Smith says losing contract rights makes players “like puppets”

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Add Coyotes goalie Mike Smith to the list of players that have come out and said the NHLPA will stand strong on contract rights.

“The contractual stuff is something that as players we’re not going to mess around with,” Smith told ESPN on Wednesday. “That’s our livelihood. That’s a big part about being a professional athlete. You have those rights. When you take all that away, it kind of makes us more like puppets than anything.”

The league wants to place a five-year cap on contract lengths and for players to become eligible for unrestricted free agency a year later (age 28 or eight years of NHL service) than permitted under the last CBA.

The NHL is also demanding a limit on the amount an annual salary can vary from year to year on a single contract. (The players have proposed their own way to punish teams that front-load deals in order to subvert the spirit of the salary cap.)

Of course, the battle for contract rights is about more than the actual rights. For the players, it’s also about retaining what they bargained for in the last CBA. It’s about showing they won’t be bullied. It’s about getting something.

For the NHL, the question is whether it’s worth losing a season over.

Related:

Crosby: Why change contract rights of “the most competitive league in the world”?

NHL has reason to fight for maximum contract lengths