Frank Seravalli: How Flyers will suffer with labor changes

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called his second proposal to the NHLPA 'meaningful' and 'significant.' A response is expected Friday.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called his second proposal to the NHLPA 'meaningful' and 'significant.' A response is expected Friday. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: August 31, 2012

NEW YORK - If there is one thing we have learned in the 18 years of his reign as NHL commissioner, it's that Gary Bettman does not like to lose.

Twice already, the NHL has locked out players in search of more favorable economic terms for owners. They are now 16 days away from doing it again, when the current bargaining agreement expires at 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 15.

Rest assured, the puck will not drop on any NHL season unless all 30 owners are receiving a larger share of the revenue pie at the players' expense.

For the players, it is not a matter of if they will be giving back money, it is simply a question of how much. That means that, in the short-term, the Flyers will lose as well.

In the front office, the Flyers will be a part of a 30-team group that shares in a larger pool of revenue. On the flip side, the Flyers - one of the league's top five wealthiest teams by every standard - also will be required to cut a larger check in revenue sharing to help keep the bottom 15 teams afloat.

On the ice, the Flyers stand to lose a great bit.

When you put all the nuances and numbers aside, Philly hockey fans really only care about two things in a labor dispute: the start date of the season and how the new terms will affect the salary cap, and thus, the Flyers' roster.

Since the NHL will ultimately win this war of wills, the salary cap will be reduced from the current and temporary $70.2 million mark set this summer. It's just a matter of how much.

It is inevitable that the Flyers roster will suffer. In order to take the salary cap down to $58 million in one summer, while still honoring current contracts as the NHLPA is demanding, some players will lose their jobs - even if they are still paid out.

That will come in a to-be-bargained form of buyouts, contract amnesty clauses, and an increase in player escrow funds. In a May interview, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said he had not heard of an amnesty possibility - giving the chance to remove one albatross contract - but said he would be "all for it."

Originally, the NHL proposed a 24 percent salary rollback on July 13 - the same percentage pay-cut they accepted in 2005. This week, the NHL modified its offer to eliminate a pay cut off the top, but would withhold a greater percentage of player salaries in an escrow fund to ensure a proper balance between growth and revenue sharing.

How the NHLPA responds to that proposal remains to be seen Friday, when Donald Fehr's group is expected to present a counter plan at league headquarters in Manhattan.

According to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, the league's head honchos are looking for a proposal serious enough to warrant a continuation of discussions over the appropriately named Labor Day weekend.

With 16 days left before another lockout, it's scary to think that the two sides aren't anywhere close to bargaining how exactly teams will transition from $70.2 million to $58 million.

The Flyers, one of 16 teams already spending more than $58 million next season, have $66.6 million committed to 23 players.

Some would look at the Flyers roster and say it's an easy fix: Move defensemen Chris Pronger ($4.91M) and Andrej Meszaros ($4M) to the long-term injury list and call it a day. I get the sense it won't be that simple. The Flyers are public enemy No. 1 in the NHL for long-term injury exceptions and cap circumvention.

They have been willing to front-load contracts to the extreme (see: Shea Weber), stash bad contracts in the minors (see: Michael Leighton), sign players to major long-term deals to lower cap hits (see: Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Chris Pronger, Ilya Bryzgalov). They also have exceeded the hard cap in actual dollars nearly every year, only to be bailed out by exceptions like the long-term injury list.

This summer, the Flyers went against the NHL grain to sign (or offer) big-money deals to sneak them under the old CBA, while the rest of the league's owners were crying poor.

In their defense, the Flyers played to the full extent of the rules, smartly maneuvering and inventing cracks in the system to create competitive advantages. They were also willing to spend money other teams were not, taking a shot at nearly every big-name player - a strategy all fans can get behind.

Unfortunately, the NHL's hard-cap system is not going away. This time, plenty of owners - both rivals and small-market clubs - will want those loopholes plugged. And the Flyers may now pay the price.

You know, until their brilliant brass can figure out a new way to chop up the new system in order to maximize their on-ice success.

Slap shots

The NHL announced its national television schedule on Thursday, most likely to serve as a tease that the upcoming schedule will likely never be completed in its entirety. For the record, the Flyers have 11 national appearances scheduled on either NBC or NBC Sports Network, including the tentative home opener on Oct. 11 vs. Boston . . . The NHLPA declined to comment Thursday on its new counterproposal in the works.


Contact Frank Seravalli at seravaf@phillynews.com

or on Twitter @DNFlyers.

Read his blog, Frequent Flyers, at www.philly.com/frequentflyers.

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