Locked In: NHL Hockey returns, saves ailing world

It’s not ‘official’ yet, but the NHL and its players may actually have saved the 2013 season. ESPN and NHL.com are both reporting that the players and the league came to an agreement on a framework for a new 10-year Collective Bargaining Agreement after 16 straight hours of negotiation. The deal must still be ratified by both the NHL’s Board of Governors and the NHL Players Association, but all of the major points of contention have apparently been resolved.

The deal reportedly includes a mutual opt-out after eight seasons, so if this passes through, fans of the NHL won’t have to deal with more labor uncertainty until at least 2021. It also includes $200 million in revenue sharing, which in principle should help smaller market teams become more competitive with teams who have a hefty payroll.

Although it is uncertain whether contracts signed prior to this CBA will be grandfathered in, the most important part of this deal for Flyers fans (outside of the fact that there will be real hockey to watch) is the clause on contract variance. 

One of the things that allowed the Flyers to consistently sign players to large-figure contracts was the lack of rules regarding a year-to-year change in salary. Overpaid Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov made $10M in real dollars last season ($5M cap hit), but will only make $1.25M in 2020, the last season of his deal.

Under the new CBA, this kind of contract will no longer be allowed. Year to year variance in salary cannot exceed a 35% change, and the final year of the contract must pay out at least 50% of the highest salaried year. Although they routinely took advantage of this loophole during the last CBA, it is unclear whether the Flyers will be forced to restructure current contracts.

Even if they don’t, this clause still will probably reduce the Flyers’ opportunity for free-agent acquisition because it makes it that much more difficult to snatch players away from teams that otherwise would not have been able to afford them.

When the Flyers tried to nab Shea Weber during restricted free agency last season, for example, the contract was structured to be worth an average of $7.86M per season, but only paid out a combined total of $6M over the last 4-seasons of the deal. Such a deal was technically legal in the last CBA, but certainly went against the spirit of the rules.

Taking away the ability to add these junk seasons at the end of a contract should effectively kill future attempts to sign both 10+ year contracts and $100+ million contracts. This rule will force teams to pay players a much more significant amount for later years in the contract, when players are old and no longer safely expected to be productive. If it sticks, the final legacy of this labor deal may indeed be more fluidity in player movement, and ultimately a fairer and more balanced league.

Posted on January 6, 2013, in Flyers, Hank Mushinski, Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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