And The Winds Begin To Howl

You're hurting my elbow.

By now, you've heard the apocalyptic forecasts after the owners first offer to the players union. Obviously, most of it was pretty nuclear. For those who may have missed it, let's hit the bullet points:

  • The players share of revenue for salaries would go from 57% of hockey related revenue to 46%.
  • Entry level deals would be five years long instead of three
  • Contracts would be capped at five years in length
  • Unrestricted free agency could not be achieved until 10 years in the league.
  • Salary arbitration would go the way of the dodo

Obviously, this wasn't exactly a chivalrous proposal. But let's try and be a bit levelheaded about some of this, especially those that seem solvable. And then we'll get to the real problems.

Right now, entry-level deals are three years. A proposal of five would seem to be easily compromised to four. And I don't think that's a bad thing. For the most part, players have to grow into the NHL game. The good ones tend to blossom right about their third year, and all of the sudden they're getting a big deal that might handicap their club. I've always been a proponent that a lot should be done to see a player stay with a team as long as possible. That helps provide a connection between fans and the team. I don't think this will be a huge obstacle.

Capped contract-length? The players won't like this, but they'll make this trade off when the owners start whispering about non-guaranteed deals. It won't be five. I'm thinking seven years is the number that will be the result, and it's not that far for the owners to budge there. I don't think the owners are going to dig their heels in as deeply this time around because they don't want to lose a season again, which they were totally prepared to do last time.

The free agency one is tricky. Right now, it's seven years in the league or the age of 27. Again, there's probably a balance to be hit between seven and 10 years in the league, with some minor tradeoff here or there. Again, I think this is probably figured out with a decent level of negotiation. As for salary arbitration, I don't think they can get rid of that with restricted free agency still a part of the system. Because no one will even submit an offer sheet ever for fear of ending up in a barn with Brian Burke, arbitration is all the players have to avoid getting what they're told from their team. But again, I don't think this ends up a deal-breaker.

So let's get to the deal breaker, and that's the share of revenue the players get. 46% is a hilariously, almost insulting number. But we know that it's probably going to come down from 57%. But what should really scare fans is that the owners are going to attempt to redefine what hockey related revenue is. They won't be discussing what portion of the pie each get. First they're going to have to decide what the pie even is. It's one thing for the players to eventually settle for 52-53% of the current pool. It's another when the owners try and convince them to take that percentage of a pool that's been robbed of some sort of income.

As of right now, and correct me if I'm wrong in the comments, hockey related revenue right now is everything. Tickets, TV, merchandise, whatever else. It gets chucked into the pool, which has risen to 3 billion. You can bet that there's going to be some funky language used to siphon something out of that pool and right into the owners' pockets. Maybe it's luxury suites not actually being tickets, maybe a portion of the TV deal, or local TV deals, or something. I haven't seen anything yet, but we will. And if they make a real ruckus about it, these negotiations will take forever. Because before they can even argue about details, they'll have to argue what they're arguing about.

That's what should keep you up at night.

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