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I’m not a lawyer, a player or an owner, but I do have a vested interest in the entity that is NHL hockey. For over 35 years, the arrival of the fall season, while marked with trepidation at the upcoming temperature drop, also filled me with joy as it was a sign of the upcoming return of NHL hockey. But now, for the 2nd time in 8 years, this is not the case. The owners, not happy with the financial agreement they put in place, have locked out the players.

Before I get to my solution, I will quickly say the following. I understand both sides of this argument. Yes, the players made every concession in the agreement that ended the ’04 lockout, but they have benefitted GREATLY from that agreement, so much so that they extended it 4 years after that lockout. And yes, the owners are the ones that need policies in place because they can’t control themselves, but is it not the right of the owner(s) of a business to re-evaluate the business model and make adjustments?

All that being said, here is my new 10 year Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for the NHL.

Since the end of the last lockout, the NHL has enjoyed an annual growth rate of over 7%. For the sake of this argument, we are going to assume a continued growth, but at a more conservative 4%.

The players don’t want to lose anything off of their existing contracts, which is understandable. But in order to go from the current 57% of hockey related revenue (HRR) that the players enjoy to the accepted middle ground of 50-50, there will have to be concessions.

Year 1 : 54% of revenue to the players.

In my proposal, the owners will once again have a one-time buyout option of a current contract that will not count against the salary cap. But rather than a reduced amount (currently 2/3), they will have to pay 100% of the value of the contract they want to buyout. This will allow the owners to get below the salary cap while honoring the existing contracts at full value.

Year 2,3,4 : Players share is 51%, 48%, and 47%.

While the total percentage of the players take from HRR slides downwards, with the expected annual growth (4%, stated earlier), the players actual salary should not decrease, and the net final outcome of the first 4 years of the CBA is a 50-50 split of revenue.

Years 5 through 10, 50-50 split.

In year 5, the players get a serious boost as their percentage of revenue jumps 4 points to get to the 50-50 level. This will allow players just coming into the league now to benefit from some long term growth and will allow teams to hang onto some players that they normally might have to part with as a talented young team matures.

The continued split of HRR at the 50% level should allow everyone concerned to be happy moving forward.

This agreement is 10 years long for 2 reasons. First of all, it gives the fans some comfort in knowing that there will be a decade of labour peace, and they can once again put the hearts behind their teams. Second, it lasts one year longer than the current 2 billion dollar TV deal with NBC. So no matter what happens with the next deal, be it up or down, the league has a year to react in the CBA negotiations.

Overtime. 3 quick points

1-With the extra revenue now flowing to the owners, they need to put a better revenue sharing plan in place to help the “smaller markets” keep up with the growth of the larger ones.

2-Don’t limit the term of contracts. Simply make whatever amount the player is being paid in any given year the amount that counts against the cap.

3-A negotiation clause that states both sides must start negotiating, in good faith, at least 1 calendar year before the end of the agreement.

So that’s it. Let’s shake hands and make up, and drop the puck please.

A new hope? That’s what most people thought when the NHL submitted their now infamous 50/50 proposal the the NHLPA. Was it a gesture in good faith? Well…

WHAT IF Gary Bettman intended for the sole purpose of the proposal was to bring the NHLPA out of the woodwork?

Bettman and his number two, Bill Daly had, for weeks, said that it was the union’s turn to submit their own proposal. Why not simply ask to resume talks, instead of giving the NHL fans false hope that a resolution was closer than it appeared?

And given the vagueness in the proposal, where re-numeration in full of existing player contracts was concerned, did the NHL owners actually think that Donald Fehr wouldn’t sniff that part out?  If you look at the numbers, there would be a 14% reversal in share distribution… in the owners’ favour.

With the being said,…

WHAT IF the 48 hour window given to teams, in order to communicate with players, was simply a public relations ploy?

Well, I wouldn’t put it past Bettman to pull a stunt like this. Given the majority of fans side with the players, the NHL commissioner needed to push a few of the NHLPA’s buttons. The reaction of Donald and Steven Fehr to this supposed improper labour negotiations practice was exactly what the league ordered.  And to that effect,…

WHAT IF the NHL’s imposed deadline, which has come and gone, was another way to sway public opinion in their favour?

