NHL Lockout: Bettman & Owners Try to Get Out of Current Player Contracts

Erik CottonCorrespondent IOctober 20, 2012

Donald Fehr was upset at how quickly the league shot down the player's counter-proposals.
Donald Fehr was upset at how quickly the league shot down the player's counter-proposals.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

As the NHL Lockout pushes on, more and more details have been released about the league's latest offer to the players.  After reading through the fine print, it contains a lot of misleading numbers and deceptive ideas.  Do they really think they can get away without honoring current contracts?

Many of us in the media, yours truly included, simply saw a proposal that called for a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue (HRR).  That initial reaction shifted all the pressure to the players to agree to the deal or some variation of it. 

To think the economics of the deal were that cut-and-dry was foolish.

It took Donald Fehr and several players to point out the NHL is actually looking to renege on current player contracts to assist in evening out the share of HRR.  So for as much as we all want a deal to get done, it's impossible to expect the players to cave on that.

Let's think about contracts in the real world for a minute. 

They exist for cars, bank loans, credit cards, cell phones, etc.  When you enter into one, more often than not they're binding, and to get out of them usually requires you to accept some sort of penalty or fee.

Defaulting on them altogether has serious consequences.  Foreclosures, repossessions and civil or small claims suits are the best examples of what happens when we don't honor a contract we signed.

In the workplace, employees are either paid on a set hourly rate or they collect a salary.  Depending on what kind of profession you're in, some people can also earn bonuses, most of which are performance-based.

How ridiculous would it be if the owner of a car dealership asked one of his salesmen to give back some of his commission check to help out the business?  Or for the good of the automobile industry as a whole?

In essence, this is what Gary Bettman and the owners are asking of the players. 

Jason Chimera, a left wing for the Washington Capitals, told Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com as much:

When you sign your name to a contract and you have set dollars—I don’t care where you are in life—some jobs you can sue the guy for not paying you [even though you have] a legal, binding contract. And the owners seem to think it’s OK not to honor the contracts.

This now seems to be the central sticking-point in negotiations. 

According to the league, unless the players agree to put a portion of their current salary into an escrow account, the HRR split will never reach the 50-50 they're looking for.  What they fail to mention is there's no guarantee the players will ever see a return on that money.

What's always been comical is to hear owners of professional sports teams complain about player salaries.  They act as if there was some outside influence that made them agree to sign a player for whatever they're paying him.

Player salaries get out of control because of owners, not in spite of them.  And when the league's coming off a seventh straight year of revenue growth, their gripes are falling on deaf ears.

Now of course Bettman and his "minions" will say it's the most profitable teams' job to help support the struggling ones.  Why? 

Contracting some of the teams in markets that, let's be honest could care less about hockey, would cure a lot of the league's collective economic woes.  It should not be up to the Boston Bruins to help prop up a team like the Phoenix Coyotes.

When asked by Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun why the league doesn't want to abide by the deals that were signed, Fehr responded by saying:

They want to pay less money. That's all. It's really very simple: 'We've agreed to pay to the dollar all the contracts we've signed.' We've now decided that's more money than we'd like to pay.'  The reason we made the last proposal the way we did was simply because they want to move toward 50-50. The players have already indicated they are willing to do that over time. The question is: Should you agree to honour the contracts you signed between now and then? Players think that's a straight-forward thing to do and not an unusual thing to do. It's sort of the way everybody does business.

Don't expect Bettman and the owners, though, to have some sort of moment of clarity or self-realization.  Their first proposal over the summer was insulting and set the stage for this level of animosity between the two sides.  That aura only continues to fester as this thing drags out.

So once again, it looks like the players are going to have to bite the bullet if we want hockey to be played this season. 

However, this time we need to realize it's not the players who are the greedy ones.