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My Solution to the NHL Lockout

Dec 4, 2012, 4:13 PM EDT

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Last Friday, you indulged me on a rant about which side is
to blame for the NHL lockout.
As players and owners are meeting face-to-face
without their lead council
on Tuesday in a last ditch effort to save this
season, perhaps you are willing to follow me down the rabbit hole a bit
further.

The key divisive issue is the league’s owners want or need
to cut costs immediately. The players association would accept less than the
current 57% split of revenues, but in order to move to the proposed 50-50 model
in the first year of the new collective bargaining agreement, it would require
the union accept salary rollbacks across the board, which we know they are
unwilling to do. Up to now, they have been unable to find a way to bridge the
gap.

Even if the players are going to continue their hard-line
stance against a rollback on contracts that are already signed – as well they
should – there is still a way to give both parties what they want. That’s
cost-certainty for the owners, yet every penny promised to the players.

Agree to temporarily remove the salary cap, and along with
it, the salary floor.

There is little evidence teams in major hockey markets such
as Philadelphia, New York, Toronto, etc. are hurting. In certain cases, their
profits might not be exactly where they would like, but that should be solved
by a simple redistribution of the revenue.

What the lockout really seems to be about are franchises in
smaller hockey markets that are legitimately struggling, in some cases losing
money. Even with a 50-50 split and increased revenue sharing, they still may
need to reduce salaries right away to remain financially competitive.

By reaching a compromise that takes the cap out of the
picture for the first few years of the new deal – let’s say four for the sake
of being concrete – owners get the best of both worlds. Those who agreed to pay
their stars fair market value can continue to do so, even take on another club’s
bad contract if they so choose, running their franchise at any cost without
impunity. Organizations that are having trouble paying the bills can dump
salaries, fielding a few teams on the cheap to make up for the last few years
of operating in the red, running their franchise at any cost without impunity.

With the high draft picks that would result in some cases
from teams tanking for a few years, along with the league’s revenues being distributed
more evenly, several of these franchises would likely be more viable by the end
of the new CBA. In other words, maybe we can avoid this mess again further down
the road.

Spending would never get out of control for big market
teams, either, because they would eventually be required to get under the
future cap. It would force those front offices to remain fiscally responsible and budget accordingly so that
contracts were coming off the books at the right time.

As far as the players are concerned, there is theoretically no limit on how much a
player could make during the grace period.

Obviously an estimated cap figure would need to be known in
advance of its implementation, but I’m sure we can handle this.

I admit I am no economist, nor a lawyer, so maybe there is
some key financial or legal ingredient that would serve as a major stumbling
block to my plan. It also does nothing to address the various contracting
issues on the table, which may be a bigger hurdle than we would hope. I think it deserve points for creativity though, which is
what it’s going to take to solve the labor battle at this stage, as opposed to
some contrived meeting between players and owners.

The league is not taking the players seriously, employees
who signed their deals fair and square, with moves like a “make whole provision”
that doesn’t actually make contracts whole. However, the owners are not taking
each other seriously, either, by ignoring the fact that there are haves and there
are have-nots among their ranks.

The only way to give the union what they want, and bring
hockey back to the people, is to honor those contracts. The only way I can
think of to accomplish that while simultaneously cutting costs universally for all
franchises is to allow each one to spend as they see fit for awhile.