'Do as I Say, Not as I Do'; in the Midst of the NHL's Collective Bargaining Negotiations, Owners Send Conflicting Messages with Excessive Contracts

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The two sides in the NHL labor negotiations were meeting this week, presumably to discuss aspects of ownership's initial proposal. It's hard to imagine those conversations were not occasionally interrupted by snickers and full-scale laughter.

How else could NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and the players be expected to react? What are people whose lives are impacted by this industry supposed to think? If they were taking it seriously, they'd be out on a ledge.

NHL owners shouldn't be meeting with players, they should be meeting with each other. They should be sitting at a table and demanding answers to this question: "For the love of God, what is wrong with you?"

On face value, no one should be flustered by the league's proposal. It calls for radical restructuring in the collective bargaining agreement, pushes the financial envelope in the opposite direction, shoots for the moon. That's to be expected. We've all purchased cars, shopped garage sales, watched enough "Pawn Stars" to know how negotiating works. You swing for the fences before you shorten up and put the ball in play.

What makes the leak of this initial salvo remarkably satirical is the brazen ambiguity. Sending mixed signals is one thing. Sending them from distant galaxies, light years apart, is another. The owners aren't talking out of both sides of their mouth, they're talking out of opposite orifices.

For instance, the league has proposed the new collective bargaining agreement should limit the length of contracts to five years. Bully!

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Flyers signed Shea Weber to a contract offer last week that runs 14 years in length and some $100 million in compensation. The offer comes after Minnesota signed free agents Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to 13-year contracts, news that was preceded by Pittsburgh extending Sidney Crosby with a 12-year agreement. Currently, there are 17 NHL players under contracts that are at least nine years in length.

I'm sorry, what was that about length-of-contract limitations?

Another piece of the league's proposal is the elimination of "signing bonuses," at least that's what was reported. But that must have been a misprint, a misunderstanding. It can't be right. We know this because the Wild just gave $25 million signing bonuses to Suter and Parise, because Weber's offer includes $68 million in signing bonuses, because Matt Carle got a $3 million signing bonus from Tampa. No, seriously, Matt Carle.

See? Signing bonuses are good. Owners love self-inflicted wounds.

Other parts of the proposal similarly fly in the two-sided face of the NHL's operations. There are items about extending entry- level contracts, delaying unrestricted free agent eligibility to 10 years, redefining hockey-related revenue and - an oldie but a goodie - reducing the players' share of revenue. …


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