NHL, NHLPA reach tentative deal
7/13/2005 12:38:41 PM
And now for the words everyone has been waiting to hear: The deal is done!
The NHL and NHL Players' Association have finally reached an agreement (pending ratification) on a new six-year collective bargaining agreement that - if approved by the NHL board of governors next Thursday and the rank and file membership of the NHLPA next Tuesday - will officially end the stalemate on July 21.
The agreement, a complex document reportedly numbering more than 600 pages, came after the two sides staged marathon negotiating sessions for nine consecutive days. Since the 2004-05 NHL season was officially cancelled on Feb. 16, the league and union have met on 82 occasions, leading to an agreement that will revamp the way the entire professional hockey industry conducts its business.
The league went into this lockout, which started on Sept. 15, 2004, seeking cost certainty and believes it has achieved that with a new economic system from top to bottom.
It is expected both the NHL and NHLPA will move to ratify the agreement within the next seven days, with a formal announcement on July 21. During that time, it is expected the new CBA will be distributed to all in the hockey industry so they can begin getting themselves up to speed on a myriad of new rules and regulations.
Among the most significant are:
- a hard team-by-team salary cap with a payroll of range of $21 million to $39 million (in the first year), which includes all player costs (benefits, insurance etc).
- the league's total expenditure on player costs (salaries, bonuses, benefits and insurance) is not permitted to exceed 54 per cent of defined hockey-related revenue and the salary cap and payroll range will move up or down as revenues increase or decrease each year of the deal.
- a 24 per-cent salary rollback for any NHL player who has time remaining on an existing contract, keeping in mind that the players will receive none of the monies they were slated to earn in the lost season of 2004-05.
- liberalized free agency (including unrestricted status at 27 by year four of the deal), a more restrictive entry level system, totally revamped salary arbitration, improved pension benefits and a revenue-sharing plan.
This agreement (pending ratification) will kick off the most bizarre and busiest off-season in NHL history after the league became the first major professional loop to lose an entire year to labour strife.
As tutorials are conducted to allow NHL owners, general managers, NHL players and player agents to understand the new economic order, plans are already in the works for the two ratification votes.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will be recommending acceptance of this agreement to the governors, so a simple majority of the league's 30-man ruling body will be enough to ratify it.
It's also expected the NHLPA's executive committee, led by president Trevor Linden, will be endorsing the deal, which means a simple majority of the NHLPA's more than 700 members will be enough to make it binding. For those players who cannot physically make it to the membership meeting, the vote will be conducted through the NHLPA's secure website, The Source.
Assuming both groups ratify, the NHL is expected to begin a brief transition period before the league fully re-opens for business.
But before teams and players start to concern themselves with the specifics of transition - such as the buying out of some players to allow teams to meet cap requirements or the attempted signing of 2003 and 2004 draft picks who would re-enter the 2005 entry draft if not signed - the league is expected to unveil significant changes to the game, on and off the ice.
Because no season was played in 2004-05, there is no order of selection for the 2005 entry draft, which is scheduled to take place as a scaled-down event in Ottawa on July 30. Usually, teams draft in inverse order of finish from the recently-concluded season, but this time there will be a weighted draft lottery (with the teams who have fared poorest over the last few years to get marginally better odds than those who fared well) to determine who gets the first overall pick and the right to pick young phenom Sidney Crosby. That lottery is scheduled to take place on July 21 when the NHL is expected to formally announce the new CBA.
In addition to that major business, the NHL is also expected to unveil significant rule changes aimed at making the game more exciting and fan friendly, including shootouts to end tie games and the removal of the red line for the purpose of allowing two-line passes.
While the regular season will remain at 82 games long for each team, the format of that schedule may be altered, along with a potential expansion of the NHL playoffs from 16 to 20 teams.
Once the NHL's formal news conference is put to bed, along with the lottery and rule changes, the brief transition period should unfold in order to take care of the loose ends from the expired CBA. At some point, the NHL will declare itself open for business and NHL teams will be sorting through a huge pool of unrestricted free agents as many teams make themselves over from the ground up.
Whether it is the brave new world the NHL hopes, remains to be seen, but the level of activity and uncertainty will be higher than at any other time in league history.
For now, though, the only thing that matters in the short term is this: The deal (pending ratification) is done.