NHL will be idiot-proof

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:37 AM ET

As the negotiations between the National Hockey League and its players' association drag on, day after day, week after week, month after month, fans wonder what can be taking them so long.

Especially when it is accepted that both sides have agreed to agree on the basic concepts of a deal.

In simple terms, it's the complexity of the document.

The NHL is trying to create a new economic system. It has decided that the age-old concept of supply and demand is not viable for its endeavours. (The system has worked since cave men traded mastodon meat for stone axes, but it's not good enough for the NHL.)

So the league has to create new rules, new agreements, new understandings, new formulae, new restrictions and new limitations.

After all, the over-riding reason that was the backbone of the owners' lockout has not disappeared. The players provided the league with a perfectly workable system back on Dec. 9 and even offered to roll back salaries to the level that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had demanded. But Bettman turned down that offer for the simple reason that he couldn't trust the owners to use common sense.

The starting point offered by the players is fine, Bettman said, but if left to their own devices, the owners will create an inflationary spiral that extends far beyond their ability to fulfill their commitments.

He hasn't changed that view. He doesn't trust the owners the least bit, and therefore, when the new system is put into place, it must be idiot-proof.

If his regiment of lawyers overlooks just one little loophole, just one little misplaced comma that would allow a team to take advantage of its "partners," his new CBA will be fatally flawed.

The last CBA was roughly 100 pages and it covered every aspect of the game -- free agency, waivers, standard player contracts, arbitration, grievance procedures and on and on.

So far, the two sides have 50 pages of the agreement in place on the salary cap alone.

And no matter what you might have read in some of the other newspapers, they haven't come to terms on the numbers that will be used in that agreement. All they have are the concepts -- what you can do and what you can't.

When this document is finished, it will be far beyond the comprehension of most general managers. They will have so many restrictions placed upon their transactions that trades will become increasingly rare.

It is no coincidence that the league with the most complex salary-cap system, the National Football League, also is the league with the fewest trades.

In time, if they haven't already, general managers will become virtually superfluous.

The scouts will continue to make their evaluations of talent and inform the general manager of their opinions. The GM will conceive a trade and then put the matter to his most recently hired employee, the capologist.

This will be a man with extensive legal training who, by definition, will be able to understand the CBA and be devious enough to try to find a way around its restrictions.

He will then tell the GM what he can do with his trade proposal -- modify it, try to proceed with it, or stuff it.

Then, the team with which the proposed trade is to be made will go through the same process.

The people who do the real work and make the real decisions will be the scouts and capologists. The GMs will be nothing more than glorified clearing houses.

And the fans? The fans won't have a clue what's happening.

The complexities of the new CBA will be far beyond them. They will be told if a trade has been made, but they will have no idea why so many other trades failed or why their favourite team is incapable of addressing its shortcomings.

The NHL has long been a league operated largely by lawyers. Now, it will be a league totally dominated by lawyers.

No wonder the new CBA is taking so long to hammer out. The lawyers are busy creating their ground rules for the league they will run.


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