NHL Reaches Across Table, Extends Finger

If you were awake late last night, you likely saw the  now-infamous NY Post piece from Larry Brooks regarding the NHL and its butting of heads with the NHLPA regarding — essentially — the pending Kovalchuk contract. Good friend of TPL @mserven was kind enough to shoot me an IM since I wasn’t really hanging out on Twitter at the time.

And then I lost my goddamn mind.

Apologies to anyone that was caught off guard by my garlic-fueled, expletive-laden tirade on the matter, but as Philip J. Fry says…that dog won’t hunt, monsignor.

The League, it would seem, has issued an ultimatum to the players association. Long story short, the league is demanding the following:

1. The League will allow the new Kovalchuk deal — as well as two other questionable contracts in Marian Hossa and Roberto Luongo — to stand, IF:

2. The cap hit on future deals will not count any seasons after a player would turn 40.

3. The cap hit on future deals longer than five years will use a system to weigh the most expensive five years more than the rest of the deal.

If the NHLPA does not accept these tenets, the League has informed them that the following will take place:

1. The Kovalchuk deal will be rejected.

2. The League will move to void the Luongo deal.

3. The League will open formal proceedings to investigate the Hossa deal.

Here are my no-holds-barred thoughts on the matter, and you’re welcome to disagree with them: the National Hockey League should be ashamed of themselves. There isn’t a person on the entire planet that can tell me that the players “won” the current CBA following the lockout. The League essentially took them out behind the woodshed and had their way with them. Period. There’s a salary cap now, there’s a funky-ass escrow system in place that zero people understand, there’s revenue sharing. There’s nearly NOTHING redeeming about the system in place, from the players’ standpoint.

The one area that the players — or more accurately, general managers and agents — have been able to claim a minor victory is structuring deals in a way that decreases the cap hit — LEGALLY, MIND YOU — making players more affordable in a system that doesn’t promote paying players what they’re worth. The Hossa, Luongo, Zetterberg, and even the old Kovalchuk deal are examples of admittedly shrewd tactics designed to circumvent the spirit of a salary cap. That’s a given.

But guess what? It’s totally within the jailsexing rules! Just because the League didn’t have the foresight to predict this particular loophole doesn’t mean they have the right to bitch and moan and scream and kick and knock over furniture. At some point, you need to look in the mirror, admit that you’ve been defeated in this tiny battle that — when all is said in done — has zero impact on the war. You’ve WON the war, by thousands of soldiers. To demand that someone kick over the last midget on the way to the victory party is shallow and unbecoming.

I agree with @JJfromKansas, the things that the League is demanding aren’t unreasonable. In fact, they’re downright GOOD ideas. It isn’t what they’re demanding, it’s how and when they’re demanding them. You’ll have your chance to make sure you close these loopholes in 2012 when the CBA expires — to demand anything of the PA right now seems like it’s circumvention of the CBA in its own way. I have a hard time believing that the League has the right to make these kinds of offers/demands when the Players have played within the rules the entire time. I’m sure the League has some sort of clause giving them the right to fuck with the Players whenever they want (why not, they got everything else they wanted), but in the court of common sense, that’s a full-on OBJECTION from the hot Law & Order chick.

There are a lot of good points out there: that the Players should play ball, bend on these reasonable requests and continue to win the hearts and minds of the public. JJ thinks that it will go a long way in the new CBA negotiations, and that’s certainly possible. I respectfully disagree — if the League is willing to piss all over their agreements with the Players now, what’s stopping them from continuing to steamroll the NHLPA if they it won’t stand up for itself? These bully tactics are, tangentially, the reasons that the NHL and the sport of hockey are second class sports citizens and will never be taken seriously: too much machismo and muscle-flexing instead of focusing on how to grow the game.

If the Players back down from their stance — which, as we’ve said, is well within the rules — and fold for the League (again), they deserve everything that’s coming to them. I get the argument that it might make negotiations more pleasant in a few years, but I have a hard time swallowing it. If the PA is going to allow the League to pound them mercilessly, there will be no stopping the massacre until there’s nothing left of the Players.

As for the prospect of another lockout. I have a hard time envisioning a world in which there is no work stoppage. Considering how petty the League is being with this one deal (by the way, thanks a lot, asshole…you couldn’t be a team player and take a less ostentatious deal to make life easier for everyone? Get humped) and how much they’re crying about a system they won, the group that’s going to lose the most in 2012 is us — the fans.

