SUN Hockey Pool

Fehr, players must brace for fans' questions

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman exits league discussions in Toronto on Oct. 18, 2012. (STAN BEHAL,...

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman exits league discussions in Toronto on Oct. 18, 2012. (STAN BEHAL, QMI Agency)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:10 PM ET

Gary Bettman tried putting Donald Fehr on the lockout clock, only to have him turn the hands backwards.

All the way to 2004-05 in fact, when hockey’s labour war cost an entire season. For now, a full 82-game schedule in 2012-13 is certainly in doubt.

Fehr, the executive director of the Players Association, swatted away Bettman’s “best offer” to end the current stalemate on Thursday and trotted out his own troika of new proposals. When the commissioner and his NHL cohorts rejected all three in just one hour, Fehr hardened his stance that players wouldn’t cave to the league as they did seven years ago when a salary cap was implemented.

“The magnitude of the concessions the players made then, 24% in salaries, we estimate around $3.3 billion (US),” Fehr said in his opening remarks after Bettman and league brass trudged out of the union’s Toronto office. “In that same time, the NHL had record revenues every year. So what proposal against that backdrop did the owners make? Let’s have another 24% less, later it was 17.5% and the most current offer, if one can call it that, which came in the last few days, was to reduce salaries ‘only’ 12.3%.”

The latter came with a warning from the league to use it as the CBA template for a week of serious talk or forget a full season that could have started Nov. 2.

“Questions I’m asked from the players are ‘is that (last offer) fair, how could that be fair?,” Fehr said. “What do we get out of this’? We estimate (losses) for the six years of the agreement the owners have put in front of us, depending on (NHL) growth rate, at $1.65 billion (to) $1.8 billion.”

What Fehr and the players must brace for now is what fans will ask: why the players can’t live with an average salary that went up $1 million since the last CBA or come off their 57% share of hockey-related revenue to the 50-50 the league is espousing. Most can identify with the players not wanting to lose the war again, but realize they didn’t do too poorly by the peace, either.

Will the players risk losing more or all of 2012-13 falling on their sword of principle from ‘04-05?

“You look at the sacrifices those guys made in ‘04-05 and how the game and the league have grown those eight years ($3.3 billion in revenue last season),” said Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. “But the league is still claiming financial trouble. From our standpoint, there’s no reason to budge off where we were before because those players lost a full season. And the money we’ve lost since isn’t nothing, it’s substantial.

“So here we are again and they’re making the same demands. They basically got their way and they’re still not happy. We’ve done more than enough so far to show we’re willing to negotiate and sacrifice. It’s disappointing the league has waited this long and thrown us this last-ditch effort to salvage the season and make it look like we don’t want to play 82 games.”

After a month-long lockout with both sides blaming the other for stonewalling, a total of four offers crossed Bay St. in 48 hours. The league’s 50-50 HRR split for six years with an option for a seventh sounded good, until Fehr took a harder look at it. He didn’t like how any shortfalls on their side of HRR would be made up from future cheques. And the players have had a basic distrust of the league’s intentions since they served up a severely one-sided proposal in the summer and used that as their negotiating base instead of the 57% from the old CBA.

“If you assume that’s their best offer, why in the world did we see it four weeks into a lockout,” Fehr said, “and not on Sept. 14 or whenever they made the proposal for a 24% rollback?

“Today is not a good day and it should have been.”

But neither were Fehr’s three ideas given serious consideration, even though they were purported to be at or around the 50-50 range at some stage. Bettman was clearly miffed that his plan wasn’t just rejected, but that the players have not moved from their summer stance, either. The players believe the league should fix their poor cousin franchises with their own money and not at the expense of player salaries. But no teams will be making money while this war or words goes on and games are lost.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca

 


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