Bright lights and dark undercurrents at the NHL All Star Weekend

Marc Elliott

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and  Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in San Jose.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in San Jose.

TWIG… The National Hockey League All Star Weekend in San Jose has come and gone, and it was a splendid exhibition and get together for the game we love. In my book the highlight that will stick with me for awhile was when Team USA Women’s Gold Medalist Kendall Coyne got to participate in the fastest lap competition and performed well. What I liked about her lap was that she never coasted for even half a stride, pushing herself all the way through and executing some perfect crossovers in the turns. The league, showcasing a new focus on high tech in-game data and stats broke down each skater by the number of strides and crossovers they performed in their individual laps and it was of high interest to me and also had the players speeds at various points of their laps. It was fantastic. This is one of a few innovations that will be rolled out next season and I will look forward to it. My only hope is that with all the data that is going to be on the screen, I hope it isn’t intrusive and that the game itself will still be the major focus. BTW, Coyne placed 7th out of 8 skaters meaning she could go with most of the NHL skaters in this event….

IT WASN’T ALL fun and games for the weekend, but mostly so. At the annual mid-season event Commissioner Gary Bettman and his Deputy, Bill Daly, usually sit for a mini State of the League Q & A session and with September now firmly in focus, you had to know the assembled media was going to start with questions about the potential “Opt Out” clause in the current CBA by which if either side wants to renegotiate any provisions within the document rather then let it naturally expire at the end of the 2021-22 season they may do so by canceling out their current participation in the agreement and that opportunity comes up this fall. That would move expiration up to Sept. 15th, 2020. I’ll get to that shortly. For a quick review, the 1992 players strike was over playoff bonuses, licensing and free agency issues. The 1994-95 lockout was over the league desire to institute a luxury tax to protect teams in weaker markets. The idea of a salary cap was broached but that went over like flatulence in church. The 2004-05 lockout was all about the salary cap, but in order to get it the league gave in to a revenue split that they viewed as unfavorable to them. The 2012-13 lockout was all about rectifying that to a more favorable level for the owners and they mostly prevailed. 

To go along with this are three key components, escrow, hockey related revenue and a cap inflator. Escrow is money deducted from player salaries and set aside. When the league estimates their revenue for an upcoming season, they determine a percent of the salaries to be set aside. When the season concludes and the actual revenue is known, it is determined what part of that goes back to the players and how much goes to the teams in order to obtain the 50-50 split in revenue dictated in the CBA. HRR is souvenir and apparel sales, TV money, tickets and other items. This is what gets totaled and split between players and teams. The Salary Cap gets decided by both parties in the off-season. Then the players can vote on an “Inflator” up to 5%, but the catch is that based on the number they pick, the escrow goes up accordingly. When the players vote for an upward inflator, they are giving teams more money to play with on July 1st, free agent frenzy day and throughout the season, but then they pay for having done so. Some people feel that if the Inflator was simply done away with and hard numbers were utilized that a lot of the CBA mumbo-jumbo would go the wayside. But then there is still that nasty escrow the players must contribute to. The tough part is that after the last lockout the escrow has been in the mid-teens percent wise while the payback has ranged from 1.6 to 3.8%. 

So, when you hear of a big dollar contract being signed off on, remember that’s not what the player will get in the end. Is it complicated? Somewhat, and then throw in the Canadian versus the American dollar exchange rate and it would keep any accountant up at night. When asked about what is looming for this fall Bettman says the NHL “is not looking for a fight”. Two things there, they don’t have to. What is in place now is a very good arrangement for the owners. Second, don’t ever forget that Bettman is a master labor negotiator. No other sport commissioner or union head is his equal, period. When he says the league isn’t looking for a fight, he is pre-shifting the blame if there is one squarely on to the shoulders of the NHLPA. And he can look straight at a camera and state this without equivocation. He is that polished at this. What he usually leaves out is that the league can opt out first on September 1st, while the PA cannot do so until the 15th. Who makes the first move and takes the most heat from a weary fan base that just wants their hockey? It won’t be the league.

It is presumed that the players biggest issue is with the escrow payments. But if this is the most equitable way to insure the revenue split, what is the alternative? I’m not certain. With sports gaming coming online, there will be debate about adding those revenues to HRR. Other matters would include contract lengths allowable (the PA wants the 8-year limit increased) and of course, guaranteed Olympic participation. I do have an internal feeling that neither party wants another lockout. And they are talking well in advance of important dates, so that’s a good sign. But when Gary says that he’s not “looking for a fight”, you may believe him, but remember this, if there is one, he’s the one that will be kicking ass and taking names…. PEACE

WILD DATA; The ATHLETIC (1/24) 14th, trending for 92 points with an 82% chance at the playoff, 2% chance of a Cup win. The SAGARIN; (1/24am) 13th on a 26-24 record, 6-11 vs T10, 12-14 vs T16 with a 14th ranked difficulty of schedule. NHL DATA; t13th on 26 wins, 14th with 55 points, 15th on pct. of points available @ .550%. 6th in the West on a 26-21-3 record, 3rd in the Central and in a playoff position, 13-9-3 at Home, 13-12 on the Road, goal differential of 0, 6-4 in L10. 21st in GF with 141, 9th in GA with 141, 12th on the PP at 20.9%, 3rd on the PK at 84.2%, 13th in PIM’s with 430. THIS WEEK; Fri @ DAL, Sat vs CHI…. Over & Out!