Are negotiations on this collective bargaining agreement going better or worse than they went in 2004?

The collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHLPA is slated to expire on September 15, 2012. The league and players’ association have until then to negotiate the details on a new agreement, or else the possibility exists that the 2012-13 season will not begin on time. How are things looking so far?

Delays and cancellations have been the unfortunate trend with these sorts of negotiations. In 1994, the push by the owners to implement a salary cap led to protracted negotiations and a lockout; the NHL only played a 48-game season that year. Still, that was better than what happened when that CBA expired on September 15, 2004. The entire 2004-05 season was wiped out and the parties were unable to come to an agreement until July 13, 2005.

With the current CBA expiring this fall, are negotiations going better or worse than they went in 2004?

Though it’s hard to tell from the outside, it would appear things are going better.

The players and owners didn’t begin talks until June 29, after the season had ended and the players’ association was ready to begin negotiations. Despite the late start, it seems both sides are working quickly now – on Friday, both sides released optimistic-sounding statements after meeting three times in a week. Negotiations will continue this week in Toronto.

That “level of engagement” (to use NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly’s term) stands in contrast to what was happening in 2004.

In 2004, the league and players’ association met on May 25, and then took nearly two months before meeting again on July 21. After the May meeting, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was diplomatic but made it plain that the owners wanted an overhaul of the NHL’s financial system. ESPN’s Jim Kelley summarized the state of affairs this way:

With just slightly more than three months left until the current collective bargaining agreement expires on Sept. 15, no substantial progress is being made. No future meetings are on the immediate schedule, and the only thing that appears to have come out of a half day of talks Tuesday is that both sides understand each other’s position… Both sides have aligned their forces for the showdown that is upon them. To even blink, let alone step back in hopes of moving in a new direction, would be perceived as a sign of weakness, the first step down the road to failure.

At the July meeting, the league presented six proposals – all of them featuring some sort of salary cap. Ted Saskin, then the senior director of the NHLPA said that those proposals “didn’t provide us with any basis for any progress at this time.”

The negotiations would also seem to be going better than they did back in 1994. At that time, the league and the NHLPA met in March and then not again until August. The situation was a little different because the 1993-94 season had gone ahead despite the lack of an agreement between the owners and players. Still, at the end of the August talks the players were talking about the possibility of a strike while commissioner Bettman was openly lamenting the lack of progress between the two sides.

While the players and the league meeting repeatedly in early July doesn’t guarantee that the 2012-13 NHL season will start on time – the possibility of a delayed or even canceled season is still quite real – it’s a very good sign, and a much better state of affairs than the one that existed in either 1994 or 2004. The fact that the NHL is not looking to implement a salary cap, as they hinted in 1994 and succeeded in doing in 2004, is another big positive: the most contentious issue from the last two negotiations was eliminated before talks even began.

This week by Jonathan Willis

  • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

    Bottom line – a salary cap of some sort is essential to all parties for the health of league , teams and players if they want to retain 30 or plus teams . What form that might take will be the debate. If NHLPA recognizes that and accepts some form , then new contract could be sent for radification in short order . If union plays hardball against all forms perceived cap , then i see no alternative other than owners locking them out again . I feel their will be comprimise before it gets to lockout stage , however . A lot of posturing going on now and away from media , which is always a positive sign . Hardball stage for NHLPA does not seem apparent or appropriate at this stage .

  • Where's Your Towel

    It does indeed look like things are going better than it did leading up to the last agreement.

    What are the biggest stumbling blocks this time around? What is this agreement’s salary-cap-sized issue? I get the feeling it is a number of smaller things that need to be worked out. Unfortunately this probably means a number of individual compromises, and no one sticking point will be truly closed until the deal is final. (“Well, if you’re not willing to bend here, we want don’t want this concession we made last week in the agreement.”)

    My list of things that would likely be on the table. What am I missing?

    – Contract length and contract front-loading. (It seems like the players and the owners both like these, but maybe the league is unhappy?)

    – The whole NCAA/college circumventing draft selection thing. (ala Schultz the Younger)

    – Player Safety – I added this only because it’s almost always a concern and I’m sure Shanny will have some suggestions to make his job easier/more effective.

    – Escrow – We know the players hate it, but how else do you ensure the salary cap affords the protection it’s intended to?

    Edit: Added Escrow

    • Two major issues from the owner’s standpoint:

      1) 57%. That’s where revenue sharing sits now. It’s closer to 50% in other leagues – I expect the owners to try and hammer that number down. It’s likely to be the biggest sticking point.

      2) The cap floor. We know the NHL’s budget teams are struggling to keep up with it, as revenue in some markets grow by leaps and bounds while it stagnates in others.

