The bickering between the NHL Players Association and the NHL finally came to an end in the early hours of Jan. 6 in a New York City hotel as the two sides banged out a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The league locked out the players back on Sept. 15 when the old agreement expired and it lasted for 113 days.
The NHL was scheduled to get underway in the first week of November, but it’s now aiming to get off the ground by Jan. 19 at the latest. It was reported that the league will try to fit in either a 48 game schedule for its 30 teams or a 50 game one and all of the contests will be inter-conference affairs.
The new deal is tentative and will still have to be ratified before it takes effect. It is a 10-year agreement, but there’s an option after eight years for either side to pull out of it. This guarantees the league will at least make it to 2020 without another labor stoppage.
That’s good news for hockey fans since there have been three work disruptions in the last 18 years. The league played a shortened schedule in the 1994/95 season due to a lockout that lasted 103 days and 10 years later the whole season was canceled.
Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the NHL and Donald Fehr, the head of the players’ union, agreed to split revenues 50-50 over the duration of the CBA. The current yearly revenues are approximately $3.3 billion per year.
Time was running out on both sides and it looked like the season would once again end up down the drain, but with the help of a mediator the two sides came to an agreement on several major negotiating issues.
The league had to cancel a minimum of 480 games so far this season, which included the all-star contest and the annual Winter Classic which was to be held on New Year’s Day. Under the three work stoppages in the past 18 years, the league has canceled at least 2,178 games.
Bettman is certainly used to labor disagreements and so is Fehr, who used to be the head of the Major League Baseball players’ union. Under Fehr, MLB went through as lockout and a pair of strikes.
During the last NHL lockout, the fans came swarming back and the attendance actually rose. In the 2003/04 season the average NHL attendance for the 30 teams was 16,534 and the year after the lost season the attendance rose to 16,954.
However, seven of the franchises lost a substantial number of fans in the 2005/06 season when play resumed. The owners will still lose about $1 billion this season due to the canceled games and it’s been reported that the players will lose a combined $820 million.
The new CBA will see NHL players receive transition payments of $300 million over the next three years and they’ll also receive a defined-benefit pension plan. This season’s salary cap will be set at $70.2 and pro-rated for the shortened campaign.
Next season the cap will revert to $64.3 million, which is the same as it was last year. The minimum a team can spend on salaries over the next two years will be $44 million.
In addition, free-agent contracts will now have a maximum length of eight years while players who are re-signing with their current teams can sign for eight years. The minimum salary will also rise over the term of the CBA. It will stay at $525,000 for this year and by the final year of the deal it will reach $750,000.