The big picture remains the same: Everyone involved in the NHL lockout lost.
Owners and players flushed away $1.3 billion, the good will of fans and hockey’s status as a growing sport. The league and its players’ association created economic hardships for workers and businesses in all 30 cities during their four-month dispute.
“It wasn’t worth it,” Buffalo Sabres forward Thomas Vanek said Monday.
Even in the lamest of arguments, however, someone has to “win.” The league and NHLPA each can claim various victories while finalizing their collective bargaining agreement this week.
Owners will keep more of the money that filters into their arenas. Players are guaranteed to glide into old age with a healthy bank account. Small-market teams are more likely to make a profit with increased revenue sharing. Big-ticket franchises can get rid of their contract mistakes through two amnesty buyouts.
Here’s a breakdown of key components in the next CBA and how they compare to the old deal and two significant proposals made during negotiations, the NHL’s “best offer” tendered Oct. 17 and the NHLPA’s “agreement is imminent” pitch Dec. 6.
Players earned 57 percent in the last CBA, and owners opted out of the agreement and locked their doors to get that number down. It worked.
The sides’ 50-50 split, mirroring recent deals made in the NFL and NBA, was inevitable.
By chopping the players’ share from 57 percent to 50 percent, owners will keep more than $1.65 billion in their pockets during years three through eight of the CBA.
Contract term limits
Famously described by Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly as “the hill we will die on,” a restriction on the length of players’ deals was the most hotly debated topic during negotiations. The NHL first insisted on five years. The union offered eight.
They agreed to a seven-year limit on new deals and eight if a player re-signs.
Players no longer have unlimited earning potential, and owners have stopped themselves from giving stars guaranteed contracts that last past retirement age.
Yearly salary variance
Long-term deals had grown farcical with players like the Sabres’ Christian Ehrhoff set to be paid $18 million in salary during the first two years of his deal and a total of $3 million in his final three.
It lowered cap hits, but it also knocked small-market clubs out of player quests as they have less cash on hand than rich clubs.
The NHL wanted a yearly salary variance of 5 percent.
The players managed to bump it up considerably. The sides agreed to a maximum variance of 35 percent, with no more than 50 percent difference in the highest and lowest years of a contract.
“We went with variances from zero to something,” Sabres defenseman Jordan Leopold said. “You have to look at it in that way.”
The league’s “best offer” established the cap at $59.9 million for this season, though teams could spend up to $70.2 million with transition rules. Since revenues are expected to dip or stay flat on a pro-rated scale, the cap would have remained at $60 million next season.
The players, after pushing for $67.25 million, succeeded in getting a $64.3 million cap in 2013-14. That means this summer’s free agents have an additional $129 million in their potential earnings pool.
The union’s last stand was to establish a quality retirement plan for all players funded by the owners. Thus, the defined pension benefit plan that a source says will be identical to baseball. Major League Baseball players who play for a decade are eligible for up to $200,000 a year when they hit 62.
Retirement funds shouldn’t impact players with salaries in the millions. However, grinders who play a season or two for the league minimum could earn into the tens of thousands per year.
The sides initially wanted the CBA to last three to five years. As lockout damage increased, both realized a promise of lasting labor peace was essential. They agreed to a 10-year deal with an opt-out after eight.
“At the end of the day, is it a fair deal? I don’t know,” Leopold said. “But the fans are going to get their hockey back.”