Friedman: Cap inflation not just up to players

NHL hockey commissioner Gary Bettman, right, and deputy commissioner Bill Daly. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

So, here’s an interesting turn of events: what happens if the players vote not to inflate the salary cap by five per cent for 2015-16? Can the league say, “No worries, we’ll do it even if you don’t want to?”

The answer is: it’s possible.

In the words of one team executive: “Whoever thought we would see the day when the NHL wanted a higher cap and the NHLPA didn’t? What a world.”

But that’s where we are.

Damien Cox mentioned the rumours in our Sportsnet Central coverage from the GM meetings in Boca Raton, FL. When Mr. Cox made the comments, it didn’t make sense. Many of us (myself included) thought this was solely a players’ decision.

The relevant paragraph can be found on Page 258 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL and the NHLPA. It is section 50.5(b)(i).

The first paragraph following section (i) talks about how the amount will be increased each year by five per cent “unless or until either party to this Agreement proposes a different growth factor based on actual revenue experience and/or projections, in which case the parties shall discuss and agree upon a new factor.”

The NHLPA has chosen to raise the ceiling by that amount for every season except one since the cap was introduced in 2005. The NHL has never done it, which is why dummies like myself assumed it was the players’ choice.

But, what that reads to me (and other actual lawyers consulted for this blog) is that it will go up unless either the league or the players propose a different number. And, even in that case, anything less than five per cent must be agreed to by both parties.

That changes things, doesn’t it?

The NHL/NHLPA role reversal comes at a time where many teams face a cap crunch and the players are getting sick of seeing upwards of 15 per cent of their salaries held back for escrow. (This is done to make sure, at season’s end, the two sides split revenues 50-50.)

There is real fear the players will vote against raising the ceiling for that reason, which would trap several teams in Cap Jail without possibility of parole. To the rescue comes the NHL raising the cap to help its strangled teams.

Sure. Next you’ll tell me LeBron James will re-join the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The two sides went through something similar last season when the teams wanted $2M added to the cap in recognition of the new TV money, even though it technically hadn’t kicked in yet. There is a provision allowing this in the CBA, but the players resisted due to the same escrow concerns. The two sides sawed it off at $1M.

The key is: everything’s negotiable. It’s likely the NHL and NHLPA figure out what to do together, but if not, the league is sending a shot across the bow. They’ll raise the cap if they have to.