Charlton's NHL
The Proposal: Looking into the NHLPA Pitch

Rick Charlton
December 10th, 2004

My, my . . . . trying to buy your way out of trouble.

The most interesting aspect of the NHLPA proposal to the NHL yesterday was the suggested 24% rollback in salaries, a number that appears to be a de facto concession by the union that Arthur Leavitt was right after all.

The union has carefully avoided giving Leavitt any legitimacy, even refusing to meet with him to discuss his findings on the state of NHL finances, yet shamelessly turned around and embraced sight unseen a Forbes Magazine report which painted a much prettier picture.

Yet here was the NHLPA yesterday, on the cusp of losing $1.2 billion in compensation if an entire season is lost, finally conceding the lousy fiscal scenario claimed by owners may have actually been truthful after all, much to the astonishment of pretty much everybody.

A 24% rollback in salaries would take an average payroll from $41 million to roughly $31 million, which just happens to be the opening level proposed by owners for a salary cap back in September.

That's always been the open riddle, the players always insistent the lying liars have always been lying, that losses were overstated and revenues uncounted. If they've lied before, reasoned the NHLPA, why wouldn't these lying liars be lying now?

Great question. And you never knew the answer. Not for sure. Because they have lied before.

But now you know it was Forbes that was wrong and not Arthur Leavitt and you can thank the NHLPA for that.

Was this an instant of one side finally blinking?

On the above point it certainly was. The NHLPA gave up the house on that one. They can't beat the league over the head with it anymore. The truth is out.

But the proposal was also an attempt to overcompensate on one side while giving up nothing on the other, containing little that would stand in the way of players recouping what they've surrendered in fairly short order.

Here we have an NHLPA proposal that goes right to the fiscal spot the owners had been calling for . . . . . minus the ability to keep it there.

It "trusts" owners to mind their own boat, to make prudent fiscal decisions . . . . all the things that have never happened in any sport without shackles.

Players are right that owners are to blame. This space has never blamed players for the distressed fiscal condition of the league. Not one bit. Owners did it to themselves even when they had an agreement in 1995 that actually favoured them. Everything the players have is something owners have given them without much of a fight.

As with any overextended business, however, it's always the workers who pay for the mistakes of management.

In the case of the NHL, the need to idiot-proof this agreement is only confirmed by the desperate lengths the NHLPA appears prepared to prevent it.

The proposal seems an attempt to overcome Bettman's 75% veto, to gather 23 owners together in a common cause so they might override the agenda of the hawks.

Teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, who clearly spent a summer gambling their fellow owners would fold, will be the winners under this deal, lofty contracts scaled back precipitously. Ditto Colorado. And the Rangers will have stolen Jaromir Jagr from Washington for a song. The Islanders will embrace this deal for what it saves them on the absurd Alexei Yashin contract.

In fact, everybody wins immediately. And then everybody gets killed eventually because now we know Leavitt was right in describing this as a "sick industry" and there is little to prevent the league from going back to that spot in fairly short order.

The underlying thrust of this is that the idiots are still there, still ready to drive holes through this agreement. . . . that's the problem.

Goodenow has been negotiating a loss all along. It's always been the degree he would lose, not how much he would win.

This is about taking a hit now and getting it back later, gambling that the idiots won't make it a long wait.

This CBA negotiation has always been about identifying the real enemy. In 1994, owners supposed the enemy were the players. In 2004, the negotiation is about recognizing the real enemy is the owners themselves.

For that, this deal is one likely to be rejected.

YOU WOULD ALSO HAVE TO WONDER WHAT THIS PROPOSAL MIGHT BE COSTING NHLPA PRESIDENT BOB GOODENOW INTERNALLY. - Owners have always been lying about their financial picture, he's told his constituents, but then he tables a proposal that seems to confirm the numbers the NHL has been saying all along. Small wonder that NHLPA sycophant Larry Brooks of the New York Post was reporting this morning that angry players were hanging up on Goodenow's conference call as he was outlining what was going to be put in front of the league. If the NHL rejects the offer and comes back with a "cost certainty" proposal, how will that play out in the already murmuring rank and file if President Bob wants to cancel a season? Not well methinks. And now the NHL knows it has the union on the run, negotiating with itself and not sure what will be good enough, the same trap Goodenow and agents laid for owners so effectively through the better part of 10 years.  

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