The current collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHL Players Association will expire in September 2022. Player contracts could prove among the sticking points in those negotiations.
Though only three seasons into this CBA, some points regarding standard player contracts have arisen which the league and the team owners could attempt to address. The following isn’t based on insider information, simply my take on what could be points of contention in the next round of collective bargaining.
Contracts for NHL players are guaranteed, leaving teams with no means of renegotiating a deal if the player for whatever reason fails to meet expectations. Unless the club buys out the player (at two-thirds the remaining value over twice the remaining term), trades him or he retires before the deal expires, they’re stuck with that player until his contract ends. Even demoting him to the minors no longer provides a significant means of salary cap relief.
League commissioner Gary Bettman has long stated it is up to each team’s respective management to ensure they manage their salary-cap payrolls wisely. However, if a team re-signs a player expecting a certain level of performance and he fails to reach that level, an argument could be made that the team should have at least one opportunity to renegotiate the deal, especially if it’s a lengthy contract.
It wouldn’t be surprising if this notion is floated by the owners allowing a team to plead their case for renegotiation before an arbiter. If the owners are adamant about that option, the PA could argue for a player to also have the same opportunity if his performance exceeds expectations.
The PA could seek the player’s right to negotiate a contract termination. An example when such a situation could be necessary is if a player’s contract hampers his request to be traded. In 2013, goaltender Roberto Luongo was blunt in citing his contract as the reason why the Vancouver Canucks were unsuccessful in efforts to trade him.
While the Canucks subsequently dealt Luongo the following season to the Florida Panthers – largely because they picked up part of his contract – not every player can be so fortunate. Over the remainder of this CBA, instances could arise where a player and a team wish to part ways but the guaranteed contract keeps them bound to one another. Perhaps that’s one area where the league and PA could implement a clause providing for mutual termination of a deal, allowing the player to become an unrestricted free agent.
No-trade and no-movement clauses could also become significant issues. Such clauses give the players flexibility to determine where they can go if a team wants to trade them. These clauses can also prevent a team from trading a player anywhere. Team owners could push to abolish those clauses entirely, which will be a non-starter for the PA. It’s possible, however, the owners could seek the end of full no-trade/no-movement deals, or limitations placed upon them up to a certain period.
The recent squabbles between San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson and former captain Joe Thornton could be cited to substantiate such changes. During last season, the Sharks re-signed Thornton to a three-year deal. The club subsequently suffered an early upset playoff exit, followed by missing the playoffs this season. It’s believed Sharks management would like to move Thornton, but his unwillingness to waive his no-movement clause stymies that possibility.
That leaves the Sharks in an awkward test of wills between management and a top player becoming an unnecessary distraction for the team, one which could be alleviated if Thornton was under a partial no-move clause. This situation could also be cited as an example of why teams should be allowed the opportunity for renegotiation or termination of a contract.
That, of course, won’t be an easy sell to the PA. They will point out the Sharks re-signed Thornton before any of their current issues unfolded and thus must bear the consequences of their actions.
It wouldn’t be shocking if the owners and the league push for such changes in the next round of collective bargaining. After all, the league’s basic argument for their three lockouts has always been trying to save the owners from themselves. The aforementioned incidents certainly fit into that narrative.