The Big Band-Aid Solution

It's now or never for the NHL and NHLPA to negotiate a deal to get the hockey season going. An...

It's now or never for the NHL and NHLPA to negotiate a deal to get the hockey season going. An informal meeting is scheduled in Chicago today to discuss the labour dispute. (Toronto Sun photo illustration)

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

Remember last December's NHLPA proposal -- the one with the immediate 24% salary reduction?

The one with restraints on entry-level contracts, a payroll tax, changes to arbitration and revenue sharing?

The players remember it well and still believe it is a basis for a new collective bargaining agreement, even though the league swiftly dismissed it because it didn't provide cost certainty.

NHL officials said it was merely a Band-Aid solution.

But with Harley Hotchkiss, Flames part-owner and board of governors chairman, and NHLPA president Trevor Linden slated to meet today in the hopes of kick-starting negotiations to save the season -- and possibly the league as we know it -- there is a question being asked by one player.

"If they think it's only a Band-Aid, why don't we make a bigger Band-Aid?" posed the exasperated player, who didn't want to be named.

Which brings us to a new offer he formulated that's based on the players' rejected proposal.

The owners argue the players' last proposal offered one-time-only cost savings and wouldn't impact enough players. Also, the owners contend, players would immediately try to recoup their losses as soon as contract time came around again.

The solution, the veteran NHLer said, is making it affect all players and for a longer period of time to totally reset the marketplace.

"Make it so every player is signed with the (pay) cut for this season (2004-05) and two more," he offered. "That way, (the owners) have cost certainty."

So, what about players currently without contracts or with deals that don't run through the 2006-07 season?

Our NHLer proposes restricted free agents would have to sign three-year deals based on their contract for the 2003-04 season and the 24% rollback.

As well, renegotiating would not be allowed -- which would greatly affect underpaid players such as Hart Trophy winner Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who was paid $1.5 million US last season.

Teams also would have the opportunity to walk away from players after their deals expire, allowing them to become unrestricted free agents and join those who became UFAs this summer.

It's certainly an idea with merit. It would save the Flames tens of millions of dollars over the next two years (see Page 48).

Throw in a legitimate payroll tax -- say dollar for dollar after $40 million, a far cry from the weak proposal of 20 cents on every buck over $45 million, 50 cents after $50 million and 60 cents after $60 million -- and there's good reason to believe it's a plan with which the league could easily work.

All it would take is the owners to learn from their past mistakes and police themselves from overspending again.

Knowing the deadline to save this season is so close -- it may have already passed for all we know -- the time has come for drastic measures.

(No, we're not talking about firing both union boss Bob Goodenow and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman but that may not be such a bad idea.)

Therefore, the hour is at hand for the players to make a sincere push and prove all their claims of trying to save the 2004-05 campaign, and the league from its financial peril, are true.

If they really mean all those things, they'll admit the time has come to stop the bleeding year after year after year.


Photos