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The Chasm between players and owners - update - teams can’t opt out...

November 24, 2020, 4:35 PM ET [55 Comments]
Jeremy Laura
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Gary Bettman Is telling teams that opting out of the season “is not an option”. It would be interesting to see how this could be enforced, but I would assume threats of losing their franchise would be levied. This hit the “rags” to most likely assure everyone that there will be a season. When you’re dealing with each team as its own corporation/holdings, the NHL would have to take ownership of everyone who wants to close their doors to guarantee it. Releasing this tidbit is also a bit of a warning to the NHLPA.

I put a link in the comments, but the NWHL is planning a reduced bubble season from 1/23 to 2/5. All players will make their full year’s salary. For a league without long established partnerships, this could literally bankrupt it. Always hope for the best, but throwing down the gauntlet just seems a bit premature as they’re acknowledging already that no fans will be in attendance.

The task of getting an NHL season going is immense. Further reports of the NHLPA’s unhappiness make it clear that ownership has not done enough to clarify league financials. In the last post, I was looking at the owners needing to have some more transparency. So far, it hasn’t happened.

Agent Allan Walsh is using the media as an amplifier to the player concerns regarding further deferrals or more escrow. In what can only be thought of as a really poor choice of words, the agent claims owners are holding “a proverbial gun” to the heads of players after negotiations in June were made in good faith. While I realize that agents want to be the voice of the players, this one was better left unsaid.

I’ve gotten more than a fair share of grief of player take-home articles. At this point, Walsh is saying that some players are receiving (not losing, corrected via Sven) 72% of their pay. The league wants to add another 13% in deferment. I was previously under the impression that Escrow raises would be only for the years after the 20% (next three seasons). It sounds like that may not be the case. If it’s been suggested that Escrow AND deferment be raised for this season, yikes.

Deferment will be repaid. It will be split into three payments over the following three seasons (no interest). Escrow, though technically could be repaid, will almost certainly not be. The billion dollar deficit from last March has only grown. The first round of player checks came as most teams haven’t had any revenue since last March. Shortly after that payout the proposed increases have been announced.

The players are hung up on the idea that, they haven’t even played yet so why should there be an increase? The failure to realize the losses that continued to occur after that negotiation and all the way through the Stanley Cup Final. Apparently, three scenarios were presented last June. The “worst case” was supposed to have been covered by the new deal. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. So much so that even owners are divided a bit on having a season.

“Us versus them” is getting nowhere fast. In the past, most owners still want hockey. Yes, there have been lockouts, but if there was a reasonable way forward it seemed to be at least strongly considered. What concerns me is the “new breed” of ownership. Detroit has been blessed by owners that love hockey and love the city. That passion was evident. There are newer owners who seem to want to question everything (IE - why should I have to give my GM or coaching staff contracts?). The bottom line is even more prevalent. If 5 or 6 teams are still talking about selling or taking the season off, it will muddy the waters.

In the ECHL, we’ve seen teams “opt out”. The NHL is a whole different machine. If a few teams try to opt out of the season, it would feel chaotic. The league goes to great lengths to keep teams from shutting their doors. The promise of revenue sharing for lower earning teams has been keeping far too many teams going. If in a normal year, 4 or 5 teams are losing money, it is safe to guess that more than half the league is in that boat now. The safety net just isn’t big enough.

The talk of “no season” is starting to get more play. Craig Button cited lack of TV deals (currently the NBC deal is expired) and reliance on the gate revenues. While I’ve grown weary of being called a “hack”, I’ll stick to my thoughts on this one. Something needs to budge in a huge way for things to get going.

The players see billionaires who don’t want to spend money. The owners see dried up revenue streams that can’t cover team salary. The chasm between the two continues to grow at an alarming rate. Unfortunately for the players, economic realities are hitting everyone. There isn’t really empathy or sympathy for their situation. Families are staring wide eyed at the holidays with limited budgets. The problems of athletes making more than they could imagine to play a game just aren’t sticking.

Months ago, I wrote about the Great Depression and how that created the “Original 6”. Only 6 teams left standing in a league of 14. If this is really about salvaging the season, allowing some of the bottom teams to “opt out” may be the only way to move forward. It would put a nasty stain on everything. Some players with brand new deals would be out of a job for the next year.

keep your ear to the ground. Tidbits are always leaked out to either get feedback or to try and cushion the blow. We went from “we have to have a full season” to “we’ll play at least 65 games” to “maybe there won’t be a season”. Last June, everyone thought the playoffs would get some money back in the bank. It didn’t. The first major revenue for teams is season tickets. Can’t really sell those if you’re not sure when, where or if the teams are playing. Before you brush all of this off as ridiculous, look around at what is happening to the lower leagues. The amount of uncertainty and/or cancellation from minor leagues and universities is unprecedented in the modern era. Whenever hockey does return, the landscape is sure to look quite different than many of us thought.
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