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Ominous light in darkness of CBA talks

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Hockey fan

Not today. Once again a glimmer of hope was quickly snuffed out at a CBA session. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

By Stu Hackel

Some will think of Day 67 of the NHL lockout as the darkest day of all. It may also be the most illuminating.

After hearing a new proposal from the players that contained some major concessions, the NHL’s negotiators rejected it — politely this time and following a couple of hours of examination, not dismissively in 10 minutes as they did the last time the union presented some ideas that could have been at least a starting point. Still, the owners did not deem this new offer worthy of further discussion. “So basically,” tweeted Luke DeCock of The Raleigh News-Observer, “the NHL doesn’t want to negotiate. It wants to dictate. Full stop.”

In their proposal, the players had made some significant movement, saying for the first time in this process that they’d accept a percentage of Hockey Related Revenue, not a guaranteed fixed amount. They went to a 50-50 split of HRR in Year 1 of their proposals instead of a gradual decline to that figure. They lowered the amount they were seeking from the owners on the misleadingly named “Make Whole” provision to honor existing contracts. That full amount of those contracts is about $590 million. The NHL has offered to pay only $211 million. The PA said Wednesday it would settle for $393 million. It moved the gap on how much the players would share of HRR from what had once been about $1 billion to $182 million. If you want to see the entire NHLPA proposal, TSN posted it here.

“We’ve moved far more than halfway,”  NHLPA leader Donald Fehr told reporters after he presented the proposal to the owners, “and our expectation is the NHL is going to be willing to meet us if they want to reach an agreement.”

After the evening session, Fehr met the media and characterized the league’s response as, “They appreciated it, but they reiterated that they can’t move…’Thanks, but you have to agree to what we said.’”

Here’s video of his media briefing:

When it came to contracting rights, the players did agree to address the owners’ concerns about back-diving deals that lead to salary cap circumvention, but are holding firm on other points. Darren Dreger of TSN reported that in the afternoon discussions between the sides, the owners came back with a new position on salary arbitration that would render it an even more restrictive system for the players. He added there was no movement on unrestricted free agency, but the owners did agree to restore the Entry Level System (the mandatory length of a player’s first NHL contract) to the three-year term of the old CBA and abandoned the two years of their last proposal.

There were also parts of the players’ economic proposal that many in the media who examined it believed the owners would find problematic, including a new provision that, starting in Year 2 of the deal, the players’ share would not decline even if HRR did, meaning if the league lost money, the players would still be guaranteed the same amount of salary they received the prior year. Fehr’s explanation to the media on this provision was, “The players are making enormous concessions to the owners and we want some protections on the downside.” No one knows how negotiable that point is, however, since the owners decided not to talk further about anything.

There were reports that moderate voices in the NHLPA helped shape this proposal in an effort to get the two sides negotiating, and that some in the rank and file who had not been heavily involved in the process felt that the sides hadn’t engaged in enough bargaining. Now that the proposal to which they contributed has been shot down, you have to wonder how moderate they will be going forward.

Fehr would not address that question directly after the morning session, but he said in the afternoon, “I can say that what the players thought the owners had said about ‘You have to do it our way on the share’ and so on…was worth an effort to see if it could be reached.

“And,” Fehr concluded with a little shrug, “we got the reaction we got.”

One of those players thought to be a moderate who recently got involved in the talks, the Lightning’s Bay’s Marty St. Louis, told Damian Cristodero of The Tampa Bay Times, “Well, it’s disappointing. I feel they’re trying to bully us and trying to draw a line in the sand pretty much. It’s tough. We want to be negotiating. We came their way again and nothing. They just keep telling us keep coming. They’re staying where they are, so you end up negotiating with yourself, and that’s definitely something we don’t want to do.

“I don’t know where we go from here,” St. Louis added. “It’s very frustrating.

Here are the Commissioner’s remarks:

Gary Bettman tried to both put a better face on the developments and maintain a combative attitude toward the PA. He acknowledged that the players had moved closer to the league’s position but insisted, “We’re still far apart.” Nothing that he, his fellow negotiators, and the owners who were present heard swayed them enough to begin hammering out an agreement based on what the players had presented.

“Today isn’t the first time the union has come out of a session and talked about how wonderful their offer is, or how close we were, when in fact the reality was, they were misleading you,” Bettman told the media afterward.

“I think everyone needs to take a step back, and I think all of the PR spinning is not going to get this done,” he added, engaging in a good deal of spinning himself, saying the owners are all mystified why the players haven’t accepted their offer. “Don can say whatever he wants, I’m not going to negotiate publicly.”

The NHLPA had planned a conference call late in the afternoon to assess its next steps. How critical was this latest round of talks? Obviously, the sooner the sides begin to get through the issues that divide them and make more agreements, the sooner the season can start, albeit an abbreviated one. At a certain point, there isn’t enough time to have any meaningful competition and the season will be cancelled. (SI.com’s Brian Cazeneuve asks: When does a short season become silly season?)

How far away are we from that? As a few observers noted on Twitter earlier on Wednesday, the lockout that began prior to the 1994 season was settled on Jan. 11, 1995 and a 48-game schedule resulted. The 2004-05 season was cancelled on Feb. 15, 2005. There are rumblings that the league may not wait as long as it did in 2005 to axe the entire schedule this time. Considering the severe manner in which it has conducted itself throughout the lockout, that wouldn’t be surprising.

