The next round in the NHL/NHLPA CBA talks are starting up in New York. This Bruins fan is hoping that some time this week the league will provide the financial information that the players and the union has been asking for. These figures will help the NHLPA come up with their first counter-proposal to the owners. The hard-core economic issues are important. The revenue split and the important ‘what is a hockey revenue?’ questions will need to be answered. Yet, there are several other incidental topics that could likely hinder negotiations.
Earlier in the year the National Hockey League made an attempt to change how the divisions were set up in hockey. The current format has six divisions of five teams each. The league attempted to make it a four division league, with two teams of seven and two teams of eight. The players union quickly yelled it out of existence. They did not think it would be fair that the four best teams in each division would go to the playoffs. They also disagreed with the re-alignment on the grounds that the travel time for intra-divisional games would not be lessened to any great extent.
For Bruins Nation, we have a division that makes sense. Boston and Buffalo on the U.S. side, Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal on the Canadian side. A few divisions are not as fortunate. The Northwest division (Vancouver, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton….and Minnesota) could be seen to have a disparity in geography. Dallas being in the Pacific division as well. The Southeast is even more colorful. (Florida, Washington, Tampa Bay, Carolina, and Winnipeg?) The realignment of the league is an idea that actually makes sense. I think the issue here was that the league decided to drop this on everyone. I can easily see the league alignment issue being one of those that will be used as a ‘filler topic’.
We also have the topic that first had crept into the mainline discussion in the last session. Player Safety. Both sides have interest in improving it. Playing conditions were last discussed seriously at the 1994 CBA. (The impasse had led to an abbreviated season that year.) The biggest aspect would be the league’s supplementary discipline system. The NHL’s Vice President of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan was given the task of running the new system. In his first season in charge of dispensing supplemental discipline(Known in league parlance as the ‘Shanaban’), he earned the respect and enmity of players, fans, and teams.
The league may seek broader powers in this area. As of now, the current CBA has a maximum penalty of $2,500 that can be assessed to a player. I’m sure the league would like to see the end cap be higher. The players will want having a say in the disciplinary process. If they can’t get that, they will likely push for having an independent appeal in the fine process. (Bettman’s reduction of Raffi Torres’ suspension from twenty-five to twenty-one games as an example.)
When compared to the revenue share, the possible removal of arbitration, and contract lengths…. these two issues are realitivly minor ones. As September 15 approaches though, minor issues could become contentious sticking points that could only lead to chaos down the road.