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When will the new CBA finally be signed?

I've been getting asked this question a lot in recent weeks, even more so in recent days, by several readers who've grown impatient waiting for the NHL and NHLPA to announce a new collective bargaining agreement.

To be honest, gang, I have no idea when we'll finally hear the announcement we've been awaiting since the league locked out the players last September.

Heck, there are even owners, general managers, agents and players who are in the same boat as the rest of us: sitting on the sidelines waiting for the new deal to be struck.

Of course, there are more signs that both sides are racing toward an accord. One is they're meeting almost daily now, and with both sides clamming up and refusing to comment to the media on progress, it's apparent they don't want to waste time in name-calling over possible disagreements or addressing every little rumour that's come up.

Another sure sign is the notable increase in player movement rumours, sparked by news a couple of weeks ago that there will likely be a one-time-only provision that'll allow teams to buy out contracts without it counting against their cap for next season. This could flood this summer's UFA market, sparking a shopping spree never before seen in the NHL as teams both dump salary and seek to fill gaps in their rosters.

Still another is the rash of general manager and head coach hirings and firings. The Mighty Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks all recently announced new GM hirings. The Senators extended GM John Muckler's contract, as did the Maple Leafs with head coach Pat Quinn, the Blues with Mike Kitchen and the Predators with Barry Trotz. The 'Hawks axed head coach Bryan Sutter, while there's speculation in Phoenix as to the status of head coach Rick Bowness.

But despite the signs, we're still (as of this writing) without a new deal, meaning there's still a possibility (albeit a fading one) that this thing could drag on well into the summer.

I'm not overly concerned about when the deal is announced. Like most, I'm expecting it sometime between July 1 (which seems a remote possibility now) and July 15th (which seems the more likely).

What I'm more interested in is what this new deal will contain, although as reader Shawn Lamba pointed out, it could be a 600 page volume, given that lawyers for both sides are seemingly drafting this thing from scratch.

It'll be more interesting to pore through the ponderous legalese that document is sure to contain to ascertain what's in there that could have an impact upon the owners and players over the life of the new deal.

We'll all see the highlights courtesy of the media, based initially on the press conference held by the league to announce the deal once it's been signed and ratified.

But as the old saying goes, the devil is in the details, and that's what will require careful study to determine what's in there that could work to the advantage or disadvantage of either side.

Still, as Tom Petty used to sing, "the waiting is the hardest part." It was easier back in the dark days of these negotiations when the season was written off and we could just shrug our shoulders and wait until the fall. We could just ignore the two sides, focus our attention on summer activities, and hope that when school started in September, they'd be close to getting a new deal done.

But now they've teased and tormented us since April, meeting more frequently, leaking details of potential agreements. They've gotten everyone's hopes up.

It's to the point where fans and pundits are like little kids riding in the back seat of the family car, bored and tired after a long trip, continually asking, "are we there yet?"

Those that are driving these talks aren't answering, so I'll make like the mom or the older kid who's been on this trip before, and try to calm you all by saying, "Be patient, we're almost there. Just a little further. "

And if the car breaks down, it's all Gary and Bob's fault!


Tom Benjamin recently asked if I'd play a bit of "blogger tag" regarding reading habits. As it would make a refreshing change from the usual lockout bladadeeblahblah (not mine, of course, but the stuff fed to us by the propoganda machines of the NHL and NHLPA), I'm going to play along. So here goes:

1. HOW MANY BOOKS DO I OWN: Hundreds. I honestly don't keep track of numbers but that seems as good an estimate as any. I have my personal favourites in my den, and a bunch of others that are piled up in a spare closet awaiting a trip to Value Village or The Bookman whenever I get a free moment or two...or whenever my better half gets tired of them and tells me to get rid of them.

2. MOST RECENT PURCHASES: Future: Tense, by Gwynne Dyer. Churchill's Generals, edited by John Keegan. Infidels by Andrew Wheatcroft. In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick.

Haven't found any decent new hockey books in my local bookstores, but I've got a lead on two or three on Amazon thanks to a couple of fans who share my interest in hockey books.

3. CURRENTLY READING: The aforementioned Churchill's Generals. Prior to that I finished Moneyball by Michael Lewis and The Ghosts of Medak Pocket by Carol Off.

4. BOOKS THAT MEANT THE MOST: My favourite hockey books include Net Worth, The Defence Never Rests, Game Misconduct, Gross Misconduct, Money Players and The Game, perhaps the greatest book about hockey ever written. You can find my reviews of most of these books here.

Non-hockey books include Spike Milligan's War Memoirs (sometimes poignant, often hilarious), and almost anything written by Pierre Berton (perhaps the best way to learn Canadian history is by reading his works), Stephen King (yummy junkfood for my brain, he's an incredible storyteller), Hunter S. Thompson (an American icon), Michael Harris (my favourite Canadian journalist) and Will Ferguson (The heir to Berton's legacy as well as an insightful, witty social commentator).

5. WHO'S NEXT. Tom's already "challenged" Dubi Silverstein and James Mirtle, so I'll send this out to Mike Chen, Jes Golbez, Mark Stepneski, Steve Ovadia, Hockeybird, and the Hockey Rodent if they wanna play. Inquiring minds wanna know.

Tag! You're it!


Toronto Globe and Mail reporter James Mirtle recently commented on his blog on my June 15th article regarding NHL ticket prices.

Yep, I "feigned surprise" as James put it, over the fact ticket prices weren't going to drop substantially under the new collective bargaining agreement.

It came as no surprise to James or myself, but more than a few hockey fans were expecting that to happen, and those were the people I was addressing in my article.

Throughout the course of this lockout, I received several e-mails from hockey fans and read comments on several message boards since the imposition of the lockout last September who believed one of the reasons the NHL had to have cost certainty was to make the game more affordable for them.

They believed once salaries were reduced and capped, their team would drop their prices.

In his post, James wrote:

I really don't recall such a promise from teams although I'll heartily eat crow if some examples were provided. Did the Toronto Maple Leafs or Vancouver Canucks or any other recently successful franchise pledge that they would lower ticket prices?

No, they didn't, or at least they didn't throughout most of the lockout. When the Hockey News polled the owners of the 30 clubs last winter about reducing ticket prices following the lockout, only a handful committed to this, some well before the lockout.

Most offered no comment except to say they'd await the results of the new CBA before making any decisions.

So if it wasn't the teams claiming they'd lower ticket prices under a new CBA, or that it was their intent to do so, or that it was one of the intentions of the new CBA, then where did these fans get that notion in the first place?

James continues:

I'll grant that perhaps Bettman may have said some such nonsense, but at the time and by everyone within earshot, it was derided as nonsense... the man would in fact offer the world to win the requisite PR battle he conscientiously fights

Ah, but there's the problem. It did come from Gary Bettman. And those who read and heard his remarks didn't deride them as nonsense. They took them as gospel.

In the months leading up to the lockout and in its early months, Mr. Bettman had quite a lot to say about making the game more affordable for hockey fans. Here's a sampling:

Chris Snow Star-Tribune Feb 8, 2004

"What our fans tell us is they want to know their teams are stable, they want to know their teams are competitive, they want affordable ticket prices. That's what they're telling us overwhelmingly."

Excerpts of the text of Gary Bettman speech
Following Board of Governors meeting
September 15, 2004. NHL.COM:

I stand here today to say that we owe it to hockey's fans to achieve an economic system that will result in affordable ticket prices and stable, competitive franchises.

For most clubs, however, the status quo means millions in annual losses. For the League it has meant bankruptcies in Buffalo and Ottawa and Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. For the fans it has meant high and increasing ticket prices, and the status quo has meant that teams cannot meaningfully compete.

Toronto Star News Services, 16 Sep 04:

Ticket prices: Bettman said the league's ticket prices -- now $44 on average -- will go down with a new CBA.

"It varies from market to market," he acknowledged, but said, "More than a majority of our teams would use the opportunity of economic stability to lower their ticket prices."

The league claims that salaries drive up ticket prices and that those teams in the top one-third in salaries are three times more likely to make the playoffs than those in the bottom third.

CBC THE NATIONAL September 22, 2004

Excerpts from "Your Turn with Gary Bettman":

With the right economic system, we can have 30 healthy, competitive franchises all with affordable ticket prices, which frankly all of this is about the fans.

I think this is a union that is intent upon keeping the status quo, doing everything in its power to bargain as tough as it can, to keep as much as it can for the players. But the simple fact remains that we need to have a system where we're not losing hundreds of millions of dollars, where all of our teams can be competitive, and where we have affordable ticket prices.