Further reductions in the schedule are forthcoming, probably as soon as Friday, which has become the traditional day for the league to release bad lockout news. Today’s developments don’t mean the season is dead but, at minimum, they deepen the self-inflicted wound to the fabric of the sport and signal that the endgame for this lockout, the rationale for which remains abundantly unclear, could be very harmful.

“I love the players,” Bettman told Gary Lawless this week in The Winnipeg Free Press. “Nobody should think for a moment that I don’t.”

It is, indeed, a very strange love.



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  • Published On Nov 21, 2012
  • 12 comments
    gfrmil
    gfrmil

    Heres an idea, players get what they are contracted for, nothing more, nothing less.

    newcory88
    newcory88

    Here's a humble suggestion. The players immediately announce that they are willing to accept the owners' offer as is, in order to save the season, provided that the owners immediately reduce ticket prices 20% across the board. Further, any future collective bargaining agreements in which player salaries are cut (or salary caps are lowered) are yoked to ticket price reductions of the same magnitude. In doing so, the players make it clear that they are willing to make a sacrifice for the fans, and that they are working in concert with the fans. Then the owners have a choice, either to accept the terms or show that they have zero regard for the fans, and that their rhetoric is meaningless propaganda.

     

    ScottF
    ScottF

    This has been an attempt by the owners from the very beginning to break the union. Who is responsible for creating all of the cap circumventing contracts, if not the owners? The owners are counting on the fact that the players have a limited number of years in which they can earn revenue in the NHL and will eventually cave, in addition they are also counting on the fans returning like the sheep they proved to be last time there was a lockout and both are safe bets. The owners will run a few discount ticket promotions and the fans will lap it up and they won't be any worse off. Meanwhile all of the venders, ticket sales agents, maintenance people, and local businesses suffer. 

    marino.eccher
    marino.eccher

    Listen, the players have no one to blame but themselves. Ever since they put teams in non-viable warm-weather markets and forced the owners at gunpoint to sign all those terrible contracts as recently as this summer, the league just hasn't been the same.

    ElbonianGA
    ElbonianGA

    20 years ago I bought an expensive C-Band satellite system so I could watch Hockey Night in Canada. Now, I've quite simply had it with the NHL and its players association. If I never watch another NHL game, it will be too soon.

    Thomas Baker
    Thomas Baker

    I think you can kiss this season GONE!!!!  I will be requesting a full refund for my two season tickets. The NHL and Union (players) don't deserve a fan base already paying exorbitant ticket prices. And the dirty little secret is, the prices are only going up. 

    rebutit.good
    rebutit.good

    Bettman is presiding over the destruction of hockey. He and the owners are tools. The euro players ought to do themselves a favor and head home. North American players may as well follow.

    sabinns3
    sabinns3

    The owners created every problem they are whining about. 

     

    Teams have been placed in areas where no fan support exists.

    Contracts are signed that teams are unable to financially justify.

    Lengthy contracts with low back end values were jointly devised  by both agents and ownership to avoid the current salary cap.  Intelligent CBA writing on the part of the league could have eliminated this issue the last time around.

    The league complains that teams are losing money in certain areas but revenue sharing from the successful teams is so sparse that it will NEVER make any difference.

     

    My list of fixes is as follows:

     

    FULL disclosure of every teams financials.

    Any and all current player contracts are honored in full exactly as they were written.

    A 50/50 split of ( HRR + any revenue derived from the use of players names and/or likenesses ).

    All contracts signed have a yearly cap hit value equal to the total contract dollar value divided by the length in years.

    If teams are going to remain in areas where revenues are insufficient then the LEAGUE will collectively MAKE-WHOLE every money losing teams finances.  No more blaming the players for poor business practices on the part of ownership.

     

    I wish both sides luck in regaining the fans trust an MONEY if this season is cancelled.

    Gyula Huszar
    Gyula Huszar

    The league is unconcerned about the effect the lockout is having on the fans. The players hope the fans will forgive them, for the love of the sport.

    I find basketball fascinating lately. The skill level of the NBA players is the equal of their NHL competitors. I'll play hockey, but I'll watch the NBA from now on. All the sportsbars here in Vancouver show the NBA games, and guess what? They're cleaner AND the players appear to be having fun. Good examples for us all.

    The NHL doesn't care about us, the fans. The NBA does. I'm out, Bettman and Fehr.

    azathoth
    azathoth

     @sabinns3 Yep, you hitting the nail right on the head, there.  I'm not fluent in the money matters, so I can't comment on your fixes, but they sound reasonable.  It's amazing that the owners don't shut down teams that are continually losing money.  It happens in the other major sports leagues, but putting a hockey team in a desert or a place that has never seen snow?

    Thomas Baker
    Thomas Baker

     @sabinns3 I agree on almost everything you say. Especially teams signing players to unjustified contracts and the placing of franchises in areas with fan bases not able to support NHL teams. But I would also add the greed of the players and union to your list. Ticket prices are too high now and will only go up when a new CBA is reached. 

    sabinns3
    sabinns3

     @Thomas Baker Greed on the part of the players and union is a given but if ownership would just restrain themselves and stop handing out such large contracts then maybe they wouldn't lose money hand over fist when the ticket buying slows because of a poor economy or lack of support for a losing franchise.