Losing Money to Prove a Point


On a week (possibly day) when the NHL is likely to cancel the Winter Classic – the most significant game the Leafs would have played in almost a decade – it seems like a great opportunity to look at the inches both sides are fighting for.

The latest player to speak out, surprisingly directed at a team owner rather than the league, was Ryan Suter (in an ESPN.com article):

“It’s disappointing. If you can’t afford to (sign contracts) then you shouldn’t do it. (Owner Craig Leipold) signed us to contracts. At the time he said everything was fine. Yeah, it’s disappointing. A couple months before, everything is fine, and now they want to take money out of our contracts that we already signed.”

Seemingly some very direct words for Craig Leopold, and given Zach Parise’s earlier criticism of Gary Bettman, both of these players are awfully quick to play the victim card. This was a very shrewd move by the Wild owner, as he knew what the owners would be proposing this summer and arguably was a key architect of it.

However, both Suter and Parise are not exactly being honest in their assessment of the situation, either. Both Suter and Parise receive $25 million of their first three years salary as signing bonuses.  Yes, it’s true. While other players are dealing with their first missed paycheques of the season, these two champions of the NHLPA are sitting on newly minted fortunes. Both players have a base salary of $2,000,000 this season, and while I don’t want to say that a $300,000 rollback is nothing, it’s likely not something too noticeable after taxes have at their annual earnings. Of course, Suter did eventually retract what he said (found here), likely after realizing that he’ll need to play nice with his boss for the next decade once the dust settles.

A few other players signed equally suspect contracts over the summer. Shea Weber is an obvious one as he too pocketed a similar bonus check. Both Shane Doan and Alexander Burrows also received a visit from the bonus fairy, and will be adequately compensated through the lockout. It’s especially interesting that Doan’s bonus is coming straight out of the pockets of the league.

It doesn’t really end at bonuses, as in the final days before the lockout there was seemingly a run on stupid contracts that no GM in their right mind would offer unless they were going to be reduced.

Shane Doan: $5.3m a season
Kari Lehtonen: $5.9m a season
Milan Lucic: $6m a season
Troy Brouwer: $3.667m a season
Tyler Seguin: $5.667m a season
Brad Marchand: $4.5m a season
Jordan Eberle: $6m a season
Taylor Hall: $6m a season
Wayne Simmonds: $3.975m a season

I think, in most of these cases, you could rollback the contracts by 25% and most people wouldn’t blink an eye.

Perhaps this is why it is so difficult to see players like Shane Doan standing beside Donald Fehr when he talks about honouring current contracts negotiated in good faith. Not only was it unlikely that there was good faith on either side of the deal (at least this summer), his statement neglects existing language in the standard players contract (Page 244 Exhibit A of the 2005 CBA).

18. The Club and the Player severally and mutually promise and agree to be legally bound by the League Rules and by any Collective Bargaining Agreement that has been or may be entered into between the member clubs of the League and the NHLPA, and by all of the terms and provisions thereof, copies of which shall be open and available for inspection by the Club, its directors and officers, and the Player, at the main office of the League, the main office of the Club and the main office of the NHLPA. This SPC is entered into subject to the CBA between the NHL and the NHLPA and any provisions of this SPC inconsistent with such CBA are superseded by the provisions of the CBA.

Essentially, whatever CBA agreement is arrived at is already enforced in every player contract. Legally the owners have complied with the contracts they agreed to, and while what they’ve chosen to do might be unpopular, they are well within the rights of their agreement to do it. Most importantly, this nullifies any argument about guaranteed contracts not being honoured.

So, who really would be hurt by going to this 50/50 split the owners have proposed? Presently the league has 10 unsigned RFAs, and 76 unsigned UFAs who will be negotiating from step one anyway. At the end of the season you can add another 258 UFAs to the mix along with 369 RFAs. That’s now over 700 players total who, by the summer, will get a chance at the contract they feel they deserve. There’s another 410 players that are up for free agency after the 2013-14 season for a total of 1123 contracts that will stand on their own with no commitment to the “make whole provisions” from the CBA.

The league only has 197 NHL regulars under contract through 2013-14, averaging out to 6.5 per team or 28% of the league. When you remove players that recently signed favourable long term or bonus laden deals, it becomes a much smaller percentage of the league that is actually taking a hit in agreeing to the owners previous offer.