  • Regarding the cap floor, one retort the players will be sure to bring to bear is revenue sharing…if certain teams are having difficulty with making the floor because some teams make much more revenue than others, then what happened to the revenue sharing that the owners agreed to implement? Perhaps that could be increased?

  • Its possible there may be a trade off between the revenue sharing and the cap floor.

    The escalating ” cap floor” is a problem for the budget teams, however, the players love it as its putting ” never would have dreamed” money in some players pockets when the floor was much lower. Budget team owners can’t afford to pay out and compete with the salary scale. Your paying big bucks for lesser talent,which at the end will not improve your team.

    I also feel the NHLPA will not favour any kind of a cap on term. This gives players leverage for these crazy contracts

  • RexLibris

    I agree Jonathan, that the ceiling/floor issue and the percentage of revenue division are probably two important topics for the owners.

    What I see are a number of issues, but I can never get a real handle on which side would benefit from the changes that could be made.

    As an example, would an increase of the reserve list to 52 contracts be something that players would appreciate such that it could be a bargaining concession for ownership?

    Or in exchange for reducing the division of revenue to perhaps 54% be exchanged for allowing the current contract-length loopholes to continue.

    Lots of issues.

  • SmellOfVictory

    I’d be surprised if this was anywhere near as bad as the last set of talks. Now they’re just tweaking the system as opposed to trying to engage in the initial implementation of a new cap system.

  • SmellOfVictory

    It must just be me but this entire thing makes my blood boil. A bunch of millionaires and billionaire meeting to decide who gets the lions share when the fans fork over larger and larger amounts for tickets and merchandise.

    Salary caps, salary floors. Where is the fans representative fighting for a freeze on ticket prices?

    I know it is just business but it pisses me off.

  • paul wodehouse

    @Jonathan Willis

    MLSE propping up Nashville is a fair point, but one the players shouldn’t care about.

    The response from the players is, well without a cap, MLSE could be spending $100 mil on payroll instead of $70 mil.

    I think the biggest thing we’ll see is the guaranteed revenue % lowered and the cap floor lowered. Maybe not to the levels the owners want, but enough that it makes a difference.

    This is a lose lose proposition from the owners. They can’t cry poor like they did last time and the players already made all the huge concessions in the last round of negotiations.

    The players can go in with the same attitude as last time “Everything is fine, let’s just play” and probably won’t lose the battle of public opinion like they did in 2004.

  • paul wodehouse


    That’s not the job for the owners or the players, that is the job of the fans.

    If you don’t want to spend $100 on tickets, don’t buy them. If enough people do that they will lower their prices.

    Why are the owners going to lower prices when they have waiting lists in the thousands for season tickets?

    (sorry about the double blank posts, enter key got frisky).

  • Beyond the already talked about sticking points, one thing I think we should look out for is the NHLPA wanting to make a statement with these negotiations. I don’t think it’ll be in the same vein as Goodenow’s failed “say no until they cave” obstructionist tactics, but I think they will be looking to show the owners that they’ve repaired the damage from 2005 where IMO they were essentially broken by the owners, and with Donald Fehr leading them they are a force to be made light of at your peril.

    At least, that’s what I think they want to accomplish, but not at the expense of another cancelled season. I don’t think either side has the stomach for that again, and the lack of mentions of any “war chests” or threats of Armageddon like we saw 8 years ago reinforces that point. That doesn’t mean that we won’t miss any games, though. IMO we’ll have at least a portion of the preseason cancelled, and maybe a bit of the regular season too. But I don’t think it’ll go much past that.

  • JW: The NFL is generally considered the best run league and do they not have the most aggressive revenue sharing?

    While I can get some resistance from big market owners like MLSE, the Leafs make money when they have teams to play against.

    I would love to see 1/3 of all game related revenues (including gate and local TV/radio) put into a pot and shared equally. That would still incent local teams to sell as much as they can but allow for a more equitable distribution of revenue which should result in a healthier league.

  • @gcw_rocks

    That’s easy for the NFL because most of the league revenue comes from the television deal. So while that money is for the owners, it’s basically split and that is what the league shares (as the TV money basically covers the player salaries). So that means as the Chicago Bears, I don’t really give gate money to prop up another team, the TV money does that.

    The NHL is a gate driven league. That means the Leafs/Oilers/Whoever have to literally take money from their fans and give it to the rest of the league. You can see why they’d be reluctant to do so.

    And the Leafs will always have someone to play against. Even if you contract the 10 teams in the worst financial shape, the Leafs would still have 19 opponents. We’re a long way away from teams running out of opposition.