Ball now in Bettman's court

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman must decide if the NHLPA's latest proposal contains enough...

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman must decide if the NHLPA's latest proposal contains enough concessions for him to sign off on a deal and end the three-month lockout.

IRA PODELL

, Last Updated: 11:28 PM ET

TORONTO (AP) -- The NHL players' union insists its proposed salary rollback will dramatically change the league's economics. Whether that's enough to persuade NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to sign off on a deal and end the three-month lockout remains to be seen.

After a proposal by the players' association on Thursday that showcased a one-time 24 percent rollback on salaries, Bettman and the owners must decide if that in cooperation with a luxury tax, revenue sharing, a lower cap on entry-level contracts and changes in the arbitration system are enough givebacks to make a deal.

The new proposal didn't contain a link between league revenues and player salaries -- the cost certainty Bettman, who prefers a salary cap over a luxury tax, wants for the 30 clubs.

"What people have to step back and look at it is not the labels, like 'Is it a cap?' 'Is it cost certainty?' 'Is there linkage?"' NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin told The Associated Press on Friday. "I have to believe they went into these collective bargaining negotiations with the desire of significantly reducing their labor costs and doing it in a meaningful way.

"I think this proposal clearly does that."

The 86-day long lockout is threatening to wipe out the season. Through Friday, 386 contests and the 2005 All-Star game were lost.

The union says it will never accept a direct connection between revenues and player costs, so if Bettman holds firm then the season will likely be lost.

That decision could come as early as Tuesday in New York or Toronto when the sides meet for the second time in six days after not negotiating for three months. Bettman says the league will have reviewed the 236-page proposal by then and will make a counteroffer.

"If they just come back and say 'Thank you for the rollback. Now we just want to put it in a cap system,' I know what the response of the players is going to be, and that would be most unfortunate," Saskin said.

The proposed luxury tax would penalize teams 20 cents for each dollar they spend between $45 million and $50 million. The penalty would increase to 25 percent the second year and 30 percent in the third.

Teams spending between $50 million and $60 million would be taxed 50 cents on the dollar the first year, 55 cents the second year and 60 cents the third. Those with payrolls above that would have to pay 60 cents for every dollar the first year, 65 cents the second, and 70 cents the third year on each dollar over the threshold.

There would've been 13 teams that would have had to pay a tax if it was in effect last season. But with the rollbacks and about 200 unsigned players, only Philadelphia, Toronto, and New Jersey would currently be subject to a tax on adjusted payrolls.

"We don't know how much money will be raised by the tax because it may be none because teams may decide to just stay under," Saskin said.

Bettman noted that one aspect -- presumably the rollback -- was significant.

The rollback was increased from the 5 percent offer three months ago. The players' association figures that will provide a savings of $270 million the first year and $528 million over three years.

"That element is a recognition by the union of our economic condition, but it is a one-time element," Bettman said. "The rollback is an essential ingredient in implementing any new system and getting our economics back to a level that we can afford."

He isn't sure the rollback is a solution that will address the overall systematic problems the league faces -- mainly certain teams that have the means to spend lots of money on players while others don't.

"We have said consistently that the focus must be on the overall systemic issues and the long-term needs and health of our game," he said.

And he still doesn't believe a luxury tax is a system that will work for the NHL. But owners might be lured to take the deal that will provide instant savings with the salary cutbacks.

"I didn't find it encouraging that they tried to reference this as a one-time event with no systemic change," Saskin said. "When you make a rollback of this magnitude, you are not only affecting only this year's contracts but contracts that are out two, three, four years."

The union says the total package will save teams over $1 billion.

Bettman has said that clubs lost more than $1.8 billion over 10 years. Owners say teams lost $273 million in 2002-03 and $224 million last season.

An economic study commissioned by the NHL found that players get 75 percent of league revenues. The union has challenged many of the NHL's financial findings.

"They made a serious proposal, which I would suggest was the first one in this process," said Bill Daly, the NHL's chief legal officer. "Certainly they showed a recognition of the economic problems that the game is facing and certainly we're appreciative of that."


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