If you’re the NHLPA, or any member in it, headlines like this shouldn’t exactly settle well:
The smiling faces were real. NHL owners are ecstatic with the players’ decision. Now comes the tricky part. My column from today’s BOG meeting: https://t.co/nS4acBxmzW
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) September 18, 2019
Now, there may have been a time in my life where I truly believed that all that meant was that everyone was happy, everyone realized the damage that could be done by yet another work stoppage, and that everyone was interested in growing the game together. That was a wonderful time in my life. I work really hard to get back there, even though I know the road there is pretty much impossible to navigate and pass. It’s gone forever, and all that’s left is this broken down old man (yes, Shawshank was on late last night on IFC. Why do you ask?)
But when a billionaire is smiling and excited…well, one, flee the fucking room if you’re a woman, and two, the only other thing that gets them excited is the thought of more money. Seriously, that’s the only way their heart pumps, and this is how you get the state of the country today. Now again, maybe they’re just happy they can continue making money at this pace without a work stoppage, but you all know I’m more suspicious than that. I’ve been through this once or twice.
There definitely seems to be an element of relief in this, which means that the owners A) genuinely feared a strike by the players, B) feel like they gained something. Which means they had something to lose, which means the NHLPA actually had some leverage.
And we know what that leverage was. There’s an expansion franchise coming on the books in two seasons, which meant a strike the season before that carried over would have put at risk their start date. There’s also a new TV deal coming the season after that, which means talks for that start relatively soon, and you wouldn’t exactly be dealing with a position of strength with NBC or ESPN or Fox or wherever this goes if you weren’t playing games or a large threat of not playing games was hanging over the talks.
Now that said, this is almost certainly what the players were looking at. They want that TV deal to be bonanza too, or as close as hockey can get to a bonanza, and then grab more of the booty for themselves. That’s fair. They erred in not somehow including expansion fees into the last CBA as part of shared revenue (perhaps placated by the 25 extra jobs), and maybe that’s something they could have come after if they’d walked off the job. Don’t smirk, because the owners came after back-diving contracts in the last CBA that used to be legal, so we know retroactive action is on the table.
Maybe the TV deal will be much bigger, and maybe the tweaks the PA and the owners are working toward has enough included for the players with that TV deal that they feel they shouldn’t get in the way. That’s what we can’t know.
LeBrun in this piece says the two sides could hammer out an extension with tweaks to the CBA in the coming months, but I’ll believe that when I see it. The owners now don’t have any urgency and the players discarded the one card they have. While the players say their one bitch is escrow, I find that hard to believe and also don’t see a way around it. It also only really affects players up the scale on the payroll, though no one likes getting shit taken out of their paycheck (even when it’s for the things that everyone needs, but that’s another discussion).
Maybe the players have a plan to just go to a fixed amount that the salary cap is calculated from, instead of a formula that can change from year-to-year or month-to-month even. Maybe they’ve gotten more creative. Still, when you have smiling owners you know something is bad. And while the players may think they have pulled off a real coup here by letting the US TV deal play out unscathed, and they’ll just get a bigger slice simply because, it seems like they’ve forgotten whom they are dealing with here.
And we’re still talking about a system that has multiple restricted free agents waiting for contracts, who are the ones who are going to carry this league. That’s proof the system isn’t working correctly, and also proof that no matter what they say, owners will continue to spend money to win (at least most of them), if only to the cap. Perhaps they should have played on that more?
-There is one aspect of escrow the players take up that I’m not convinced I agree with. You can see it here or here. It’s this idea espoused by Jonathan Toews and others that the players have no responsibility in growing or marketing the game. I just can’t get there.
In one aspect, hockey players have created the unwritten rules or culture that individuality is bad or that anyone who stands out in a dressing room is a problem. Call it the “PK Subban Clause.” (include the racial undertones if you want or not) It’s the players who enforce this idea that everyone has to be the same and completely dull, and that anything with flash and sizzle is to be stamped out and discouraged from ever starting.
Except it’s flash and sizzle that sells, and perhaps if more players had a personality and weren’t afraid to show it, and spoke up in the press in ways other than tired cliches, people might take notice. Hell, you don’t even need the media now. Every player has access to Twitter and Instagram, and can be their own bullhorn if they want. You can get directly to the fans. How many do?
If the players are going to throw all their toys out of the crib over escrow and revenue not increasing how they were promises, are they really going to trust the owners to do that and give them more money? How many times do you have to be bit by the scorpion before you stop taking him across the river? Don’t expect them to do all the work for you.
Secondly, the players are the ones who could easily get rid of fighting and the other bullshit that holds the game back, but they don’t. And while they may think it’s an element that makes the sport unique and intriguing to the outsider, if that were the case we’d have seen major growth from the sport already. They keep the goons and talentless hobos in the league by blanching whenever the idea is brought up to get rid of it. “Part of the game.”
Well, no one watches your game. So maybe it’s not all that necessary?