I’m sure, given the uncertain terms outlined in the proposal, the NHL was sure that the Players’ Association would most certainly reject the proposal outright. In knowing this, they would have purposely forced the NHLPA to counter-offer, only Bettman didn’t expect three proposals to come back his way.

That, in itself, begs the question …

WHAT IF the quick, ten minute rejection of all three NHLPA proposals was due to the NHL’s unpreparedness to deal?

Between you and I, giving a deal five years to get to a percentage split that is exactly what the NHL owners want isn’t really that outlandish, is it? Furthermore, since the NHL’s proposal included no rollback, is it so bad to ask for an explanation as to how the owners would “guarantee” that players receive full payment of existing contracts?


Here’s something else to think about. Gary Bettman’s autobiography (titled “The Instigator”) outlines his thesis at Cornell University being about the mafia. Because of this fact I ask…

WHAT IF the NHL commissioner gave the Players’ Association “an offer they couldn’t refuse?”

A preset deadline and unwillingness to waiver from the company line sounds exactly like something Don Corleone would do in Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather.” Is Gary Bettman taking his negotiating tactics to that level, and does he really think that constitutes bargaining in good faith?

With today’s comments by former Canadiens’ forward Michael Cammalleri, who questioned whether the NHL commissioner was “running a professional league or the mafia”, what next? A horse’s head in Donald Fehr’s bed.

I mean really, WHAT IF?


So the NHL has proposed a deal which, in principle, is more along the lines of what the NHLPA was looking for. Sure there will be a counter-proposal as well, but why now Gary?

The NHL Commissioner’s office has been clamoring for weeks now that they expected the Players’ Association to come up with the next CBA proposal.  And couldn’t this deal have been done in the summer, and avoided all these delays in the season, not to mention fan frustration?

Given the circumstances of the proposal, and it’s appearance out of left field, I may be inclined to think my piece fromtwo weeks ago (Coach K’s What If: Bettman/Owners Rift?) may be closer to being the truth than a mere hypothesis. And if so that begs the question…

WHAT IF there are some of the “Big 10” NHL owners who are fed up of Gary Bettman’s bull-headed negotiating philosophies?

Is it possible that some of the bigger fish in the NHL ownership hierarchy are no longer as sold as they were when Gary Bettman was initially hired by former Habs’ President Ronald Corey (yes, HIM!!!), disgraced former L.A. Kings owners Bruce McNall, Philadelphia Flyers’ owner Ed Snyder and Bill Wirtz, the deceased former owner of the Chicago Blackhawks?

Mr. Snyder has been identified in multiple instances as not being overly enthusiastic with Bettman’s stubborn persona.

It’s well known that Bettman is a lawyer, but he majored at Cornell University in International Labour Relations. What if the lessons taught to Mr. Bettman do not apply to labour negotiations as it pertains to North American business? When you deal on an international level, you need to have a certain amount of resolve to make sure that your particular country benefits as well as it can from labour contracts, but how can you do that in this case?

WHAT IF the “Big 10” amongst the NHL owners no longer have the power they once yielded?

Needless to say that Jeremy Jacobs, Dan Snyder and the other owners that make up the “Big 10” have controlled the league, through Gary Bettman, for the better part of the last 20 years, but  has this latest labour dispute weakened their stranglehold on the remaining smaller market owners in the NHL? While some think it’s unlikely, I’m of the opinion that these owners have not only dictated their operational terms to the players, but to the smaller market owners in the league as well. And the other 2/3 of the league’s owners won’t stand for it.

While we are on that subject, some of the small market owners in the NHL are fed up of the lack of communications between them and Gary Bettman, in regards to the CBA negotiations. This continued power struggle between the two NHL ownership factions continues may beg the question…

WHAT IF Gary Bettman were on his way out in order to maintain ownership peace in the NHL?

Again, his recent contract extension would suggest a fair bit of satisfaction from his employers, the NHL Board of Governors, but the shear fact that this type of proposal, and its timing, are so far out of left field from Bettman’s normal behaviour, I can’t help but wonder if his “Napoleon Complex” has been shattered? Just look at his body language and his tone of voice during his press conference announcing the proposal.

