It looks like the NHL and the NHLPA are in a stale mate in terms of the CBA negotiations. As of right now the NHL is holding firm on its stand of limiting players to 47% of revenue and the players are holding firm on its stand of not wanting to see any roll back of salaries either through a negotiated roll back or through escrow though the players are willing to scale back the growth of player salaries.
When the CBA negotiations started outside observers believed a final resolution to the CBA would see the owners and the players split revenues more or less along the 50% line, not unlike the NBA. The question is when and how long it will take for both sides to capitulate to those numbers. While driving around in my car yesterday I thought up a more innovative solution that might appease both the owners and the players and it has aspects within the system that both the owners and the players could view as a “win”.
Under the old CBA players got a fixed 57% of revenue. It really didn’t matter what was written on their contracts because their salaries fluctuated depending on revenues. A portion of the players salaries as written on their contracts were withheld every year (the dreaded “escrow”) by the NHL and once final revenue numbers were calculated the NHL would distribute from escrow whatever money the players still deserved to collect according to the 57% revenue rule. Players hated this, even if there was potential to earn more than what was written on their contracts in the event of significant revenue growth.
Under the old CBA the salary cap and floor was calculated as being $8M above and $8M below the “midpoint” which was calculated as 57% of the average team revenues. So, if the league had a projected revenue of $3B for 30 teams (I am using $3B to make calculations easy, actual projected revenue for next year was closer to $3.3B), it would be an average of $100M per team and the players share, or midpoint, would be 57% of that or $57M. This would make the salary cap $65M and the salary floor $49M.
The system I am proposing is quite simple and revolves around adjusting how the salary cap and floor are calculated. Instead of having the midpoint at 57% of average team revenue we set the salary cap at 57% and the salary floor at 43% (as an example I’ll use the owners initial offer). This would make the salary cap $57M and the salary floor $43M. Teams sign players according to those constraints and the numbers written on the players contracts are their actual cap hits. If every team spends to the cap, which they won’t, the players could theoretically earn a 57% share of the revenue. If teams individually choose to spend less, they can. The more teams that choose to spend below the cap, or even right down to the floor, the players share of revenue will drop accordingly. If every team chose to spend only to the floor, the players would earn just a 43% share of revenue. In reality the players share will probably end up somewhere in the middle, in the 50% range, sometimes more, which the players might see as a “win” and sometimes less, which the owners might see as a “win”.
Under this system, escrow is not needed as players salaries aren’t explicitly tied to revenues, only the salary cap and floor are. A player with a contract that will pay him $6M will have a salary cap hit of $6M and will get paid $6M, no more, no less. Eliminating escrow is a win for the players. Linking the players actual salary, and not their cap hit manipulated front loaded contracts, to their salary cap hit improves competitive balance which is a win for the owners, and the fans.
Under this system there will be no more long term front loaded contracts because the players actual salary in a given year is what is used as the cap hit, not the average salary over the term of the contract. There would be no benefit to tacking on several years of $1M salaries as it won’t reduce the players cap hit in the early years. This is a win for the owners, particularly the small market owners who couldn’t play that game.
I’ll also propose that every player earning an NHL salary (i.e. playing in the NHL or are on NHL one-way contracts) will count against the salary cap. This includes players that have been demoted to the AHL like Wade Redden. This also eliminates some of the big market advantage which improves competitive balance.
I’ll also propose significantly more revenue sharing, more along the lines of the players proposal. If the owners are serious about competitive balance and 30 financially viable franchises significantly increased revenue sharing is the only solution to that.
There are a number of transition issues that will need to be resolved like how to transition from a $70.7M cap system to a 62.7M cap system and what to do with existing players on heavily front loaded contracts who will now see their salary cap hits rise dramatically as their front loaded salaries will now become their salary cap hits. These can be negotiated and can probably be achieved through a 2-year transition period where escrow still exists but there is enhanced flexibility with regards to the salary cap. Some of the teams that have significant numbers of front loaded contracts (i.e. the Flyers) may still have long term cap issues (that they will be forced to resolve) but too bad for them. It’s their own fault for manipulating the system like they did.
When all is said and done, I think this system is a good one for both the players and the owners and the fans. The players still definitely see a hit to their share of the revenues (they certainly won’t be earning 57% any more) but they get rid of escrow and there is still some upside potential to earn more than a 50% share if the league is able to develop 30 financially viable franchises. The owners see the players share of revenue fall (if they so choose) possibly even down to the levels they have asked from the players. With greater revenue sharing and eliminating the benefits front loaded long term contracts the small market owners will be the big winners which improves competitive balance which is something the league has identified as being good for the game. The fans win because of the greater competitive balance, but also because I think the system is something that could work long term for the league and the players and hopefully eliminate the need for any future work stoppages.
It sounds like a win-win-win to me. Now lets get it done and lets get back to hockey.