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Sunday, December 19, 2021

and a negotiation broke out
The above image by St. Pete Times illustrator Steve Madden sums it up nicely: The NHL lockout lingers, it’s down to Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow as the battling proxies, and there’s no end in sight.

Hall-of-Famer and Tampa resident Phil Esposito weighs in for the first time (that I’ve seen):

Esposito understands both sides. He has been at each end of the players’ pay scale, once making the minimum as well as being the league’s highest-paid player. He spent the late 1970s as president of the union, fighting owners for things such as pensions, health care, better salaries. He also has been an owner, running the Lightning through the 1990s. And, adding even more perspective, he is a former GM of the New York Rangers, a franchise blamed for sending player salaries out of control.

“Every time there has been a problem, I’ve backed the players,” Esposito said. “Even the last time in ‘94, I thought the players were right. I was an owner then, but I thought the players were right.

“But, this time, for the first time in my life, I think the players are wrong, dead wrong. I don’t understand why they won’t accept a salary cap.”

Esposito believes that players will still get their money, that the cap won’t make a difference in salaries. He might have a point. The owners’ proposal, which uses a salary cap, gives players about 54 percent of the league’s revenues. The union’s offer, based on a luxury tax, gives the players about 56 percent of the league’s revenues.

I find it hard to believe that Espo doesn’t know why the players reject a salary cap. A cap would require the players to give up something that Esposito fought to secure in the NHL over thirty years ago: Guaranteed contracts. If the owners are firm about wanting a hard cap, the only way to achieve that is by doing away with guaranteed deals and go with NFL-style voidable contracts. Granted, it’s possible that the owners might bend on that, resulting in something of a softer salary cap (like what the NBA has). But as it stands, if the players cave on on the cap issue, they also cave on having guaranteed contracts. That’s the issue that I feel hasn’t been recognized by outside parties, and makes the current impasse understandable.

Today’s print edition of the Times includes a nice spread of hockey writer Tom Jones’ proposed solutions to the outstanding issues: Luxury tax, salary cap, salary arbitration, entry-level contracts, miniumum salary, and free agency. Inexplicably, this feature isn’t posted on the paper’s website (or else I simply can’t find where it’s buried; if I do locate it, I’ll post the link).

All of Jones’ solutions are basically halfway compromises between the union’s view and the league’s. The luxury cap compromise is especially goofy: A $40-million payroll triggers a dollar-for-dollar tax bill (so a $60-million payroll would result in an additional $20 million going to the league).

I found the salary cap solution to be kind of interesting, if of questionable feasibility:

UNION: Refuses to accept salary cap because it says it eliminates the free-market system.

NHL: Says it won’t do a deal without a salary cap. Under the league’s plan, the cap would be based on each team’s revenues, and payrolls would be capped between $34.6-million and $38.6-million and then increase in future seasons.

OUR PLAN: There is no salary cap, but there is a salary floor. In our system, teams would have to spend at least $25-million to collect the luxury tax funds. This discourages teams from simply collecting money while not paying for a decent on-ice product. Any team spending less than $25-million on payroll would be forced to pay a dollar-for-dollar tax for every dollar spent under $25-million. For example, if a team spent $20-million on payroll, it would owe $5-million in taxes.

It’s interesting, and combined with the luxury tax, would make for something of an equitable system. But there’s no way the owners are going to agree to such an onerous minimum. Insofar as the entire concept of a cap/floor is acceptable, it’s unfair to the owners anyway: Suppose a team decides on a youth movement, and just by virtue of who makes the roster, winds up with a bunch of kids with little more than entry-level salaries? The team would have to cough up an equal amount of money in tax.

At this point, I’m crossing my fingers on a last-minute deal that would allow something like a 40-game schedule. Keep hope alive…

- Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/19/2004 01:55:52 PM
Category: Hockey | Permalink |

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