Commentary, opinion and news on the world of hockey.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The NHLPA's Latest Masterpiece

Bob Goodenow certainly knows how to paint a beautiful picture. His pitch to the league on Thursday came fully equipped with all of the rich appeal of a Rembrandt and has seemingly succeeded in attaining the attention of hockey fans, players, and media members alike. Mission accomplished.

In essence, Bob Goodenow has made a brilliant move. He has come up with a significant offer and has successfully turned much the negative public focus away from the players. Many people will perceive this as a serious attempt to salvage the season. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the NHLPA in their latest attempt, but when all is said and done, this amounts to nothing more than a band-aid solution.

Reaction to the proposal appears to be mixed at this point; some stand in jaw-dropping awe of the lure of a 24% salary rollback, while others can see beyond what is essentially a smoke screen. Regardless of the respective opinions, almost all seem to agree on one thing: the NHL will undoubtedly reject this offer, and in my opinion, rightfully so.

As significant an offer as this is, and believe me, a 24% cut in salary is huge, Goodenow and his association most likely only pitched this rollback because they knew that the league would ultimately reject it. The union had to know that they would never actually be in any danger of rolling back their salaries. And in the process of looking squeaky clean in PR department, they have used the pay-cut to deflect attention from the fact that the remainder of this offer is not a big step up from the most recent CBA. What this latest proposal really tells me is how much the players are willing to give up in order to hang on to the current system.

This latest offer does not address the changes to the system that the NHL has been committed to for the last several months (and more likely years), and as such, the key element in the offer, the salary cut, amounts to nothing more than window dressing. Beyond the significant pay-cut the players would face, there is also a proposed luxury tax that is laughable, some minor tinkering to the qualifying offers, a much needed change in arbitration (although not a strong enough change), and a cap on rookie contracts and bonuses. And most importantly, what this deal does NOT have is what the owners most covet: linkage between salaries and league revenues.

Many were undoubtedly surprised by the NHLPA’s offer and I must admit, at first glance, I had an eyebrow raised. But after all of the hype blew over and rational thought kicked in, I saw this deal for what it really is – a finely crafted work of art that attempts to captivate all involved. It’s an effort to distract them from the fact that this proposal does not address the long-term concerns of the NHL. It serves to sway public opinion and force the owners into action. It gives a solid excuse for the NHLPA to rely on, in the form of a legitimate attempt at bargaining, should the season inevitably be cancelled.

If you were one of the many who were surprised by the magnitude of the key element of this offer, don’t feel bad, you were not alone. However, despite all of the NHLPA cheerleading, media analysis, contrasting opinions and discussions on the subject, do not be surprised that come Tuesday, this latest offer is rejected and the state of hockey finds itself in exactly the same spot that it was three months ago.

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