NHL Lockout: NHLPA Must Give Up Fight on Player Contract Term Limits

Nicholas GossCorrespondent IDecember 7, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13:  Don Fehr, executive director of the National Hockey League Players Association meets with the media at Marriott Marquis Times Square on September 13, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The NHLPA has not accepted the NHL's demand of five-year term-limits on player contracts, but is this a fight that the union should really be putting a lot of effort into?

It's very clear that the league is adamant about term-limits, as you can tell from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly's comments on Thursday evening (via Pierre LeBrun of TSN):

Daly says term limit on player contracts is so important to league it's "the hill we'll die on."

— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) December 7, 2012

Having no term-limits benefits the players in a number of ways financially, but the question for the NHLPA is how many of its members actually enjoy the benefits of lengthy contracts, and how many players would be hurt if a five-year limit is part of the next CBA.

According to Capgeek, here is a breakdown of all the players with contracts of six years or more (Not all of these contracts still have six years remaining, but when originally signed, whenever that was, the deal was for six years or more.).

Position # of Contracts 6-plus Years*
FWD 48-plus
DEF 32
G 9
Total 89-plus

*(Capgeek only showed 48 forwards with contracts above five years, but it's very unlikely that there are many more of these contracts. Some players with new contracts of 6-plus years signed over the summer, such as Tyler Seguin and Taylor Hall, were not on the list. So there are a few more in addition to the 48 Capgeek listed).

To summarize the information in the above table, there are likely less than 150 players who benefit from contracts beyond five years.

So if there's 150 or less of these players, why is a union of 700-plus members fighting so hard to avoid these term-limits when a large majority of the membership doesn't benefit from them? Why are the superstars and high-earners being allowed to lead the battle on this issue?

It's important to note that the union isn't totally against term limits, as LeBrun points out.

On player contract length—NHLPA offered 8-year term limit (league wants 5)

— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) December 6, 2012

Agreeing to term limits is a big step for the union, there's no question about that. However, why propose an eight-year limit when the NHL was already offering seven-year limits if you re-signed with your current team?

If a player tells his team that he won't re-sign with them in free agency, and they move him before the trade deadline to the team he would sign an extension with in the summer, the player might be able to get the desired seven-year deal in the summer with his new team, instead of the five-year deal he would have signed with his new team as a free agent.

I don't know if this was detailed in the NHL's proposal because I don't have the fine print of the offer in front of me, but this scenario happens in the NBA quite a bit.

There's also the possibility of sign-and-trades, which is when a player's current team signs him to a "home-team" deal (which under the NHL's proposal would be for seven years and not the five a player could get on the free agent market), and then trades him to a team he wanted to sign with in free agency but obviously couldn't get the extra two years on the contract with.

This also happens in the NBA on a yearly basis.

If the NHL players had these kinds of options in the league's latest proposal (key word if, because I don't know all the details), it doesn't make sense to risk the season for five-year term limits.

It's time for the guys who don't make huge money to stand up to the star players. The following tweets from Adrian Dater of the Denver Post present some great inside info on the players' union:

From deep inside players side: "We were ready to play again. But Don came in (Wed.) and told us we could get more and to hold out"

— adater (@adater) December 7, 2012

That deep-inside-players quote came from depth player. They want to play, but top players still in Fehr camp. Could explode soon

— adater (@adater) December 7, 2012

Bottom line here: Players say they are unified, but not what I'm hearing from this depth player. They'll deny that publicly, but...

— adater (@adater) December 7, 2012

....privately, they are feeling powerless as the Ryan Millers and Brad Richards of the world pretend this is a sacrifice for them

— adater (@adater) December 7, 2012

We're seeing now the fruition of a two-tier economic system among players. Top guys in Europe, taking jobs, making $. Bottom guys suffering

— adater (@adater) December 7, 2012

It's foolish of the NHLPA to anger the owners over term-limits. We might have seen hockey in the immediate future if the players accepted some of the things that the league badly wanted in exchange for concessions from the owners on issues such as the "make whole" provision.

Instead, the lockout will continue and one of the reasons why is because the players don't want to accept something (term limits), even though it doesn't affect the majority of the union membership.

This is not about taking sides. I'm not trying to say the players are the bad guys and the owners are the only ones who want to make a deal. But standing up for something that many of your peers won't see the advantages of is just silly.

The question regarding the resolve the NHLPA has become, when will the "depth guys" stand up to the superstars and save the season from collapsing?

When will these kinds of players who really need every paycheck tell the superstar players with large contracts that enough is enough?

Hopefully, the players realize soon that making a big deal about term-limits in the next CBA just isn't worth it. There's no reason to jeopardize the season so contracts can be signed for more than five years.