Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ted Saskin Testifies For The NHL

Much of the history of the NHLPA is a history of NHLPA bosses who enjoyed too close a relationship with the NHL bosses and thus compromised the integrity of the Player's Association. Alan Eagleson and John Ziegler were essentially golfing buddies who would agree upon future NHL bargaining agreements that suited the owners. The 2005 lockout looked like a break from this pattern. Bob Goodenow was in charge of the NHLPA and he would fight for the players. That didn't last. Bob Goodenow was forced out and Ted Saskin brought in to lead the NHLPA. Saskin promptly caved to NHL demands and accepted the salary cap that the owners were looking for. This was an ownership win. It may not be a total loss for the players because salaries have been able to grow as NHL revenues grew (at least so far), but it immediately added value to all NHL franchises as they had cost certainty. It was an even bigger license to print money in the strong NHL markets than they had before. So far, it has kept alive all of the weak markets as well and limited their losses.

Eventually, Ted Saskin left the NHLPA in disgrace and the union was weaker than it had been in years. In order to maintain some appearance that Saskin attempted to do his job well and was not an owner stooge, you would think he would stay away from testifying on the side of the NHL in any dispute. Ted Saskin, however, will not take that advice.

There is an arbitration hearing to clarify a CBA related issue regarding Europeans. When the newest CBA was adopted, a rule was changed from the past to give teams two years to sign any Europeans they had drafted before they would lose their right and the player could re-enter the draft. In the past, a team held a player who stayed in Europe's right indefinitely. Several complex CBA provisions existed because of this (for example the defected player rules that affect Jonas Frogren). This would bring European players onto similar terms as North American players, who have two years from their draft (or the point when they leave college) to be signed. At the time, nobody was imagining the complication of a lack of a transfer agreement. That would make it very hard to bring Europeans over within the two year window.

This has direct consequence to the case of Alexei Cherepanov who was drafted in the first round by the New York Rangers in 2007. So far they have not been able to sign him and with a lack of a transfer agreement, it is very possible that he will remain unsigned by the Rangers and re-enter the draft. For this loss, the Rangers will receive the 17th pick in the second round of the 2009 draft (as Cherepanov was the 17th pick in the first round).

Ted Saskin will argue the NHL's position that two years means two years and no transfer agreement doesn't affect that, even if it is an unexpected situation when the CBA was agreed upon. In testifying on behalf of the NHL about a year and a half after being fired as NHLPA head, Saskin further hurts his legacy and further brings up questions about how much the NHL controlled him and how he was not looking out for the player's best interests.

Here is Larry Brooks with his version of the story.

1) That Ted Saskin was almost like a 'double agent' seems pretty clear now. Good for the players that they ejected him and seem to have brought in a guy with integrity and who has their best interests as his primary concern
2) We would disagree though that the CBA was a win for the owners. They may have their salary cap but players make MORE now than before, and the small revenue teams are still struggling.
3)We don't think the players will unilaterally terminate the CBA early, as is their right, but we can foresee another lockout/work stoppage on the horizon in 3 years when the CBA expires and hard line owners push for further concessions like eliminating guaranteed contracts, ala the NFL.
It was a win for the owners because they got what they wanted at the time and the players didn't.
1) A 'win' is usually judged by history/time. Most believed that the owners 'won' the 1995 CBA as well, and we all now know how that turned out.
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