4 thoughts on “NHL Reaches Across Table, Extends Finger”

  1. I agree with you, Michael – the only thing that giving in now will make “easier” is that the NHL will have one less thing on it’s “post-lockout to-do list.”

    Collective bargaining agreements and their modifications need to be collectively bargained, not altered in the middle of an agreement – the second a union allows that without full negotiations they are screwed, blued, and tatooed.

    There is a word for giving a little bit now in the hopes that it will be enough and the crocodile might eat you last – appeasement. It doesn’t work in diplomacy, it doesn’t work when you are trying to bribe a brother or sister, and I can’t see it working in labor negotiatons.

    This is the CBA the league wanted. If it has holes, close them in two years. Quick being dickless pricks about it and throwing a temper tantrum now.

  2. Excellent write-up.

    I’m probably either too optimistic or too naive here, but I just can’t believe that if the players come to the table on this and give these reasonable concessions now, that the league will throw that kind of goodwill in their face come 2012 and force their knowledgeable hockey fans away from the game by locking out the players while demanding that they completely overhaul a system that, at it’s core, is a good starting point. Yes, forget the crap about the “Spirit of the CBA” in regards to competitive balance (because that’s actually anti-competitive horseshit), but a salary cap/escrow system with revenue sharing is a good idea for the league that only needs minor tweaks to fix some problems. One of those minor tweaks happens to be these contracts.

    I continue to say the Zetterberg and Franzen deals have nothing to do with this entire situation beyond giving other GMs and players the basic idea for this situation, which has been mutilated by the deals currently in question. That said, those kinds of deals are not good. As much as the Wings are rewarding Franzen and Zetterberg for their loyalty with these long-term deals, the Canucks and Hawks have massaged the concept to one that’s an obvious breach of good faith.

    The owners simply have too much to lose at this point from another lockout. Yes, the KHL may be a joke of a league compared to our North American product, but let’s see how many players get deals over there during a lockout and how many fans start watching those games online. I know the KHL has funny rules about limiting non-Russian players on teams, but I’m not sure those rules would hold up if enough talent wanted over there because they’re tired of the crap bullying happening by the league. Whereas the NHL sold the concept that the players were the greedy bastards who caused the last lockout, nobody’s buying that here, least of all the third of the teams’ owners who are struggling to run their franchises well. I’m not convinced that there’s enough muscle behind some of the crazier positions the NHL might take in the next CBA talks to get the players to agree.

    I think Donald Fehr scared them and they’re lashing out in a power move that will backfire. The PA should talk a tough game, suggest a few of their own alternatives to end CBA-breaking contracts, and ultimately collectively bargain the limits. The biggest problem I had with Bloch’s decision (other than the whole “competitive balance” crap was that it drew a line in the sand, but nobody knew where that line was. The league is trying to define the line; they’re just being dicks while doing it.

  3. I also agree with you. It’s not like the players unilaterally found this loophole and exploited it; they had plenty of cooperation from the General Managers who signed these contracts as well. There are loopholes in every single contract, and they can be closed in 2012 when they re-negotiate the CBA.

    I think the bigger question is whether the Kovalchuk deal would have been rejected in the first place had the NHLPA had an Executive Director in place. Perhaps if the players had someone strong to stand up for them, maybe the NHL would have thought twice about publicly going this route.

    The worst part for me is that these type of contracts are few and far between, and it’s the majority of the players that are going to get their buttholes hurt after the next CBA. When they talk about the different contracts they are going to “investigate”, you only hear about Luongo, Hossa and Kovalchuk. There isn’t even one of these contracts per team.

    I have absolutely zero issues with the requests the NHL are making. In fact, I like the ideas. At least then there will be something documented as to what constitutes a valid, reasonable contract and what doesn’t, and if teams want to continue to sign these types of deals, they know that their overall goal of reducing the cap hit won’t be as effective. Like you, I just hate when they are doing it. The NHL needs to accept that the agents and GMs are smart people, took advantage of something that was overlooked during the negotiations for the first CBA, and there’s nothing they can do about it right now.

  4. “(by the way, thanks a lot, asshole…you couldn’t be a team player and take a less ostentatious deal to make life easier for everyone? Get humped)”

    You can also thank Lou “If anyone can do it, he can” Lamoriello for offering it to him and taking his reported $100mil / 10 years wishes seriously.

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