In Gary Bettman’s world, it’s all that’s left for the NHL and NHL Players’ Association to sign a new collective bargaining agreement.
If the sides haven’t hammered out a deal by Sept. 15, players, like they were by the owners in 2004, will be locked out.
On Tuesday, the NHLPA, a month after the NHL made an initial proposal, tabled what executive director Donald Fehr has called an “alternative view.”
Finally, true negotiations can begin as the sides teeter toward another work stoppage that would hold nothing positive in the eye of the public. Whether a lockout can be avoided remains to be seen.
In their offer, the players made it clear they are willing to take a financial hit, geared toward a greater revenue-sharing system that would help the NHL’s bottom feeders.
“We believe that the proposal can produce a stable industry, one that can give us a chance to move beyond the current labour strife that has plagued the NHL for the last two decades,” Fehr told media outside the NHLPA offices in Toronto.
“Under our alternative proposal, essentially the players have indicated they would take a reduced share of hockey-related revenues going forward for the next three seasons. That would be based on a reduction from what would be produced under the current formula, with the league growing at traditional rates that is has for the last seven years.”
The players could give up $465 million or as much as $800 million, depending on league growth in the next three seasons, with the desire that the owners share that money, as much as $250 million, among the teams that are struggling financially.
Players in the next three seasons could see only a 2% growth in salary in the first year, a 4% growth in the second year, and a 6% growth in the third year. In the fourth year, they would have the option of reverting to the CBA as it stands now.
There’s no doubting the support Fehr has from the league’s young stars. To his right as he spoke was Sidney Crosby. To his left, Alex Ovechkin. Steven Stamkos stood close, as did Jason Spezza and P.K. Subban, who were among the 23 players in attendance.
“The biggest reason is we want to find a way to play and find a way to reach a fair agreement,” Spezza said when he was asked whether he would be concerned about giving back money.
“We feel this is a way the player can help with some of the more profitable teams.”
Fehr stressed that he is not seeking an abolishment of a hard salary cap, knowing that the owners would never agree to as much.
The offer came a month after the NHL tabled an initial proposal. In it, the NHL wanted the players’ share of hockey-related revenues to drop to 46% from 57% (and to 43% under new guidelines), as well as cap contract lengths at five years, have players play for 10 seasons before being eligible for unrestricted free agency and lengthen entry-level deals to five years.
Fehr said in the players’ proposal, there are no calls for significant changes to contract structures.
Since a lockout killed the 2004-05 season, revenues have grown to $3.3 billion last season from $2.2 billion in 2006.
Bettman refused to comment on the players’ document, saying he and his staff required more time to digest it. The sides are expected to meet again on Wednesday.
However, the NHL commissioner did throw a bone.
“It’s clear to me they did not put it together in an hour or two,” Bettman said. “As a result, we’re going to need a little bit of time to evaluate and understand it.
“I’m not going to tell you what I think the proposal means. Our hope is that we can take care of business in the next month. That’s our goal.”
Sid not pushing panic button
The NHL’s best player isn’t starting to worry about a potential lockout — yet.
“I think it is a little too early for that,” Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby said on Tuesday, following the latest talks between the NHL Players’ Association and the NHL, discussion that involved a proposal from the players.
“We got the first proposal (from the NHL in July) and this is a little bit of a new direction. We will see as time goes along here. As soon as you hear that word and hear Gary (Bettman) talk about it, you think about it a little more.”
Bettman, the NHL commissioner, said last week that if there is no new collective bargaining agreement on Sept. 15, when the current one expires, NHL rinks will be shuttered.
What about fans who are concerned about a lockout, one that would come after the players were told by the owners to stay home for the entire 2004-05 season?
“It’s normal,” Crosby said. “Everyone has those feelings. We’re all quite aware of that scenario, but everyone is committed to getting a deal done. Everyone is trying to do the right thing.”
Crosby indicated he will not remain in Toronto for further negotiations this week, but said he will attend meetings in the future.