Understand one thing: This lock-out is about money.
It’s about “They’ve got it, we want it” and “we’re not giving it up.”
But there are other issues here too. Beyond hockey related revenues, beyond contract terms, average annual cap hit, revenue sharing and sometimes even beyond growing the game.
Some issues are big, and others are small, but they are issues. And they did fill the time for the sub-committee meetings this summer in Toronto and New York City. What are these issues? Glad you asked.
1. Player safety and working conditions: This topic is broad. From ice conditions, practice times, the length of training camps and on-ice time, as well as the conditions of the visitors’ dressing rooms, hotel rooms on the road (single, as opposed to double occupancy) and beyond. One aspect of travel, that was discussed, dealt with the late night charter flights the teams all partake in, and the ensuing game day skate on those back-to-back nights. Players arriving at hotels in the early hours of day, knowing full well they have to participate in a morning skate are taking sleep aids like Ambien to get them to a rest sleep. Over the counter drugs are an issue for pro athletes, and trying to adjust daily regimes might help some get weaned off these non-prescription drugs.
2. Supplemental discipline: Probably the biggest and most contentious non-financial discussion was about how suspensions are derived. Should there be a simple scale based on the on-ice action? Would there be exceptions? What about multiple offences? And probably the biggest issue on this topic was the appeal process. How could the commissioner be the only avenue of appeal? He, after all, is Brendan Shanahan’s boss. When you consider where baseball and football have gone in the appeal process (with independent three-man boards), it would appear this has some merit.
3. Post-career coverage: From improving the pension and benefits beyond the playing career is a natural in any Collective Bargaining. Now add in medical insurance after the hockey career. At present, retired players have an opt-in to the NHLPA program six months after retirement. And while the Players Association’s plan is very good, it is hoped that the NHL sees fit to assist in creating a lifetime medical plan for retired players. When you add the ever growing concern of concussions and other brain related issues this topic has long lasting ramifications.
4. Drug Testing: An obvious, yet controversial, discussion point that plagues this sport as it does with other professional sports.
5. The Olympics: Both sides have separately admitted that there are positives and negatives about participating in Sochi in 2014. Don Fehr has been involved with the USOC for many years, and sees the value of participation. The owners have said since Vancouver that there needs to be a new set of regulations that allow owners more access to the world of the Olympics, as well as access for NHL media to participate like a rights holder, as opposed to being outside the fence like other media. Video footage from the Games is controlled ostensibly by the IOC, and the NHL needs the ability to market with those legacy moments. Little has been discussed on this topic, as of yet. To be clear, men’s hockey was a huge cash cow in Vancouver, and the league and the players agree on one thing. They both want a part of it.
6. International growth: There has been at least one presentation on where and how the NHL game is being marketed overseas. It would appear that the players feel there is tremendous growth opportunity in Europe, where 30 per cent of the players come from. Fehr, actually told Christine Simpson, Michael Grange and I on set one night in New York that growing the game internationally is a big priority for the players, while John Collins on the league’s side will tell you that the European opportunities in television are improving every year.
7. Management rights: It would appear the NHL would like to manage the game its way, with less interference or input from the NHLPA. Issues such as schedule and realignment are part of the current CBA, as witnessed by last December’s intervention by the players to nix the new four-conference realignment plan. The league has proposed that issues such as these would fall under its rights to manage.
So when someone tells you, it’s all about money, they are not completely right. Money is the key issue, but certainly not the only issue. And if something tells you, they could have the deal done in two days, once the money issue is settled, don’t believe them.
Some of the above have been talked about quite extensively over the past few months. Some even close to drafting verbiage for the CBA. Others, like the Olympics, have barely been discussed.
There is plenty of work to do. But obviously, not until they settle the financial issue.