Lockout 2012: NHL submits new CBA proposal

Does the NHL's latest offer represent real progress in negotiations or is it nothing more than an elaborate PR stunt?

Remember when Gary Bettman strapped a timebomb to the NHL's collective bargaining agreement proposal on September 12th, issuing an ultimatum that, if the PA failed to agree to its terms, the offer or anything better would detonate at midnight on September 15th?

Turns out that was little more than grandstanding as, a month later, the NHL has submitted a new proposal to the player's association today, one that guarantees the PA a greater share of revenue than any of the league's previous offers. Good news right? Maybe not, as Chemmy of Pension Plan Puppets laid out a pretty compelling argument that this could be an elaborate PR stunt from the NHL in light of the abortion that was their attempted focus group. Regardless, let's look at the details that have leaked out regarding this latest proposal:

  • It's a 50/50 split of hockey-related revenue between ownership and players, presumably without the drastic redefinition of HRR that the league had already dropped in last month's proposal. This would appear to be the biggest giveaway that the NHL submitted the offer primarily to win back fan support as a large contingent of fans has been clamoring for the two sides to settle on a revenue split down the middle since the beginning of these discussions. The league is undoubtedly cognizant of this as one of the leaked documents from their focus group included the statement "Instead of considering a 50-50 split of revenue like in other sports leagues, owners are trying to hold players to even less." The problem is that, while "50/50" sounds like a perfectly equitable conclusion, the players were earning 74% of revenue prior to the 2004 lockout and 57% as recently as last season. An even split might appear fair to the general public, and the owners would certainly love to spend substantially less on player salary, but whether it's objectively fair when you consider the respective sides' roles in generating revenue is entirely up for debate. At any rate, this puts the league in a better position to demonize the PA when they inevitably reject or counter this offer, and it's already begun to work with many media outlets declaring that the players would be foolish and greedy to turn this down. In reality, compared to the last CBA, the players would be losing over $1 billion over the next four seasons assuming league revenue grows at a 5% annual rate.
  • As established in the NBA's most recent collective bargaining agreement, contract length would be capped at five years. The players won't take kindly to this, nor should they, considering the clause is solely included to protect owners from themselves. These guys are the ones who handed out lifetime contracts by the fistful--some as recently as three months ago. It's certainly worth noting however that this is a positive development for small-market teams, as the Philadelphia Flyers of the league can no longer sign their RFAs to 14-year offer sheets.
  • Introducing the Wade Redden rule: All players signed to NHL contracts count against the salary cap, regardless of whether they've been stashed in the AHL. On the one hand, this is something players may be in favor of if staying in the big leagues is important to them as general managers would no longer have an incentive to hide gargantuan cap hits in the minors. On the other, it will surely also make GMs think twice before signing players over the age of 30 to lucrative five-year deals.
  • Speaking of signing players, free agency is bumped up a year. Under the last CBA, players needed to be either 27 years of age or have seven accrued seasons in order to qualify for unrestricted free agency. In the NHL's proposal, the requirements are increased to 28 years and eight seasons, respectively.
  • The concession, if you want to call it that, the league has made in concert with their increase in UFA restrictions is that standard entry-level contracts will be reduced from 3 years to 2. Players like Logan Couture, Jeff Skinner, John Tavares, Tyler Myers, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle were already being signed to extensions after their second full seasons in the league but they would be able to make more money under the proposed CBA. Theoretically, this is something the PA would definitely be in favor of, particularly with the influx of young stars and the ever-diminishing age at which skaters experience their scoring prime. In reality, this affects exactly zero current members of the union so who knows if they actually care.
  • Surprisingly, according to Pierre LeBrun, the league will apparently not be curtailing players' share of revenue to 50% until after the 2012-13 season. Teams will still be allowed to spend up to the $70 million cap determined by the prior CBA, with all that speculation about amnesty buyouts and salary rollback having apparently been pointless.
  • The details are fuzzy but about $200 million will be spent on revenue sharing between big- and small-market teams, up from around $150 million under the prior CBA. This is one of the most important issues affecting the NHL today and we'll see how much the NHLPA's previously principled stand on focusing efforts towards increased revenue sharing is legitimately a sticking point for them depending on their response to this part of the proposal.
  • Salary arbitration will still be a thing, after the NHL attempted to strike it down in their first, ludicrous proposal. This is good for the PA, although I'd still like to see arbitration reinvented to bring the entire process out of the dark ages.

A lot of this is what real progress looks like and it certainly isn't naive to be optimistic about the prospects of a season being played in light of this proposal. Unfortunately, there's at least as much reason to believe this is a stunt being used by the league to regain dwindling public approval, with the economic component of the proposal matching exactly what a lot of fans with little awareness of the negotiations' inner workings have been demanding for months and the league's only real concession (reduction of ELC years) affecting no current PA members. It also doesn't help that Gary Bettman accompanied the proposal with a declaration that an 82-game season can still begin on November 2nd if the players agree to this. Even if we assume a one-week training camp period, a new CBA would have to be inked by October 25th at the latest (likely earlier given that a huge chunk of the league would need to fly back from Europe) which seems incredibly unlikely. In truth, as much as I'd like to believe otherwise, this whole thing reeks of the same type of grandstanding Bettman attempted to pull off the last time the league submitted a proposal.