current CBA expires on September 15th. This gives the two sides roughly a month to work out a deal before training camp and prospect tournaments begin to be delayed or cancelled. The NHL made its opening proposal a month ago. Their deal was a laundry list of items that would make the owners drool, but no one who understands bargaining would ever believe the players would agree to. The list included:

  • Reduce players' share of revenues from 57% to 46%
  • 10 years experience before reaching UFA status
  • Contracts limited to 5 years
  • Removal of salary arbitration
  • Entry level contracts to five years

The NHLPA has, to date, not made a counter proposal to the NHL.

What is the hold up?

The NHLPA needs to make a counter proposal before the negotiations can continue. Once they do, things could get heated rather quickly, with both sides either finding ways to compromise, or digging in their heels and causing the nightmare scenario to unfold.

Donald Fehr, who led the MLBPA through the 1994 strike, is now in charge of the NHLPA. The NHLPA also took a bath in the last negotiations, giving up nearly all of the concessions they were fighting for, and entering a long period of looking rather lost when dealing with the NHL. The NHLPA is not going to want to back down again, and Fehr is not the type of guy who is going to be afraid to lead the PA off a cliff if he thinks it will get them what they want.

Sticking Points

The sticking points here are fairly obvious. The players are not going to submit to giving up salary plus the rights they have fought for years to win. Contracts and dollars are going to be huge, but the discipline system is one of the major points for the PA as well. Anyone who follows the NHL knows that the supplemental discipline system is, at best, suspect. The PA is going to fight hard for a new system, though until we get wind of the counter proposal, we won't know exactly what they are looking for.

CBA negotiations are the only time a discipline system is going to get serious attention, and the NHLPA knows that.

Can it get done?

As time passes, the faith that this can get done continues to wane. If this negotiation had started with a rational offer from the league, maybe that wouldn't be the case. However, the pieces are adding up to, at very least, an NBA type situation where the schedule becomes compressed or games are lost. This is bad news for everyone involved, but once again, the fans are the only ones who actually lose.

There is still time, but at this point, both sides look to be willing to jump off a cliff that absolutely does not need to even be approached.

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.