What we know so far about the new NHL CBA and what to expect
Four a.m. isn’t a prime time to be in a meeting or announcing big news. But the NHL was at work Saturday night/Sunday morning while many of us were sound asleep, announcing that the framework was in place for a new CBA Sunday morning around 6 a.m. after a marathon session that lasted 16 hours.
The season will likely begin on January 19, which leaves little time to prepare; however, players who left for Europe and other corners of the globe are likely already on planes to their respective clubs to begin a training camp, which will involve no preseason play. Teams can decide as always whether to make any exhibitions or public scrimmages part of their camps. The shortened season will be intensive, with an expectation of at least 48 games to be played before early May.
The new CBA is slightly longer than the previous one — 10 years, with the option for both parties to opt out after eight. A 10-year deal is the same term as the one that carried the NHL from the beginning of the abridged 1994-95 season to the 2004-05 lockout. That’s enough time for a new generation of kids to grow up watching the NHL, and it’s enough time for the League to rebuild its image and hopefully never, ever do this again. But that might be wishful thinking.
Key changes of the agreement include a new maximum contract length of seven years, or eight if the player is being re-signed. There will be no more absurd decade-plus deals. The owners also got the 50-50 HRR (hockey related revenue) split that they wanted, down from the 57 percent share that the players enjoyed under the previous agreement. However, the players won in terms of the salary cap, and they got their proposed $64.3 million according to reports. It will continue to rise as revenue grows, and teams are allowed some leeway (up to $70.2 million) during the current transitional period. Teams will be allowed two contract buyouts after this coming June and before the start of the 2013-14 season in order to get under the new cap.
An interesting key point that many fans might be unaware of so far is the new take on salary variance, described very well by ESPN’S Pierre LeBrun in this rundown.
Essentially, percentage rules will be enforced to ensure that a contract pays with relative parity throughout its length — no more heavily front-loaded or back-loaded deals. From year to year, a contract price cannot rise or fall more than 35 percent, and no single year will be less than 50 percent of the highest-paid year. Dramatic rising and falling contracts will be a thing of the past, so agents and general managers will be forced to more carefully consider long-term deals and fairly assess a player’s projected worth throughout its length.
The schedule will, of course, be packed. It is expected that Eastern and Western conference teams will not play one another at all (at least not until the Stanley Cup Final). The majority of games will be played against division opponents, and the remainder of games will fall in-conference as well. But we’ll still have to wait and see when that will be announced for certain.
A federal mediator, Scot Beckenbaugh, was called in to assist with negotiations on several separate occasions throughout the 113-day lockout and reportedly walked back and forth between hotels during the latest series of meetings, delivering messages and getting impressions from both sides.
When the puck finally drops, it will probably start a little slow and not feel real for awhile. But hockey is happening. It remains to be seen whether the league will recover as easily in terms of fan confidence and interest as they have in the past, or whether those numbers will still directly correlate with revenue, ticket sales and television ratings. If you’re still on board with the NHL, whether you’re watching at the bar, at the arena, or online, the day has finally come. Enjoy it.