The NHL lockout appears to be over after 113 days. Early in the morning on January 6 the NHL and NHLPA reached a tentative agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Pending ratification of the agreement by the members of the NHLPA there will be a 2013 NHL hockey season.
Here are some highlights of the items agreed upon during Saturday's marathon negotiations:
-The league came off their demand for a $60 million cap in Year 2 (the 2013-2014 season), instead agreeing to the NHLPA's request to have it at $64.3 million. The salary floor in Year 2 will be $44 million.
- The upper limit on the salary cap for the 2013 season is $60 million, but teams can spend up to $70.2 million. The cap floor will be $44 million.
- The 10-year deal CBA agreement has an opt-out clause that kicks in after eight years.
- The salary variance on contracts from year to year cannot vary more than 35 per cent and the final year cannot vary more than 50 per cent of the highest year.
- A player contract term limit will be seven years and eight years for a team signing its own player.
- The draft lottery selection process will change with all 14 non-playoff teams fully eligible for the first overall pick. The weighting system for each team may remain, but four-spot move restriction will be eliminated.
- Supplemental discipline for players in on-ice incidents will go through NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan first, followed by an appeal process that would go through Bettman. For suspensions of six or more games, a neutral third party will decide if necessary.
- Revenue sharing among teams will spread to $200 million. Additionally, an NHLPA-initiated growth fund of $60 million is included.
Taking a look at where each of these items were when the lockout began and where they ended up the league got some concessions from the players but the league also moved much further from the positions they held when the lockout began 113 days ago than the players did.
No details about how long the 2013 season will be were released. It was thought that if an agreement could be reached by Jan. 11 a 48-game regular season would begin on Jan. 19. Finally, realignment of divisions and player participation in the 2014 Olympics were not agreed to but will be discussed in the future.
This news will stir mixed emotions among the most dedicated of NHL fans. On one hand it is terrific that the labor issues have been resolved for possibly the next ten years. On the other hand, this lockout should have never taken place let alone lasted 113 days. It could have and should have been settled a long time ago and as has been written in this blog previously the game itself and the NHL brand in particular have both been damaged. How badly will ultimately be determined by the fans.
One thing is clear; both the league and the NHLPA have a lot of making up to do with the fans of the NHL. A few recommendations on how the relationship between the NHL and its fans could include:
1. Free subscriptions to the NHL Center Ice television package for anyone who wants one for the 2013 season.
2. Franchises hold the line on ticket prices for the 2013 and the 2013-2014 season. As has been written here previously, the NHL is very reliant on tickets sold as a revenue source and it would send a "we get it" type message to fans if ticket prices did not go up for two seasons.
3. This is the most important way both the league and the players can let the fans know that they get it; Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA director Donald Fehr both announce that they are retiring from their jobs at the end of these negotiations.
Commissioner Bettman has now presided over three ugly lockouts in 18 years and is clearly a polarizing figure. While much has been accomplished during his tenure as commissioner, the league is still not nearly as stable as it could be and is still trying way too hard to make the game popular in too many markets where it never will be.
Donald Fehr is a victim of his own success. He does an amazing job representing the interests of his clients but just as the commissioner is a polarizing figure, so too is Fehr. Rightly or wrongly he is viewed with contempt out of hand by many sports fans for the role he played not only in the 1994 MLB players strike but now for the 2012-2013 NHL lockout. And while Fehr is the one of the best representatives anybody could want on their side, he never has displayed any outward concern for his own public image and isn't terribly gifted in the art of public relations and those facts have made him toxic.
The biggest issue with both Bettman and Fehr is that both came from outside the game of hockey. Fans of the NHL will feel a lot more comfortable if the league and the players; in essence the game itself, were being led by hockey people going forward. It may be the only way for both sides to let fans know that they share their concern for the game and want to do whatever it takes to set things right again.