Friday, November 23, 2012

Decertification for Dummies (and I'm one of them)

Ok lets talk about decertification.
I will start by telling you I know nothing about decertification.
Everything I am about to tell you comes from a conversation I had with a lawyer friend of mine.
He does not deal in sports law,  but rather international trade law, anti-trust law and a good portion of his practice deals with free trade law.
All the comments, and assertions below are a result of the questions I asked him and none are my own interpretation.  I would not want to pretend in any way that I understand any of this.

The end result of union decertification in North American Pro Sports is still completely unknown because no case has even been taken to its full conclusion.  Any time in the past,  decertification in baseball, football or basketball has been threatened or the process begun,  a collectively bargained deal has been reached before true and final decertification took place.

Perils for the owners.  Union decertification for lack of a better term,  makes every single player in the NHL a free agent all at once.  The rules are,  there are no rules.  No CBA, no draft, no salary cap, no union to deal with.  Each player and his lawyer would have to represent themselves.  Decertification would also likely force owners to lift the lockout and allow the independent contractors to earn a living.  It also means the owners may be subject damages the players incurred during the lockout.  Those damages can be subject to "treble" association which apparently means triple the amount of the damages.

Perils for the players.  Each player must now negotiate every single protection into his own contract.  There is no singular body to argue and lobby on your behalf.  There would be no salary cap anymore but there would also be no guaranteed contracts or minimum salaries anymore either.  The rich players would likely become a great deal richer and more protected while the other half of the players would be subject to what ever scraps and security they could negotiate for themselves.

Apparently in the NFL dispute,  the 2 major court challenges during their decertification process were both lost in court by the players and specifically in the Brady vs. NFL case.

It also appears that where the case is filed and adjudicated is a major issue.  New York is the NHL’s American head office,  so that is where any filing would have to happen and New York is very owner friendly when it comes to decertification and anti-trust issues,  or so I am led to believe.

The scary part of decertification as it relates to pro sports is the fact that there is next to no track record of knowing how a case would turn out for either side if it were ever pushed to the very end.  Owners fear that kind of mayhem and only players who perceive they have no other choice,  would ever choose decertification because it means blowing up the industry.

One thing is certain.  If this is the route the players choose to follow,  it will be a painful learning experience for all of us to watch and any reporter in the NHL without a law degree might just as well start looking for a new job now.

You could not get a more remedial explanation of the basics of union decertification than this,  but it’s the best a play-by-play broadcaster without a law degree can come up with on a Friday.

See you at the rink

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mother Nature is NHL players best friend.

Who is this new CBA for?
Players say they are fighting for the next generation.
Very admirable and very misguided.

The players concerns should be reversed.
Take care of the players before you who built the union that you have benefited from.  The number of former players who are currently destitute, living below the poverty line and struggling just to live,  is shameful.  A simple deduction of 0.5% each year from every NHL player and a matching amount from the NHL would solve the problem but they both refuse.  Its not even a discussion topic in CBA talks.

Look at the NFL’s Legacy Fund where both sides contribute to ensure players who were union members prior to 1993 are properly taken care of.  The current emergency care program the NHL has is a way of easing their conscience making them believe they are doing something important to help.  The fact is the current NHL program falls woefully short.

The future players are the ones to be taken care of?   The ones who can not be paid less than half a million dollars per season by rule of the CBA?   The ones who inherit the highest average salary of any NHL generation?   The ones who will gladly take your job (and if current habits continue) he will forget anything you may have done to improve the game or his place in it?

After the last CBA dispute caused the cancellation of an entire season 240 players didn't play another NHL game.  The season lost ended their careers.  Each year about a thousand players play in the league.  At any given time there are about 750 members of the NHLPA.  Currently 667 of them have contracts.  After this year only 398 will have guaranteed jobs.  After 2014/15 only 198 have jobs and after 15/16 only 124 have jobs.  Everyone else is rolling the dice.

A few things we know for sure.  No matter what the financial system is in the NHL,  the best players will get paid about the same amount regardless of the system.  The Cap System proved that.  Another thing we know for a fact,  owners and GM’s can not control themselves.  Give the new system a year or two and owners and GM’s will find all the loopholes to circumvent their own system just like they did last time.  That is the inadvertent bonus the players can always count on.

In the last CBA players had to give back 24% of their salaries and submit to a cap.  Appears to be a complete loss in the negotiations world.  Turns out 7 years later, revenues grow by a billion dollars a year and the average player salary rises by a million dollars a season simply because owners cant control themselves.

Players lamenting having to give up 24% back then,  ended up getting raises over the course of the last 7 years of 300%, 400%, 500% and some,  thousands of percent within a Cap system.  In other words,  while it is not written in the CBA, the most important thing for the players is Mother Nature.  The “nature” of owners that is,  and their complete inability to control themselves.  That’s what makes players wealthy, not the printed words within the CBA.

