How the Seattle Kraken could save the upcoming NHL season

How the Seattle Kraken could save the upcoming NHL season

If the NHL needs another $300 million in order to proceed with the 2020-21 season, and that is essentially what Sixth Avenue has represented to the NHLPA, why don’t Gary Bettman, Bill Daly and the Board simply ask Seattle to advance up to half of the $650 million expansion fee that is currently due before the Kraken’s inaugural 2021-22?

Wouldn’t that take care of it, and more appropriately, than the owners approaching the players with hands out claiming that the league had massively miscalculated the impact of the pandemic even though the league had run models calculating the impact of the pandemic before agreeing to a six-year CBA extension four-plus months ago?

I’m serious. The NHL claims it requires immediate relief beyond the 10 percent deferral and 20 percent escrow cap established for this season by both parties. It is asking for an additional 16 percent deferral and another 5 percent added to the escrow cap. If that is the case, why shouldn’t the relief be provided from within the capitalist circle of 32 owners rather than from labor?

Instead of asking, say, Scott Mayfield, who is scheduled to earn $1.2 million this year, for an immediate rebate that would amount to $242,400 (or 20.2 percent of his pay), Bettman and his wartime consigliere, Boston owner “Mr. Jacobs” should ask Seattle owners David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer to float the league.

Bonderman, chairman and founder of the equity firm TPG Captial, has a net worth of $4 billion, according to Forbes. Bruckheimer, the movie and television producer, has a net worth of up to $1 billion according to the magazine.

They can probably scrape together enough nickels to cover an advance on the team’s membership fee so the NHL would be able to avoid the entirely embarrassing display of reneging on a four-month old labor agreement.

Don’t you think?

Regardless, if the league’s request for relief coupled with an implied threat to cancel the season is in violation of US or Canadian labor law, then the PA should file an immediate complaint to the appropriate governing bodies.

Gary Bettman
Gary BettmanAP

If the NHL is committing an unfair labor practice, then Don Fehr should immediately label it as such and seek relief of his own for the union.

But if not, if it’s just smarmy business rather than an illegal operation, then it’s up to the PA to come away with something in return for granting the owners their request. It is up to the parties to renegotiate. Canceling the season over this is not an option. Canceling the 2020 playoffs was no option for the players, so why would this be?

Certainly, if the players defer 26 percent of their pay, they should ultimately be repaid — including the interest teams will earn on their employees’ money. That seems fair, doesn’t it? That shouldn’t be too difficult.

The union is currently taking the righteous position that the parties have nothing to talk about until the NHL is willing to adhere to terms of the MOU (Memo of Understanding) that was ratified on July 10. Except there is just about everything to talk about regarding 2020-21. If the union doesn’t file an unfair labor practice against the league, then it’s time to get back to talking.

Here’s one for you: how would you feel if professional athletes were moved to the head of the line to receive vaccines in order to allow for (perhaps) a more orderly season?

The league and PA need to establish protocols for postponing/canceling games due to positive (or inconclusive) tests and cases of COVID-19. Can a game be played if a player or two from one or both sides test positive? What constitutes an outbreak? What about contact tracing and quarantining.

Baseball, which is generally played outdoors and held its regular season while the virus appeared under at least some control across the country, had 40 of 900 scheduled games postponed because of COVID-related issues. That’s 4.4 percent. But baseball can (and did) make up the games by playing doubleheaders.

There are no doubleheaders in hockey. If the season is 48 games and the same 4.4 percent of games are canceled, that would amount to 37 contests. How could they be rescheduled? That is an issue that needs to be addressed and resolved.

The league is going to have to make accommodations for an expanded roster and injury list that would incorporate athletes in the “unfit to play” category. If a team, say, has five positive tests, would they all have to go on IR for the seven-day minimum, or would the league establish a separate classification for those folks?

What about the roster? If multiple positive tests are always a possibility, and there is a presumption that players and coaches will be tested daily, then wouldn’t a team have to carry a taxi squad? If clubs are already capped out at 21- or 22-man rosters, how would they be expected to accommodate a 25- or 27-player roster requirement?

Unless the spread of the virus itself forces the NHL to shut down by decree, there will be a season. Neither side can afford to let it go. The league needs to burn the final year of its media-rights and TV contract with NBC so that it can negotiate a new deal beginning with 2021-22 that presumably would include multiple partners, including a streaming service.

The players, well, they need to play.

The NHL’s behavior in this matter is as fishy as it gets. That is saying something. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if this had always been the plan, to get the PA to agree to a deal in July with the knowledge the league would soon come back for more. If the NHL truly negotiated such a calamitous deal, then why isn’t there Board outrage directed at Bettman?

Again. If the NHL is violating labor law, the PA should charge the league. If not, the bargaining needs to resume. A season is in the balance. But maybe it wouldn’t be if the league asks David Bonderman and the Kraken for an advance to save it.