Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Hey look, another “hockey play” from Tom Wilson.
Hey look, another “hockey play” from Tom Wilson.
Image: AP Photo

In pretty much every negotiation between the NHLPA and the NHL owners over the past couple decades, the NHLPA rolls over and has its bellies tickled before getting punted out the window.

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You could say that this — negotiations and plans between players and owners to restart the season — is the first time their safety and well-being is at stake. But NHL players are in danger every time they take the ice and haven’t figured out a way to keep from braining each other and calling it a “hockey play.”

Tom Wilson is a workplace hazard, and yet you’ll find more than enough players in the same union who think he’s gotten punished too harshly in the past.

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Still, bring their families into it, and maybe, finally, they’ll actually stand up for themselves against the owners. Funny that they struggle to do this, given how many players prefer to just stand up for themselves instead of suspensions for dirty play.

While the NHL tries to figure out each and every way it could finish this season and playoffs (seemingly less likely after the NFL hinted it might delay the start of its season all the way into the fall), some NHL players are hinting it will not be a rubber stamp. Phillip Danault of the Canadiens suggested that more than just a handful of players are not going to be cool with being away from their families for an extended period of time. John Tavares, who is on the players’ side of the committee looking at all the plans and proposals, also suggested the same in an interview with Pierre LeBrun.

We’re not anywhere near finding out what percentage of the union would have to back any plan to finish the ‘19-’20 season, but you’d have to believe it would have to be something like 70 percent to 80 percent. And it doesn’t sound like the NHLPA is going to have an easy time getting there.

This fight will almost certainly break down amongst the union as it always does, though. Which is the players that hate escrow and those that have other concerns.

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For those who need a refresher, because the NHL salary cap is pegged to a projection of overall revenues, a percentage of each players’ paycheck is held in escrow to align with whatever the projections are for that season’s revenues at that given moment. If, at the end of the season, projections are met, all that money gets returned to the players. If they aren’t met, the owners get to keep whatever percentage of it they need to even things out at a 50-50 revenue split. This can be small, but the average is about 15 percent. If you’re one of the players in the league taking home $10M a year or more, seeing $125K a month just held in limbo is probably pretty annoying.

This is why, in past years, the NHLPA has been reluctant to use its full 5 percent escalator to the cap. The higher the cap, the higher escrow gets as the NHL comes in under projected revenues to keep that split at 50-50 between players and owners.

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Of course, not escalating the cap squeezes out veteran free agents, as there’s less money with a lower salary cap to give to them and are replaced by cheaper, younger players. You probably don’t give a flying fuck about Jonathan Toews’ escrow amounts when you don’t have a job. And of course, the NHLPA never bothered to seek veteran or mid-level exceptions for these types of players when the CBA was being negotiated. Circle back to the portion about their pre-punt belly-rubs.

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This fight is again looming. There are going to be players lobbying hard to finish this season simply to get whatever revenue they can back into the league to keep escrow from being ridiculous next season. The NHL is almost certainly facing a flat cap or worse, squeezing jobs harder than they’ve been in years. It is likely that there will be compliance buyouts instituted so that teams can get some bad contracts off their salary cap to open up more jobs. But those players who receive compliance buyouts will still not have a job, only a percentage of their contract, and a host of teams wary of already paying players to not play for them signing more to their books in times of limited earnings. It will be a pretty cold landscape.

If the NHL can’t even start next season with crowds, which seems a likely scenario, next year’s revenues are going to be down as well. None of the four major leagues depends on gate receipts as much as the NHL does. Which means players signed to contracts before all of this are going to see much bigger chunks of their salaries tied up in escrow. You can bet the owners will try to prey on this when discussing restarting the season. Which is convenient as the owners are taking none of the physical risk.

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I’ll shit a chicken if you see an NHL owner anywhere near any of the buildings that would be used to restart play.

You’ll also have the players at the bottom rung of the salary scale pushing to play again just to get any money at all.

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The one card the NHLPA could play, but probably won’t, is the expansion fee of the new Seattle franchise. The owners of that team-to-be are ponying up a cool $650 million for the right to join the league. That’s $21 million per team. For some reason, the NHLPA agreed that expansion fees weren’t part of the pool that the players and owners split, thinking that the 25 new jobs plus the ones for their future AHL team were enough compensation. This is only a couple years after Vegas paid a $500M fee.

Perhaps the PA could suggest to the owners that money will make up for a good portion of their losses.

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Just a thought.

It’s hard enough to fathom how the league can navigate all the safety and health hurdles to start playing again, from massive rapid testing and contact tracing to quarantines and procedures and everything else. Even if it can get through that, a union tied up with itself could eliminate any plans to restart play.

Have you ever looked at a dollar bill, man?

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