Players should not hate the owners who have made them millionaires.  They should instead prey that as a group they don’t ever change their “nature”.

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The End is Near

Is this the signal we have all been waiting for?  After all the body language interpretation and pressure point guessing could it be simple, juvenile tantrums that signal the end of the CBA negotiations and the start of the season?

If you remember back in 1994,  Chris Chelios threatened the life of the Commissioner and his family and then a deal was signed.  Maybe Versteeg and White are the outward expression of the players breaking point?  Early in this process Zach Parise and Ryan Suter both slimed the owners as each considered the possibility that their 98 million dollar deals might be clawed back and lets not forget Krys Barch’s boozy twitter rants.

Now Kris Versteeg says Bill Daley and Gary Bettman are both “cancers” in this process.  Ian White says Bettman is an “idiot” and the reason for all the bad things that have happened in the NHL including having teams in markets Ian doesn’t believe should have NHL hockey.

Lets deal with the obvious first.  If Versteeg considers Bettman and Daly to be the “cancers” in this process because they wont give him what he wants,  he may want to consider the opposite possibility.  Maybe the NHLPA executive director is again the problem.  I say again because every single executive director in NHLPA history from Allan Eagleson on,  has left the job and either been charged with a crime, accused of security violations and/or ethical violations within the NHLPA.  There are plenty of things I disagree with Gary Bettman about,  but this type of comment is simply juvenile.

Now Ian White.  After you stop laughing, lets deal with the obvious again.  Bettman is still the commissioner because NHL revenues have risen every year of his tenure.  Franchise values have risen steadily as has the players average salary.  Ian believes Bettman is responsible for franchises being misplaced in markets which Ian doesn’t believe can support NHL hockey.  That certainly has legs as a debate but lets be honest.  If there weren’t 30 teams in the NHL would Ian White be in the NHL?  Ian has made 9 million dollars playing in the NHL.  That type of money is generally not available in other leagues for players like Ian White.  Again his comments are simply juvenile.

I am not saying I don’t agree with many of the NHLPA’s assertions and proposals in this negotiation, but the name calling by frustrated players makes all players appear spoiled, out of touch and childish.  I can assure you all players are not.

What current players are right now though is stubborn in their contention that they don’t want to hear from ex-players.  They are traitors to the union cause.  Maybe just maybe they are very loyal to the union cause and simply want to urge current players to avoid mistakes they have made in the past.  240 players never played again after the last lockout.  The loss of a full season meant that 240 players lost their careers.

So far Recchi, Guerin, Hull, Lafleur, York, Therien, Donovan, O’Neill, JR, Mowers, Modano have all made comments which are not considered by current players to be complimentary or supportive of the NHLPA at this stage of negotiations.  Chris Phillips specifically believes Mark Recchi’s comments don’t hold water because he is ignorant of the day to day goings on with the NHLPA.

I have not seen any quotes from any of the former players who believe the owners offers are either good or fair but simply contend that common sense dictates that the deal isn’t going to get better the more paycheques current players lose.  That is not siding with the owners but rather the common sense that comes from the experience of going through lockouts and the perspective a former player gets after he leaves the bubble pro athletes live in while they are in the midst of their careers.

If I were a player three things would bother me greatly right now.  The former players who have been willing to speak publicly have all said basically the same thing.  Can they all be wrong?  Can they all be turn coats?  Secondly as Chris Therien has said, “If I were still playing I’d want to know what Fehr’s Plan B is”.  What is Plan B?  Just keep saying “NO” until the entire season is lost?  Thirdly I would want to know about the true motivation of Donald Fehr.  Former Major Leaguer and Blue Jay Greg Zaun when asked about his former MLBPA boss said “He did not come out of retirement to lose”.

For Donald Fehr;  is protecting the players, their careers and their incomes the top priority or is it protecting his personal legacy?  Players have always tried to insult Bettman by saying he knows nothing about hockey and then the NHLPA hires someone who knows less.   There are some who contend the only reason he came out of retirement to work for hockey players is not because of any particular love of hockey or its players, but rather the love of his brother Steve.  Some believe when this ends and Donald goes back to retirement,  it will play out that Steve will be portrayed as the one who brokered the deal and not Donald.  Steve Fehr being the hero for the players means a guaranteed offer to be the permanent Executive Director of the NHLPA when all this is over.  Only time will tell if this is true,  but if securing a job for his brother is even a part of the motivation for Donald then the players will have been betrayed by their leader again.

Versteeg and White would be very happy to be sure,  but I can also see Gary Bettman leaving his post after this is over.  Those who defend him point to all the growth for both players and owners during his reign.  Those not in Bettmans corner will point to the damage to the game with all the labor strife during his tenure with him as a central figure.

I am in favor of what ever changes need to be made to bring stability to our game.  You can only abuse the patience of fans and sponsors for so long before they decide they just don’t want to dance with you anymore.

See you at the rink.