The National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players Association are once again at odds over money, but as it turns out there is some speculation that a conflict internally between the players may actually be adding to the length of the negotiations that are currently taking place.
As most fans know by now the league came to the players recently with a proposal that effectively requested an additional $300 million from the players, this on top of the new collective bargaining agreement the two sides agreed upon just 4 months prior. It is a lot to ask to be sure, but the NHL and its owners had an expectation that there would be fans in the building this season and are now instead looking ahead at what appears to be some additional financial losses. There have been reports suggesting that some owners would prefer to cancel the season outright, believing that this would cost them less money in the long run that the roughly $150 million each owner will have to spend, on average, for the operating costs of an NHL season.
The players have thus far refused to budge, they were already expected to earn just 72% of their actual salaries this season and with the NHL's new ask that number could drop as low as 55%. On top of that however there is now a potential issue of conflict between the players themselves, as first reported by Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star. McGrann points out that veteran players and young players have very different interests when it comes to this current negotiation.
It’s in the financial best interest of older players to play even at reduced numbers.
And it’s in the financial best interest of players getting big contracts to defer payment over a period of years, rather than raise escrow or get paid on a pro-rata basis. But those deferred payments will ultimately only ever come out of future hockey-related revenue, essentially ensuring a deflated cap. And if escrow (the money players pay back to owners if HRR targets are not met) is kept artificially low (it should be close to 60 per cent, not 20 per cent), the amount of money the players owe the owners will grow.
That hurts today’s younger players, who won’t get as big a payday down the road as they might otherwise expect. In a sense, it’s in their best interest not to play. If nobody gets paid this year, then the players will owe the owners far less in the future, and the cap more quickly go up.
I have no idea what these players might be thinking or how they might feel in regards to this issue, but would anyone be surprised to learn that guys like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Jason Spezza, would prefer to play this season even if it cost them some salary? As players on the tail end of their careers they have already earned the majority of their career earnings and could risk never playing another NHL game if the season were to be locked out.
On the other side of that coin you've got players like Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, Dominik Kubalik and more who have the majority of their career earnings yet to come. As McGrann points out protecting the big payday that should come down the road for players of this caliber is no doubt what they are being advised to do by their agents, who to be fair should be doing their job and pointing out that this is indeed in their best interest long term.
There's no doubt this pandemic has been an unmitigated disaster, I just hope the players can find common ground among themselves in time so that they can do the same with the NHL owners and preserve the 2021 regular season.