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The Globe and Mail

A look at NHL collective bargaining issues

Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2008, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Fehr has been a man on the move since being named executive director of the NHL Players' Association.

Haraz N. Ghanbari


At present, the NHL players receive 57 per cent of all hockey-related revenue. That number rose from 54 per cent in the first year of the current collective agreement. The team owners want to cut that back to less than 50 per cent, in light of the recent 10-year labour agreements reached in the NFL and NBA. The NFL players agreed to a minimum of 47 per cent of all league revenue (which can rise to 48.5 per cent depending on revenue growth). The NBA players agreed to 51.2 per cent of basketball-related income this season, and a range of 49 per cent to 52 per cent in the remaining years. Some NHL owners want to remove the revenue-growth accelerator that increased the players' share each year. They want a constant rate or only a small increase over the life of the contract. The NHL Players' Association will push for more revenue sharing between the rich and poor franchises.


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As the NHL's actual revenue for a season is not known until the Stanley Cup playoffs are over, the players' share is estimated prior to – and re-estimated again four more times during – the season. Payments are deducted from the players' salaries every two weeks and placed in an escrow account. The payments are calculated by the league and the union and are usually around 10 per cent, but have gone as high as 18 per cent. Once the revenue is established in the summer, and the players' share is determined, the escrow accounts are settled. If revenue grew, the players usually get most or all of their deductions back, with interest. But the recession caused flat or declining revenue in the last few seasons, as the players gave back 10.4 per cent of their salaries in 2009-10 – although they managed to lower that to 2.3 per cent last season. This is a hot issue for some players, who would like to see a different system, although the NHLPA has not publicized its stand on this.


The salary cap is based on the NHL's hockey-related revenue and the percentage given to the players. This season, each team can spend $64.3-million (all currency U.S.) on its player payroll. There is also a minimum spending requirement, known as the floor, which is also based on revenue. This season's floor is $48.3-million, which is more than $9-million higher than the $39-million cap in 2005-06, the first season after the lockout. Several small-revenue teams say the floor is no longer affordable and will push to have it lowered.


Some owners are not happy with the length of some player contracts, which can run for 10 years or more. They will fight for limits on the term, which will make it easier to overcome bad contracts or compete with other teams for a player. The players may push for changes to contracts for players over the age of 35. Right now, the entire length of over-35 contracts count against a team's salary cap, even if the player retires before it's up. This means teams can be reluctant to sign older players.


The epidemic of concussions in the NHL in recent years will be part of the collective bargaining. While the players have long resisted regulations on their equipment, such as mandatory visors or thicker helmets, both sides appear willing to hammer out an agreement on this issue.

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The NHLPA scuttled the league's plan to abolish the current Eastern and Western Conferences and create four conferences that were roughly geographically-based when it refused to sign off on the new look. The idea was to reduce the travel burden on the more-spread out western teams while preserving traditional rivalries. But the players' union said there were still too many travel problems. The union also did not like the fact two conferences had eight teams and two had seven, as it feels teams in the bigger conferences had a lesser chance to make the playoffs. Realignment will happen, but now it will be done in labour negotiations.


Both the owners and players have to agree if the NHL is to participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics and beyond. A lot of owners don't like interrupting the regular season for what they see as limited marketing value. Almost all of the players love playing in the Olympics, so the owners will probably use this issue as a carrot to get them to agree to something else.

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About the Author
Hockey columnist

A native of Wainfleet, Ont., David Shoalts joined The Globe in 1984 after working at the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun and Toronto Sun. He graduated in 1978 from Conestoga College and also attended the University of Waterloo. More

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