Of all the incredulous statements made on Thursday night (and there were a slew of them on both sides), one of the most striking was Bill Daly’s comment that a 5-year limit on contract lengths is “a hill we’re willing to die on.” It’s amazing that of all the things the owners could say they absolutely must have – of the things they say “we can’t leave home without it” – it’s not actually leveling the playing field to ensure low-revenue teams can afford to reach the cap floor going forward, or taking measures to rein in salary inflation, or actually spreading dollars out more evenly across all players. No, it’s having a 5-year limit on contract length.
I’ve engaged in countless discussions with people here at HB over this topic. I get the need to limit contract lengths in some way, and I’m actually OK with that. (I have a 3-tiered plan based on the player’s age to do this, which I've offered up on numerous occasions - and no one has yet to offer up even a semi-weak argument against it.) However, I simply do not get the absolute need to have a 5-year limit on contract lengths, or even any fixed-year limit. It ignores the actual reason why those contracts are being given in the first place – because the cap system never guaranteed that “$ paid to a player while in the NHL” equaled “$ incurred against the cap.”
It happened if the player played out all years of his SPC, and it happened if a player had a contract that had a level salary for all years – but otherwise, nothing guaranteed “$ paid = $ incurred” in any way. And yet, people are absolutely insistent that “if we just cap contract lengths, that will fix the problem of cap circumvention” – which I can illustrate is patently incorrect with a simple example.
However, I’m not writing this to discuss the problem with fixed-length contracts. (That will be coming up shortly.) This is to discuss a few of those things that should be so important to both sides, they’re “we have to have it” things and compare it to things that each side has said, “we have to have it.”
Things like … well, escrow. The players have complained about having to escrow salaries and their desire to get paid every dollar they were contracted to receive – and yet, they have never suggested anything that either ensures that happens long-term or limits the chances that they have to pay into escrow. They never even said to the owners, "look - it's not our fault you contract to pay us more than we're supposed to receive, you should bear some of the cost instead of forcing us to do it for you." No, to the players they prefer the cap to be as high as possible so teams can spend as much as possible so the players have to pay into escrow as a result – because they seem to believe “if I get paid $67 and have to pay back $12, I’m better off than if I get paid $56 and have to pay back $1.” Either way, they end up in the same financial position and so if not paying escrow is really a priority, they should want the latter – but inexplicably, they keep trying to ensure the former, and then express shock and outrage when they have to fork over money as a result.
Things like … well, raises in qualifying offers for RFA’s. In the prior CBA, they were pretty much eliminated for RFA’s who made $1 million or more, and guys who made between $660K and $1 million only got 5% raises; those thresholds never changed as the cap went up, which meant fewer and fewer players were eligible for raises over time. You’d think the NHLPA would have said, “you know what – we want some kind of raise in qualifying offers for RFA’s, we want to go back to 10% but we’ll limit that to salaries under the Average League Salary.” But, I guess looking out for the lower-paid players slipped off the radar somehow.
Things like … well, affordability for low-revenue teams. Revenue sharing does this, and I’m OK with revenue sharing (to a certain extent), but it doesn’t fix the problem that high-revenue teams grow faster than low-revenue teams. Even if the HRR split is reduced to 50/50, inevitably they’re going to push the cap floor above what low-revenue teams can afford. You’d think the NHL would be committed to fixing that problem by actually controlling how the cap is set to limit the influence of high-revenue teams (which would actually help limit the escrow problem the players complain about) … after all, wasn’t that the reason the NHL cited as needing to tear up the prior CBA and write a new one? For some reason, the league has turned a deaf ear to that notion and pretends that “if we decrease the HRR split point, that will fix everything.”
There’s so many other things that would have been worth dying on the hill for - on both sides. It’s a real shame the NHL decided to choose something that serves as a band-aid instead of something that would actually fix a major problem.