Monday, August 13, 2012

NHL CBA 2012: Free Agency Rules

The NHL submitted their initial proposal for the next NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, which included new rules for unrestricted free agency. The new rules would give NHL teams ownership over players for 10 years, up from the 7 years of service in the expiring CBA. The NHL's initial offer included a number of absurd proposals, but turning back the clock on free agency has to be the most ridiculous. It is as much a general workers rights issue as it is a component of a financial bargaining. The rest of us out in the work force have the right to choose our employer, and more importantly, the city in which we live.

One could argue that giving up the freedom to choose is a reasonable price to pay if you're going to work in an industry with multi-million dollar salaries, however the majority of players who will play at least 1 game in the NHL will never become multi-millionaires. Being unable to chose the optimal system can significantly diminish a player's career prospects (like a goaltender with a franchise that has too many goaltenders). Perhaps if restricted free agent offer sheets were more common, more generally accepted among Managers, then this proposal would be more tenable, giving players more flexibility in determining where they'd like to live and work, while compensating teams for the loss of an asset. I'm a huge proponent of offer sheets and have said on multiple occasions that the biggest problem with offer sheets is that they aren't used often enough.

Rather than further restricting free agency, change the rules so that players can make more money if they re-sign with their current team, and/or lower the cap hit for returning players. Give teams an advantage when it comes to retaining talent, rather than further restricting freedom. This allows for "sign and trades" where teams losing the player can at least get something in return for the departing asset. The salary cap discount should only apply to players who played at least a full season with that team, such that there is no compensation for teams losing rental players. This is a far better option than restricting freedom to choose.

A wise philosopher once said "you may take our lives, but you'll never take our freedom!" Bettman has to know that this is a non-starter with the NHLPA. Perhaps it is a preemptive strike to discourage the union from asking for a further lowering of the unrestricted free agency age. Hopefully it is just a bargaining tactic rather than an amendment the NHL is willing to lose games to get. That would be a shame, especially given the logical alternatives. Compensate teams for losing players and give them an advantage in retaining their players. Gary's proposal is a bad idea.

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