Players under contract after 2013-14:

Anaheim6Ryan, Souray, Beachemin, Allen, Fowler, Sbisa
Boston12Krejci, Lucic, Savard, Seguin, Peverley, Kelly, Marchand, Campbell, Paille, Chara, Boychuk, McQuaid
Buffalo6Leino, Stafford, Kaleta, Myers, Sekera, Ehrhoff
Calgary5Hudler, Tanguay, Glencross, Wideman, Giordano
Carolina8E.Staal, J.Staal, Ruutu, Skinner, Dwyer, Gleason, Harrison, Ward
Chicago8Kane, Toews, Sharp, Hossa, Seabrook, Keith, Oduya, Montador
Colorado7Jones, Parenteau, McLeod, Johnson, Hedja, O’Brien, Wilson
Columbus7Umberger, Dubinsky, Foligno, Dorsett, Wisniewski, Tyutin, Johnson
Dallas5Eriksson, Gologoski, Daley, Rome, Lehtonen
Detroit6Zetterberg, Franzen, Helm, Tootoo, Abelkader, Kronwall
Edmonton3Horcoff, Hall, Eberle
Florida7Fleishmann, Versteeg, Upshall, Kopecky, Bergenheim, Campbell, Jovanovski
Los Angeles7Kopitar, Richards, Carter, Williams, Stoll, Doughty, Quick
Minnesota6Parise, Koivu, Brodziak, Mitchell, Suter, Harding
Montreal8Price, Gorges, Plekanec, Bourque, Prust, Moen, Pacioretty
Nashville9Rinne, Weber, Klein, Erat, Fisher, Gaustad, Wilson, Smith, Bourque
New Jersey4Kovalchuk, Volchenkov, Salvador, Greene
NY Islanders7DiPietro, Carkner, Martin, Nielsen, Okposo, Grabner, Tavares
NY Rangers3Staal, Richards, Nash
Ottawa7Spezza, Neil, Turris, Smith, Karlsson, Methot, Anderson
Philadelphia10Bryzgalov, Pronger, Coburn, L.Schenn, Grossman, Briere, Voracek, Hartnell, Talbot, Simmonds
Phoenix5Doan, Vermette, Hanzal, Michalek, Yandle
Pittsburgh4Crosby, Neal, Martin, Fleury
San Jose7Havlat, Burish, Burns, Stuart, Vlasic, Braun, Niemi
St. Louis5Jackman, Backes, Oshie, Perron, Polak
Tampa Bay9Lecavalier, Stamkos, St. Louis, Malone, Purcell, Carle, Hedman, Brewer,Ohlund
Toronto3Grabovski, van Riemsdyk, Liles
Vancouver9Luongo, Schneider, Bieksa, Garrison, Hamhuis, Ballard, Burrows, Booth, Kesler
Washington8Ovechkin, Laich, Backstrom, Ward, Brouwer, Beagle, Green, Carlson
Winnipeg6Pavelec, Byfuglien, Enstrom, Kane, Ladd, Slater


You can see where the Leafs are in a decent position to take advantage of the new CBA agreement. They have very little money committed in the future and third quarters of the league will go through free agency during this time.

It’s also interesting that noted “hawks” Ed Snider and Jeremy Jacobs are the owners leading the way in locking up their players long term prior to the new CBA. Combine their actions with the actions of Craig Leopold and you can certainly see the self-serving nature of what they are attempting to do.

For all the self serving grand standing that is going on, it’s still important to not lose focus on the fundamental truth. Both sides are a few hundred million dollars (chump change) away from reaching an agreement, and in the effort to close that gap they are leaving billions on the table.

The players do not seem to be hurt as badly by the owners proposal (that has now been pulled) as they made it seem, and the owners are also entering a time with few salary commitments and will have a chance to adjust their teams direction under the new agreement. With an emphasis on smarter business management, it seems possible that both sides should be able to move forward in a mutually profitable league, as the math certainly doesn’t benefit the players in a missed season.

Monday Morning Links…

Projecting the Leafs top six forwards
I wrote up this post over on my old site this week, largely because I couldn’t get the tables to format properly for me here. Relying on league wide age data I predict the success of the Leafs scorers (assuming hockey will ever be played again).

Point Projections: Defensemen
The Leafs Nation has Robert Vollman’s projections for the Leafs blueline. That’s quite a range on Liles.

Grabo and Kulemin: A search for optimism in a lockout that’s providing little
Darren of Blue Chip Prospects sticks with the theme of predicting the Leafs season

The Leafs will be in search of an identity
Michael at Vintage Leaf Memories thinks the loser image needs to go and maybe Toronto should consider building an identity around doing something well.

Rielly’s Charitable Cause
Sportsnet did a story on Morgan Rielly’s involvement in a Moose Jaw cancer charity. The direct link to the charity is here.

Statement from the Canadian Hockey League
Only good things can come from Georges Laraque unionizing a bunch of kids who want a chance at a career in hockey, right?

Pass or Fail: Letting Players choose free agency if they are not “made whole”
An interesting idea, but the logistics are terrible. If it was something where they gave players the option to keep their long term deal intact or take the league max five year deal instead I think that might be an interesting compromise.

 It’s all about Nathan McKinnon in the Consensus Top 50
Through the magic of math, NHL Numbers has put together a consensus draft list. I think everyone is criminally underrating Curtis Lazar, who I think will be a more complete version of Jeff Skinner. Also, if we’ve learned anything from last year’s draft, things don’t necessarily go the way independent scouts think they will.

We Want to Play
Jack Johnson put together a paragraph blaming the owners for not honouring contracts. Perhaps Jack Johnson should have read his contract more closely.