Labor agreements tend to be about protecting the little guy, but the NHL's chronic labor troubles spring from owners' inability to save themselves from themselves.
Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press/AP
When the National Hockey League and its Players' Association produced a new labor deal early Sunday, following a 16-hour negotiating session in New York City, the lockout had taken 113 days and claimed nearly half the 2012-13 season. This after lockouts consumed the entire 2004-05 season and part of the 1994-95 season. Surely, there must have been a good reason?
Analysts tracking the stalemate say it was relatively simple, and it points to a chronic problem made worse by the NHL's ill-advised expansion in the 1990s: Many of hockey's owners are repeatedly drawn into spending more money than they have in a bid to be competitive, meaning the once-a-decade labor negotiations become a desperate attempt to persuade players to help save the owners from themselves.
This time, one of the core disagreements was about a new breed of absurd contracts that owners sanctioned to get around their own salary cap. Take the New Jersey Devils' Ilya Kovalchuk, who in 2010 signed a 15-year, $100 million deal that would have him playing until he is 42.
The idea was to spread a player's salary over a huge span of time so the average annual salary – which is what is counted against the cap – can be relatively low, even as teams front-load the contracts to give players the majority of the money in their prime.