When it comes to negotiations regarding a collective bargaining agreement -- and over the last two years, sports fans have had to deal with plenty of them, thanks to the NFL and NBA -- it's understandable the average fan doesn't have a major interest in the nuts and bolts of the whole thing. They want games to be played, and if they have any interest in the negotiations at all, they just want to understand them.
So, rather than writing a column explaining why Executive A is being greedy or which stipulations are absurd, here's an attempt at making this whole mess somewhat understandable. The major players are already known -- it's the league, led by commissioner Gary Bettman, vs. the players' association (NHLPA) and executive director Donald Fehr -- and the current CBA expires on Sept. 15.
Assuming you already knew that, here are nine more things you need to know to better understand the situation:
What the sides want
These are some of the stipulations included in the first proposals from each side. The league made the first offer last month, with the NHLPA taking a month to submit a counteroffer, which they gave last week.
Here's what the owners' first proposal called for:
•The players' share of revenue would be reduced from 57 percent to 46 percent (the NHLPA says the league actually wants it reduced to 43 percent). According to Fehr, that means players would be losing something like $465 million.
•There would become a five-year limit on contracts.
•Players would need to play 10 seasons in the NHL in order to become unrestricted free agents (the current CBA calls for players to have played either seven years in the NHL or be 27 years of age).
•There would be no more salary arbitration.
•Entry-level contracts would be five years long rather than three. That would prevent young players from cashing in so early, like Steven Stamkos (he signed a five-year, $37.5 million deal with a $7.5 million cap hit as a 21-year-old).
Not as many details of the NHLPA's counteroffer have emerged, but it does include the following:
•No changes to contracts, meaning entry-level deals would remain at three years while there would be no limit to the length of other contracts.
•The players did not request the league get rid of the salary cap.
•A limit to "non-player spending" on teams' parts, which would be similar to a salary cap for coaches, general managers and other executives.
•Teams in serious financial trouble would be awarded more draft picks and would also be allowed to sell or trade up to $4 million in cap space.
What the salary cap means to everything
Because of the salary cap -- again, something the players are fine with keeping -- the NHLPA believes players are giving up some money when they negotiate their deals. As such, Fehr has said that according to his calculations, even with the players getting 57 percent of hockey-related revenue, they are getting half the money while the league is getting the other half.
"Let me caution you when you start talking about 50/50 splits," Fehr told reporters. "If you start talking about all revenue, as opposed to hockey revenue, the way we calculate it the players are already at about 50/50."
Added Fehr: "The normal way we value things in North America and economic arrangements is we have a market value, and we know the players' aggregate market value is more than 57 percent. And that's why we have a salary cap, because the owners didn't want to pay that much."
Thanks to NBC, this is different than the last CBA negotiation
When the two sides were last negotiating a new CBA in the infamous blinking contest that led to the cancellation of the 2004-05 season, the league didn't have a TV deal. Their contract with ESPN had expired, and the Worldwide Leader bid the NHL adieu. When the NHL eventually came back, hockey fans had to learn which channel number OLN was, as the network secured the rights to televise games nationally beginning in the 2005-06 season.
This time around, there is already a TV deal in place (NBC). So, with money to be made from the network, nobody will want to lose the nationally televised games, and guess what the first one of the season is? That's right, the Bruins' annual "Thanksgiving Showdown" (what an absolutely ridiculous name -- check back here for a column on that later) on Nov. 23, the Friday after Thanksgiving. If the game is played, the Bruins will host the Rangers.
Thus far, the players have been more realistic than the league
In case you couldn't tell, the league asked for the moon and more with its first proposal. The NHLPA responded by having Fehr request some financial particulars from the league, and the league gave the NHLPA somewhere around 76,000 pages of documents from all the teams. That's a lot of reading, and maybe it's why it took the players so long to submit their proposal.
The league could still play games without a new CBA, but it won't
One point that the NHLPA has brought up more than once is that the league could technically still play games after Sept. 15. The NHLPA has also made it known that they're willing to do that, but they've done so knowing the league would never sign off on it. That's essentially a PR tactic, as it makes them look like the side that just wants hockey, while the big bad league is more about money.
From Fehr: "I've been in experiences before where we play without a contract under the old rules and you continue negotiating until you find a deal. We certainly hope there isn't. We certainly don't think there's a reason for it.
"If [the owners] choose to do it, it's something that they chose to do."
A late start could raise uncertainty with Dougie Hamilton
As head coach an general manager Marty Williamson told WEEI.com earlier this summer, the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League don't expect defensive wunderkind Dougie Hamilton back next season, as seemingly everyone in the hockey world expects the 2011 ninth overall pick to make the Bruins out of training camp.
However, Hamilton will not be eligible to play in the AHL should there be a lockout, as he just turned 19 in June. Players under 20 years old who don't make their NHL clubs after a nine-game trial have to be returned to their CHL (OHL, QMJHL and WHL) teams and are not eligible for the AHL. Last season, Hamilton had 17 goals and 55 assists for 72 points in 50 OHL games.
One lingering question -- and it's unclear at this point given the CBA uncertainty -- is whether Hamilton would be able to begin the year in the OHL and then come to the NHL if the season were to start late. It's clear by the Bruins' lack of moves this offseason that they expect Hamilton to make the team, but if Hamilton is back in Niagara by the time the NHL season starts, the CHL would have to sign off on amending the rules for the season to allow players in Hamilton's situation to leave.
The league has reason to fear Fehr
For the younger fans out there, this isn't Donald Fehr's first rodeo. He was head of the Major League Baseball Players' Association (MLBPA) from 1986-2009, and led the players through their 1994-95 strike that cancelled the 1994 World Series. Neither the league nor the players want another lockout, but Fehr's involvement shows that the players aren't going to be pushed around.
The Bruins are well-represented
Daniel Paille is the player representative for the Bruins, a role he took over in February 2011 when then-rep Mark Stuart was traded to Atlanta in the deal that brought Rich Peverley to Boston. Paille has travelled to meetings and relayed information to teammates (for more on Paille's life as a player rep during CBA negotiations, click here).
Paille isn't the only Bruin actively involved, however. Andrew Ference, who has served as Boston's player rep in the past, accompanied Paille to Chicago for the NHLPA meetings in June. Shawn Thornton has said he would be interested in attending a meeting later in the summer if negotiations are still taking place.
Nobody wins if there's a lockout
For the really young fans out there (plenty of seven and eight-year-olds like reading about CBA negotiations), the 2004-05 lockout wasn't pretty, and both sides should want to avoid another one at all costs. This negotiation doesn't have a big sticking point like it did last time around with the salary cap, but both sides have dug in at this point.
As Tom Gulitti of The Record points out, both sides can spin things in the media all they want, but for fans -- like the ones mentioned above who don't care about the particulars -- a repeat of 2004-05 would be devastating both financially and for the league's image.
It's also worth considering the league made $3.3 billion last season, its most profitable season.