The Future of the NHL

The National Hockey League owners and players meet again on Monday.

The two sides haven’t met since March 17 in New York, when the NHLPA was
presented two proposals by the NHL, the first a team-by-team $37.5-million US
salary cap deal that did not have a fixed link between player costs and league
revenues – “linkage.”

The second offer was based on linkage, with player costs to take up no more than 54
per cent of league revenues. The union wants no part of linkage, not wanting to tie players’ salaries to a business that has suffered immeasurable damage with an entire season cancelled.

The NHL gave the union an April 8 deadline – this Friday – to negotiate on the “de-linked” proposal, or else it will be pulled off the table and only the second proposal will remain. So the union, which held a conference call with players last week, has had a major decision to make. Do the players cut their losses now and put a cap offer on the table, let’s say around $45 million, and call it a day? Or do they gamble that the NHL’s next option, replacement players, will blow up in its face next fall and
hand the leverage back to the union.

The decision should be clear on Monday.

After talks fizzled in February, I wrote the following to Eric McErlain:

My own guess is that the players will never see as good an offer as they got last week.

Conditional on that guess: Goodenow will be gone, and Bettman will be regarded as a reasonable guy, hero to the owners and the league, etc.

And the players will be scorned for (a) having held out for such a bad deal and (b) having “cost” everyone a lost season.

Just about the only way the players can “win” whatever is left to win will be if fans wholeheartedly reject the use of replacement players. But by the time that is clear, there will not be much left for the players to win. Presumably the NHLPA has figured this out, too. Look for them to accept a de-linked cap soon.

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Author: John Palmer

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