The NHL Cannot Afford Another Lockout

The National Hockey League will be entering, this Fall, into the final year of its Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NHL Players Association and that’s a scary thought for many people. Owners are ready. Players know what to expect. Fans are already fuming at the idea of missing more hockey for the battle of the rich. But those the most affected are hockey reporters and those working for NHL teams and I’m not talking about management here. No, the people working the concessions, hushers, tickets and programs sellers. The middle class. Those who NEED this money to SURVIVE. When a work stoppage occurs, THEY are the ones suffering the most yet, they have no say in the negotiations.

Gary Bettman took over as NHL commissioner on February 1, 1993. Since then, the league has made its fans and players suffer through not one, not two, but three lockouts. Based on nothing else but history, locking out the players seems to be Bettman’s prefered method of negotiating and it would be hard to blame anyone fearing yet another stoppage of play.

The lockouts

1994-1995

The 1994–95 lockout lasted 104 days, causing the season to be shortened from 82 to 48 games. While the owners failed to achieve a full salary cap, the union agreed to a cap on rookie contracts; changes to arbitration and restrictive rules for free agency that would not grant a player unrestricted free agency until he turned 31.

2004-2005

Many fear that Gary Bettman will impose a 4th lockout against the players.

As in 1994, the owners’ position was predicated around the need for a salary cap. After several months of negotiations going nowhere, Bettman announced the cancellation of the entire season. The NHL therefore became the first North American league to cancel an entire season because of a labor stoppage, and the second league to cancel a postseason, the first being Major League Baseball, which lost its postseason in 1994 due to a strike (hard to forget as an Expos’ fan). The result: a hard salary cap. National Hockey League Players Association president Trevor Linden and senior director Ted Saskin had taken over the negotiations over from executive director Bob Goodenow, who resigned over the issue.

2012-2013

The 2012–13 NHL lockout lasted from September 15, 2012 to January 19, 2013. After unsuccessful negotiations, the NHL and NHLPA agreed to mediation under the guidance of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service on November 26. But the mediators quit, determining they could not make any progress reconciling the two parties demands, and both sides were on their own again. A 48-game regular season schedule was then played, starting on January 19, 2013 and ending on April 28, 2013, with no inter-conference games. Most of the negotiated issues were revenue sharing related, something fans aren’t too impacted with.

Some pretty harsh words were exchanged during those lockouts and hard feelings are still present. You can bet that more will be coming in the event of another work stoppage.

Upcoming negotiations

Gary Bettman is not well liked by
fans and players alike.

Bettman’s controversial decisions, as well as presiding over three labor stoppages, have made him extremely unpopular among many NHL fans and players alike. He is regularly booed in various arenas around the league, ranging from his appearances at the annual NHL Draft to his presentation of the Stanley Cup to the league champions at the end of the playoffs. In April 2017, Bettman announced that the NHL would not be taking part in the 2018 Winter Olympics, a decision that was confirmed in November 2017 and was widely unpopular among players.

Interest for hockey is picking up in Carolina and Arizona, newer market Nashville is thriving, Las Vegas is behind the Golden Knights but the City has the NFL coming, and the St. Louis Blues’ won their first ever Stanley Cup. A break in play could be detrimental for several NHL Cities, those above-mentioned included. Would Gary Bettman dare impose a fourth lockout in as many CBA negotiation? You bet he would. Why? Because fans came back crawling as if nothing ever happened…

Seattle expansion

The last time the NHL was threatening a lockout, I had made a promise to boycott purchasing any additional products or services providing revenues to the league and/or teams for a period of… five years! Guess what? I did. Yes, I still watched the game but I did not purchase NHL Centre Ice, nor did I buy any Montreal Canadiens’ merchandise for that (long) period of time. I wished back then, that more people would stand up for this nonsense type of negotiating. Unfortunately, fans were like sheep, never missing a beat as if everything was normal. I’m genuinely hoping that more fans around the NHL did something substantial to (finally) tell Bettman and the owners that… enough is enough! But here’s hoping that it doesn’t get to that point. But I’m not holding my breath. Go Habs Go!