Does he really look like a man in control, or has he indeed been broken?

Small market owners can ill afford to lose major chunks of their revenues from ticket sales and sponsorship. Relieving Mr. Bettman of his duties as NHL commissioner may go a long way to restoring the relationship among all 30 NHL owners.

But if he is “leaving” once the CBA is resolved, who could be the most likely candidate to replace him?

The majority of the hockey world think that an individual like Wayne Gretzky, who has been the face of the NHL for the better part of three decades, would be the best candidate. Simply put, while The Great One’s grace and personality would certainly be a refreshing change, his rift with the league over outstanding payment from Phoenix, as well as his lack of administrative experience, would be a detriment to the Commissioner’s Office.

Could Bill Daly fill the position? Well, as far as mental toughness is concerned, he could certainly fit the “bill”, but I think the NHL needs a clean break from anything “Bettman-esque”, so Daly wouldn’t be a wise choice.

All things considered, I could rattle off a list until the cows come home (I live in the city, that could be a while). But I wonder,…

WHAT IF the NHL hired someone like Bill Clinton to be its next commissioner?

No, I’m not saying the league should hire the former president of the United States, but instead someone with his public popularity and experience building different international relationships. For all intensive purposes, only someone who worked at a very high political scale can really understand the complexities of different labour situations. Lawyers tend to always look at things from their client’s perspective only, and never on the grand scheme of things.

Then again, with any luck, we’ll probably end up with Commissioner Schwarzenegger.

But really, WHAT IF?

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Exactly a month to the day that this unsightly NHL lockout started, Gary Bettman and his gang of merry owners decided to make the first meaningful proposal of this tiresome bargaining process.

Yes, I know, there have been many proposals to date. But the one made today was the first meaningful one, in that it will finally move the two sides towards negotations and away from rhetoric.

The full details of the NHL’s proposal to the PA have yet to be divulged, but what is clear is that the league offered a 50/50 split of Hockey Related Revenues (HRR).

That is significant simply because 50/50 is exactly where most experts expected this thing to end up once the dust had settled.

So why the sudden movement from an ownership group who seemed as resolved and entrenched as ever?

Rustling in the leaves

Despite the outward lock-step that Bettman and the owners seem to be in, there has been a lot of rumblings lately that all was not happy in paradise.

In addition, there has been word that perhaps there is a faction of NHL owners who are tired of Bettman and want him replaced. Moreover, while some are certainly prepared to sit out another season, others are not.

All of this is, of course, is based on a few pieces that were published over the last week or so, but given the sudden change in tone from the league, perhaps there is something to these stories.

My money says that there is a portion of the NHL ownership that wants to get back to playing hockey and making money. Moreover, I think this segment probably lobbied the rest and pushed Bettman towards making an uncharacteristically amenable offer to his player’s union counterparts.

If you haven’t seen Bettman’s press conference, go check it out on TSN.ca.

Gone is his brash arrogance. Gone is his petulance. Gone is the guy who’s head shakes with disdain the moment anyone even thinks about disagreeing with him.

In his place, was a man who looked a little defeated. At least in my eyes.

But maybe I’m just reading into it.

What’s next

Despite the joy erupting throughout the Twitterverse that a deal is imminent, there is still a lot of work to do. The NHLPA will surely reject the current proposal, but probably not outright.

And that’s to be expected when it comes to collective bargaining. You never accept what you are offered…you always ask for more.

This is precisely why this offer is perhaps indicative of Bettman’s shaky footing, coming in at exactly the number that most felt this thing would settle at, instead of higher.

When you know the other side will ask for concessions and the number you want is 50/50, wouldn’t you make a proposal at, say, 52/48?

However this ends up playing out, the proposal from the league—which is contingent on playing an 82-game season starting November 2, 2012—is a starting point for true negotiations…something that we have not yet seen in this process.

My feeling is that the PA will come back with modifications, and the two sides will sit down for some lengthy sessions over the next few weeks. But, ultimately, I think that unless something comes out of the proposal that is completely obscene, the puck should be dropping on this season in early November.

