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Getting to Know the CBA - Episode 6: The Standard Player's Contract

Stevie Roxelle - @stevieroxelle - Biscuit Fox

This time, we're going to jump a bit down the CBA to cover the contract that we just finished covering the rules for. Article 11 lays out the rules for the Standard Player's Contract, giving the NHL the authority and guidelines to have all player contracts standardized across the board. Today, we'll jump down about 270 pages and look at Exhibit 1, which is the Standard Player's Contract.

Consisting of 11 pages' worth of CBA documentation covering 20 paragraphs worth of agreement, the SPC laid out is just about as fill-in-the-blanks as you can get with such an important piece of the CBA. There is room for clauses to be added, but those are limited in scope by Article 11.

Let's get into the paragraph-by-paragraph breakdown. Some are much longer than others, so just get ready for 5 and 13.

Paragraph 1

Right off the bat, we get to the fill-in-the-blanks portion where the club and player sign up for the specific salary and term of the deal, as well as alternate terms if it's a two-way contract. The wording will change for contracts which have variable salaries over multiple years and for players who have signing & performance bonuses, but that's not shown in the exhibit.This paragraph also stipulates when players are paid (twice monthly during the season).

What's important to note is that every time you see "Paragraph 1 Salary" listed anywhere else in the CBA, this is precisely what it's referencing. Teams aren't allowed to pay players dollars which aren't laid out in this section.

Paragraph 2

By signing, the player agrees that he owes his service and the best of his abilities to the club for all games, practices, training camps, exhibitions, and (reasonable) promotional activities. He is expected not only to stay in good physical condition, but to comport himself as a good person off the ice.

That last part is kind of a good catch-all. If you want to know why hockey teams have the ability to make a guy pull himself off Twitter, this is why. By signing this contract, a player isn't just signing to play hockey; he's signing with something of a responsibility to be good for the growth of the game.

Paragraph 3

We talkin' about practice here (namely that it's not optional and neither are exhibition games). The CBA does lay out rules relating to how often teams can play exhibitions and when & how they can hold camps/practices. Basically, if the team has the authority to call a practice or schedule an exhibition, no single player may refuse just because he doesn't feel like it.

Paragraph 4

Each team is allowed to create reasonable team rules which govern specific conduct or conditioning policies and those rules will apply to every player as though they were directly in his contract. Both the NHL and NHLPA will get a copy of these team rules. If the rules are broken, the club has the authority to reasonably fine or suspend the player for such an act.

[Ed note: The term "reasonable" shows up a lot because it's a great word to defend the purpose of each rule. You reasonably set rules because those rules are good for the game and the team. You unreasonably set rules to harass or intimidate players because you're a dick. You reasonably withhold consent because you have concerns about the outcome of a decision. you unreasonably withhold consent because you're trying to use that consent as a bargaining chip to get something else you want. If there's a disagreement about what's reasonable, an arbitrator will be happy to clarify for both sides]

Paragraph 5

This one's a doozy, but it's necessarily long, as it covers injuries to the player. This paragraph gives the team the ability to suspend a player without pay for injuries he sustains outside of the realm of carrying out his duties to the team. This is why the story for many players leaving to play in Europe during the lockout centered around them being able to get insurance. If Zetterberg had suffered a career-ending injury with EV Zug, the Wings would not have been liable to pay his salary.

If the player is injured in his duties to the club (including traveling with them or at team functions), the club must continue to pay his full Paragraph 1 Salary, as well as any treatment he receives. He cannot be suspended unless he's cleared to play and for some reason refuses to do so.

As far as determining whether the player is or isn't healthy, that's primarily up to the team doctor, although this paragraph allows the player to get a second opinion for which he and the team will share financial responsibility. The team doctor has to share all information with the player's doctor while he's making his diagnosis. If the two physicians can't agree on whether the player is healthy enough to play, then they are tasked with naming a third independent physician to make a ruling. If they can't agree on that, then the NHL and the NHLPA will have to do so for them.

The third physician's ruling is binding and final. The only argument to come out of that in the event of a disagreement is whether the proper procedure was followed in selecting the doctor and getting him or her the information needed to make a decision. There's an important distinction in here also which limits the physicians involved to just deciding whether the player is fit to play. If there's disagreement as to whether or not the injury was sustained as part of that player's duties to the Club, that decision would be made by the Impartial Arbitrator instead.

The other consideration in this paragraph is perhaps the largest. If a player accepts the agreed-upon payment for a career-ending or serious disability, he releases everybody (the Club, any other club, the NHL, the NHLPA, the insurance carrier, and anybody else who works for any of those groups) from additional obligation, claim or liability arising from that injury. This is essentially the trade-off for earning a living playing a game which punishes your body and the reason why you don't see retired NHLers suing the league for a disability which prevents or hinders him from full employment outside of the NHL.

Article 23 has more specific information on the career-ending or serious disability stuff.

Paragraph 6

I like the way this paragraph is written. It starts with "The Player represents and agrees that he has exceptional and unique knowledge, skill and ability as a hockey Player, the loss of which cannot be estimated with certainty and cannot be fairly or adequately compensated by damages." It goes on to explain that the Club may legally bar him (wherever a court would allow them to do so) from playing hockey somewhere without their permission as a first resort, not a last. Basically, this prevents a guy from jumping ship and enjoying his time as a ship-jumper while the courts settle it. It also prevents that by saying there's basically no way to properly assess the monetary loss of a player doing this, so it can't be as simple as them suing him for damages and him getting away like that.

Paragraph 7

This paragraph bars a player from taking up a second athletic sport without written consent of the club because the risks of doing so may hurt his ability to play hockey. Hilariously, golf is not listed here because then what would the Flames do every May?

