Ask a Lawyer: If a player has a contract, how can the owners cut his salary?

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With all the rhetoric emanating from each side of the NHL’s labor dispute, we’ve decided to bring in an actual lawyer to answer a series of questions. Hopefully it will prove useful to you, the reader, because it’s costing us $500 an hour. Please welcome to ProHockeyTalk, sports legal analyst Eric Macramalla.

PHT: Hi Eric, thanks for doing this. Brooks Laich of the Washington Capitals has been particularly outspoken leading up to and during the lockout. Here’s what he had to say about the owners demanding an immediate reduction in players’ salary:

“Where I come from, you honor your handshakes and you have your word. If you don’t have that you have nothing. If I make a bad deal, sign a bad contract that’s my fault. And I accept that, I’m a man and I work through that. That’s something I deal with. I don’t go crying foul and looking for somebody to fix my mistakes. I accept that as a man, that I made a bad decision. I think that hockey players are pretty honest people and they don’t like it when it’s coming back the other way.”

Doesn’t Laich sort of have a point?

EM: It is understandable that Laich has expressed displeasure with the NHL seeking to reduce player salaries on existing contracts. After all, when a contract is signed, the expectation is that it will be honored and not altered at some later date. We all know that when million dollar contracts are not honored, lawsuits can be threatened.

The NHL, though, is not proposing a rollback (or altering existing contracts). Rather, the league wants to drop more of player salaries into escrow. If revenue projections end up being below the league’s actual revenue totals, the players would end up forfeiting a portion of their salaries. That’s the idea behind escrow – to make sure that the sides get the right share of revenue.

Practically speaking, if the players agree to a dramatic drop in their share of revenue, they could see a significant reduction in salaries. So from the players standpoint, it doesn’t matter what you call it since the net effect may be the same. Still, increased escrow payments and rollbacks are different.

Let’s also remember that this is not your typical employer/employee relationship. It’s different because players have agreed to tie salaries directly to revenue. If the players ultimately agree to take a lower percentage of revenue, they may see a reduction in their salaries. Indeed, this is a unique business model since an individual is directly affected by the collective.

One more point: some have said it’s unlawful for the league to rollback salaries since contracts have been signed. However, that’s not the case. The collective bargaining agreement, which represents the agreement between the parties, rules the day. If the NHL and Union agree on a lower share of revenue for the players, that would be included in the CBA – thereby making it law.

Eric Macramalla is a partner at a national law firm and TSN’s sports legal analyst. He has covered the legal side of all major sports stories, including the NFL and NBA lockouts, the Saints Bountygate, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens perjury trials, the Ilya Kovalchuk dispute and the Jerry Sandusky case. You can follow him on Twitter at@EricOnSportsLaw and his sports law blog is located at www.OffsideSportsLaw.com.

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.