Among the myriad questions facing the NHL Players' Association amidst the hiring of Paul Kelly as executive director is whether the union will trigger a clause in June of 2009 that will terminate the existing collective bargaining agreement.
The thinking is that after enduring a corrupt leader whose cozy relationship with the NHL is becoming more public with each passing day, the union is now being driven by a cabal of rebellious and confrontational players and the hiring of the hard-line Kelly will do nothing to change that perception.
But it's difficult to imagine that the NHLPA membership would be so self-absorbed and short-sighted. If they thought public sentiment was against them during the last lockout, just wait and see what happens if the players trigger another one two years prior to the expiration of the existing CBA.
What's more, a CBA thought to be a slam-dunk for the owners isn't nearly as bad for the players as everyone expected. In fact, the players are once again getting the better of their employers and if anyone would want to terminate this agreement, it would be the owners. The only problem there is the players are the only ones in this agreement with the power to do that.
Try telling players such as Thomas Vanek, Dustin Penner, Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and Pavel Kubina that this agreement is a bad one for the players.
This season, the league will spend roughly $1.383 billion on player salaries, which is more than they were spending prior to the lockout. Star players, some of them coming off entry-level contracts, are receiving seven- and eight-year deals that are frontloaded and contain guaranteed money and many of them are getting no-movement clauses as well.
The salary cap is here to stay and the players have realized that. They've managed to make the best of it and are coming out of the situation in remarkably good shape. A good number of teams, even if they spend to the $34.3 million floor for payroll, are spending more money now than they were prior to the year-long lockout.
That's why from this point forward, negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA probably won't be centered around salaries. It will likely have more to do with things such as working conditions and pension benefits.
The NHLPA can probably hold off for a couple of years to address those issues, but who knows? Perhaps they'll trigger the clause that extends the CBA until 2012. And that would be worse news for the owners than the players.