Paragraph 8

Here's where we separate the man from the uniform as far as it comes to being able to sell the images to sponsors. Essentially, the club can only use the player's name and images of him actually wearing their uniform and only in things which focus on the Club, not the player, without having to clear it with him (for example: the Wings could put Datsyuk cutting down the ice for the cover of a gameday program, but can't sell Datsyuk posters in the gift shop without his approval).

The player does have to get consent from the club to make public appearances or sponsor things, but the "consent will not be reasonably withheld" portion is in here too. This crosses a lot of sponsorship territory where the league doesn't want players undermining overall sponsorships by shilling for the competition... or by becoming the face of a product that might not be...uh... family friendly. The Player may use his own name and face and may say that he plays for a club, but he can't use the Club's emblem or uniform without their permission

Paragraph 9 (Verbatim)

It is mutually agreed that the Club will not pay, and the Player will not accept from any person, any bonus or anything of value for winning or otherwise attempting to affect the outcome of any particular game or series of games except as authorized by the League By-Laws.

Paragraph 10

Players may not tamper with or help with contract negotiations for other players under contract or reservation. This mirrors the leaguewide ban on tampering with players who aren't unrestricted free agents to prevent an easily-exploitable loophole by franchise players who may eventually turn into GMs in their own right.

Paragraph 11

The player must accept being assigned or loaned and the club must be forthcoming with information about where a player is being assigned or loaned to. No movement clauses and no-trade clauses come into play, but if there's nothing specifically stopping such an assignment or loan, the player simply not feeling like going there is going to find himself in trouble (or he can just retire).

Paragraph 12

All of the exact same rules about a Club defaulting on a payment or benefit owed to a player from Section 11.15 is here as well. You can read about it here in Episode 4 - Part 2 of this series.

Paragraph 13

This one is the how-to list for ways the contract may be terminated by buy-out. Let's bullet-point this one:

  • The club must first offer the player up on unconditional waivers (any other club has 24 hours to take over the entirety of the contract and cap hit.). A player with a no-movement clause may block these waivers and choose to accept the buyout immediately.
  • The official notice of termination becomes effective either the instant the player opts not to go on waivers or the instant he clears them.
  • Buy-outs may only be done in the buy-out period beginning the latter of 48 hours after the end of the Cup Final or June 15 and ending on June 30th OR in the buy-out period which begins three days after the Club's last arbitration settlement was filed (as a reminder: Clubs who elect to take only one player to arbitration in year do not qualify for this period.)
  • Buy-out payments extend out twice as long as the original contract would have, but only pay the player a percentage of the amount still owed to him, based on age. For those under 26, the buy-out pays 1/3rd. If the Player is over 26, he gets 2/3rds of that salary.
  • If a player is claimed on unconditional waivers, the buyout doesn't happen. The team who claims the player takes over his full contract.
  • Once bought out, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Paragraph 14

A Club may also terminate a contract without a buyout if the player commits a material breach of his SPC (fail, refuse or neglect to render his services or to obey Club rules regarding training and conduct of players or in any other manner materially breach this SPC). A club still has to get waivers from all other clubs to do this, but only owes the player any money he earned before he became such an untenable jerk as to create a need to invoke this clause.

As a note on procedure and where this fits in regards to rules: this doesn't mean a player can pout his way off a team he doesn't like and into the ability to sign in a different city as a UFA. Any player who has his contract ended pursuant to this paragraph is essentially done playing in the NHL, at least for a time.

Paragraph 15

The Player accepts the Club's authority to actually carry out league orders to suspend him without his pay.

Paragraph 16

Article 18 lays out all the specific mechanisms for suspensions and how it affects how much a player is paid. This paragraph of the SPC codifies that into the contract the player signs. Basically, the player accepts that he will lose part of his Paragraph 1 salary when he's suspended.

Paragraph 17

Sadly, geopolitical events (or any events described as beyond the league's control) may cause hockey games or seasons to be canceled. In the case this happens, the Player only gets the salary owed to him up to the date this happens. If operations have to be scaled back, then the Player's salary will be scaled back to a degree agreed upon by the club and player (or by the arbitrator).

Paragraph 18

The Club and Player agree that the CBA and League Rules which may affect terms or conditions are the primary rules at play and that any perceived disagreement between the SPC and the CBA is overruled by what the CBA says. Also, all fines imposed are deducted from the player's Paragraph 1 salary (I'm not sure why this isn't in Paragraph 16, but whatever).

Paragraph 19

This one is a great bit of legalese that boils down to saying that the Club and Player promise that this contract and the CBA are the only agreements which are legally binding and allowed here. No side-agreements or future promises are allowed.

Paragraph 20

Capitalized terms mean the same in the SPC as they do everywhere in the CBA.

Paragraph 21

All means of notices owed to a Player or Club will be done so according to the official rules laid out in Exhibit 3 of the CBA (sorry, you can't say you sent a notice via carrier pigeon).

Paragraph 22

This one is legalese for saying that a player playing hockey only for the club and a club's right to take pictures and televise the player are all part of what makes up his Paragraph 1 salary.

Paragraph 23

Essentially a rehash of Paragraph 19 in that the SPC and CBA make up the entirety of the agreement between the Club and the Player and the signature blocks which cement the contract.

- - -

It's a long bit of the CBA, but an important one. This SPC, as governed by the CBA and Article 11 defines the entirety of the agreement between the Club and the Player for his hockey career while under this contract to the club. Not exactly the place to cut corners.

Up next, we'll jump back into the article-by-article stuff with a look at how waivers work.