All of those cities can be, because on the one hand, one of the people interviewed said, you know, ticket prices are too high, so I can't afford to go to a game.

One of the things that we're trying to accomplish in collective bargaining now is an economic system that enables us to take the inflationary pressure off of ticket prices and ensure that we have affordable ticket prices so that families can go to games. That's vitally important to us.

Okay, so where we start on our footprint today, places like Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, obviously Toronto and Montreal have to have their franchises and have to have not just franchises that are surviving, but franchises that can be competitive and that have affordable ticket prices.

But in the final analysis, we know that if we don't have affordable ticket prices, competitive teams, and stable franchises, we won't have fans. Everything we're doing is about the game for the benefit of our fans.

Excerpts from Gary Bettman
Chat Transcript
Oct. 13, 2004 NHL.COM

Before we can open our arenas, we need to fix the economic system under which our sport operates. We'll be back as soon as the players' Union is prepared to talk to us about a partnership that allows us to offer all NHL fans affordable tickets prices and 30 stable and competitive franchises.

We believe that a partnership is critical for the future of our game. A partnership will ensure 30 healthy and competitive franchises with affordable ticket prices. This is a goal that we will not abandon.

I do not believe so. All we are seeking to achieve is an end to the unsustainable losses, a healthy league, competitive franchises and affordable ticket prices. Our agenda is no greater than that.


Bettman also did not provide any guarantees that the Leafs would lower season-ticket prices if they achieve cost certainty, despite his numerous attempts to tie high ticket prices to player salaries.

"He said that goes market by market," said one season-ticket holder. "He told us he's not in the business of capping ticket prices in each city."

Notice that in all but one of these snippets, Bettman doesn't come right out and promise that ticket prices will drop league-wide, only that it's his and the owners hope that a new economic system of cost certainty will bring about "affordable ticket prices".

He does, however, put the blame for those prices on high player salaries.

I'm not sure of an exact percentage or a ballpark estimate of how many hockey fans believed cost certainty would lower ticket prices. I've read perhaps several hundred such opinions on message boards or e-mailed to me by fans. I would only suggest it's probably a substantial number, much higher than those I've read.

As I noted in a recent article on the topic for Foxsports.com, those fans are going to be in for a rude shock.

Those fans didn't believe it was nonsense, because the commissioner was telling them that one of the reasons why he took away their NHL hockey for a season was because he wanted them to have affordable ticket prices.

They believed that it was important to get the players' salaries under control so they could afford to come out and watch the games.

Now, they're about to find out that this CBA will have little, if anything, to do with making it more affordable, that ticket prices aren't based on salaries but on what each market can bear.

True, Bettman acknowledged that fact, but he kept beating that message of affordable prices like a drum last fall, tying them to salaries.

These fans aren't stupid, they just didn't understand how the business of hockey works.

If Bettman's stated desire of affordable ticket prices doesn't come to pass, if it was, as James suggested, merely a ploy to win the PR battle with the NHLPA, he could have some explaining to do the next time he tries to blame salaries for the high cost of attending an NHL game.

If anything was accomplished out of this lockout, hopefully it'll be that there are now some hockey fans who understand how ticket prices are set in the NHL.


The New York Post's Larry Brooks reported on key details in the CBA that must still be worked out.

The matter of restructuring contracts — what about signing bonuses? what about deferrals past the life of a contract? — remains one of the significant issues that still must be negotiated and resolved by the PA and the league. We're told that the subject has been addressed, but only in limited conversations that will necessarily have to become both much broader and specific once the parties' large negotiating groups reconvene.

Along with one-time buyouts not counting against a team's salary cap, this could be a key component to allow teams currently carrying a lot of salary the opportunity to free up more space in their salary cap to sign other players.

It would allow those clubs to spread out the salaries of those players with hefty contracts that they wish to retain.

Speaking of contract buyouts, Brooks also reported that the concept of spreading out the buyout over several seasons, rather than paying out the buyout up front.

Under the old CBA, teams had twice the length of the remaining contract in which to spread their payments to a bought-out player, but with the player having the option to request an immediate present-day value lump sum payment.

Here's the question: will the same provisions apply to this summer's transitional buyouts?

Alexei Yashin, for example, has six years at a post-rollback $41.65M remaining on his contract. A buyout would cost the Islanders $27.74M. Would the team have the option of spreading the payments out over 12 years ($2.31M per)? Could Yashin demand the money up-front? Here's the answer: No one knows.

Actually, we've received conflicting information from two sources with first-hand knowledge of discussion of the issue. One reports that the method of payments will likely be unchanged. The other, however, believes that teams will be allowed to use only the remaining length of the contract in which to satisfy their obligation, with elimination of the one-time payout option.

Even if Yashin were bought out this summer and the cost weren't to count against the cap, $24.74 million is still a lot of money to fork out at once or over two seasons.

It'll be interesting to see what method is used to address those expensive buyouts.

- Newsday's Alan Hahn observed that the new CBA, which is supposedly to be more owner-friendly than the previous one, wasn't enough to convince the current owners of the St. Louis, Bill and Nancy Laurie, from putting the club up for sale.

Despite Gary Bettman's cost-certainty campaign promises of yore, the Lauries are selling because the new CBA won't erase the lost millions of the past. And without even a hint of U.S. television money, it certainly can't promise more revenue. All it can promise is to provide a more stable business model that will keep all teams on an even ice surface.

Hahn also wondered how this CBA is supposed to work for struggling small market clubs like the Carolina Hurricanes and Nashville Predators if the current owners of a club in an established hockey market don't find it incentive enough to retain their club.

It's a good point. Reduced and capped player salaries doesn't automatically mean all 30 teams will be able to compete on a level surface.

The Lauries complained about the high taxes they're forced to pay to operate the Blues in St. Louis, and the apparent unwillingness of municipal and state governments to offer them tax relief.

Each team faces their own unique variables. Hahn reported on those facing the NY Islanders:

If we all started at zero, that would be nice. But for a team such as the Islanders, a new CBA won't get them out of their debilitating Coliseum lease with SMG and Nassau County. A $38-million cap and 24 percent rollback on the contracts of the five players they have signed isn't going to suddenly create a surplus. They still need a new arena deal, to see the Lighthouse project at the end of the tunnel.

Over the course of the new CBA, there could be teams whose owners decide they cannot make a go of it in their respective markets. That could lead to their deciding to sell to new owners or relocate the franchise to a new market.

Over a dozen NHL teams have changed hands since 2000, and there's an opinion that the NHL is attractive to investors seeking a sports franchise.

According to the Washington Times, " Much of the optimism stems from a series of substantial changes set to usher in a new era for the league. Though no labor deal has been established, talk within the hockey community strongly points to owners soon succeeding in their fervent quest for a salary cap, likely to be set between $32?million and $36?million with a companion $22?million floor. The cap likely will end the days in which high-revenue teams like Toronto spend more than four times as much on players as penny-pinching clubs in Nashville, Pittsburgh and Minnesota.

Developing on a parallel course to a new economic structure are a series of on-ice changes that could make Fox Sports' ill-fated glowing blue puck look quaint by comparison. Under consideration are much larger goal dimensions, tighter restrictions on goalie equipment, allowance of two-line passes, and uniforms that are sleeker and more form-fitting. The clear aim of the changes is to open up a stagnant offensive game and make the sport more attractive for television viewers.

The column goes on to note that "buying an NHL team is gaining fans within the investment community as a major value for patient investors and one with significant upside. "

The feeling is that of "buy low, sell high".

But the question is, what if some of these clubs are in situations whereby it may not be possible for new owners to improve those clubs and thereby their value?

No matter how much the on-ice product improves, no matter how strigently player salaries are capped, variables such as fan interest in those markets, arenas, and taxes could still result in teams facing continuing losses and mounting debt could have serious impact on those franchise values.

And that could scare away potential investors, which could over the long run make the NHL less appealing.

- Lost in the buzz surrounding recent comments of the NHLPA's "mistaken" approach to rejecting a $42.5 million cap offer from the NHL last February were these from veteran forward Scott Young, courtesy of the Boston Herald (sorry, no link):

``Just looking at what it was when they cancelled the season, it is lower than that....but until we know the whole guts of the deal, it's hard to say because we don't know what's underneath it all. Because underneath it all, when it was at $42.5 million, we didn't like the structure. Maybe we'll like this structure better and the number will be lower. But I don't know. It's hard to comment on something I really don't know that much about.'


