A Counter Proposal

What is there really to talk about with the NHL season on hold, the sides not talking and no real resolution in sight?  Well a potential resolution I guess, and that is what TSN with their myriad of resources and experienced commentators have presented this evening.  Basically they avoid a cap by simply putting a maximum salary on veteran players (i.e. those not on an entry-level contract) and a few tweaks here and there.  I’m sorry, but I must admit I’m disappointed…how about you?

So with the equally impressive array of resources and experience available to Outside The Garden, I counter with this more creative solution…well at least in my own mind.

1. $25 million Team Salary Cap
Okay, before all you player supporters of the players union jump on me give me a chance to explain.  The salary cap applies only to players who have changed teams and not to those who wish to remain with the team they originally signed their contract with.  In essence if a team invests the money to draft and develop a player they should be given some return on their investment, additionally we want to avoid incidents like we see in the NFL where team favorites are cut as they start to get on in years.  

Signing bonuses would have be prorated across the life of the contract with the option for the team to recognize it earlier in the life of the contract.  Other bonuses would be recognized on a year to year basis against the cap, excepting playoff bonuses which would be exempt (up to 10% of base yearly salary) per round of the playoffs.

If a team wants to keep a player then we say let them…at whatever cost they think is reasonable.

We’ll even give a break to those players that remain with a team starting with a 10% reduction against the cap for each year of service beginning in their second year until they reach 100% in their 11th season.

Example salary of $5,000,000 per year for 11 seasons:

Year 1. $5,000,000 against cap
Year 2. $4,500,000 against cap
Year 3. $4,000,000 against cap
Year 4. $3,500,000 against cap
Year 5. $3,000,000 against cap
Year 6. $2,500,000 against cap
Year 7. $2,000,000 against cap
Year 8. $1,500,000 against cap
Year 9. $1,000,000 against cap
Year 10. $500,000 against cap
Year 11. $0 against cap

Fines for exceeding the cap would include a $5 to $1 penalty over the cap and a loss of draft picks comparative to the infraction.

2. Lower Unrestricted Free Agency to 28
So I gave the owners something, and now I have to give the players something back.  While we may be cutting into the ability for players to travel from team to team we should take into account that not every player wants to stay with a team.  Lowering the age to 28 means that players still have some prime years in which to make an impact and shop on the “not quite as” open market.  This change like the previous one would need to be ratcheted down gradually to the age of 28…I propose one year removed for every two years of CBA, until six years from now we’re at 28.

3. Entry Level Contracts
Currently the rate is around $1.3 million, plus unrestricted bonuses and up to three years, I like the owners think this is a little too much.  Lets make it a $750,000 for the first year and $900,000 for a second year, ditching the third year completely.  The difficult part is the bonuses…perhaps we cap that at 100% of their yearly salary, it’s a little fairer than the TSN solution in my opinion and the NHLPA has recognized it as an issue.

4. Restricted Free Agency
Count me as one who wonders how a player can get a raise when he actually doesn’t perform…I’m fractionally more generous than TSN here and think a player should be qualified at 80% of their previous year’s salary, regardless of what they earned.  I’ll throw in a wrinkle though, if they’re qualified at the lower rate the player can opt to get the same bonus structure as they had the previous year, perhaps not much of a return but it does give the player a little extra flexibility.

5. Arbitration
Who would have thought that arbitration would be a dirty word?  Well after the past few seasons of tremendous salary increases from year to year I think that most of us can admit the existing system needs attention.  To start with there will be a 50% maximum on raises from year to year, with a review after three years to ensure that it’s not simply a case of players getting 50% raises every time they go to arbitration.  We’ll leave the bonuses up to the arbiter with recommendations submitted by each side.  Teams will have the opportunity to walk away from the award and will receive compensation if another team signs the player, or will get rights to match the base salary if the player signs for 75% or less of the arbiter’s award.

6. Guaranteed Contracts
This is one of the areas that teams have constantly gotten into trouble with.  Whether it be Washington signing Jagr or Phoenix signing Amonte, there has come a time when the team has regretted the move.  Still it does not seem fair to remove this guarantee if the players can command it in the market, and with the other restrictions I’m suggesting the number of big time contracts that impact a team should be reduced anyway.  The one change I will suggest is lowering the buy-out option from 66% to 50%.  Protection will remain in place for injured players who will receive 100% of their salary while injured.

7. Revenue Sharing
The problem of course is that there will always be some owners who will wish to pocket the cash rather than spend it on the team.  There is also a demotivating side-effect of pooling all the revenues into a single bucket to be split thirty ways…so here is the compromise.  First off 50% of TV revenues in each market would go into a pool to be redistributed evenly throughout the league.  The money would only go to teams which meet a minimum payroll of $30 million (regardless of cap status) with the money to cover increases of payroll over the previous season.  Some of the left over money could go to insurance costs for players and/or the players pension plan, this would need to be negotiated between the two parties.

8. Players under Contract and Roster Size
The current limits are 50 players under contract and 23 players on the NHL roster.  First off we’d like to reduce the number of players under NHL contract to 45 players and the player roster to 21 players with 18 starters.  It will eliminate 60 NHL jobs, but should also allow another 150 players to be free to negotiate with teams other than the one that drafted them and perhaps provide a mechanism for those players to find jobs with other teams in the league.  The reduction in starting rosters would have the side-effect of reducing some of the lesser skilled players in the league, pretty much eliminating the 4th line.

9. Season Length
If we’re going to ask the players to take a pay cut, then we also have to reduce their workload.  The easiest way is to shorten the length of the season which in turn helps get the playoffs started while it’s still cold outside.  Reducing the season from 82 games to 72 games (6 against division rivals, 4 against conference rivals and eight games against teams from the other conference) appears to be almost a foregone conclusion so there’s probably not much need for debate here.

10. League Awards
As a final carrot, and this may very well be the case already, but lets give a financial bonus to players (and coaches) who win the various league sanctioned awards.

So there you have it, my ten point starting point for negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement.  It may appear on the surface that I have given too much to the owners, but there are several points here on which the owners concede either money or control over players.  The goal for me was to provide some sort of controls on the ever increasing salary expenditure, while attempting to maintain the ability for teams to retain key players on their teams.  Certainly it is far from perfect, but I feel it is far more imaginative than some of the other solutions that have been suggested and if nothing else provides some fresh ideas into a situation which obviously is not moving forward.

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