And this from a guy who thought, just a week ago, that the whole season might be lost!

I will say one thing though. If the PA decides to outright reject this proposal, then I think all hope will be lost for this season and perhaps beyond.

What about you? Do you think this proposal can salvage the season?


“There will be no discussion about core economic issues” 

“As long as the players’ association refuses to submit an offer, we will continue to have an impasse.”

You know, if we go back 8 years, to the beginnings of the 2004-2005 NHL lockout, we could take quotes from both sides, swap out some choice words and phrases, and at the end of the day, it would be like the scripts from Rocky III and IV. (Yeah, Rocky wins in the end.) Both sides are predictable and without variance. There’s little originality, and a minimum amount of thought is required to come to the proper conclusion. But who is Rocky and who is Clubber Lang or Ivan Drago in these CBA negotiations? If predictability is any indication, the NHLPA is the underdog, negotiating from the weak side, and the league is the big bad villain, coming from a position of strength.

WHAT IF core economics have been negotiated in sub-committees?

It’s common practice, in any negotiations, to compartmentalize different issues, and create different teams to address them. What if, when address on Friday, Bill Daly was unaware of any progress being made, and simply denied any core economic discussion until he had been briefed? When you spend that much time playing to the masses via the media to gain favour, any “uh…I don’t know” moments would look like you didn’t really care. Not a popular position to be in with a hoard of hockey hungry fans hanging on your every word.

WHAT IF the current economic climate in the United States is the catalyst behind what is perceived to be greed by the NHL and its’ owners?

Like any business, the economics of a given time dictate what kind of growth can be expected. Unfortunately, Gary Bettman is a lawyer and not an accountant, and all he and Bill Daly do is repeat what some of the league’s high-priced bean-counters tell them to say. Really, what do you they really know about economics? When the last CBA was negotiated, the Canadian dollar went from 71.2 cents USD in September 2004 to 82.3 cents USD at the same time the next year. What if Bettman and his financial team saw the 14% increase as momentary glitch in terms of the league’s economics? He’s gone on record saying the increased value of the Canadian dollar has had no direct impact on the league’s revenues, but how can that even be remotely true with 20% of your business, which is generating the majority of your league’s revenues, is on the North Side of the 49th parallel?

WHAT IF in the second year of the CBA (2005-2006) the NHL realized that they signed a deal that was detrimental to their bottom line?

When was the last time you paid an employee more than you could make in profits? That’s effectively what the league did when the agreed to increment the players’ share of hockey related revenue by .5% for the entirety of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. And while half a percentage point does seems like much, what if the percentage increased as the US dollar dropped?  With 80% of the league’s teams in the US, the declining economic climate cost the owners more than any of them could have anticipated.

WHAT IF currency and HRR fluctuations were factored into the negotiating process?

By all accounts, they HAVE to be. If the NHL is serious about creating a climate with a reasonable amount of cost-certainty, then those 2 factors have to be accounted for. And there no way the NHLPA, in good conscience, could ignore that fact. If the union has any sense of economics, they have already identified that fact. What if those factors were the biggest reason why the PA found the NHL’s original offer ludicrous? That would explain a lot, wouldn’t it?

WHAT IF the NHLPA decided to attack the salary cap, in an attempt to gain ground in the negotiations?

Last week, I asked if there was a rift between the owners and Gary Bettman. Well, any ideas about eliminating the salary cap would guarantee 2 things. First, the NHL would counter that idea with a push for non-guaranteed contracts, and second – and worst of all – it would galvanize the owners’ resolve. Not exactly 2 things the NHLPA would be hoping for. Negotiating in good faith requires sometimes requires sides to ignore the obvious, and find a middle ground that is beneficial to both sides.

WHAT IF advertising dollars needed to be shared between 2 teams in a given market?

Say, for example, the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, want to get a particular sponsor to advertise with them. Sometimes, it’s tough to differentiate between which market would be better suited for your product (like Coppertone and Speedos, but I digress.) The point is that separate contracts have to be signed. The NHL has no interest in reducing the hockey related revenue numbers by doubling up on advertising dollars, regardless of the market.

Today, the NHL and the NHLPA get together once again to show that they are trying to hash out a deal. However, is that what really happening, or have the gloves come off in the negotiating process?

