The NHL’s CBA Works Against Player Development

July 14th, 2011 by Burgundy Leave a reply »

The newly amended Collective Bargaining Agreement following the NHL’s 2004-2005 lockout created a number of significant changes to the NHL; some foreseeable and some not.

The biggest impact from the CBA is the hard salary cap and the significance now placed on talented prospects and rookies.

The economic reality of today’s NHL makes young and talented players (that’s the polite way of saying “cheap but effective players”) an extremely valuable commodity. Common place knowledge now, but GM’s like Jim Rutherford and Bryan Murray figured this out years ago.

While the salary cap limits the amount a team can pay players, it certainly has no bearing on the number of scouts, coaches, and development professionals an organization can employ. I’ve never understood why big market teams don’t invest more in their player personal departments and development programs (the Toronto Maple Leafs being one of the few exceptions).

If I were running a hockey team, I’d be putting my players on custom development programs with my best trainers, scouts, coaches etc… the moment after I drafted them. Seriously – right after the photo on the podium, I’d show my newly drafted prospects a treadmill backstage with their name on it. Then I’d have them board a flight to my team’s gym and practice facility for the rest of the summer.

But wait! You can’t do that.

Turns out the current CBA states teams are only allowed to spend one week with their prospects in the summer between the Entry Draft and pre-season, before they turn pro. That’s what’s now known as Prospect Camp (which has come and gone for most NHL teams this summer). It was originally designed by the NHLPA to protect small market teams who couldn’t afford to run such lavish programs. I guess this makes sense. I mean, the CBA has been intricately designed to allow small market teams to compete fairly against big market teams. Can’t have anything or anyone undermining that.

But seriously, this is crap. For several reasons.

For one, this rule affects prospects who aren’t even paying NHLPA union dues yet. The players are much more “property” of their respective clubs than they are members of the PA. After all, they aren’t pro yet. But for some reason, NHL clubs lose arguably the most important summer with their new prospects. To quote Shane Malloy (who discusses this issue at greater lengths in his book The Art of Scouting), “this is slightly ridiculous.

Some teams still don’t put much stock into player development. You’d think the NHLPA would be most concerned with their future union members well-being and success in this league. The more development they get now, the better they’ll be long term. That’s probably one thing the NHL and NHLPA could easily agree on.

Like anything else in life, development is the key to success. This leads me to question how much the NHLPA really wants their players to succeed.

When the current CBA expires there will be much debate around contract length, revenue-sharing, No Trade/Movement Clauses, and all that stuff we hear on sports panels all season long. I wonder if issues like this will become critical components of the next Agreement.

Stay classy, NHLPA and silly CBA rules.



1 comment

  1. Fantana says:

    I doubt the NHLPA really cares about slowing down player development. The reality is that with a salary cap in place, there’s only so much money to go around and it really doesn’t matter if one prospect develops quicker or slower than another. At the end of the day, the value of any given player is determined, in part, by the amount of money interested teams have to spend on the player. Value and success are also relative concepts. If in a few years Ryan Nugent-Hopkins turns out to be a bust and Dougie Hamilton turns out to be the best player from the 2011 Draft, the NHLPA would probably conclude that Hamilton will get the big contract that RNH was theoretically in line to get.

    This clause does actually benefit the small market teams, but it’s at the expense of the up and coming prospects.

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