The owners offered the players’ association a startling proposal last month. The list reads like a boss slapping an employee on the wrist for doing something wrong. The owners want the players to reduce their share of revenue from 57 percent to 46 percent. They also want the players to roll back their salaries 24 percent, just as they did after the 2004-05 lockout. And the coup de grace is that the owners want to cap players’ contracts at five years and want entry-level players to wait 10 years before becoming unrestricted free agents.
Yes, that’s right, 10 years. That means that this year’s No. 1 overall pick, Nail Yakupov, who is 18, won’t be able to test the free-agent market until he’s 28. And what about the players who played in college, where the average age of a freshman hockey player is 20? Take Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers, who played four years at the University of Wisconsin and didn’t sign an entry-level deal until he was 21. Under the proposed bargaining agreement McDonagh wouldn’t be able to test the free agent market until he’s 31.
I honestly can’t say that this is a fair proposal. The players already rolled back their salary 24 percent during the last labor dispute. Why should they have to do that again?
The players presented their counteroffer Aug. 14, and it seems like they completely disregarded the owners’ proposal. The players want to lower their salary gradually for the next few years. Their salaries would lower 2 percent in the first year, 4 percent the second year, 6 percent the third year, and an option to revert to the old system in the fourth year. The union says that this proposal could save the league $465 million in three years if the league continues to experience the same growth it has had in recent years. Larry Brooks of the New York Post later tweeted that the players’ association also wants teams to be able to trade salary cap space in trades involving players.
Players are willing to take less money, but they aren’t willing to take it the way the owners want them to.
Media pundits have heralded this labor dispute as owners vs. owners instead of owners vs. players. The small-market owners are struggling, and the big-market teams don’t want to put the money forward to help them out.
It’s a real shame.
Regardless, the counterproposal by the players’ association is so vastly different from the owners’ proposal that it’s hard to say if there is an end in sight. The players’ association’s proposal is very interesting and fairer in my opinion, but the owners really have some harsh demands.
The irony of it all is that this summer was filled with owners doling out cash to sign free agents. The Minnesota Wild signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter for a combined $200 million, and the Nashville Predators matched an offer sheet and signed Shea Weber for $110 million over 14 years. These players still need to be paid, and Nashville in particular isn’t just going to be able to come up with that money without revenue from the season.
It’s all really a shame if we miss the beginning of the season or, dare I say, even the whole season. The NHL has grown so much since the last labor dispute with some great money coming in. It’s not fair to the fans, but we have to remember sports is business, and that’s business.