There's been some interesting comments regarding the current state of the lockout from three players from the present and past.

Mario Lemieux, Jeremy Roenick and Bobby Hull expressed their opinions on lockout related topics.

First, here's what Lemieux and Roenick had to say regarding what the players might receive now compared to what they could've had last February:

- "They should have taken the deal back in February...The cap was at $42.5 million (US), that was the offer from the owners, now it looks like it's going to be a lot less than that." - Mario Lemieux.

- "If we would have signed that deal in February, in terms of what we're getting now, we would have looked like heroes...Right now we look like a bunch of idiots...The deal in February beats the (expletive) out of the deal we're gonna sign in July." - Jeremy Roenick.

Comparing what was offered last February to the players by the NHL to what's believed to be forthcoming in the one presently being worked on cap ceiling alone, it would appear to be that way.

The league offered up a $42.5 million salary cap to the players in exchange for the league's demanded linkage of salaries to revenues taken out of the deal.

It's now believed the cap system in the deal presently being negotiated will be between $36-$38 million.

But as NHLPA Senior Director Ted Saskin observed in response to Lemieux's comments this past Thursday:

"The parties are still negotiating and so it is only prudent for evaluation of the agreement to take place once it is completed..To evaluate one specific component of the agreement could lead to an inaccurate assessment."

I agree with Saskin's assessment. Based solely on the cap ceiling, for next season, that certainly appears to be the case.

But there remained unanswered questions in the league's February offer.

What was to become of salary arbitration and entry level bonuses? In their previous offers, the league wanted them either eliminated outright or shortly into the next CBA if certain economic triggers were reached.

What of qualifying offers? The league had sought to slash them by almost 25 percent.

What of a cap "floor" in conjunction with the $42.5 million "ceiling"? There was little mention of that from the league in their previous offers.

What significant changes, if any, were to occur with revenue sharing? The league had previously only suggested a vague system involving post-season revenues, potentially to be phased out over the course of the CBA?

What of determination and reportage of revenues? That may have appeared a moot point if the league were removing linkage from the table, but it still could've become a problem area in future negotiations should the league decide to revisit linking salaries to revenues.

Would there be the potential for the cap to increase as league revenues increased?

Based on what's been leaked to the media in recent weeks of the current negotiations:

-arbitration will likely remain part of the new CBA, albeit with changes to make it fairer to owners.

- bonuses will be allowed in entry-level contracts, albeit much lower and more strictly regulated.

- qualifying offers could be at 100% to 110% of the previous contract.

- the cap system will also contains a cap "floor" thus ensuring a minimum amount that all teams will be required to pay out for salaries.

- the cap system will be tied to fluctuation in league revenues, meaning the minimum and maximum amounts could increase as revenues increase.

- there apparently will be an improved, universal system of determining and reporting revenues.

- there may be significant increases in revenue sharing.

Under these conditions, in the short term(the first two seasons of the new CBA), it appears the players will make less money. But over the long term, the above conditions could prove beneficial to them.

It's certainly an improvement over what the players would've gotten had they taken the February offer as Lemieux and Roenick suggest.

Lemieux was optimistic over his team's future with the new CBA:

"With the gap (in NHL payrolls) not being what it was before, we'll have a better chance to compete every year," he said. "With the new owners coming in, spending more money on payroll, and finding the right free agents, I think we're well positioned. . . . We're going to change the face of this team."

Yes, with what stands to be a potential free for all in this summer's UFA market and given the obvious room on their payroll, the Pens do indeed appear well-positioned to improve their roster...this year.

The true test, however, will be over the course of this new deal.

There won't be a flood of UFAs at potentially bargain prices in future summers, so picking and choosing won't be as easy or affordable. Should the UFA eligibility age drop over time to 28, there's no guarantee teams like the Penguins will be able to avoid losing their best players in their prime.

If revenue sharing proves as lucrative as hoped, that could go a long way toward helping clubs like the Penguins, particularly if the cap limits increase with revenues.

The Pens also have a capable general manager in Craig Patrick, who might feel a bit giddy now that the restraints of recent years will be lifted.

But not all clubs have savvy management, and as I've noted here before, you can't legislate against stupidity. A salary cap isn't going to prevent some GMs from making poor decisions, nor does it guarantee a team will be competitive every year.

Then there's the unknown variable, that of teams finding loopholes to circumvent a hard cap. All it takes is one team, with a shrewd capologist, and suddenly the new CBA could become a potential problem for clubs like the Penguins.

Lemieux also weighed in on how the deal presently being worked on could affect the owners.

"I think they're getting very, very close, and it's going to be a deal that allows all the markets to be successful, allow the owners to have a fair chance to make money."

Paying out less money for salaries will certainly help most of those clubs in big-market hockey hotbeds to make more money.

It may not help teams that cannot get a new arena built in their cities, like Lemieux's Penguins.

It may not help teams that are poorly run like the Chicago Blackhawks.

Or teams that are struggling in non-traditional hockey markets like Nashville and Carolina.

Or teams that face high taxes, like the St. Louis Blues.

Returning to Roenick, he felt his fellow players had made a mistake with their position that led to the lockout:

"It's unfortunate we had to go through a whole year to realize the (expletive) that was going on," said Roenick. "We've hurt our league, we've hurt the reputation of our league and the integrity of our league by sticking up for something that might not have been the right thing to do."

Yes, the players do deserve their fair share of the blame for this, for exactly the reasons Roenick noted.

But the owners also deserve the blame. Throughout the lockout and in the years leading up to it, they showed little desire for actual negotiation, preferring instead hard line tactics based on proposals that were shaped more like demands.

It's difficult to negotiate with a side whose motto would be "my way or the highway".

Roenick also had choice words for critics of himself and his fellow players:

"If people are going to sit and chastise pro athletes for being cocky - for being suck asses - they need to look at one thing and that's the deal we're going to be signing in about three weeks," he said.

"Pro athletes are not cocky. Pro athletes care about the game. Everybody out there who calls us spoiled because we play a game - they can kiss my ass."

I can understand Roenick's bitter frustration, but telling his critics to kiss his ass isn't going to endear "JR" to them. If anything, those comments only reinforce the opinion of pro athletes as cocky, spoiled suckasses.

Finally, there's the Golden Jet himself, Bobby Hull, who believes the players were misled by Bob Goodenow:

I always thought (Bob) Goodenow wasn't doing the right thing for the kids. He was leading them down the garden path. He was hand-picked by Alan Eagleson and that's all you need to know."

Sorry, Bobby, but you're dead wrong on that count.

In his book, "Money Players", Bruce Dowbiggin devotes an entire chapter to Goodenow. It describes in detail how the current NHLPA honcho got the job, and nowhere does it claim that Eagleson hand-picked him. In fact, Goodenow was forced upon Eagleson by the NHLPA, which formed a selection committee to find a replacement for "the Eagle" in 1989.

Ironically Goodenow wasn't interested in the job of being Eagleson's successor. He was a successful player agent who had no thoughts of one day leading the PA. He only took the job because of pressure from his clients and the fact that the other potential candidates were either seen as too extreme or unwilling to give up their own gigs as player agents.

Goodenow didn't get the job right away, but rather spent two years in a transitional period as Eagleson's deputy executive director. Eagleson belittled Goodenow privately, stuck him in what Dowbiggin described as "a cramped back office where visitors were obliged to duck under a low ceiling", and showed "barely disguised contempt" for his successor.

Comparing Eagleson to Goodenow is apples and oranges. Eagleson deliberately misled the players for over two decades for his own personal gain, robbed them of pension monies, and eventually went to prison for his crimes.

Whatever one thinks of Goodenow's performance during this lockout, he certainly isn't a crook, and in fact has done a far better job of representing the players than his predecessor ever did.

But Hull was right on with his subsequent comments on the state of the NHL game:

"The kids don't care about the game anymore, they don't care about the fans, nor do the owners. The most important people are being taken out of the picture. They need to get back to realize what the game of hockey is and has been, get the families back to see the game and get the grassroots people - the fans - back to see the game again."

No argument there, Bobby. Unfortunately, I have strong doubts that this is going to happen in the near future.


- Media consensus seems to be the players have been "soundly beaten", as one pundit called it, in this upcoming CBA, given their backing down on resisting a salary cap and linkage.

As I noted earlier this month, folks, we heard this kind of talk before, like ten years ago, when the last CBA was signed.

