Trust is painfully absent

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:14 AM ET

The events of the past week provide an ideal illustration of the biggest problem the National Hockey League faces in getting the "partnership" status it says it wants with its players. The players simply do not trust the owners. Little wonder.

The players spent weeks crafting a proposal that addresses the owners' wishes, only to have it rejected out of hand. And in order to rationalize that rejection, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman twisted the figures.

On Thursday, NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow and his sidekick Ted Saskin explained the way this had been done and pointed out that the NHL's own figures, if used without distortion, would show that the league would earn a healthy profit for years to come.

They didn't even bother to explain another twist that Bettman put in to skew the figures.

In the now infamous Exhibit 13, he projected player salaries for 2004-05 as being $1.04 billion. Then he said that since the level of salary increases over the last 10 years was 12.1%, the salaries in the 2005-0 season would be $1.69 billion.

There are two very serious problems with that assumption.

First, even the NHL owners started to get the message that they were spending more than they taking in. So while Bettman's 12.1 figure is indeed correct for a 10-year span, it's irrelevant.

Look at the figure for the last five years, not the last 10 years. Over that span, the average increase is 7.2%, not 12.1%. Yet Bettman blithely used the 12.1% figure to make his case.

Furthermore, last year, the rate of increase was 2.2%, perhaps an indication that the owners, in the tenth year of the 10-year life of the collective bargaining agreement, had finally figured out how to use it.

Now Gary Bettman is a lot of things, but he's not stupid. He either had to know he was distorting the figures to paint an inaccurate portrait of the projections, or he didn't know. One or the other.

If it's the latter, he has no business running the NHL. So we have to assume it's the former.

But the distortion goes even beyond that. Bettman took the 2004-05 salaries and multiplied them by 12.1% to get the 2005-06 salaries.

Is he not aware that very few NHL players have one-year contracts?Does he think that every player in the league is going to get a new contract next year?

Player contracts now in existence that run through next season wouldn't be subject to a 12.1% increase because they're already locked in, either for no raise or a minimal one. In some cases, salaries would reduce.

Therefore, the only way a 12.1% across-the-board increase could come about is if all the free agents got whopping raises, something in the neighbourhood of 23%.

But why would they?There are more than 150 of them out there right now because many teams didn't bother re-signing players as the owners' intention to lock out the players became increasingly evident.

So it's simple supply and demand. Even the NHL owners, not people known for wisdom and foresight, aren't stupid enough to give 23% raises when there's a glut on the marketplace are they?

Yet Bettman insisted that the players' offer was not a good one, when most impartial observers say exactly the opposite. He charged them with creating "systemic inflation" when it's obvious that if his owners show a modicum of common sense, any inflation under this proposal will be manageable. He presented salary increases as 12.1% when they have been 7.2% over the period that is relevant. He assumed future revenue growth at 3% when it has been 9% for as long as anyone cares to remember.

And he wants to create a partnership based on trust?


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