The NHL's War of 2004 began with tough opening shots yesterday. After a unanimous vote by the league's board of governors in New York, the NHL commissioner roared out with all guns blazing as he announced a lockout of the members of the NHL Players' Association.
Bettman accused union boss Bob Goodenow and the players of not caring, and of provoking a toe-to-toe battle for a new collective bargaining agreement.
"To use a hockey term: The union is trying to instigate a fight," said Bettman.
"They think if they have this fight they're going to make more money by doing it. Well, I'm going to tell you that if they think the owners aren't willing to get a system in place that works, they're sadly mistaken.
"This is not a fight they're going to win."
About an hour later, Goodenow appeared at NHLPA headquarters to return fire.
"To say we want the status quo is ridiculous ... This is their strategy. They want a lockout and that's what's going to happen. Gary Bettman's negotiations start and stop with a salary cap," said Goodenow.
"The players don't want a salary cap."
So instead of reporting to training camp for medicals tomorrow, the players will stay at home and either seek other places to play or find activities to fill their time.
They might have to fill a lot of time. The sides have no common ground, and no meetings are planned. A league source said he doesn't expect negotiations until November.
The league maintains 20 of its 30 franchises are losing money.
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and president Roy Mlakar both attended yesterday's league governors' meeting, but neither was available for comment.
THE MAJOR ISSUES
- Salary cap: Player salaries take up about 70% of NHL revenue. The owners want "cost certainty" but players maintain this is a salary cap, which they vow never to accept.
- Luxury tax: NHL-imposed tax on player salaries above a certain threshold. Salaries have nearly tripled in the past 10 years, making it difficult for smaller teams to compete. Owners say salary control could restore competitive balance, players say that can be done with luxury tax, which owners reject.
- Free agency: Players can become unrestricted free agents at age 31. Despite that age being higher than other major sports, salaries have continued to escalate dramatically.
- Arbitration: Salary arbitration is available for players over 25 with at least five years' experience. Owners feel players have too much influence; players do not want changes to a system that works well for them.
- Revenue sharing: Sides agree richer teams must help smaller clubs to achieve economic parity, but disagree on how to do it.
- Key players:
Owners: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman views this as a defining moment for a troubled league and his legacy to the sport. Bill Daly is chief legal officer and NHL's executive VP.
NHLPA: Bob Goodenow, executive director of NHLPA. Tough, uncompromising. Ted Saskin is the NHLPA's senior director.