What the GM Meeting Should Really be About

The National Hockey League is now holding one of the many annual General Manager meetings where new rules are discussed and personnel discussions are articulated.
The league’s hockey operations department will refine definitions of the hurry-up face-off, the tag-up offsides rule, and the standard of enforcement regarding obstruction. (Philadelphia Daily News)

However, GM meetings such as this should tackle the financial woes of this league and make steps in formulating a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Currently the NHL CBA needs some major revisions to promote equality among large and small markets and implement some forms of revenue sharing which will allow financially beleaguered franchises to turn profits.

First and foremost the NHL should implement a salary cap. While many see that the most evident manifestation of a salary cap is a more talent-balanced league it includes many other incentives as well. The most favorable result of a salary cap is a decrease in free agents leaving their previous franchises. With financial restraints on team spending, fewer teams can afford multiple free agent signings. In addition the adoption of the NBA’s Larry Bird clause will allow teams to pay high salaries to franchise players with only a percentage going against the team’s salary cap. In addition, by allowing teams to be under cap only during the beginning of the season it will allow teams to make playoff rentals in order to make the trade deadlines more exciting.

Next adoption the league should make in its CBA should be a revenue sharing program. By forcing major hockey markets to relinquish some profits to smaller teams without television contracts, this allows for the ownership of hockey franchises to be more lucrative across the board. Thus, smaller market teams will have an incentive to spend more on player salaries if millions of dollars are infused into their bankrolls every off-season.

Another implementation that will help spread the popularity of the game-especially among American markets are renegotiated television contracts. The NHL should set up an office in which to negotiate favorable contracts for all of the NHL’s franchises. Of course smaller franchises will not be able to generate interest if fans cannot see the games on television. Trust me, people will not simply stop going to games because they can watch them on television. If people who are not close followers of hockey can be exposed to it on television it builds the fan base and increases excitement surrounding the team. The NHL needs to expand the coverage of hockey, and should use their connections in media (especially Direct TV) to forge television contracts for all teams and all their games.

The CBA should also include strict restrictions on trades as well. By following the NBA’s restrictions on trades it keeps cheap owners from shipping out expensive players for low salary counterparts. By forcing the teams to make trades where the salaries exchanged are equal, it will make the league more competitive and force players to enter the free agent market (where all teams are free to negotiate) than through a favorable trade.

Now many observers would feel that such a CBA would be snubbed by the NHLPA, yet some incentives toward players could be added. First by dropping the age a player could become a UFA to 27 will increase player salaries. In addition, the NHL could add a clause stating that if the average NHL salary is a certain percentage less than that of the NBA, MLB, or the NFL, then the CBA will be scrapped. These provisions will make this CBA union friendly.

In conclusion, it is time for the GMs to look out for the general welfare of the sport as a whole instead of focusing on rule changes that will never be enforced properly. Of course some implementation of Olympic rules will be welcomed by the fans, but instead of looking to the present, the GMs should look to the future. The time is now to forge a new CBA to increase the competitiveness and exposure of the NHL. Unfortunately, poor management will continue to plague the league. There is a reason why the NHL cannot forge a decent national television contract, and find corporate sponsors to endorse the league. It is all due to the short-sighted lack of vision by the NHL’s hierarchy and the overall lack of competitiveness of the league. Let’s hope that change is on the horizon, instead of just a shortening of the the period between face-offs to 15 seconds instead of 35.

Timothy Gray

tgray@drew.edu