NHL, players can't decide how to divide the pie

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr speaks to the media in New York, N.Y., Sept. 12, 2012. (ERIC...

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr speaks to the media in New York, N.Y., Sept. 12, 2012. (ERIC THAYER/Reuters)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:31 PM ET

NEW YORK - It's a short walk from the NHLPA offices on the Avenue of Americas to National Hockey League headquarters.

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and handful of players made that trek Wednesday morning and took along a new proposal to NHL owners.

Now it remains to be seen if that stroll down the sunny side of the street brought the two sides closer together as the threat of a lockout at midnight Saturday looms over the league.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and a couple of owners crafted a counter-proposal Wednesday, but after listening to both sides break down their deals, it still sounds like there are wide philosophical differences on the core issue -- how the owners can get what they want: the players taking a smaller piece of the revenue pie.

And time is running out before the lockout kicks in Saturday night. Though the expiry of the current deal is a somewhat significant date, the fact of the matter is training camps aren't due to open for another week, regular-season games don't start until Oct. 11 and players won't miss paycheques until the middle of next month.

Those are much more significant pressure points than the expiry of the current CBA.

There were some positives Wednesday, starting with the fact Fehr and his boys showed up at the NHL offices and there was talk, the first formal discussions since Aug. 31. Another was that the NHL has reverted to the definition of hockey-related revenue that is used in the current agreement (they had been asking the players to take a smaller piece of a smaller pie.)

But the big battle, before they can even get to revenue sharing, entry-level contracts and free agency, is the basic method of how to divide up the pie.

The basic philosophical difference between the two sides is the owners want the players to take a cut on their existing salaries.

The players association wants the value of their current contracts honoured.

The NHL is proposing the players take a pay cut -- the latest proposal basically wants the players to get 49% of revenue next year and 47% in the sixth year of the deal -- which amounts ot a 9% reduction for next season.

The players are proposing a deal that would see the players take a reduced share of projected league growth, which has run at an average of 7% a season over the course of the expiring CBA. That would allow the players to get what they are owed on their current deals, but see their share of the expanding revenue pie reduced.

"If we assume the NHL can grow at the average rate of the last 10 years -- that's all -- then what happens is the players' share falls in progressive years from 57 to 54.3, 52.5, 52.0 and then would end up at around 52.3 and 54% would kick back in," said Fehr. "The total salary savings for the owners over that period of time is not an insignificant number, just a tad under $900 million. If they have growth at the rate of the last two years, it's vastly more money."

Basically, the NHL wants a giveback now; the players want the owners to get their increase out of improved revenues

"We are ready to limit future increases so that you can grow your way out of this," Fehr said. "Their view is, in Gary's words, we have to have a reset now."

So, under the threat of a lockout and Bettman saying Wednesday's deal will be off the table if there isn't a deal by midnight Saturday, the two sides will meet separately Thursday.

Somebody's going to have to make another walk to get a deal done -- and quick.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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