An anonymous NHL executive took part in an "Ask Me Anything" session on Reddit Wednesday evening, answering direct questions about the ongoing NHL lockout and offering previously-unknown insight into the league's position.
Reddit moderators confirmed his identity as an "upper-level" team executive on the "business side" of his team's operation. Even noting that different teams certainly hold different opinions and stances in the lockout, the insight of this one team executive is enlightening, especially given the gag order the NHL has on all team and league employees. Hearing candid thoughts from somebody on the other side of the CBA battle provides a nice bit of perspective.
The anonymous executive said that the lockout hinges mostly on three points: "Contract fulfillment," the definition of revenue and what he called "intangibles" or "incidentals," things like hotel rooms and airfare for players on the road.
Contract fulfillment is just what it sounds like: The players want to be paid the full value of their current contracts and the NHL has displayed a refusal to honor those contracts at their full value. This point is an easy PR win for the NHLPA, too – after all, both sides signed these deals, the league should honor them, right? A bit of insight into the league's position from our anonymous executive:
"There was a reason why the last 2 years worth of contracts were front-loaded with signing bonuses. EVERY single person involved knew this was coming. And once more, owners can't legally consult on contracts, otherwise it'd be collusion and a violation of anti-trust laws. The NHLPA has no such restrictions.
"Every single player in the league knew there would be a renegotiation this year. That's why there were so many front-loaded contracts. What many people don't understand is, by anti-trust laws, the owners are legally bound to not consult each other when they work on contracts. Otherwise it would be collusion. The players have no such limitation, and as much as some don't like it, a lot of owners want to win."
The executive claimed that the three NHLPA proposals last Thursday were "insulting" and that the union tried to go back on previously-negotiated definitions of revenue. He said that the players will accept a 50-50 split only if they're able to dictate where that 50 percent comes from. The players have used that same talking point on the owners in the past.
Overall, nearly 500 comments were made in the AMA session, which began around 5 p.m. ET Wednesday and carried on late into the evening. The entire thread is worth reading, but we'll break down some of the choice quotes:
When will the season start?
"My gut, and more importantly my paycheck thinks there will be a season before the New Year. I thought it would happen around Mid-November, but the rejection of the most recent offer by the owners, and more to the point, the NHLPA's response was very disheartening. I still believe there will be a season."
On potentially losing the Winter Classic:
"I think it's still in play. That is THE money maker for TV viewership excluding the playoffs. The league can't afford to lose it. ... I think [The Winter Classic will force the league's hand], if only for the visibility and symbolism of it. Overall, the amount of money that the owners and players are squabbling over is small, but magnified by several years it becomes astronomical. Both sides know they can't afford another wiped out season. I think the event that IS the Winter Classic will give them an excuse."
Why contraction will never happen:
"Contraction is off the table because there is way too much money involved. The league would have to band together and spend $200 million per team to buy them out. Then come the lawsuits from cities who built venues in good faith. I'm not saying it's right, I'm just saying it's reality. Won't happen. The thing is, except for a few teams, the "Southern Experiment" hasn't done too poorly. Phoenix of course, is the whipping boy, and rightly, but success breeds revenues, Tampa Bay and Nashville are doing fantastic! Let's not discuss Columbus ;)"
And a few more points ...
* He doesn't think teams will be offered an amnesty buyout. That's based on the idea that teams "knew what they were getting into" when they signed players to contracts and that both sides were aware a CBA negotiation was coming.
* In general, he believes that Gary Bettman has done a good job as commissioner, and that the league will benefit from this lockout in the long run if a 50-50 split of revenues is achieved.
* He argued that before the last lockout, the 57-43 percent split was in favor of the owners, and that the 2004-05 work stoppage swung that in the opposite direction. It's been reported that the split was actually 74 percent in favor of the players before the last lockout, and when that point was raised, no response was given. It's probably the largest looming question from the several-hour-long forum.
* He believes that a 50-50 split would actually be a bit generous given the other costs owners have when running a team. He cited things like security and police, bond payments, ushers, ticket-takers, concession workers, other game staff, full-time staff, team personnel like the general manager, scouts all across the globe, etc. He also came back to those "intangibles" – four-star lodging for an entire team 41 nights a year, chartered flights, etc.
* Only four owners are on the negotiating committee. He named Boston's Jeremy Jacobs, Philadelphia's Ed Snider, Columbus' John McConnell and Minnesota's Craig Leipold. He says this is fair because when push comes to shove, the owners need to approve a CBA with a two-thirds vote.
* Our executive believes that the Kings, Wild and Rangers are the three best teams in the league at present. We're guessing he probably works for the Wild. (Kidding. Sort of.)
Again, it's worth reading the entire thing. It's one of the most enlightening discussions about the NHL lockout to date, even if the opinions are admittedly skewed from one side of the aisle.