October 17, 2012
Pivotal day for NHL talks: Will they heat up or collapse?
By BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency
OTTAWA - The moment of truth has arrived for the NHL and NHLPA.
The battle for a collective bargaining agreement was taken to new heights Wednesday when the NHL released its latest offer publicly. The league and union meet Thursday in Toronto to continue negotiations to see if they can get a new deal.
Trying to save an 82-game schedule, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman extended an olive branch with a 50-50 revenue split Tuesday, but the NHLPA is expected to reject the offer and table a counter-proposal sooner rather than later.
Will talks heat up or will they break off?
"We do not yet know whether this proposal is a serious attempt to negotiate an agreement, or just another step down the road," NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said in a memo sent to players and agents and obtained by QMI Agency. "The next several days will be, in large part, an effort to discover the answer to that question."
In aiming to salvage a full season, Bettman has gone further than he promised the owners he would when this lockout started Sept. 15. Nobody is sure how much flexibility there is left for the commissioner.
"The players had better be careful," a league insider said. "I hope they are taking this offer seriously because I don't see the owners willing to negotiate much more. There is room there, but I don't think there is a lot of room."
The concern for the owners is that players are calling the CBA offer "a good starting point" for talks. This is where the league wants the deal to finish and Bettman won't show a whole lot in the way of flexibility.
The two sides have a long way to go if they're going to bridge the gap. The NHL has set an Oct. 25 deadline to get a deal in place and then hold a one-week training camp before starting the season Nov. 2.
"Right now, we'll have to see. It's a little too early to tell whether we'll get to a deal," Ottawa Senators president Cyril Leeder said, speaking to season-ticket holders Wednesday.
"We need to get something done in the next week (to have a full season). We have time, but not a lot of time to see this through. If we don't get a deal done by the end of October, we're not looking at a full 82-game season."
At this juncture, that looks doubtful.
The players aren't pleased with several aspects of the offer.
They don't want: Salary cuts in the first year; changes to arbitration; a limit on entry-level deals; new free-agency rules; any possibility escrow will rise; and, the biggest issue, a five-year limit on contracts.
"Simply put, the owners' new proposal, while not as quite as draconian as their previous proposals, still represents enormous reductions in player salaries and individual contracting rules," Fehr said.
"As you will see, at the 5% industry growth rate the owners predict, the salary reduction over six years exceeds $1.6 billion. What do the owners offer in return?"
Fehr knows he can't just outright dismiss this deal and that's why he has to respond. The NHL went a long way in the public-relations battle by releasing the full offer after several details already had been leaked to chosen outlets.
After receiving 57% of the hockey-related revenue in the current CBA, you can expect the NHLPA to try to counter the 50-50 proposal from the league. Don't be shocked if they start with a 53-47 split and then go down from there.
Every time the NHLPA gives up a point, it's another $33 million in the owners' pockets. If the union moves down to 53%, then the two sides will be $100 million apart. The onus will be on the owners to decide if it's worth it to lose the season.
"We're going to see what kind of negotiator Donald Fehr is now," the insider said. "If this meeting lasts an hour and the league walks out, then that's not going to be a good sign. Then, it could be awhile before talks happen again."