If anyone was hoping that the major details on the 2020-21 season would be sorted out by the weekend – yes, that’s not happening. My personal belief is that if the season is to start on January 1, a deal needs to be made before the end of the month. Hopefully sooner, but if some things need to be rushed, they will be.
Wednesday’s events took things off the rails and players will need a few days to regroup. They are angry and feel betrayed.
I have a clearer picture now that more details have appeared overnight. In the new ACB ratified last July, there were deferred money deals for 2020-2021 and escrow caps during each season of the deal.
The players agreed to a 10% carryover for the coming year. The escrow limits are: 20% for 2020-2021; 14-18% (although everyone is assuming it will be 18) in 2021-2022; 10% in 2022-2023; and 6% for the three remaining seasons. (A one-year extension will apply at the end of the CBA if players owe the league between $ 125 million and $ 250 million after 2024-25; the cap would be 9%.)
According to several sources, the league submitted two proposals. The former asked for changes only for the coming season. Deferred compensation has increased to 20 percent; escrow at 25. There were no other changes.
The second demanded that the deferred compensation be increased to 26% for next season. Engagement was not touched until years four through six of the ABC, dropping from six percent to between 8.5 and nine.
“There were audible gasps when this was presented” on the NHLPA conference call, one player said. To understand the emotion, recognize that – for gamers – “escrow” is the dirtiest word in the dictionary. There is nothing else, even close.
The NHL’s position is simple: The ABC is a 50-50 income split, and the damage from COVID is greater than what was projected just four months ago. There will be a shortfall and it must be remedied.
When the ABC was announced in July, a few teams quietly predicted it would happen. They studied the landscape and thought there was not enough built-in protections. They were right, and pressure on property is definitely a factor.
There are several issues with this in the eyes of the union: “We just made a deal, so why should it be changed?” “In the past, when we weren’t happy with a CBA, we had to live with it.” “Why was it proposed so late, we didn’t need a gun on our heads”, “If we agree with that, who can say it won’t happen again” and ” They knew this was going to happen from the start, didn’t they?
A couple even suggested that it was never cheaper to borrow money.
What added to their anger was that several new contracts were structured to take advantage of the reduction in escrow in the later seasons of the new deal. For example, 56 percent of Alex Pietrangelo’s seven-year, $ 61.6 million deal with Vegas is paid off in CBA’s weaker years. For Torey Krug and St. Louis (seven years, $ 45.5 million), it’s 52%. It could also divide players by age and / or contract length. Pay now or pay later?
The timing is horrible. The general public is hammered by COVID, both in the number of cases and the economic fallout. They don’t want to hear this. It was a bad look when Major League Baseball’s arguments became public. The NHL and NHLPA had done a great job of keeping their disagreements private, but this one spilled over.
What I don’t believe is that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA General Manager Donald Fehr are playing the roles of Thelma and Louise, speeding their convertible off the cliff. You cover the sport long enough, you know when strikes and lockouts are a strategy. It was for the players in 1992; the league in 1994, 2004 and 2012.
It is not the same.
The players want to play. Several governors during the NHL call last week said Bettman wanted to play and made it clear he wanted it to happen on New Year’s Day. There is a 60 game schedule in place – division play only (Canadian division too), in your own arenas, baseball style back to back in the same venues, at least one week between end of season and playoffs playoffs to allow for catch-up games, the playoffs begin in mid-May and end on July 15.
(If I were a player, I could ask for extended playoffs in exchange for agreeing to changes to the deal. It’s about time and wouldn’t it increase revenue?)
I think we will come to an agreement, but we have been derailed. Players and their agents need a few days to calm down, consider options and do the math. No one is happy with what is going on, but the alternative (not to play) is even worse.