Craig Custance and Thomas Drance collected seven changes NHL team executives would like to make to the Collective Bargaining Agreement at The Athletic (sub. required). It’s an illuminating story that’s worth your time, even if you don’t find it funny. (Personally? I chuckled several times. There might have been a snort or two.)
At times, it felt a lot like someone grumbling that, sure their yacht has a movie theater in it, but not an IMAX screen.
In my opinion, the final three items on the list rank as the most reasonable. Players, not just team owners and GMs, would probably be fine with salary arbitration being tweaked. I’m not sure anyone’s blood pressure would go up if the league clarified LTIR rules, either. And while I’m not enthused about the idea of compensating teams with picks for most reasons, it’s also a smaller deal.
For more on those smaller details, check out that piece from Custance and Drance.
Going forward, the first four ideas are worth a deep dive.
Mistake insurance / NHL CBA changes would aim to limit player movement even more
If you walk through the stages an NHL player goes through, you might get an idea of how unfair the process can sometimes be. To start, they don’t get to choose which team drafts them. Thus, you get Connor McDavid making that face when the Oilers won the lottery in his draft year.
After being drafted by a team they didn’t choose, said player could face about a decade before they hit unrestricted free agency. By then, smart teams will realize that player is either approaching their decline, or already there.
But that’s what a lot of the grumbling is really about. We’ve seen plenty of changes in free agency over different CBAs, yet plenty of teams make the same basic mistakes. They overvalue veteran and midrange players, handing out cap-compromising contracts over and over again.
So it’s not surprising to see that many NHL team executives basically want insurance against their own bad habits. They essentially demand that all midnight snacks retroactively become vegetable trays.
For me, the most amusing/insulting idea would be not allowing players to receive no-trade/movement clauses until age 30.
Broadly, a team could control a player’s movement until they’re 27, and a player couldn’t protect against being traded on a whim until they’re 30+. That’s … kind of audacious, right?
Now, don’t get me wrong. When you’re negotiating, you often start by asking for the moon. Some of this stuff feels more suited for another planet or solar system, though.
With the next CBA, NHL team executives should be careful what they wish for
One of the most interesting ideas would be changing term limits. The NHL already got its wish to cap contract terms at eight years to re-sign your own player, and seven for free agents. Custance and Drance report that NHL executives would instead like to limit that to five years.
This, again, feels like a rule that would aim toward keeping GMs from making self-destructive moves.
Let’s face, it, though. We haven’t always needed even five years to figure out when an especially bad contract is rotten. The Maple Leafs probably regretted the David Clarkson contract by exhibition time. Milan Lucic‘s contract would be less existentially frightening if it ended after 2020-21 instead of 2022-23. But it would probably carry more than a $6M AAV to balance that out.
Teams also would lose out on potential long-term bargains. Nathan MacKinnon would be entering a contract year next season (and again, would probably cost more per year).
Yes, things can get funky with signing bonuses and uneven year-to-year salaries, two things NHL team executives would like to see changed with CBA tweaks. But would that be as beneficial as teams think? It would certainly take some creativity out of the hands of agents, so maybe that’s enough of a “win.”
Pondering the players’ side, and other CBA thoughts
Look, it’s a bummer that a lower-budget team in a bad-weather market faces disadvantages. At some point, though, you need to recognize that there’s only so much you can do about reality.
Here’s the other thing: chaos and mistakes can be good. To be specific, big names hitting free agency creates buzz. Bad offseasons are bad for the league.
If anything, the NHL is guilty of making it too easy for teams to keep most of their best players. While the NBA and NFL create headlines almost all year long, there are some dreary off-seasons for hockey fans.
Let’s also realize the players will want CBA concessions, too. Back on May 1, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun hypothesized (sub. required) one main push for players:
From a players’ perspective, I have to think finding a way to limit escrow long term, finding a way to collect a closer percentage of their actual negotiated salaries has to be, as always, of utmost importance. But perhaps more than ever on that front with revenues taking a hit.
Overall, there’s nothing wrong with NHL teams or players asking for more in CBA talks, as long as such ideas embrace reality. After all, the current CBA has to be pretty good for such a lockout-hungry group of owners to mainly aim for tweaks rather than drastic changes, right?
With the league (and world) still needing time to assess the full impact of COVID-19, the NHL and NHLPA face big questions in both the short and long-term. It’s promising that the two sides are trying to figure out an extension before the current CBA’s September 2022 deadline, but it’s also clear that they all have more work to do. Maybe a lot of it.