The Stage For The Next Labour War?

In the wake of the firing of Paul Kelly by the NHLPA executive board, Michael Russo of the Star Tribune interviewed the player representative for the Minnesota Wild to find out why. While Nick Schultz wasn’t overly forthcoming about the reasons for Kelly’s dismissal, he did identify the issue which will likely be the key battleground between the owners and the players when the current CBA expires.

Russo’s excellent (and rather lengthy) interview with Schultz can be found here – for anyone interested in this subject, the entire interview is a good read -and I’m only going to excerpt one question from it:

Russo: How much are you guys worried that the league will go after guaranteed contracts?

Schultz: Bigtime. You see that in other sports where they can just get rid of you. It’s something that would be pretty hard to give up. There are different things that both sides will have to give a little bit to get something done, maybe working on the buyout structure or things like that. It’ll take some time, but it’ll eventually get sorted out.

The second item Schultz mentions is the key one: guaranteed contracts.

For a lot of teams, the end of guaranteed contracts would solve a lot of problems. For example, the Rangers horrible signing of Wade Redden (6.5MM per year until 2014) could disappear overnight, freeing them up to lob ridiculous money at the next shiny object to catch Glen Sather’s gaze.

It’s a similar story for the Canadian teams. Sick of paying Dustin Penner better than 4MM per season? Feel that Robert Nilsson and Steve Staios are almost 5MM in combined dead-weight? Situations like last season, where the Flames had to dress less than a full roster, wouldn’t need to happen either – because players like Warrener and Primeau could just be disappeared when the need arose.

From a player’s perspective, it’s a fairly hellish idea – suddenly, all of those free agents who have sought the security of a long-term contract would lose that security. No contract would be safe.

I tend to side with the players on this particular issue – for a number of reasons. First, I think a contract is a contract is a contract; I’ve always been bitter about players like Alexei Yashin, who have held out hoping to make more money. That principle works both ways. Second, I think that star players would push for major signing bonuses to ensure they got their money – meaning that clubs with extra dough to throw around (read: Glen Sather and the New York Rangers) would have a more pronounced advantage. A club like Columbus might be able to offer Rick Nash a long-term contract for good money each season, but if they suddenly need to front-load that contract via signing bonuses it becomes a much more difficult proposition. Third, I think bad managers should have to wear the price of their mistakes. Many clubs – including the Oilers – have thrown money around in an irresponsible manner, and the only way to discourage such lavish spending is by ensuring these teams have to live with their mistakes.

And it is essential that there be repercussions for lavish spending. People like Tony Gallagher talk about how it puts their teams (in his case, the Canucks) at a competitive disadvantage, but it’s worth remembering that only five years ago teams like Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary desperately needed the salary cap. Good hockey markets like Columbus and Minnesota need spending to be restrained – and there will always be good hockey markets with either poor owners or high taxes or some other restriction that means they can’t compete with the New York’s and Toronto’s of the league. Such markets need protecting.

Regardless of my feelings though, many of the most powerful teams in the league will be pushing for an end to guaranteed contracts. Certainly a man like Lou Lamoriello in New Jersey – a man who sent Alex Mogilny to the minors and gave San Jose a first round pick to take Vladimir Malakhov off of his hands – would be in favour of such a measure. One would imagine that the big markets – Philadelphia, Toronto, Boston, etc. – would be of a similar mindset.

Hopefully what will happen is that the players and owners will find a middle ground – one that sees the buyout system restructured so that it only costs 50% of a player’s salary to buy him out, rather than the current 66%, or something similar – rather than each side sticking to the extremes. However, given the track record of both the league and the NHLPA, that’s hardly assured – especially since both have shown a willingness to burn a season of hockey to get what they want.

Kelly Spying on Players?

Charges emerged yesterday that may explain some of the reason for the NHLPA’s dismissal of Paul Kelly. According to Tim Wharnsby at the Globe & Mail:

Some details began to leak out yesterday, including charges that Kelly peeked at a confidential transcript from a private session at the NHLPA summer meetings in Las Vegas two months ago…

When an executive board member was contacted yesterday to confirm the private session was part of the reason for Kelly’s dismissal, the phone line went silent. He then said, “The players have agreed not to say anything.” The player was given a chance to refute the story and did not deny the allegations.

The main purpose of the meeting which Kelly is supposed to have spied on was to discuss Kelly’s leadership. Additionally, the meeting led to the executive board awarding Ian Penny a five-year contract extension – without Kelly’s input.

It seems to me though that this particular charge is largely irrelevant – even if correct. Obviously, there were already different concerns about Kelly’s leadership – since that was the main topic of the Las Vegas meeting. Since Kelly could not have looked through the minutes of that confidential meeting until after it occurred, it stands to reason that his supposed snooping could not have been the driving reason behind his dismissal.

