Boclair: Beating the system

Monday, July 30, 2012 at 2:21am

The National Hockey League Players Association decided the best way to approach negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement was to include a large number of its members in the process.

Just over a month ago a committee of 31 was named to take part in the talks. The plan was — and remains — for some from that group to sit in with union leadership at each session opposite the owners as they attempt to hammer out a new, or at least a revised business model.

By all accounts, the parties are nowhere near a resolution at this point. Already, though, it’s clear that the NHLPA goofed.

If the players really wanted to get the best deal for themselves they should simply have turned to Shea Weber and allowed him to go at it alone on their behalf.

After all, the Nashville Predators’ captain worked the old system better than anyone on either side. Who better, therefore, to protect the players’ interests in a new one?

It’s not just the size of the contract Weber negotiated with the Philadelphia Flyers and ultimately got Nashville to match (14 years, $110 million) that is exemplary. It’s what he did to get there.

He resisted the Predators’ long-term offer a year ago and instead went to arbitration. He remained patient once again this year as the team offered another long-term deal, and found a team that was willing to go beyond current market rates.

As soon as he signed the offer sheet from Philadelphia, he knew that — one way or another — he would be one of the league’s highest-paid players.

His patience was rewarded with a deal that, in terms of total value, is at least twice what the going rate was at this time in 2011. In the interim, he also earned $7.5 million, courtesy of an arbitrator’s ruling, for the 2011-12 season.

Talk about maximizing one’s earning potential.

The owners cannot be happy about the fact that Weber is one of the 31 on the Players’ Association committee. It is difficult for any competitive person to come face to face with someone who has gotten the best of them, and every NHL owner knows Weber is one of the big winners in the league’s current labor system — and he did so by basically playing by their rules.

Keep in mind it was the owners who staged the lockout that shut down the entire 2004-05 season. They were the ones who were dead-set on changing the way business was conducted and to establish “cost certainty” (their favorite catchphrase at the time) with a salary cap and other measures.

Seven years later, as that deal nears its conclusion, the owners are crying poor again. They have been unable to control themselves and their spending so they are looking to tighten the purse strings through rules and regulations.

It’s one thing when Ryan Suter and Zach Parise sign matching 13-year, $98 million deals with the Minnesota Wild. They were unrestricted free agents, and an open market always favors the seller — in this case players who shop their talents.

Weber, though, was a restricted free agent, which meant he had to work with many more constraints. Yet he squeezed even more out of the system, which likely only fueled ownership’s perception that the system was a failure.

It is the Predators who have to pay the cost in terms of real dollars. The question now is whether all players will have to pay, figuratively speaking, from this point forward.

If the owners get their way, Weber’s contract will be the last of its kind — at least for quite a while.

If the players just let Weber work the system for them, it’s tough to imagine the owners actually could get their way.