113 days. 113 long, tiring, heartbreaking days the hockey world sat in silence. 113 days of hoping and praying that the next sunrise would bring the return of the NHL season. 113 days of hope-inspiring news followed by the all-too-familiar disappointing update that talks had broken down.
But maybe just enough little boys and girls (myself included) wished that good ol’ Santa Claus would bring them an NHL season for Christmas. Whether I have him, the hockey gods, or the Easter Bunny to thank, I’ve been waiting far too long to type out this next sentence.
In the eleventh hour of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations, the NHL and the NHL Players Association came to an agreement on a tentative deal to salvage the 2012-13 season, or shall I say 2013 season now. The two sides formed the deal after a 16 hour marathon bargaining session heavily aided by a federal mediator.
The lockout killed the Winter Classic in Detroit and the All-Star Game in Columbus, left an indelible mark on the 2013 season, and put an even larger dent into the league’s image, but the consensus around the league is a feeling of pure relief. Watching another NHL season lost to greed and stubbornness would have severely stunted the meteoric growth the league has experienced in the past decade.
For now, let’s keep the focus on the fact that hockey will indeed be played in 2013. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and his equally infuriating counterpart, NHLPA director Donald Fehr, somehow pulled off a deal to salvage the NHL season. Bettman had previously stated that the “drop-dead date” for reaching a deal would be Thursday, January 10th… Whew. Luckily, the two sides finally looked up at the doomsday clock, let out a collective “oh, shit”, and grinded out a deal.
Let’s take a closer look at the winners and losers of the tentative deal.
7-year contract limit (8 if a player re-signs with his own team)-
The NHL finally moved off their previously rock solid offer of five years and agreed to a maximum contract length of seven years, or eight if the player is returning to the same team. Personally, I like this part of the deal; the league doesn’t have to deal with anymore ridiculous contracts like Ilya Kovalchuk’s 17-year deal or Shea Weber’s 14-year one, while owners get to lock up players for an extended period of time. The players also get a sense of security knowing they can stay in a place for seven years. I commend the NHL for finally backing down from their strong stand for a five year maximum and are the clear winner here, getting a contract limit that wasn’t previously there.
10-year CBA with opt-out after year 8-
When it comes down to it, if the two sides actually like the deal that they made, why wouldn’t they want it to last for as long as possible? Granted, things could certainly change, but you have to think that both sides will enjoy the fact that they won’t have to endure another lockout for the next decade. The NHLPA was stuck at five years before moving to eight in December, and finally agreeing upon 10. The biggest winner out of this part of the agreement, however, has to be the fans. Hockey is here to stay…at least for 8 years.
Winner: Everyone but especially the fans.
Year 2 salary cap of $64.3 million
This was the thorniest issue that the two sides had to agree on, and the one that pushed the agreement into the eleventh hour. The two sides entered negotiations on Saturday $10 million apart with the NHL calling for a $60 million cap and the players’ asking for $70 million. Although the league entered the discussions saying that they would not move any higher than their original offer, Bettman and the owners saw that a deal was close to being done. The players also were willing to back off their $70 million proposition to $67.5 and then $65. The two sides finally agreed upon $64.3 million, which is actually the same amount that last year’s cap was set at. Kudos to the players for refusing to move lower than $64.3 and forcing the owners to rise up to that number. The cap for teams in the first year of the deal will be $70.2 giving them time to ease into the new limit.
Salary variance: No more than 35% year-over-year and no year less than 50% of the highest year.
Umm, in English? This aspect of the deal eliminates the “cheat deals”, or back-diving contracts, in which a player will make a ton of money in the first few years of a deal and less in the final years of their contract, lowering the average annual cap hit of the deal (see: Marian Hossa, Roberto Luongo, Ilya Kovalchuck). The league originally asked for a 5% year-over-year variance back in the early stages of negotiations. Although the 35% variance is much more than the NHL wanted, they essentially eliminated back-diving contracts, so I’d give them the win here.
Two compliance buyouts prior to the 2013-14 season
This part of the deal gives teams flexibility to get under the year-two salary cap. The first year of the CBA will have a cap of $70.2 million and then drop to $64.3 in the second year. Not necessarily a smooth transition. Teams will have the ability to buyout two contracts after June 2013 in order to help them ease into the new salary cap. This definitely will come to a relief to many general managers that are experiencing buyers remorse. Needless to say, things will get interesting this offseason.
Two more minor aspects of the deal worth noting: the draft lottery system now allows all 14 teams that missed the playoffs a shot at the No. 1 pick and the start of free agency is still July 1st for years two through ten.
Look for a 50 to 52 game season, with abbreviated training camps beginning either the 9th or 10th and for the first set of games to be played around January 15th. Rumor has it the NHL is planning for all 30 teams to be in action on the first day of the season. Consider it a big “We’re Sorry For Cancelling Half the Season” party. Whoopee.
Now, as I mentioned above, everything is rainbows and butterflies. This lockout tarnished the game of hockey and embarrassed the sport. No other professional sports league has had two lockouts in the past 15 years, and the effects are clear: hockey is still miles behind the MLB and NFL in terms of popularity. How can the NHL build a fan base when they’re cancelling games, and even seasons, every few years? Sure, the diehard fans will be back, that’s a given. But it will be interesting to see how the casual fans respond to the lockout and subsequent shortened season, especially in non-hockey markets such as Florida and California.
Also, the lockout severely hurt the NHL’s reputation when it comes to sponsors. No smart company would want to sign a sponsorship deal with a league that doesn’t play.
But, for now, let’s focus on the bright side: hockey is back. The negative effects of the lockout will present themselves, but what matters is the fact that the NHL will be playing games in 2013. Just imagine what would have happened if the entire season was lost… shudder. Now all that’s on the minds of players, coaches, league officials (yes, you too Gary Bettman), hot dog vendors, and general managers alike across the NHL is one thing:
Drop the puck.