Perhaps this time will be different, but as I've noted regularly, the NHLPA is going to get a better deal out of what's being negotiated now than if they'd accepted the league's earlier demands.

Remember, it took a few seasons before we knew for certain the course of the last CBA. It's going to take at least three seasons into the new one before we determine who "won".

- I've written about ticket prices before, and I'll have another column about it hopefully later today on Foxsport.com, based on some recent articles out of Toronto, Calgary, Buffalo and Minnesota.

Here's a spoiler: those aforementioned reports merely confirm what I've been saying since last fall.

- While this lockout has been pretty much gloom and doom, those who found it a positive experience were the families of NHL players. Neil Stevens of Canadian Press had a good article yesterday on Detroit Red Wings forward Kris Draper enjoying the additional free time he got to spend with his kids that he otherwise would've been spending playing NHL hockey.

Yeah, a lot of fans like to paint the players as greedy, selfish bastards, so it's nice to see an article that reminds us all that they're human beings like the rest of us, with families of their own.

And yes, I know the owners aren't all a bunch of cold-hearted scrooge stereotypes either.

- The city of Ottawa is trying hard to convince NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to hold some version of the 2005 entry draft there.

The draft was originally to be held there this month but that was cancelled a few months ago. Now, with a deal seemingly days or weeks away (depending on your source), it appears a draft will be held after all.

Heck, if it was gonna be held there anyway, and they want it bad enough, I say why not? It won't be as glamorous as those we're used to seeing, but at least it'll be something salvagable for both sides.

-Speaking of when the deal could be, I've been getting asked that quite a bit of late.

Bottom line, gang, is your guess is as good as mine, or anyone else's for that matter. There's still lots to be worked out and it's going to take some time to get it done.

My best guess? At the earliest, June 30th. At the latest, July 15th.

- A recent article by Boston Herald columnist Stephen Harris mused over how good Brendan Shanahan or Jeremy Roenick might look in Bruins jerseys earning between $2 million to $3 million per season.

The Bruins have only four players and $3.8 million locked up on contracts for the 2005-06 season. Yes, they have several key free agents to sign, starting with Joe Thornton and Andrew Raycroft. But as the process of restocking the team goes on, they should have more spare money than anyone in the league to choose from the long list of discounted free agents.

If they've got that much spare money, they should spend it more wisely, on younger players who'll give them a better return over the long haul. No offence to "Shanny" or "JR", but they're past their prime and should only be considered once the Bruins -or any other club for that matter - have snapped up the better younger players.

- Finally, there's a growing sense that "chaos" will reign for a while once the new CBA is implemented and teams, particularly those with less than a half-dozen players on their rosters, scramble to fill the gaps.


After having nothing to write about but this lousy lockout, I'm looking forward to that chaos!

Bring it on, I say. It can't come soon enough.


Al Strachan yesterday suggested that the next Collective Bargaining Agreement will be "idiot-proof".

The starting point offered by the players is fine, Bettman said, but if left to their own devices, the owners will create an inflationary spiral that extends far beyond their ability to fulfill their commitments.

He hasn't changed that view. He doesn't trust the owners the least bit, and therefore, when the new system is put into place, it must be idiot-proof.

If his regiment of lawyers overlooks just one little loophole, just one little misplaced comma that would allow a team to take advantage of its "partners," his new CBA will be fatally flawed.

I've said for some time that Bettman is negotiating at a disadvantage, that being, the very people he's representing. Some of them made a mockery of the last CBA, and if Bettman's not careful, they could do it again.

That's why it's going to be very interesting to see what this agreement looks like whenever it's finally signed, sealed and delivered. You can bet there will be teams hiring folks who specialize in going through these contracts with fine-toothed combs, either seeking loopholes or to ensure the team stays within its limits.

Strachan has more on the topic:

In time, if they haven't already, general managers will become virtually superfluous.

The scouts will continue to make their evaluations of talent and inform the general manager of their opinions. The GM will conceive a trade and then put the matter to his most recently hired employee, the capologist.

This will be a man with extensive legal training who, by definition, will be able to understand the CBA and be devious enough to try to find a way around its restrictions.

He will then tell the GM what he can do with his trade proposal -- modify it, try to proceed with it, or stuff it.

Then, the team with which the proposed trade is to be made will go through the same process.

The people who do the real work and make the real decisions will be the scouts and capologists. The GMs will be nothing more than glorified clearing houses.

And the fans? The fans won't have a clue what's happening.

The complexities of the new CBA will be far beyond them. They will be told if a trade has been made, but they will have no idea why so many other trades failed or why their favourite team is incapable of addressing its shortcomings.

It's rare that I agree with Mr. Strachan but in this instance he's bang-on. I've said for months that, if Bettman got his hard cap system and linkage, the word "capologist" will soon enter into the NHL lexicon.

If you don't think capologists are coming under the new CBA, you're either naive or willfully ignorant.

Depending on the wording of the CBA, we could see lots of prorated contracts or bonuses, either front-or-end loaded depending on each team's cap space.

If there's a loophole to be found, a team will exploit it, and then others will follow suit just as they did under the previous CBA. Count on it.

Capologists will have considerable influence, which in turn will make general managers essentially the clearing houses that Strachan believes they'll become.

He's also right about how the fans will react to it. Most simply don't care about the business of hockey, indeed, most didn't have a clue how the last CBA worked or why it didn't.

Hey, if this thing works, however, it'll be a boon for the NHL and Mr. Bettman will come off as a saviour.

But if it fails, and all it would take is a few good capologists, along with a few savvy player agents and a couple of greedy team owners to make that happen if this thing isn't carefully worded, he could be setting himself up for a major fall.

Time will tell, but one thing is certain: the new deal will be very complex and capologists will be coming to your nearest NHL team to help them figure it out...or find ways around it.

As for an "idiot proof" CBA, I refer back to a comment agent Ritch Winter told Bruce Dowbiggin in the book, "Money Players":

Gary Bettman keeps saying he wants to create an idiot-proof collective bargaining agreement this time out. Why doesn't he just get rid of the idiots instead?

- The Toronto Sun's Mike Ulmer has ten ways the NHL will be different under the new CBA:

1. The NHL will have fewer Russians and more American Leaguers. With entry-level salaries curtailed and limited resources devoted to franchise players instead of support players, second- and third-line European players probably will opt to stay at home. The Russian Elite league is far and away the most lucrative gig available. And who will take their place? Expect a new premium on serviceable players who didn't lose a year in the lockout. "We placed about 120 players in the NHL two years ago," American Hockey League Commissioner Dave Andrews said, "and we'd expect to put another 100 players, or four players a team, on top of that number next year."

I'm sure the xenophobic hockey fan will be delighted in the fact that there will be less "furriners" in the NHL, but that would be in my opinion one truly fatal flaw about the new CBA, particularly when it comes to prospects.

I stated as early as last autumn that severe restrictions on entry level salaries and bonuses could be a serious problem, as it would allow European teams, particularly those with the cash, to bid competitively for the top European prospects. Suddenly, drafting a European kid becomes a big risk for an NHL team. It stands to potentially rob the NHL of some of the best European talent.

Already the Washington Capitals could face that problem with Alexander Ovechkin. If the best the Caps can offer him is three years at $1.2 mil per season, and Moscow Dynamo offers three years at $2 million per season (all tax free by the way), Ovechkin could opt to remain in Russia, and the Caps would face the prospect of their promising young franchise player lighting the lamp in the Russian Elite League.

What would the Capitals do then? Do they shrug their shoulders and hope for the best? Or do they find a legally creative way (hello, there, capologist!) to get him under contract.

Perhaps one way around that kind of situation is if the NHL team (the Capitals in this case) pay a release fee to that player's European club to get him out of that contract, and some of that money ends up in the player's pocket to off-set the difference for playing for less money in the NHL.

2. Don't expect to see your favourite player at the club's charity event.

Players have just had a lockout and a humiliating defeat shoved down their collective throats. Team-sponsored events will have to wait for at least a year.

Nonsense. Most NHL players are happy to support charities, be they their own personal causes or that of their teams. Besides, they want to help the NHL improve it's product and visibility, because that means more revenue, and more revenue means an cap ceiling that increases every year, meaning more money for their salaries.

They're not going to cut off their noses to spite their faces.

3. The mother of all free-agency seasons is coming. With buyouts and teams walking away from qualifying, perhaps as much of 40% of the league's personnel will be changing addresses. Agents have been figuring out who is on the block for the past year. Expect an initially tepid flow of players changing teams to give way to a flood of movement. We are talking about the closest thing to a rotisserie draft ever held in pro sports.

