Just prior to locking out its players, the NHL, including Gary Bettman, assured team executives and sponsors that the upcoming labor negotiations would be nothing more than “a tweak and a fix“.
And looking at the details of the resulting tentative collective bargaining agreement with the NHLPA yesterday, that certainly seems to be the case.
The new CBA includes tweaks to the league’s economic system; owners and players both now have a 50/50 split of hockey-related revenue. It attempts to fix the problem of backdiving contracts by capping contract lengths to 7 (another team’s player) or 8 (its own player) years and capping yearly salary variance to 35%. It left other contracting issues, like entry-level contracts, free agency age and arbitration rights untouched. It also left untouched the league’s underlying issues that some of its weaker markets will still have problems getting to the cap floor now, never mind 3, 8, 10 years from now.
If you look at a lot of these terms, they look like what most in the hockey world expected very early in the process, like, in the days shortly before and after the lockout. For some reason, it took the league 113 days to get to the same place. Because to get their tweaks and fixes, they first tried to perform major surgery with an insulting first offer that set things back for the players by about 10 years, and thus set the tone of the negotiations in a negative fashion. And instead of building on a record revenue season, they did much to tear the brand down with gamesmanship, rhetoric, insults and mudslinging.
The NHL could proclaim victory, having reduced the players’ share of HRR by more than 12% and getting a cap on contract terms. The NHLPA could proclaim victory, getting $300 million in make-whole or transition payments and having maintained their free agency rights.
But in the process, they also alienated a dedicated fanbase. In the last 113 days, some diehard fans have turned to casual fans and some casual fans have simply tuned out and moved on. Corporate sponsors moved on. Yes, most will probably come back to support the league, but certainly, some won’t.
So did anyone really win?
Especially when you consider how much damage was done to the NHL, it sure doesn’t look like it.
What was the point?