Really, WHAT IF?

“The NHL and NHLPA held meeting for 5 hours today…”

“The NHL and NHLPA agreed on issues regarding arbitration, free agency and …”

“The League and PA are still not on the same page on core economic issues.”

We keep hearing the same quotes over and over again in regards to the latest NHL labour strife. Similar to the lockout of 2004-2005, Gary Bettman and the NHL Board of Governors seem intent on trying to break the Players’ union again through the belief that locking out NHL players is the best strategy to force thier brand of equitable economics down their throats. And while we all wait with baited breath for a resolution to come forth that both sides can agree on, most media outlets and followers of the Twitterverse are spending the majority of their time laying the blame on either side, or prognosticating the over/under on when the lockout will end.

WHAT IF there was a rift forming between NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and some of the NHL owners he represents?

Back when the last lockout was coming to an end, certain concessions were made by the NHLPA that beleaguered the majority of the hockey world. Aside from the newly imposed salary cap, an escrow account was created, which the players pay into from their yearly salaries. This account was created to ensure an equitable revenue split, with a percentage going to both the players and owners depending on the amount of “hockey related revenue” for a given season. With the league currently locked out, all players will at least have some cash flow in October because the league will return most, if not all, of each player’s escrow payments from last season. What if this isn’t sitting well with the NHL owners, who Bettman apparently promised would see their percentage of the money in escrow, regardless of any future labour disruptions?

WHAT IF Jeremy Jacobs, Chairman of the NHL Board of Governors would have egg on his face?

In 2011-2012, a $2 Billion deal was reached for the rights to broadcast NHL games between the league and the NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) in the United States. What if Jeremy Jacobs, who was responsible for the deal coming together, was starting to feel some heat from NBC? While most think the NHL Winter Classic, slated to take place this year on January 1st 2013 in Ann Arbor Michigan, is the most important date to the NHL and its governors, what if NBC’s sponsors for their NHL coverage began looking at other avenues to advertise their products? And if NBC plans to replace NHL programming, should the need arise, what if the popular belief among sponsors is that replacing hockey with soccer, boxing and some original programming cannot match the NHL’s ratings? Jacobs’ reputation would be feeling the pinch. What if his involvement in the deal has spawned a small rift between he and Bettman. Publically, they would continue to show a united front, but would that really be the truth?

WHAT IF some owners are wondering why, with Bettman original belief that league revenues would grow during its duration, was a deal struck that INCREASED as did league revenues, instead of decrease?

In the last Collective Bargaining Agreement, the players’ percentage of HRR went from 54% in year 1 of the deal to 57% in year 7. With league revenues reported at $3.3 Billion last season, has it only recently dawned on the NHL commissioner that he has cost his owners approximately half a billion dollars over the past 7 seasons?

WHAT IF a few agents indicated, after the short 45 minute bargaining session between the two sides on Tuesday morning, that NHL owners have told Commissioner Bettman to move on certain economic issues in order to expedite a resolution?

During the session, the NHL’s bargaining team attempted the redefine “hockey related revenues”, which the Players’ association saw as an attempt to guarantee reduction in the players’ piece of the pie. Put that together, What if the NHLPA caught on quickly and NHL owners clearly thought that Bettman’s abilty to negociate an new and owner-friendly Collective Agreement is beginning to waiver?

WHAT IF Gary Bettman was actually relieved of his duties once a resolution was struck?

While many believe that the extension granted to Bettman last season almost guarantees job security, what if there are a handful of NHL owners who will be asking for his head on a platter? Whether he gets the ax or not, what if 3 work stoppages and failed expansions into the Southeast, MidWest and Phoenix have perminently tarnished what Gary Bettman holds dearest to his heart…his legacy?

WHAT IF players and owners could agree on a simple solution?

What if the NHL proposed setting a share of 53% of HRR to players, while having a condition where if revenues grew the percentage dropped 2 points to 51%, or grew 2 point to 55% if the hockey related revenues grew? Wouldn’t that compose the “cost-certainty” that Bettman, Daly and the NHL bigwigs are looking for?

Really,  WHAT IF?