Monday, March 30, 2009

Sitting firmly on the fence.

First the facts. Back on March 18th Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler caused a stir when he told the Vancouver Province newspaper "If we're going to win the Cup, we need guys to take pay cuts. The way the salary cap is now, you really can't get what you're worth now if you want to win. Everybody in this locker room knows that."

As you can understand he received a call shortly after from the NHL Players Association. NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly said "We talked to Ryan and he regrets some of the comments he made,"

A few days later Kesler’s agent said publicly no one should assume his client will be taking a hometown discount to stay with the Cannucks in his current contract talks. He continued that he will be looking for fair market value for Kesler.

I doubt Kesler regretted his remarks until he was told he regretted them. Kesler did not say anything that everyone doesn’t know but his mistake was saying it. The NHLPA is well aware of players accepting below market salaries to stay in situations they like, but the association would have a tough time trying to drive up the average salary in the league if the player’s expectation is less and not more.

I am on both sides of this fence. I understand exactly what the association is doing. It’s not intimidation but probably closer to coercion. But as an association, unanimity is tough to establish and tougher to keep and control. Make no mistake though, the association’s strength is based on how close to one voice, one thought and one plan they can get. 100% is impossible but the leadership has to try and keep the number high and reminding players that their actions and public comments can erode the NHLPA’s strength is not out of line.

This is the not so subtle difference between an association and an actual union. This association is a collection of highly paid independent contractors who may or may not sign individual contracts which drive the comparables up for other players. Free agent contracts and arbitration in the NHL are based on comparables and if too many players accept less it becomes impossible to keep salaries high. If the NHLPA turned into the NHLPU and became certified as an actual union then negotiating contracts for all players could then fall under the umbrella of union leadership. Players would never want that. One small group of people negotiating a pay grid system or some such arrangement is fantasy. It will never happen because the best players would not want to be contained by that kind of hockey socialism.

There is nothing new about this though. For years the association was not happy with Ray Bourque. The belief was that he took too many home town discounts to stay in Boston and some believe he was a major reason salaries for many defencemen remained artificially low because none of them could use Ray’s salary as a comparable. Martin Brodeur is also one of those problem children for the NHLPA. He may go down as the best goaltender in NHL history and yet has never been the highest paid netminder in the NHL. He also has taken less many times to stay in New Jersey and make sure there was enough money to keep the rest of the team solid. The difference between these cases and Kesler is they did take home town discounts, they just never said the words out loud publicly.

I can’t tell you who is right and who is wrong here. If I ran the association, I would also encourage players to get as much as they can for the greater good of all players. If I was a manager I would want players to see the bigger team picture. Take less so that the team is strong at all positions and has a chance to win in the salary cap world.

I sit firmly on the fence on this one. I suppose if you in your life are a staunch union member you see it one way and if you are not in a union or an employment association you probably see it differently.

See you at the rink.

1 comment:

kal cole said...

How about this solution Dean.

When negotiation time rolls around, No player can use a single other player as a comparable. If he wants to compare himself he must do so with a pool of other players. Minimum of 3. So a 25-year old defenceman with 5 years in the league and with 30 points a year must compare himself with 3 other similar guys.

That way you negate the extremes in the equation. Like a Brodeur-type who takes hometown discounts AND the crazy GM's who overpay their players (Sather, Snow, Milbury).

If 3 other players are not available then a player can use ONE single player but only as a means to get a raise based on performance not on promise. And only for one year. That way, no team is stuck with a long term contract for a "lemon" player.