All eyes on the NHLPA after owners’ latest proposal

Now that the NHL’s latest offer is out for the world to evaluate, the spotlight grows on how the NHLPA will respond.

The players are expected to present a counter-proposal — possibly as early as Thursday, when the two sides meet again — but the union’s initial reaction doesn’t exactly appear to be a glowing review. TSN’s Bob McKenzie obtained the letter NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr sent to every player and agent late Tuesday, which you can check out in full here.

In the letter, Fehr acknowledged this proposal “does represent movement” from the league’s previous positions, but that it “still represents very large, immediate and continuing concessions by players to owners, in salary and benefits.” Fehr goes on to break down a few specific portions of the NHL’s offer and warns that the players don’t yet know if it represented “a serious attempt to negotiate an agreement, or just another step down the road.”

Over the next week, we’ll find out if the two sides are truly willing to negotiate. In the league’s larger explanation of the offer, it reiterates that in order to play a full 82-game season the schedule would need to start no later than Nov. 2, with training camps opening Oct. 26.

“As a practical matter, this means we must conclude a new written CBA by October 25,” the league’s news release stated. “Delay (beyond October 25) will necessarily leave us with an abbreviated season and will require the cancellation of signature NHL events.”

Those signature events would be the Winter Classic, scheduled at Michigan Stadium between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs for Jan. 1, and the All-Star game, which is slated for Jan. 26-27 in Columbus. 

While it’s tough to know which provisions of the NHL’s latest offer might make it through negotiations and into a final agreement, whenever one does come, the punishment for teams handed out to long-term, front-loaded, back-diving contracts is worth taking a closer look at.

Under the league’s proposal, any existing contract over five years in length would carry a salary cap hit “regardless of whether or where a player is playing” for the duration of the deal, even if a player retires with years remaining.  If a player is traded, the cap hit will move with him as long as he is playing. Should he retire, though, the team that originally signed him to the deal will absorb the salary cap hit.

Should that portion, or something similar to it, be included in a final CBA, the Capitals are in good shape. While teams around them – New Jersey, Philadelphia come to mind quickly – dolled out plenty of those front-loaded deals, the Caps’ long-term contracts to Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom increase in value over their respective terms.

Granted, there’s still plenty of negotiating to go before there’s a new CBA, but that proposal in particular would certainly have interesting ramifications.

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