NHL lockout: League makes a ‘meaningful’ offer, take it or leave it

NHL lockout: League makes a ‘meaningful’ offer, take it or leave it

Published on Wednesday September 12, 2012

NEW YORK—There was grandstanding and rhetoric by the bucketload as hockey players and NHL owners gathered Wednesday in the city that never sleeps as the 11:59 p.m. Saturday deadline for a lockout looms.
But there was also movement in stalled labour talks between commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players Association executive director Donald Fehr, who exchanged proposals and seemed intent on meeting again prior to the drop-dead date.
“We’ll see how it goes. Anything can happen,” said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews on his way into a meeting with about 275 players and their union leadership in a hotel ballroom. “I’m very optimistic. We’re all trying to be very positive about the situation.”
Sure there was movement — movement that may only exist until Saturday, when both sides threaten to pull their deals or parts of deals off the table if no deal is reached.
Players dropped their demand that any deal “snap back” to 57 per cent of league revenue in the final year of the deal. They offered a longer deal — five years — and both sides have agreed on the definition of “hockey-related revenue” — that big bucket of money, currently set at $3.3 billion, which the billionaire owners and millionaire players split up.
Owners had some movement, too. Just how big the move was depended on what side you listened to.
“We had meaningful movement in (the NHL offer),” said Bettman. “It was an attempt to engage the union finally in … the economic main issue.”
To that end, the NHL offered a six-year deal in which the players would receive 49 per cent of hockey-related revenue this year and 47 per cent by the end of the deal. The league’s last offer had the clubs offering the players 46 per cent of the league’s revenue.
“Moving from a fully implemented 46 per cent share to a fully implemented 47 per cent share is better by one per cent, I suppose,” said Fehr, who wasn’t impressed with those numbers. “While it is accurate to say the owners’ proposal does not take quite as much money from the players, some might say they’ve moved from an extraordinarily large amount to a really very big amount.”
The players are currently entitled to 57 per cent of revenue, the owners 43 per cent. The owners now want 53 per cent.
“To give you a sense of what this means, if the players had made proposals that mirror the owners, we would have wanted an increase to 71 per cent, then we would have said we would only take 68 per cent,” said Fehr.
He said the bottom line is the league is asking for $330 million in annual salary concessions. The union signalled it is willing to concede on salaries but wants the pain phased in over time as league revenues grow. The league wants cutbacks up front, in one form or another.
“It is fair from the players’ side to say we are willing to limit future increases so you can grow your way out of this, and their view is we have to have — in Gary’s words — a reset now,” said Fehr.
Bettman argues the league needs the rollbacks now because it doesn’t want to play one more year in the current economics.
His “movement” offer comes with a time limit: if there’s no deal by Saturday, then it’s off the table.
That didn’t frighten Fehr, adding the union is free to re-evaluate their issues once the lockout is imposed.
Earlier in the day he had made an offer, which the league dismissed. He continued to offer a cap of $69 million, $71 million and $75 million in the first three years, but dropped the players’ demand that their salaries “snap back” to 57 per cent in the fourth and final year. Instead he offered a five-year deal with the fourth and fifth years set at rates linked to revenue growth.
Fehr was rankled by Bettman’s comments that the proposal was simply “tinkering at the edges” of the issues.
“When we made our (initial) proposal, they made two things loud and clear. The first thing was we are not interested in an agreement that is three years and a one-year option and we are not interested in a 57-per-cent snapback,” said Fehr.
“So we made a proposal today that said it would be in almost all circumstances five years, which was their original proposal. Now they want six. We eliminated the 57 per cent. On those two specific things, especially when you’re looking for a framework, we thought it responsive to what they asked.”
There was also disharmony on other matters. The length of entry-level contracts, free agency and revenue sharing continue to be sticking points, according to Fehr.
“We don’t view revenue sharing as an issue. There’s going to be more than enough money to satisfy concerns,” said Bettman. “It’s clear we have variance in ideas about the best way to do revenue sharing, but we’ve already committed enough money to adequately deal with revenue sharing.”
There was a lot to digest. Fehr met with the players — about 275 of them — to explain the difference between the two offers and the consequences of the lockout.
“As a player and someone that loves the game, you hope a deal is going to get done,” said Leaf netminder James Reimer, one of at least half a dozen Leafs in attendance. “Coming to the meetings, you’re going to hear from the guys in the trenches what’s going on.”
Players with the Flames, Oilers and Canadiens had their own meeting to better understand the labour challenges launched by the union in Alberta and Quebec to challenge the legality of the lockout there. A Quebec labour panel will hear the NHLPA’s arguments Friday. In Alberta, the NHLPA must wait until a lockout is imposed before it can begin its challenge.

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