Rather, it seems clear that a power struggle inside the NHLPA office between Kelly and Ian Penny led to Kelly’s dismissal – a theory that gained some more evidence today.

Healy Resigns

Glenn Healy, widely seen as Paul Kelly’s lieutenant at the NHLPA, has resigned from his position as Director of Player Affairs. Healy’s the third Kelly loyalist to leave the NHLPA – Pat Flatley resigned within minutes of Kelly’s termination and accounting consultant Bob Lindquist quit yesterday.

Essentially, this means that every member of Paul Kelly’s support group within the NHLPA front office has now left the organization.

  • lj

    They definitely need to restructure the rules on contract length, but I think it should be a sliding scale based on age. Obviously if you have a guy like Ovechkin, or Gagner on your team, a young guy who you feel will be the cornerstone of your organization for the next 10 years or so, then you should be able to sign him to a long term contract of 10-15 years. But if a player is 30 or over there should be a 5 to 7 year max on contracts. 35 and over 2 years max, etc.

  • lj

    Chris. wrote:

    c) Ability to trade salary (under the cap) Let Sather pay a percentage of Gaborik’s contract in three years when he trades him… I personally don’t care as long as the roster 23 man roster he ices is still under the cap. Small market teams and their fans may actually benifit from this kind of stupidity. Win-Win.

    Burke has said a bunch of times that this needs to happen to bring the trade market back to life. I hate to agree with him but he's right.

  • lj

    NHLPA has proven that they are the most unstable sports association – union in history. Maybe Bettman will fall on his sword or be ousted, if RIMSTER JIM B can get approval and win the auction…..

    Wharnsby also mentions the backhaul of salary – negotiated buyouts of contracts from Goodenow, Saskin to Kelly….. and PTS McCown mentioned that Healey was
    the smartest hockey player he had EVER met…. and now Healey has jumped ship…..
    ________________________________________________________

    Kelly had three years left on his deal that pays him about $1.75-million (all currency U.S.) annually and included a floating bonus. The NHLPA also is paying off former executive director Bob Goodenow in instalments. He had five years at $2.5-million a year on his deal when forced to resign on July 28, 2005. Saskin took home roughly $400,000 in a negotiated settlement with the NHLPA after being fired.
    — Tim Wharnsby and Allan Maki, The Globe and Mail

  • lj

    JW,

    I agree that guaranteed contracts make life too easy for GM’s . It also hurts the top end players that don’t like to earn there pay every year. The thing I like about the NFL and non-guaranteed contracts is that rookies and new players get a lot of opportunities to jump in and perform (also the NFL can do no wrong.)

    If you are a 2nd string player behind Pacman Jones, anyone that plays for the Vikings or Cowboys, Andre Rison or Rae Carruth you love checking the police report knowing it’s a 50/50 chance you could be starting next week.

    You also have to admit it would make every July 1st crazy fun!

    I wonder how many players would have been cut during last season for the Oilers?

  • lj

    If I was and NHL player I would fight tooth and nail to hold on to guaranteed contracts but I wouldn't lose any sleep over it either, at least not yet. The only league that doesn't have guaranteed contracts is the NFL and come there next negotiations they'll be fighting hard over that one subject.

    Personally the NHL CBA has a lot good things in it, it just needs to be fine tuned a little, but there is nothing in it that is totally out of whack. I think its pretty fair for both sides.

  • lj

    @ Ender the Dragon:

    a) A formal, written trade request would have to be signed by the player in question. I quess I'm calling for the end of NMC's… with a special "franchise player" type expemption.

    b) Don't like 12 year frontloaded type deals. They stink. It's a way around the cap; and the cap which is essential.

    c) Trading salary is a good idea. I don't care if big market teams pay more as long as the guys on their own roster fit in under the cap. Rich managers can buy their way our of a bind, poor managers will be able to afford overpayed talent… think of it as a voluntary revenue sharing scheme for guys like Sather.

  • lj

    If the biggest, meanest league on earth, the NFL doesn't dish out guaranteed contracts then surely a punk league like the NHL shouldn't have to either. I see a point of contention in the next CBA. NOTHING IN LIFE IS REALLY GUARANTEED.

  • lj

    I don't blame the NHLPA for being anxious about guaranteed contracts (for once, I agree with the players – a contract should be a contract). However, it's no excuse to fire Kelly.

    The meeting without Kelly already proves that factions were developing. The Penny contract extension may have actually contravened NHLPA constitution as it was done behind Kelly's back – according to several sources. Can you imagine contracts being offered without the knowledge of the big guy? Or, meetings taking place without him? Crazy.

    That is the real issue here. The NHLPA is dysfunctional and split.

  • lj

    I hope they keep gauranteed contracts, protects mostly low end players. NFL contracts for star players, Brady, manning and such, are ussualy gauranteed. It's the low end nobodies who usually are not protected. I like GM's to have to live with what they do.