- The Washington Times - Friday, July 22, 2005

All that stands in the path of labor peace in the NHL is ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement today by the league’s board of governors. Anything less than a unanimous “yea” vote would be shocking.

Bob Goodenow, executive director of the NHL Players Association, announced yesterday that the players had ratified the 600-page document by a lopsided margin, about 88 percent.

If the governors accept the six-year agreement today, it will end a lockout by owners that spanned 310 days, longest in the history of pro sports, and wiped out the entire 2004-05 season.

“We’re fully committed to the new deal, and we anticipate great success for the game as we go forward,” Goodenow said. “We’re optimistic and eager to get to work.”

The key element of the deal is what NHL commissioner Gary Bettman demanded all along — “cost certainty,” a salary cap linking revenue with expenses. Under the agreement, players will receive 54 percent of league revenue with a cap that has an upper limit of $39 million and a lower limit of $21.5 million.

Also scheduled to be announced today are new rules designed to speed up the game and increase scoring while dramatically cutting down on interference and obstruction, smaller goalie equipment and possibly eliminating the mid-ice red line. The NHL also will conduct a weighted lottery for the No. 1 draft pick.

Financially, it was not the best deal for the players but the union maintains it made significant gains in other areas like free agency and arbitration that will make up for any lost monies.

Rookies took a major hit, having their salaries capped at $850,000 a season. but the minimum wage in the league jumped from $185,000 to $450,000. All existing salaries now come with a 24 percent rollback, a move the union made on its own.

And the agreement left more than a few bitter feelings within the players’ association. After stipulating for years it never would accept a salary cap, the union suddenly reversed itself — a move that some in the association felt was a sellout. More than 225 of the NHLPA’s 700 members were in Toronto for a two-day meeting on the CBA, and there were some tense moments.

“To say it wasn’t heated at times would be a misnomer, but it was professional,” Todd Marchant, the Columbus player representative, told the Canadian Press. “People asked questions and got answers. I don’t like the rollback, no question. No one’s happy with that but it’s something we had to do.”

The two principals agreed the new deal should mean better competitive balance, with the maximum legal spending difference between teams now just $17.5 million. During the 2003-04 season, there was a spread of about $65 million or more, with some of the teams spending the most missing the playoffs.

“This new agreement has control points, upper and lower limits, and to the extent that those points operate to bring teams in the fashion they’re intended to, they will … create a more competitive environment,” Goodenow said. “The measure is not so much how much you spend but also how you spend it.”

Who came out the victor in the 10-month lockout? It is far too early to say, Goodenow and Bettman agreed.

“The most important thing is the product itself,” Bettman said. “I think history will show this was … a launching pad for all aspects of the game.”

Said Goodenow: “History will tell us in the next three or four years how the system operates.”

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