CBA Talks; What Has Happened, Will Happen & Should Happen >

Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012 -

I'll spare you the recycled "All I wanted under the Christmas tree was a new CBA" cliches, and get straight to the meat of the situation. 

The Holidays have come and gone, and still we sit in a motionless CBA impasse. It had been reported that Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly contacted Steve Fehr on the 22nd by phone, but no further information was given on how that conversation went. To this minute, there are no meetings scheduled between the League and Players' Association. Just a silent, infuriating stalemate which has been fed by litigation rather than good ol' fashion bargaining. 

Since I last put pen to paper, NHL Players have voted to give the Union power of dissolution by way of a disclaimer of interest. The I's had it, totaling 706 votes for, and only a mere 22 against the movement. The NHLPA executive board has until January 2nd to file this disclaimer of interest. 

If the executive board files the disclaimer, the union would dissolve and become a trade association. That would allow players to file antitrust lawsuits against the NHL. If the Jan. 2 deadline passes, another authorization vote could be held to approve a later filing. []

If you don't already, I highly suggest following TSN Legal Analyst, Eric Macramalla (@EricOnSportsLaw), who's done a phenomenal job explaining the legal steps each side's taken in the last month. Even if you do not partake to Twitter, Eric's been on the litigation front, posting his insight on whenever the lockout's branched off into the courtroom. 

It's something we hoped we'd never see, but it's here now. This insanely damaging dispute can no longer be resolved by the poetic fibers of business ethics. Instead, it's taken an ugly turn with threats of going to trial. 

But let's take a step back. Just because the Players have voted to give their representation the power to walk away doesn't mean the NHLPA has dissolved just yet. In fact, now's not the time for the Union to pack their bags and leave the Players standing in the path of possible destruction. 

There is a certain legal phrase called "good faith" that the Players and their Union must acknowledge before officially blowing up their binding kinship.

If the NHL has any say in the courtroom, it's this -- A disclaimer of interest must be in good faith. A Union's mere statement that it's no longer representing the Players may not be enough to discharge that good faith obligation. You need to look at the surrounding circumstances, including the conduct of the parties after dissolution, to determine if the Union has really stopped representing the players. [Macramalla]

The Players cannot simply use this disclaimer of interest as a bargaining tactic to get the Owners to cave on concessions. Not all the while having the NHLPA's reps (Donald Fehr) advising the Players after the fact. So in other words, if the Players go through with dissolution, they'd have to part ways with Fehr & Co.

Now, I know that sounds like good news, but the whole point of filing for disclaimer of interest is so that the Players have the power to sue the NHL in court for antitrust offenses. These lawsuits could take years to build before they see a courtroom, and neither side wants to experience that amount of time. Not that they'd have to worry -- that would surely sink the NHL beyond depths of recovery. 

So then why even flirt with this idea?

Macramalla's explained that once dissolution has happened, the Players have the ability to ask the court to lift the lockout immediately in the name of Emergency Relief. 

There's two kinds of 'relief' that the Players could receive in trial; One is (as I mentioned) Emergency Relief, which is having the lockout lifted and the Players begin receiving paychecks. The other form of relief is billions of dollars owed to the Players should the lockout be deemed illegal by court of law (again, that trial could take years). 

A little FYI -- The billions of dollars that would be owed to the Players would reach a pinnacle equal to three-times the amount they'd receive from the League's revenue sharing. It'd basically bankrupt the NHL into a miserable, dark oblivion. 

Okay, shake the terror from your eyes because this, of course, hasn't happened. Not yet, anyways. The Players' vote is just a spray of Windex on the window of what the Owners could be getting themselves into. It's supposed to make the Owners sweat a little. Make them feel uneasy. And, ultimately, push them closer to giving in on the Union's last requests.

And that's where we stand today. Behind closed doors, the Owners could be violently dialing their lawyers and prepping for a war of exhausting litigation. Or the added pressure could be squeezing them closer to saying, "What the hell, give 'em this and let's drop the puck."

Just as a quick reminder, the parties are separated by a simple economic axiom; Which of us is going to pay more of our monies to financially help the lesser 2/3rds of the NHL Clubs?

The NHL's problem is not that it has grown its revenues, but HOW it's grown its revenues. 

Media Consultant, Gary Belsky, published an article with's Business & Technology section, titled "Hockey’s Wealth Redistribution Problem: What’s Really Behind The NHL Lockout".

In his article, Gary explains that the NHL is not in the financial crisis they've made themselves out to be. In fact, the NHL's top revenue-generating Clubs have the ability to save their lower tier brethren, but the Owners insist on asking the Players to pay more out-of-pocket. 

