After 113 days of no NHL, hockey is back as the NHLPA and NHL have reached a collective bargaining agreement. The deal is for ten years with the option for both sides to opt out after eight seasons have been played. Of the changes that have taken place the main points are; revenue sharing between players and owners will be a 50-50 split (down from 57-43% in favor of the players), a lower salary cap (down about ten percent from $70.2 million this year to $64.3 million next year), and a maximum contract length of seven years (eight if the player is resigning with their current team).
All of these numbers are great and everything because what they really mean to NHL fans is that hockey is back. There are however some winners and losers that come from this new CBA.
1) Ten year agreement- The fans and laborers directly involved with the NHL season are the true winners here. Ten years is twice as long as the last CBA and will give long term security to those who rely on the hockey season in order to make a living i.e. the vendors, ushers, ticket takers, security guards, etc. who work at the arenas. With the sporadic nature of how Gary Bettman was announcing the cancellation of games it was nearly impossible for those responsible for scheduling arena events to make up for the games that were no longer going to be played.
2) 50-50 revenue split- The owners got the upper-hand here. Last year the NHL reported earnings of nearly $2.9 billion. Many fans I've spoken with simply say what's the real difference between 57 and 50%? The NHLPA should just take the deal and get back to playing hockey. In this case the real difference between 57 and 50% is around $203 million.
3) New salary cap- The players are the losers here, especially those who are nearing the end of their current contracts and in the incoming draft class. With a lower cap there will be less money available to resign players therefor salaries will gradually decrease across the league.
4) Seven year max contract- The players do win this one. Reports coming from New York during the negotiations were that the league was very serious about limiting the maximum length of new contracts to five years.
I wouldn't go as far as saying that all is hunky-dory between the two sides but they seem to be getting along well enough to finally start playing in the same room again. That being said I am exceptionally excited about the prospect of hockey being back. Although it was never truly gone completely I must admit waking up a couple days ago at 8 a.m. to catch the U20 Championship game between the United States and Sweden was a little odd to me (now I know how west coast football fans feel).
So, what does all of this mean for the Pittsburgh Penguins? Currently both the Penguins and NHL websites do not have a schedule posted; however the CONSOL Energy Center ticket office site lists Friday, January 18th versus the Montreal Canadiens as the "season opener" so read into that what you will. A short season for the Penguins seems to be an exciting proposition. After falling flat in the post season the last couple years maybe a short season will fit in well with the play-style and age of the team. At an average of 28.2 years of age the Penguins are the 7th oldest team in the NHL. Last year's Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings were right around the middle of the pack in terms of average player age ranking 18th out of 30th however their opponents, the New Jersey Devils, were the oldest team in the league on average. Examining the new CBA as it pertains to the Pens down the road suggests that keeping some key free agents may be a difficult task for GM Ray Shero. Of the 23 players on the current roster 19 will be some type of free agent within the next two years. Most notably after the 2013-2014 season Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Brandon Sutter, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, and Matt Niskanen will all be free agents. With the salary cap dropping it will be interesting to see which players will end up staying with the team for the long term. This is a potentially worrisome notion but for now there is one thing on my mind: IT'S HOCKEY SEASON!