The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Another meeting, another load of rhetoric. The NHL and NHLPA concluded their third formal meeting today without getting any closer to a collective bargaining agreement for next season. About the only concrete move was a formal rejection from the players' union of all six of the owners' proposals, on grounds of all of them being some form of a salary cap.

Are they? Bill Daly, the league's chief legal officer, admitted that one of the six plans was indeed a standard per-team payroll cap, but the other five weren't, strictly speaking. Let's take a look at the other five proposals, courtesy of the NHL via FoxSports:
- A performance-based salary system, in which a player's individual compensation would be based, in part, on negotiated objective criteria and, in part, on individual and team performance.

- A payroll range system in which teams could spend within a negotiated range of payrolls.

- A system premised on the centralized negotiation of player contracts, where the league would negotiate individual player contracts, either with players and their agents or with the union directly.

- A player partnership payroll plan (P-4), which would involve individual player compensation being individually negotiated on the basis of "units" allocated for regular-season payrolls, supplemented by lucrative bonuses for team playoff performance.

- A salary slotting system, which would contemplate each team being assigned a series of "salary slots" at various levels, each of which would be allocated among each team's players pursuant to individual player-team negotiation.
Now, which of these plans don't amount to a cap on salaries? The concept of centralizing contract negotiations between the league and the player means the disappearance of a competitive market for player services. Salary slots lock in pay. In short, each of these proposals are salary caps, either on a team-wide basis or an individual basis (the latter which was applied in the NBA on their last CBA, a move hoops players now regret).

Frankly, I don't see why any rational person (read "rational" as "someone who doesn't think players should play for free") wouldn't agree with the players. They're going to get screwed under any of these plans.

A better question would be why the owners feel they need to impose cost-certainty safeguards when they not only already extended the life of the current CBA once, but are also currently demonstrating how they can put a lid on market values. Granted, the lower salaries being tossed around wouldn't exist if not for the pressure of an expiring CBA. But it's essentially the same old story: If the owners didn't have the money, they wouldn't be spending it.

I'm still optimisitic, believe it or not. Adults know that agreements in these situations don't come about until the last minute, and I fully expect that to happen here. Until then, there's little to do but gawk and speculate. And watch the World Cup of Hockey, of course.