The greater good was served. A distasteful public dispute in the midst of a pandemic was avoided. The NHL’s next six seasons will be uninterrupted by labor discord. The fans win.
But though decorum was maintained at all times, and material disagreements between the league and the union were generally kept behind closed doors, that did not prevent the NHL from using this COVID-19 crisis to achieve a CBA that comes closest yet to the league’s 2004-05 vision of how its hard cap should function.
The NBA is a players’ league. The NFL is a coaches’ league. The NHL is an owners’ league. Never was that more reinforced than through these negotiations that, truth be told, Gary Bettman and the Board won when they shut down the league 15 seasons ago and minimized if not co-opted, and co-opted if not broke, the union.
The NHLPA bargained itself into stagnating wages for the next four-to-six-to-eight seasons essentially so the players could be in a lower tax bracket. Is that the way you negotiate your contract? The union is not only putting controls on the cap through the pandemic, but throughout the length of the CBA.
So this season, the cap stands at $81.5 million. In 2024-25, there is a chance it could increase to $84.5 million. That represents a 3.68 percent increase in average salary over six seasons. How much — allowing that the economy returns to health once the coronavirus is under control—do you think team valuations will rise over that period?
We have become so accustomed to money flowing upward in this society, we don’t even blink an eye anymore. But you know what? If this is what the players want, this is what they’ve got. They have agreed to take money, and more money, out of the system. A flat cap depresses wages and depresses opportunities for free agents and makes it more difficult for successful teams to remain intact. This is Nirvana for Sixth Avenue, which faces no pressure from any constituency to increase revenue. The owners have their 50 percent.
Teams will adjust. The ones that are well-managed will succeed. Those that are not, will not. The fans get six years of labor peace. The owners rake it in. And the players …
Well, let me tell you this about the players. This generation has made it more difficult for the next. This generation has turned the union into a star-driven association. There was evidence of that with the split of the PA take of the 2016 World Cup further solidified by this deal that works to the advantage of marquee players with expensive long-term contracts and big-money players on their final contracts.
Here is what happens when the NHL, an operation that values secrecy, meets the NHLPA — whose executive director, Don Fehr, is a privacy zealot (see: MLB, PEDs):
A news blackout when it comes to injuries and players’ health.
Meaning, if the NHL and NHLPA have their way, and if Connor McDavid is not on the ice one day this week, the powers that be won’t say whether he has a groin strain, an ankle injury or has tested positive for COVID-19. We won’t know whether he might be out for a day or two, or two weeks. Because if they identify a McDavid ankle issue, how do they explain when they say nothing about a teammate who might have tested positive?
Don’t give me privacy or HIPAA. We knew which players had mumps when that epidemic spread through the league in 2014-15. We know when a player has the flu. We know that Brian Boyle was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in September 2017. We know that Oskar Lindblom was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in December and has just completed chemotherapy. When Jay Bouwmeester collapsed on the ice during a game this year, we knew the medical procedures the St. Louis defenseman underwent and were kept updated on his condition.
You know what we don’t always know, however? When a player is concussed. Because that’s not good for the league.
You know what we won’t know? How many players test positive for COVID-19 or become symptomatic. But other people will. The player’s organization will know. His teammates will know. If there is a positive during training camp, those in contact with him will know.
So it’s not about privacy. It’s about not informing the public, which, by the way, has a right to know if this Stanley Cup tournament is being contested on legitimate grounds. The league is asking the public to trust its protocols and to trust that playing through a pandemic — with all due precautions — is responsible. They — the league and the union — just don’t trust you with information.
There is also the matter of gambling. The NHL has arrangements with three gambling-related concerns — MGM Resorts, William Hill and Fan Duel. You mean to tell me if the Leafs’ John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly contract the coronavirus toward the end of camp and are ruled out of the qualifying round by physicians, the league wouldn’t tell anybody?
In addition to the owners, Seattle is the biggest winner yielded by the CBA. If GM Ron Francis cannot construct a consistent contender starting with $81.5 million of cap space, there is no hope for him.
Among the eligible free agents in 2021, the year the (hopeful) Pilots begin play, are Alexander Ovechkin, Dougie Hamilton, Gabriel Landeskog, Josh Brodin, Adam Larsson, Jordan Binnington and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. A year later, Aleksander Barkov and Seth Jones could hit the market.
The most curious aspect of the Devils hiring Lindy Ruff is that those steeped in analytics overwhelmingly disparage the veteran coach, yet the analytics department is as influential in the New Jersey hierarchy as any organization in the NHL.
Finally, Slap Shots has learned that Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who also owns the Marriott Water Street across from the arena, offered to close the hotel to the public and transform it into a bubble-type environment for the players and their families for the two weeks of training camp.
It’s unclear whether that would have been a violation of the CBA, or whether the league or union would have objected, but team leaders told GM Julien BriseBois they appreciated the offer but felt it was unnecessary.
But it represents another example of forward thinking from the Tampa Bay ownership. Of course, it helps when you own the hotel across the street.
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