Phillips optimistic about CBA talks

Chris Phillips acknowledges Senators fans Saturday at Scotiabank Place after he was honoured for...

Chris Phillips acknowledges Senators fans Saturday at Scotiabank Place after he was honoured for playing in 1,000th NHL game. (Darren Brown, QMI AGENCY)

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:54 AM ET

OTTAWA - As Senators veteran Chris Phillips sat at his cottage Wednesday morning, he was optimistic NHL training camps would be opening on schedule.

That was before commissioner Gary Bettman said later in the day that there remains a “wide gap” between owners and players in negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement.

So much for any positive vibes generated by the NHLPA’s proposal in Toronto Tuesday, right?

“As far as we’re concerned there is,” Phillips said prior to Bettman’s statement, when asked if there was reason to believe camps would open, as per plan, in one month’s time. “We’re fully prepared to show up Sept. 15 and be ready to go. Hopefully, this proposal will spur on a lot of conversation and talks, and progress. And even to the tune that if there’s nothing done, we’d like to go back to work and we’ll figure this out as we go.”

Phillips was one of the 23 players flanking NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr when he faced the media after delivering the proposal to the league Tuesday in Toronto. Basically, their offer is to take less money in salaries — as much as $800 million less over the next three years, if the rate of growth stays at the level it reached last season — as long as the owners of the wealthiest clubs agree to increased revenue sharing in order to help the poorer teams.

“They took it, they said thank you, and they were taking (Tuesday) to analyze it, look over it,” said Phillips. “They were supposed to come back (Wednesday) and give us some kind of feedback. That can be anywhere from ‘we love it’ (to) ‘we hate it’ or ‘we need three more weeks to digest it.’ I have no idea.”

Apparently, the owners didn’t need very long to determine they hated the proposal.

Along with asking for a harder revenue-sharing hit on the richer clubs, the players would go along with retaining the salary cap, but also keeping contracts the way they are in terms of free agency, term limits and salary arbitration.

The players proposed to break the connection between hockey-related revenues and player salaries, as it is now. Instead of having payrolls rise at the same rate as revenue, players offered to cap salary increases if revenue continues to rise at the 7%-a-season average it has since the 2004-05 lockout. If it rises to more than the 10% it was last year, all monies above that would be split as it is in the current CBA, which sees players get 57% of hockey-related revenues.

Player salaries, in their proposal, would rise 2% in year one, 4% in year two and 6% in year three. Players would have the option in Year 4 for the system to revert to the present agreement and its 57-per-cent share of revenues.

“I feel really good about it,” Phillips said of the proposal, adding that players were making “huge concessions” in limiting the growth of their contracts. “It’s a little bit of out-of-the-box thinking. I’d call it a proactive deal in terms of trying to solve problems, and trying to really fix some issues if there’s some teams that are struggling.

“This is all forward thinking. I haven’t really heard this talked about before. Because you sort of pay attention to the other sports and their negotiations, and that’s all that’s talked about is, ‘are we taking 57%’ or ‘are we taking 42%’ or everyone thinks what’s the magic number in between? Who should get what percentage?

“We’re sort of taking a step back and saying okay, we’re going to slow the growth of the contracts, and we’re going to grow the game, and if the revenues produced go really high, then what they take home is going to be higher, and with the revenue-sharing that’s built in we’re all going to be able to help out the weaker markets.”

Seemed like a decent plan — before Bettman crumpled it up and threw it in the trash can.

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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