Picture the National Hockey League as a country with government. Belsky implies that the NHL would be better off saving itself by introducing a form of Socialism to its economic system. The richest pay higher taxes to the government, while the troubled lower class pay the least taxes to the government. These taxes (controlled by the government) then circulate through the economy and bridge each class closer to financial equality. 

Taxes, in this example, would obviously be the amounts paid towards the League's revenue-sharing pool. The revenue-sharing program represents the controlled flow of these taxes. 

Teams like Toronto and Montreal would pour more into the pool than teams like Phoenix and Florida. The results would almost be instantaneous. Franchises in the red would come spilling back into the black, and a leveled economic structure would thrust the collective-NHL upward into the profitable heavens. 

To give you more perspective -- Philadelphia's doubled its revenue in the last 7-seasons, whereas Nashville has only increased theirs by a 19% margin. Yet both Clubs pay the identical percentage in salaries and revenue-sharing. To close that gap, Players want teams like the Flyers to pay more in revenue. 

There are teams (the Flyers and Leafs specifically) willing to share more in revenue, just not to the point the Players are requesting. The Players want that entire deficit  covered by the richer franchises while possessing no onus to the solution themselves.

This is where my "both sides are to blame" argument sets in. There's no "partnership" in that methodology.

These negotiations aren't about coming out as a winner. There really shouldn't be any loser, either. Collective bargaining is about winning some ground while civilly giving ground. Like the grooves in LEGOS, it takes a collected effort to build the bridge that gets BOTH sides closer to where they want/need to be....

On the ice. 

The NHL's canceled all regular season games through January 14. It's been speculated that the next bulk of games to be canceled will be the remainder of the 2012-13 season altogether. 

* * * *

Now that we're at this impasse with no visible end on the horizon, let's discuss what the NHL should do once this work-stoppage ends.

ESPN's brilliant hockey mind, Pierre LeBrun, has 10 ways for the NHL to recover from the lockout --

1. Give away the NHL Center Ice package for the entire season after you return, as well as the Game Center package online. If you’re going to beg fans to return, might as well make it easy on them.

Nothing would please me more than to have my hockey back. Once it returns, I will admittedly return with it. I'll go to games, watch them on television, and shamelessly purchase merchandise. Along with my spending, I was going to buy NHL Center Ice. I do every season. But I agree with Pierre, it better come free. 

2. Ensure that realignment happens for the 2013-14 season. The buzz that surrounded the realignment conversation last season during the NHL’s failed attempt at switching up its conferences and divisions was surreal. Fans loved debating the future look of the league. The NHLPA, which blocked realignment last year, must work with the NHL to make realignment happen for next season. It’s what the fans want.

A year ago, the NHL approved a four-conference realignment. Unfortunately the development was put on hold indefinitely due to NHLPA's Donald Fehr being concerned that its structure was flawed. The League and Union went back and forth addressing each others questions. But the realignment was never executed. 

That right there was my first sign of the labor dispute that followed into the summer. 

No matter how "flawed" it may have been, it was still an exciting idea. Just imagining the possibility of seeing the Flyers face the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final gave me old-time-hockey goosebumps.

But first things first, the Players and Owners need to climb this CBA mountain before we can even begin thinking about an entire facelift to the League's conferences. 

3. Add a "play-in" round to the playoffs. Depending on realignment, this could take on different forms. But the essence of it in my book is that you have four teams play a preliminary playoff round, two concurrent best-of-three series (perhaps two teams playing each other in the East and two in the West), to determine the final 16 spots in the playoff dance.

This will give teams on the bubble a final chance to make a last stand. Take the Buffalo Sabres from the 2011-12 season for example; Their streak of wins in the final quarter of the regular season almost bought them an 8th Seed in the Playoffs. 

The "Play-In" round would give a team like the Sabres their chance to capitalize on their edge effort. I'm not too sure how I feel about this. 8th Seeded teams tend to barely make it in themselves. If you ask me, a "Play-In" round only waters down the Playoff caliber. 

4. Bring back the World Cup of Hockey, but make it permanent. More importantly, have the tournament played in February every four years, right smack in the middle of the NHL season -- just like the Olympics. And yes, send your NHL players to the Olympics. So in February 2014, you’ve got NHL players in Sochi, Russia, followed by a new World Cup of Hockey in Toronto/Montreal/New York/Philadelphia/Boston in February 2016, etc. So every two years you either have the best in the world playing in the Olympics or the World Cup. Playing it in February instead of September, like the old Canada Cups/World Cup, would bring more legitimacy to the event. As for the All-Star Game, all of you know I’d like to see it canned. But for the kids out there who still get a kick out of it, I can live with having All-Star Games in the years we don’t have a World Cup or an Olympics.

