Three weeks shy of an NHL lockout, the two sides can’t agree what ingredients are in the pie, much less how to slice it.
Perhaps the small group of four executive chefs gathering in New York early next week will have more success. Two days of owners and players butting heads in Toronto this week did very little, except to sniff at the other’s recipe for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Brief discussions in Toronto ended Thursday with the owners hearing full formal details of the players’ proposal on economic systems and contracts, a plan the owners already had panned in large part last week.
“It’s fair to say we’re far apart in that regard,” commissioner Gary Bettman said as he exited NHLPA offices. “We’re at a point where it’s difficult to move this process along until we deal with fundamental economic issues.”
So the four principals in the talks, Bettman, deputy commissioner Bill Daly, union executive director Donald Fehr and brother Steve his lieutenant, will meet alone in New York on Tuesday in what was originally to be the start of marathon bargaining with all big guns from both sides. Bettman said the intervening four-day lull in talks would provide “homework” time for both sides.
The current CBA expires Sept. 15 and the owners are ready to chain the dressing room doors, to the chagrin of players and fans who lost the entire 2004-05 season to the labour war.
“Hopefully it will be productive when we get to (Tuesday),” Donald Fehr said. “I still believe there’s enough time, if there’s a mutual will (to avoid a shutdown).”
But a wide gap in philosophy remains. The players have agreed to reduce their 57% share of revenues closer to the 50% range that was accepted by the other three major sports. The owners want that as low as 43%, but there are conflicting beliefs on how hockey related revenues are calculated in the first place. Bettman zinged the union by saying “we believe we are paying the players more than we should,” and cited huge increases in the average salary in the life of the current CBA. Yet owners are still offering mega-dollar contracts, some longer than the five-year maximum they’ve demanded the union now accept.
“The union is looking for a system with more flexibility and we’re looking for one with less, more akin to what we envisioned eight years ago (heading into the last CBA),” Bettman said. “It would be difficult to move anything else along (the many outstanding CBA issues). So we’ll each do some homework in the next few days, hopefully to find a way to get on the same page. It’s a good idea to get together with just the four of us.”
The one good thing from the two days of Toronto meetings, both which lasted just half a day, were that the sides are still cordial, compared to the personal acrimony that marked 2004’s showdown between Bettman and union head Bob Goodenow.
“Big group, small group, the tone has been businesslike and courteous,” Bettman said. “Even though we’re in negotiation and far apart, there is recognition of our issues from a union standpoint and that is a positive. It was clear we understood (the players’ offer). We went back and suggested a framework using some elements of the proposal to try and form a basis to go forward.”