I agree with Ulmer on this one. Once this CBA is put to bed, things will get hot and heavy as the summer progresses. And honestly, after all these months of CBA coverage, I can't wait to get back to trade and free agent rumours and signings!

4. The days of rookies earning more than $3 million US thanks to inflationary bonuses (a device patented by current Phoenix Coyotes general manager Mike Barnett by the way) are gone. Assuming a lightweight team lands Sidney Crosby in the draft lottery, he will receive a maximum of $1.8 million, including all salary and bonuses. With rigid entry-level controls in place, there will be no point in refusing a contract and re-entering the draft.

Unless, of course, you decide to go play for more money in Europe and thus put the squeeze on the team that drafted you to match that offer.

Now I doubt Sidney Crosby will go this route, and perhaps most North American players won't be as keen to play overseas as their European peers. But it is possible a big name Canadian or American prospect could look at the bigger bucks to be made in Russia, Switzerland or elsewhere and decide that's for them. In which case, they could make bigger money in Europe for two years, and then go back into the draft and hope another NHL club will pick them, one that may be more willing to find creative ways to get them as much as they made in Europe.

5. General managers, none more than Leafs boss John Ferguson, will endure an unprecedented level of scrutiny. The Leafs, historically, have been able to spend through their mistakes and deliver a contender. Now, the team's standing as the preferred destination among Ontario-raised free agents will largely be irrelevant. Inauspicious results from the scouting system, and Lord knows, the Maple Leafs can speak to that, will result in a losing team even with the almighty in goal.

No doubt, it'll be interesting to see how the Leafs - or other big market clubs facing similar circumstances - adapt under this new system.

6. Thanks to a minimum salary cap of around $22 million per team and an upper cap near $36 million, including $2 million in health benefits per team, even the light spenders should be competitive.

For now. The key here isn't the cap, but rather the revenue sharing. If it's more lucrative than in the past, then yes, teams that were traditionally "light spenders" could be more competitive.

What'll be a good measure of that will be once those cap figures increase as revenues rise. Sure, for next season, the cap figures will be low because of the fallout from the lockout, but it's a pretty good bet that they won't stay that low for long as revenues rise, particularly if the on-ice product should improve and the league does a better job marketing itself.

But if the revenue sharing isn't as lucrative as imagined, if it's only a marginal improvement, then that rising cap floor and ceiling will result in those light spenders facing the same problem they faced under the previous CBA, which could mean the loss of their best players to free agency and the inability to replace them.

7. Perhaps as a bone to the players, it is believed qualifying offers will be left at 100% of the previous contract. Of course, those salaries are all subject to the 24% rollback already agreed to by the players, so the actual qualifying standard is 76%. Still, the players had to get something.

The players will get more than that. As revenues rise, so will their salaries, and suddenly that $42.5 million cap the league swore the players would never get offered again becomes reality, as does the possibility of a cap ceiling stretching to between $45 -$50 million.

Furthermore, they won't lose arbitration, and if there is real increases to revenue sharing, that'll work out to their benefit over the long run as well, allowing more teams to spend more money on salaries.

The rollback will only be a short term impact. Over time, as a player's stock rises, particularly the star players, so too will their value. It won't take long, perhaps a couple of seasons, before those salaries start creeping back to where they were before the rollback, particularly if revenues increase.

8. Since a salary cap profoundly will influence when and where that player will perform, the age for unrestricted free agency now is largely moot. Expect to hear the phrase "it was never about the money for me" from players who will be signing for a fraction of their old contract.

Huh? How does the prospect of a 28 year old eligibility age for UFA status become a moot point? If anything, that's only going to increase their value. And if there's no real improvement to revenue sharing to allow those small market clubs to compete, you'll see the same thing we saw under the last CBA: a small market's best player(s) departing for the big markets that can pay their salaries.

In the short term, like this summer and possibly next, the salary cap will have an impact on where UFAs go and for how much they get, particularly if the age limit doesn't dip below 30 during that time. But once it hits 28 as rumoured, that'll change everything.

9. Brace yourself for the usual creative solutions around the salary cap. That includes teams backloading the deals to commit more money later in the deal. For the folly of such an endeavour, we refer you to the roster of the Toronto Raptors.

Come on now, since when did some NHL owners look at examples from other leagues for the folly of anything? Still, Ulmer is right on this point, for as I've been saying for some time, and which Al Strachan also noted, there will be "creative solutions" around the salary cap. Count on it.

10. Get ready for more cheap seats. In Buffalo, for example, ticket prices have been reduced between 12% and 28%. New $10 upper-bowl and $21 lower-bowl season tickets were introduced. Deep discounts will be dragged out to regain the fans. Not in Toronto, of course.

Buffalo isn't a good example, since they were already reducing ticket prices prior to the lockout to get their fans back following the plunge of their franchise into bankruptcy and the resultant on-ice struggles two years ago. That had nothing to do with the lockout, although I'm sure the Sabres, as with quite a few NHL teams, are likely to drop prices "as a way of saying thanks to our loyal fans for supporting us during this difficult period".

In Toronto, those prices aren't likely to take a sharp dip, if at all, because the Leafs are the biggest draw in town, and thus they can charge whatever they like because they know the market is there for their product at whatever price.

It's a different story in Buffalo, although it's traditionally been a strong hockey town, but as previously noted they're trying to woo back fan support that was lost long before the lockout.

It'll be in other struggling markets, like Pittsburgh and Nashville and Anaheim, where you'll likely see the biggest cuts in ticket prices, since those clubs will have a tougher job of wooing back fans than in strong hockey markets like Toronto, Montreal, Detroit and Philadelphia.


There appears to be real effort by some in the press and more than a few hockey fans to make NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow out to be the boogeyman of this little labour war, to insist that he was a vindictive, bullying Svengali leading the decent but misguided country bumpkin players down a dark path to ruin.

Goodenow did make a few mistakes throughout this lockout. For example, last fall he claimed that NFL players weren't happy under their salary cap system, only to suffer the embarassment of several NFLers', including the president of the NFLPA, contradict him.

His biggest blunder, the one which a growing number in the press believe could cost him his job, was his underestimating the resolve of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners this time around.

When the NHLPA ultimately backed off from its "no cap no linkage" stance, it further raised the ire of his critics.

I'm sure we'll hear much more about Goodenow's behind-the-scenes handling of these negotiations and speculation about his future after the new CBA is in place.

But Gary Bettman also deserves fair criticism, too. He preached the hardline, aided and abetted by a minority of hardline owners who overruled any input from the moderates within their ranks.

Bettman believed the players would break under the pressure, that they'd overthrow their PA leaders and seek whatever deal they could get, rather than lose an entire season's salary for a principle.

Indeed, it was rumoured that Wayne Gretzky told Bettman that, had the owners resolve held out for a couple of weeks longer during the 1994-94 lockout, the players would've cracked.

If Bettman and the owners were expecting that to happen this time around, they found out the hard way they too underestimated their opponents resolve.

Bettman and the owners changed their tune when faced with the losses from the cancelled season, and the prospect of much more without a 2005-06 season to sell season ticket holders and sponsers.

That came in conjunction with the PA's newfound willingness to discuss potential linkage, plus the league's market research that found most fans wouldn't support replacement players.

Add those factors up and it's no wonder that Bettman and the owners finally dropped the hard line and became more concilliatory.

Goodenow's critics question the moves he's made, but I have some questions for Mr. Bettman, which for some strange reason few in the media, who are seemingly intent on piling on the "Bash Goodenow Bandwagon", are willing to ask.

Why did he wait for over a year from the time of the NHLPA's first proposal before finally responding with one from the league?

The official party line to that was the league didn't want negotiations to distract attention from the 2003-04 season, yet the NBA had no problem negotiating with their players during their 2004-05 season and playoffs, and they're about to sign off on a six year deal to avoid a lockout.

Why, in the first months of the lockout, did he merely react to NHLPA proposals, rather than seize the initiative to make some of his own?

Remember, prior to December 9th, the players made their final pitch days before Bettman announced the lockout on September 15th. Other than to engage in a smear campaign of the NHLPA in a redundant effort to win a PR war that was long ago ceded to the league by the PA, there was scarcely a peep from Bettman and his negotiators, until they were finally prompted into responding to the PA's 24 percent rollback proposal.

Why adopt the stance of making demands, rather than actually negotiating by proposals?