More hockey? Bring it on. 

5. Let’s bring in Ken Holland’s idea regarding three-on-three overtime as a way to freshen up the overtime/shootout format. You still play four-on-four for five minutes, but if there’s still no goal scored, you also play a three-on-three, five-minute period. If there’s still no goal, then you get your shootout. Three-on-three, wide open would be exciting to watch. Plus by lowering the number of shootouts, given that the three-on-three would end more games, you preserve the novelty of the shootout so it doesn't become a tired exercise. Right now there are too many shootouts deciding games.

There's nothing worse than a shootout. I don't find it exciting, I find it miserable. Though I'm biased seeing as how my Flyers have about as much success in the engagement as Patrick Kane breaking a dollar. 

I'm all for a 3-on-3, 5-minute extra frame. But that would mean more time added on the game, more risk to the Players' health, which would assuredly lead to stricter contractual and legal issues with the Players. 

I'd love it, I just don't see it in the cards. 

6. Shorten the preseason, start the regular season the third week of September and make sure there's not a single playoff game played past May 31. People don't want hockey in June. OK, so maybe that’s the Canadian in me, but I’m going with it anyway.

Preseason hockey's not worthless, but Pierre's got a point. Shorten it up, start the regular season sooner, and put a lid on the Cup Final by May's end.

7. Change the start of free agency from July 1 to an extension of draft weekend. So when the draft ends on that Saturday in the third week of June, I would make Day 1 of free agency that Sunday and keep all 30 NHL front offices (and player agents would be welcome, for obvious reasons) in the draft city for three to four days to create a huge buzz for the start of free agency.

Yes. Yes! YES! There's nothing like Free Agency Frenzy Day, and coming off the stoked Entry Draft would only make the emotional transition that much more exciting. Hell, make a festival out of it similar to the Winter Classic. It'd rake in revenue for the Draft city, as well as keep the public eye on hockey for a consistent period of time. It would only feed into the League's popularity. 

8. In a similar vein, why not also gather all 30 front offices in the same arena for NHL trade deadline day? Make it an even bigger media event with fans in the stands when trades are announced?

Love this idea. While I'm watching the TSN coverage crew on July 1, it'd be great to see a picture-in-picture view of all the Ownerships vigorously dialing their BlackBerry's and visiting each others tables as they discuss a trade. 

Remember the 2012 NHL Entry Draft? Pittsburgh Penguins GM, Ray Shero, was seen flying around the scene like a goddamn hummingbird. We knew something was cooking. For Pens fans, it got them riled up. For someone like me, a Flyers fan, I was hoping and praying every opposing Owner/GM was turning him down like a STD ridden prostitute. But then the Penguins organization dropped trade-bombs all over the place. They won that Draft hands down. It pains me to say that, but it's true. 

Nevertheless, it was exciting. It was thrilling! 

Bring it to Free Agency Frenzy Day!

9. Strongly study the merits of having NHL teams in Europe. I'd move my six weakest NHL markets to Europe and create a European division. I know people will laugh when reading this, but I’m dead serious. Unlike some southern U.S. markets, you don’t have to explain the icing rule to folks in Helsinki, Stockholm, Prague, Zurich, Berlin and Moscow. They love and know the game there. I know there are travel issues that make this less than perfectly ideal, but it’s worth it.

Yea, that's all we need -- Another fanbase like Vancouver crying about how travel sucks the life from their roster. Only tack on two or three more hours of flight time. 

Sorry, Pierre, but you're on your own with this one. 

Half the reason why the NHLPA declined the NHL's realignment was because the League couldn't prove it'd lessen the distance traveled for Western Conference teams on their road swings. Does anyone truly believe there'd be no controversy over a Club located across the pond?


10. And finally, the NHL and NHLPA should agree to a 20-year CBA with mutual options to back out in Years 7, 11, 15 and 18. I would think 20 years of labor peace sounds pretty good to everybody who cares about this game right about know.

Twenty? Make it 100-years. There's no excuse for (potentially) losing two seasons in less than a 10-year period. Not with the fans. 

But realistically speaking, 20-years seems a bit far fetched. I mean, the League wants a 10-year agreement and the Players are saying even that's too long. It's a pipe-dream, and as much as I would love to see a CBA in place for two decades, I ain't gonna get my hopes up.  

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