Tuesday, February 05, 2008

NHLPA Beginning To Flex Its Muscle

After the lockout, the NHLPA was essentially a non-entity. It had been beaten by the NHL and forced to accept the NHL's CBA. Ted Saskin, the NHLPA boss, spent most of his effort consolidating his power instead of leading the player' causes. The NHLPA was doing ridiculous things like trying to reduce the salary cap. Some people were asking the fundamental question why does the NHLPA exist.

Things have changed. Ted Saskin lost his job as NHLPA head. He was replaced by Paul Kelly. The immediate question was where do they go from here?

The answer seems to be that the NHLPA is accepting the partnership the NHL has claimed they want with the players and trying to get themselves involved with issues of running the league.

Kelly is on record that if the NHL were to expand, Canadian cities should be seriously considered. First, this is a popular opinion among Canadian fans that feel the league is abandoning them (Winnipeg and Quebec moved to American cities) and second this is probably the way to maximize revenues (and hence increase the amount of money the players get). A second team in Southern Ontario would likely make more money than a team in Kansas City or Las Vegas. Strangely, some of the small market NHL owners would rather see expansion into other markets that will have lower revenues. The salary cap and floor are tied to the average total NHL revenue per team. Adding a team that performs below the current average would serve to reduce the salaries they have to pay to their teams, while putting expansion fees directly into their pockets.

Kelly is also upset about the NHL's plans to start next season in Europe that were put through without NHLPA approval. Is that how a partnership is supposed to work? The NHL plans to play a pre-season game next year between the New York Rangers and Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Russian Elite League for something called the Victoria Cup. This game is to be played in Switzerland. The NHL also plans to have four regular season games in Europe. In Stockholm, Sweden, the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins would play against each other twice. In Prague, Czech Republic, the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning would play each other twice. This is an expansion on the idea this season when the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings played each other twice to open the regular season in London, England. This shortened summer and extra travel is considered one of the reasons Anaheim got off to such a slow start this season. Many players feel the season is long and hard enough without having to travel to Europe for games. The way the NHL passes these ideas without player consultation is seen as a concern for the NHLPA.

Finally, since player salaries are directly tied to NHL revenues, the NHLPA wants to check into NHL revenues. The NHLPA has hired Bob Lindquist, who is arguably Canada's most successful forensic accountant, to look into the NHL books. In order to have a financial partnership with the NHL, the NHLPA must understand the financial details of the situation.

I think Paul Kelly is doing a good job in asserting the NHLPA as a meaningful force in the business of hockey (and hence justifying its existence). This may become one of the more positive chapters in the history of the NHLPA.

1) Good for the NHLPA! BTW, much like the way the 1995 CBA was portrayed as a clear owners victory only to later to be shown to be otherwise, the current CBA seems to be working out just fine for the players. Albeit the money is going to younger (probably more deserving) players, and not over the hill fossils living off their past exploits.
2) It appears the average salary is right where it was before the second Bettman lock out. If not for the strength of the Canadian dollar and (until recently) the robust American economy the league would be little better off fiscally than in 1995 or 2004
3) Does anyone believe we won't have another lockout when this agreement expires? Our guess is that next time the owners will get to the root of what they will see as the problem; Guaranteed contracts! If they could force a salary cap, they might feel they could get that HUGE concession as well
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