Every proposal made by the NHLPA - which included reasonable offers of a luxury tax (which is a soft salary cap), increased revenue sharing, changes to the salary arbitration system, reduction of entry level salary cap and elimination of bonus loopholes in same, and a salary giveback (albeit much smaller than their eventual 24 percent) - were either consistently shot down by the league, or else they demanded conditions attached which were unpalatable to the players.

Yet now, months later, they're all for the aforementioned, except for the luxury tax, yet that's rumoured to be part of the salary cap system.

Instead, Bettman and the owners kept making demands that served only to antagonize the players, strengthening their resolve and resulting ultimately in the cancellation of the 2004-05 season.

Why demand that arbitration and entry level bonuses be eliminated when he knew those demands would only further upset the players?

They had to realize these were flashpoints. Preaching the hard line on a salary cap and linkage is one thing; attempting to take away these aforementioned points was like giving the players a collective "face wash".

Why didn't he propose that the salary cap system would rise with revenues a year ago?

Yes, we heard about profit-sharing from Mr Bettman...in early February, nearly two weeks before he cancelled the season. So why wasn't this offered up earlier in negotiations? Why dangle it with the season on edge?

Now I know that in negotiations you don't lead with your best pitch, but honestly, if Goodenow's critics are to take him to task for not proposing or considering the type of cap system presently being negotiated on, then Bettman deserves to be slapped down for not coming forward with an fluctuating cap system tied to revenues at least a year ago.

"But Spector, you said the players never would've accepted that because the league was preaching the gospel according to the Levitt Report, so they wouldn't have accepted that proposal from the league".

Not if Bettman had suggested working with the PA to bring about better determination and reportage of revenues back then, but he and the owners kept referring back to the Levitt Report.

Why did he put himself in the position of allowing eight hard line owners to control the agenda?

Remember, any deal put forward by Bettman that he didn't support for a vote needed only eight - 8!!! - owners to reject it, and the deal would crash and burn.

Honestly, what the hell?

Bob Goodenow's critics claim he's presently on the sidelines, scheming ways to derail the negotiations by attempting to drum up enough support of the rank and file to reject the upcoming CBA proposal when it's put before them for ratification.

How do we know that Gary Bettman will give this thing full support if he puts it to a vote of the owners?

Lost in the white noise of "Goodenow Bashing" are reports that this new CBA could contain items which might not make some of the owners -specifically big market ones - very happy.

So what's stopping 8 of those owners from rejecting this deal, particularly if Bettman didn't support it.

That appears a moot point since it's believed what's being negotiated now, once it's finalized, will have the Commish's blessing. Still, it's food for thought.

Since Mr. Bettman isn't fielding any questions from the media on these issues, I doubt we'll get any answer from him on this, until perhaps the day the deal is finally announced.

Even then, they'll probably be softballs since most in the press will likely save their grills for Mr. Goodenow's hide.

Too bad, because it's apparent that Mr. Bettman has been every bit as responsible - possibly more so - for this lockout dragging on as long as it has as his rival.


That's the question I've been asked a few times by readers in recent weeks, and in some cases, it's been flat-out suggested that the course of these NHL labour negotiations would've been different without Bob Goodenow as NHLPA Executive Director.

The basis for this opinion is the NHLPA should've negotiated linkage and a salary cap with the league months, perhaps years ago; that Goodenow deliberately mislead the players and had his own selfish agenda.

Some fans and pundits believe talks would've gone more smoothly if, say, NHLPA Senior Director Ted Saskin or former NHLPA president Mike Gartner were running the show.

Hindsight is twenty-twenty, but I honestly don't believe things would've been done that much differently if Bob Goodenow hadn't been running the NHLPA show.

That's not to suggest Goodenow, like NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, hasn't had an impact upon these proceedings. Both men are very determined negotiators out to try to get the best they can for their respective sides.

It's rumoured they don't like each other, and that too may have had some impact on the way things have gone.

But let's face facts, gang: they represent their constituents.

The players number over 700 constituents. That's a very large group to ride herd over as NHLPA Executive Director. There obviously was some dissension within the ranks over the course of the CBA, but few players willingly went on the record to contradict, disagree or challenge the PA hierarchy.

So unless Goodenow has such incredible mind control powers that Rasputin himself would be envious, the majority of them, along with most on their executive, obviously supported their PA honcho.

For if there were widespread dissension, a feeling that "Bob must go", Goodenow wouldn't have been able to prevent an open mutiny by a majority or even a sizeable minority.

If Ted Saskin or Mike Gartner had been running the show since last summer, the stance of the PA wouldn't have changed.

They wouldn't have accepted the number of the Levitt Report, primarily because they knew every team determined and reported revenues differently, and thus their aversion to linkage in the first place.

They wouldn't have accepted hard caps at $33 million, $37 million or $42.5 million with no cap floor and no allowance for the cap system to increase should revenues increase.

They wouldn't have accepted either the outright abolishment of arbitration or an eventual one tied to numerous economic triggers over the course of the new CBA.

They wouldn't have accepted the outright abolishment of bonuses for entry level players.

They wouldn't have accepted only minor increases to revenue sharing based on a vague system of pooling playoff revenues, which would've been phased out by the latter years of the CBA.

They wouldn't have accepted qualifying offers slashed by 25 percent.

Their previous "no cap and no linkage" rhetoric still would've been in place, Goodenow or no.

They still would've believed the owners would blink first, just as they did ten years ago.

No less an authority on that was Vancouver Canucks player representative Brendan Morrison, who admitted to a Vancouver paper two weeks ago that his side had misjudged the owners determination this time around.

Saskin was trading barbs and insults with NHL VP Bill Daly on a regular basis up early April, when both sides finally decided to get down to real negotiations.

Gartner stayed out of the rhetoric war, but he was no less militant ten years ago, and obviously had no qualms with the "no cap no linkage ever" platform.

The bottom line, gang, is the majority of players supported Goodenow during this lockout. They weren't mislead, they weren't bullied, they weren't cajoled. They supported him because they believed he'd get the best deal possible for them.

Even without Goodenow at the helm, even if Saskin or Gartner or somebody else were running the association, very little would've changed in the way the PA conducted negotiations with the league over the past year.


Yep, that's what happened with yesterday's Soapbox. OK, it's not like I was on a bender or anything, but a little too much beer and too little sleep the evening prior resulted in my committing a mathematical boo-boo in yesterday's commentary.

In my analysis yesterday of Larry Brooks's article of what might be contained in the new CBA, I observed that, under a potential provisional buyout plan, teams would have to buy out a player's contract at 76% of its original value.

I was mistaken. Had my reading comprehension been a little clearer yesterday, I would've observed the following in the Brooks article:

All existing contracts and qualifiers will contain the 24-percent rollback first offered by the union last Dec. 9 as a mechanism to avoid taking a hard cap. Buyouts, therefore, will be calculated as two-thirds of 76 percent of the original value of a contract.

I used Keith Tkachuk as an example, citing he was due to make $10 million this season prior to the rollback, and that if the Blues bought out 76% of his contract, he'd make $7.6 million and thus would only need to sign with another club for one season at $2.4 million to recoup his loss.

However, I failed to take into account the line "two-thirds of 76 percent". Thus, Tkachuk could be bought out at a little over $5 million, meaning he'd have to sign for almost $5 million with another club for next season to recoup the loss.

That's considerably more than $2.4 million, and could affect his market value as an unrestricted free agent should the Blues buy him out.

My thanks to Shawn Lamba for pointing out my error.

So a word of warning to my fellow cyberspace hockey commentators: be of clear mind and sight when researching an article. It'll save you from embarrassing apologies such as this one.


First of all, happy Father's Day. Now on to business.

In today's New York Post, Larry Brooks has the latest details on what may be contained in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. Regardless of his reputation as a rumourmonger, he's been the most accurate source for inside info throughout this lockout, so it's worth analyzing.

Here's the highlights (italicized for your protection) and my analysis:

Barring amendment, the new NHL's new collective bargaining agreement will contain a transitional provision allowing teams to buy out players over a defined period this summer without having the 67 percent cost charged against their respective caps, sources close to the negotiations have told Slap Shots. Teams exercising that option, however, will be prohibited from re-signing those players.

This one has been kicking around the cyberspace rumour mill for the past couple of days, but this is the first real media confirmation. It's been widely suspected that contract buyouts would be how teams with too much salary could get under the salary cap.

I am a bit skeptical about that last bit claiming teams who buy out their players won't be allowed to re-sign them.