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NHL’s Top-20 Current Worst Contracts

Market. Competition. Desperation. Self-preservation. All factors dictating, justifying and/or describing NHL General Managers’ actions during the summer months, but mostly in the early days of July when free agents hit the market. All of which contributing, in one way or another, in bidding wars bumping up the so-called market value of a player, or players within the same category, numbers used at a later date by other players’ agents in justifying the new bar for their clients in future negotiations. The best General Managers are those who can resist succumbing to the temptation of getting into betting wars, by simply sticking to their plans going in… but “simply” just isn’t that simple as it’s often easier said than done.

The irony of this whole phenomena is that the NHL imposed a hard salary cap in an attempt to stop that process, in a way to protect GMs from… themselves. But as we’ve witnessed over and over again, it hasn’t worked. All it has done is kill GM’s abilities to “fix their mistakes” by trading their bad contracts, making it less exciting for fans as in-season trades are few and far between.

“If you look at history in the NHL, the biggest mistakes are made in early July. Worst contracts, guys who underperform. The biggest mistakes are July first. You have to be careful.” ~ Marc Bergevin

As the July 1st Free Agents’ Frenzy is once again upon us, let’s take a look at the NHL’s current worst contracts. Taken into consideration are factors such as cap hit, production, games played, no trades protection, protection against buyouts (signing bonus), age and number of years remaining to the contract. In order to understand the buyout protection, signing bonuses don’t count in the case of a buyout, only the player’s salary. For example, for every year of his contract, Andrew Ladd’s base salary is $1M. The rest is all signing bonus. So the Islanders would still be left with $4.833M of his $5.5M counting against their cap.

20. Antti Raanta (G) 30 – 12 GP – 2.88 GAA – 0.906 SV%

19. Scott Darling (G) 30 – 8 GP – 3.33 GAA – 0.884 SV%

18. Ryan Johansen (F) 26 – 80 GP – 14G – 64 PTS

17. Brandon Dubinsky (F) 33 – 61 GP – 6 G – 14 PTS

16. Cory Schneider (G) 33 – 26 GP – 3.06 GAA – 0.903 SV%

15. James Neal (F) 31 – 63 GP – 7 G – 19 PTS

14. Justin Abdelkader (F) 32 – 71 GP – 6 G – 19 PTS

13. Erik Johnson (D) 31 – 80 GP – 7 G – 25 PTS

12. Ilya Kovalchuk (F) 36 – 64 GP – 16 G – 34 PTS

11. Bobby Ryan (F) 32 – 78 GP – 15 G – 42 PTS

Keep in mind that with the upcoming expansion draft, only those with No-Trade Clauses (NTC) can be left unprotected for Seattle. A player with a No-Movement Clause (NMC) MUST be protected by their team. This has a huge impact on how bad the contract is considered.

10. David Backes (F) 35 – 70 GP – 7 G – 20 PTS

9. Niklas Hjalmarsson (D) 82 GP – 0 G – 10 PTS

8. Karl Alzner (D) 30 – 9 GP – 0G – 1 PT

7. Corey Perry (F) 34 – 31 GP – 6 G – 19 PTS

6. Ryan Kesler (F) 34 – 60 GP – 5G – 8 PTS

And now down to the nitty-gritty, the five worst contracts in the NHL.

5. Nikita Zaitsev (D) 27 – 81 GP – 3 G – 14 PTS

4. Andrew Ladd (F) 33 – 26 GP – 3 G – 11 PTS

3. Kyle Okposo (F) 31 – 78 GP – 14 G – 29 PTS

2. Loui Eriksson (F) 33 – 81 GP – 11 G – 29 PTS

1. Milan Lucic (F) 31 – 79 GP – 6 G – 20 PTS

With the news that Erik Karlsson just signed a contract extension with the San Jose Sharks giving him a $11.5 million cap hit, we might have to wait a few years but that contract might eventually find its place amongst the NHL’s worst contracts… particularly if he can’t stay healthy. Either way, desperate GMs are likely to fall, as they do every year, to the peer pressure of getting a much desired free agent but as you can see, the notion that teams “get them for free” is as far as it gets from accurate. Here’s hoping that Marc Bergevin doesn’t pull another Alzner. Could Matt Duchene be a good fit? We’ll find out soon enough. Go Habs Go!