In most cases this situation probably won't arise, but there may be the odd circumstance where a player is bought out, cannot land elsewhere, and may wish to return to their former club if that club is interested in bringing them back.

I think there should be a provision to this allowing this, provided a set length of time has elapsed without that player being signed by another club.

Otherwise, that player could face the end of his NHL career, or at the very least, the loss of yet another season if they're unable to land elsewhere.

Still, that may not be much of a problem since those bought out players could potentially be snapped up by other clubs for a song, and there will probably be a willingness by those players to accept much less money for reasons I'll address further on.

Slap Shots has learned that the club payroll range for next season is expected to be established at a ceiling of $39.5M and a floor of $22.5M, but with player benefits — estimated at $2.2M per in all previous documents — included within those numbers. Accounting for all ancillary included costs, the 2005-06 club payroll floor could actually be as low as $18M, with the high at approximately $35M.

Further, the NHL will withhold a fixed percent of player salaries in escrow to ensure the league maintains a fixed link of either 54 or 55 percent between payroll and revenues. The payroll range will be adjusted against revenues each season.

That sufficiently addresses the issue of where player benefits would fit into the cap. Now I realize there will be some who'll use this as "exhibit A" as proof the players screwed themselves when they didn't take the NHL's earlier offer of a $42.5 million cap, but remember, that offer contained nothing about a cap floor, no provision increasing the cap as revenues increased, no bonuses for entry level players, no significant revenue-sharing, slashing qualifying offers by a quarter and failed to sufficiently address salary arbitration.

The big point is tying the cap system to fluctuations in revenues. In the short term, given the fallout of the lockout, the players will undoubtedly feel the pinch over the next season or two, but as revenues increase, so will the cap limits. The $42.5 million cap becomes realistic by the mid-way point of the deal, and it could go even higher than that by the end of it.

All existing contracts and qualifiers will contain the 24-percent rollback first offered by the union last Dec. 9 as a mechanism to avoid taking a hard cap. Buyouts, therefore, will be calculated as two-thirds of 76 percent of the original value of a contract.

Brooks had previously reported the 24 percent rollback will be part of the deal.

Don't cry for those players who get bought out under the above formula. Essentially, they'll be getting the remainder of their contracts as though they were being paid a rolled-back version, but they can then make up the difference if they sign a lesser deal with another club.

Take, for example, Keith Tkachuk of the St. Louis Blues. He was set to make $10 million for the 2005-06 season. If the Blues decide to retain him, with the rollback he'd receive $7.6 million, but if the Blues opt to buy him out, he'd received the same as though they kept him and paid the rollback rate.

In that case, Tkachuk could re-sign with another team for $2.4 million for one season and still make the same money for next season- $10 million - once his bought-out contract is factored in.

There may be some GMs out there who'll find Tkachuk an irresistable temptation for only $2.4 million, particularly those who've pared their payrolls down substantially and are looking at filling numerous gaps on their forward lines.

Qualifying offers will be applied as per the PA Dec. 9 proposal, with the salary arbitration framework also based on that player's offer. No small thing, the CBA will feature revenue sharing over the life of the agreement that's measurably greater than the league's large-revenue clubs are comfortable with.

Brooks has also previously reported this, but he doesn't provide a set figure as to how much higher that revenue sharing will be or how it'll be determined. I suspect it could be via luxury tax as reported earlier this month by the Globe and Mail's David Shoalts, but there could be other measures factored in, such as a possible pooling of post-season revenue which the league was considering last December.

Whatever the equation, significant improvements in revenue sharing are a must if this deal is to work for the small market clubs it's intended to help, especially when the salary cap floor and ceiling could increase each season if revenues increase.

All 2004-05 contracts will be eliminated entirely.

No surprise there. There was no way the small market owners would've agreed to those carrying over after losing an entire season to get the salary cap and linkage they've been seeking. Also, there was no way some big market clubs carrying players with hefty contracts were going to face the nightmare of trying to fit last season's contracts under a $36 million hard cap. The players may not like that, but that's the bitter pill to swallow if they want to get back on the ice this fall.

Unrestricted free agency will apparently remain at 31 this summer, though the age is expected to be incrementally reduced to 28 over the life of the deal.

Again, no surprises, except that the UFA qualification age will remain at 31 for this summer. That only makes sense, since there will be enough of a free agent frenzy going on this summer without compounding the problem by lowering the age by a year and tossing more unrestricted free agents into the pool.

Entry Level compensation will be severely reduced, though it seems as if there will be provisional allowances for those previously drafted but unsigned.

Another non-shocker, although the news of potential provisional allowances for unsigned draftees could alleviate those who may have decided to return to the draft. Whether it'll be enough remains to be seen.

The mechanics of salary arbitration-players will go directly from Entry Level to salary-arb-eligible are still under discussion, as is reformatting the off-season critical date calendar. Cap treatment of players on Injured Reserve remains unresolved.

If these are the only major sticking points remaining, this deal could be completed and put to a vote by mid-July at the latest as Brooks suggested in his column.

I don't mean to imply that these aren't important issues, particularly eligibility for arbitration and fitting the salaries of injured reserve players under the cap. I just feel that, if we go by the apparent progress made as noted by Brooks, these issues shouldn't be showstoppers.


- It figures! I take Friday and Monday off from my day job to relax, unwind and enjoy the sunshine, maybe get a big of yard work in, and it rains. It rained Friday. It's raining today. It's gonna rain tomorrow. Sigh.

That means I'll have to get my yardwork all jammed in on Monday.

What, you don't like yardwork? I enjoy it. Probably because I spend so much time cooped up in my den in front of a computer screen bashing out daily articles and commentary that it's refreshing to get outside in the fresh air and sunshine and putter around the yard.

I just hoped to spread it out over the weekend rather than squeezing it all into one day. C'est la vie.

Oh well, probably a good day to finish up "Moneyball", make some progress through my Monty Python Flying Circus DVD set, enjoy a couple of Gahan House brews (the raspberry ale kicks ass!), listen to some Green Day , System of a Down and Radiohead, chastise my son for not getting all his chores done (hey, I am a forty-something dad and he is a teenager thus we've got our respective roles to play) and just spend the day vegging out. The full renaissance bit.

- Lotsa news on the Lauries announcement yesterday to put the St. Louis Blues up for sale. You can read all about it, plus get plenty of background info by going to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website. You can check out my take here. Dubi Silverstein of Blueshirt Bulletin and Tom Benjamin also provide their knowledgeable insight.

Yeah, it's easy to blame the player payroll of the Blues over the past five years, but nobody put a gun to the Lauries' heads. Once you research this story, you'll find that there were many more issues (high city and state taxes, lack of public subsidies, inheriting a high debt load from prior ownership, inability to lure an NBA franchise to St. Louis) behind this sale than the money they paid out to the likes of Chris Pronger, Doug Weight and Keith Tkachuk.

Could the Blues be relocated to another city? Possible, but I think unlikely. Already there's talk in today's Post-Dispatch of interest from a potential buyer. Given the fact that the Savvis Center will stand empty most of the year without the Blues to fill it, that should be impetus enough for city politicians to provide some tax relief for a prospective owner.

Then again, we're talking politicians here, so nothing is a certainty.

- Recently read the following blurb from Robert Tychkowski of the Edmonton Sun:

SIGN OF THE TIMES: If all things are relatively equal when a new CBA is hashed out, the NHL free agent market will suddenly look more like a NCAA recruiting drive. Unable to outbid their opposition, clubs will now have to lure players with the potential to win a championship. It's better than having no shot at all because of finances, but it still won't be easy for an Oiler club that hasn't won a playoff round in six years.

Now I don't expect the new CBA to dramatically change the way teams bid for free agents and how much they'll pay for top flight talent. I suspect things will remain pretty much the same, with the big markets continuing to plunder small markets for the best free agent talent, cap or not cap, particularly if the UFA qualification age eventually drops to 28 as rumoured.

But if the lure for potential UFAs is to play for a winner, rather than playing for those with the biggest bank accounts, Tychkowski's analysis is spot-on.

I'm not suggesting that big name stars will avoid the Oilers, after all, there are plenty of current NHLers who grew up as fans of the club, dreaming of the day when they'd become Oilers themselves.

But deep down, they all ultimately wanna get their names engraved on the Stanley Cup, and most top players are gonna go where they believe they've got the best shot.

No offense to the Oilers, but they'll have a helluva job on their hands selling their team as a Cup contender to the best free agent players...if they can afford to bid for the best free agent players...or retain their own.

-Speaking of the Oilers, I had several responses this past week regarding my question (based on a Steve Ovadia post) how the Oilers could find it more profitable to carry a $33 million cap when that figure was unacceptable to them under the previous CBA. My thanks to all of you who wrote in.

Even a hockey reporter whom I read regularly wrote in to offer up their take on the situation. I didn't ask this person if I could quote them or name them so I won't take liberties by assuming I can or pester them with e-mails.

I know that this site has a bit of a following amongst the press, thanks to my tracking and analysis of trade and free agent rumours, but I didn't know if anyone in the media was bothering to follow my take on the NHL lockout.

I'm delighted that this person not only reads my stuff but also offered encouragement.

- Trade and free agent rumours. Remember those? Ah, those were the days. Soon, folks, soon we'll be able to return to those happy, frenzied times.

The end of the lockout is coming, gang. Like my dad used to say when we were on a long road trip and I'd be squirming in the back seat, my bladder filled to bursting, "Just hang in there, we're almost there, not much longer now."

Anyone else have a Dad like that? Who didn't wanna stop the car when they were less than a half-hour from their destination even though you had to pee so bad you thought your kidneys would explode like Grampa Simpson's?

Remember the sweet relief when you'd finally arrive at your destination and you could "take care of business?"

That's what it's gonna feel when this lockout is finally over.

Well, ok, bad analogy, but what the hell, it's a rainy Saturday.

- Speaking of Dads, tomorrow is Father's Day , so be sure to send yours some love.

As for me, well, I'm expecting breakfast at Cora's, mebbe a present, and probably spending the day relaxing with the family. I like my father's days to be low-key.

There will be an update tomorrow, but it could be later in the day depending on whether or not I sleep in.

How's that for professionalism!


- TSN's Bob McKenzie reminds us all that, while real progress is being made in negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA toward ending this lockout, a deal still hasn't been signed yet, and until it is, "a deal isn't a deal until it's all done."

He's right, y'know, but that's not going to stop the endless speculation - of which I've been adding my two cents, too.

We've been so devoid of real hockey news that now everyone, including yours truly, is seizing on whatever shred of it that comes across cyberspace and the airwaves to discuss and debate its merit.

Soon, folks, very soon, this deal is gonna get done.

And when it does, I'll be a busy camper, what with all the free agent signings and teams scrambling to make room to get under the cap.

That's sure gonna beat this endless lockout chatter. Yeah, I think it's made me a better writer, more diligent in my research, and significantly improved my understanding of the business of hockey.

But I can't wait to get back to covering trade and free agent rumours and deals, and actual hockey stories arising from actual games played in actual NHL arenas by actual NHL teams with actual NHL players...actually.

But, like the little sick-o I am, I'll be keeping a close eye on revenue and salary cap issues and other CBA-related topics, because they'll determine whether we're in for another long labour war in the future.

It's just that I won't be having to write about those kind of topics every damn day, and that, my friends, is gonna be a treat!

-Congrats to former Vancouver Canucks GM and now former TSN commentator Brian Burke, as he's soon to be hired by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks as their new general manager.

One of the smartest men in hockey, "Burkie" did a great job with the Canucks. He took over a moribund franchise and turned it into a regular season powerhouse, albeit one that struggled to match that success in the playoffs.

I expect he'll have the same degree of success with the Mighty Ducks, perhaps more so, because he actually has a top-flight goalie in J-S Giguere, something he was lacking in Vanacouver.

Unless "Giggy's" magic was all about his over-inflated goalie gear, in which case, goaltending could once again prove Burke's weakness.

- Mike Chen examined Cory Brolund's latest free agent compilation, really a preliminary list as Cory describes it, as we won't have full numbers until a new deal is in place.

Anyway, Mike examines the more notable unrestricted free agents who were still left unsigned since last summer. Most of those players are well into their thirties and can expect significant pay cuts under the new CBA.

Looking at Mike's list, the best goaltending option is Nikolai Khabibulin. The better blueliners are Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski (if the Devils don't re-sign them first).

As for the forwards, Peter Forsberg remains enticing but his injury history is a growing concern. Ziggy Palffy could be an excellent pickup, although I bet he's wishing he'd re-signed with the Kings for that three-year offer worth $6.5 million per prior to the lockout. Even with the rollback, that contract still would've been a nice chunk of change. A fool and his money, eh Ziggy? Markus Naslund should also be a popular free agent if the Canucks find him too pricey.

The wildcard forward is Paul Kariya. If the game opens up more after the lockout as the NHL promises, his game should improve. But if it doesn't, will he be able to regain his form after his lost season in Colorado and a lost season due to the lockout?

Hard to believe, but at this stage in his career, Kariya is actually a gamble.

- Oh, and speaking of Cory, I've been linking to his free agent site for years now. He's done a very good job each year compiling and updating his free agent list, and I expect he'll be just as busy as I will be once the new CBA is in place and the free agent bonanza begins.

So go check out Cory's page regularly for updates. You'll be glad you did!


Throughout the course of this lockout, NHL fans and pundits have been searching for some real, positive sign that this nasty labour war between the team owners and the players would soon come to an end.

We've seen signs of false hope before - the NHLPA's 24 percent salary rollback in December, the small party meetings between NHLPA President Trevor Linden and NHL Board of Governors chairman Harley Hotchkiss, the clandestine meeting between Toronto Maple Leafs president Larry Tannebaum and Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux brokered by Leafs tough guy and influential NHLPA member Tie Domi, the last minute acceptance of a salary cap by the PA when the league agreed to remove linkage from its demands, and of course, the "Stupid Saturday" meeting soon after the cancellation of the 2004-05 season that was supposed to resurrect it but failed.

Since mid-April, we've seen both sides meeting more frequently, sometimes three or four times per week, and heard snippets of information about talks progressing well and agreements being reached on key issues as May rolled into June.

But there was no real obvious sign that things may be hurtling toward resolution.

That is, until the past couple of days.

First came a report in the Street and Smith's SportsBusinessJournal regarding comments about the CBA by influential player agents, including Don Meehan, Ritch Winter and Mike Gillis, that indicate they're prepared for whatever the outcome of the CBA.

No brash talk, no angry or harsh words as in the past (particularly from Winter), just acceptance.

I have further comment on this in my latest Foxsports.com article.

Then came news that The Hockey Company's two Quebec plants that produce goaltending equipment for 25 NHL netminders (as well as AHL and ECHL goalies)will be working throughout the summer to get the smaller equipment, which is to be mandated in the next CBA, ready for use by this fall in time for the 2005-06 season.

Now granted, you can make the argument that, even if the NHL doesn't flash up in the fall, at least the NHL prospects down on the farm can be breaking in the new gear and getting used to it for whenever the NHL returns to action, when they could possibly be called up.

Still, that seems like a lot of determination to push that through by the Hockey Company, especially if the labour dispute weren't showing signs of coming to a close very soon.

Finally, and this one is much more significant, there was a report yesterday that the NHLPA has decided not to go ahead with its intentions to seek union certification in British Columbia.

There was to be a hearing before the B.C. Labour Relations Board this weekend to determine if the NHLPA could be granted certification but that has now been adjourned at the request of the Association.


''We have agreed to the league's request to adjourn the proceedings,'' Ian Pulver, NHLPA associate counsel, said in an e-mail Wednesday."

Read that again, folks: The PA, who've been at loggerheads with the league over so many labour related issues for years, opted to adjourn proceedings... at the league's request!

Cynics will try to claim the PA really did this because they didn't have a case, but the reality is, they probably had a good chance, based on the following:

In May, the B.C. Labour Relations Board rejected arguments by a lawyer representing the NHL that allowing the hearing to proceed would signal a disregard for U.S. labour law.

The board also dismissed the idea that allowing the application hearing would hinder the ability of the NHLPA and the NHL to reach an labour agreement.

So what changed between May and mid-June?

The momentum of these negotiations, that's what. Neither side wants to do anything now that could jeopardize a deal. Suddenly, a negotiated settlement with the NHL is more important to the NHLPA that a provincial union certification that would prevent the Vancouver Canucks from icing a roster of replacement players if the league chose to go that route.

Ok, so maybe I'm just grasping at straws here. Maybe all this talk of progress is really nothing and the deal will fall through and I'll still be sitting here in October writing about the neverending NHL lockout.

But dammit, there's been too many signs, and too many news leaks of substance regarding the talks, to discount.

The end of the NHL lockout is coming soon, folks. The signs have foretold it.