NHL players offer response to owners' proposal for new CBA

claexander@newsobserver.comAugust 14, 2012 

APTOPIX NHL Labor Hockey

Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin, center, and Ottawa Senators' Jason Spezza, left, follow Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players' Association, after talking to reporters following collective bargaining talks, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

CHRIS YOUNG — AP

  • More information A look at key CBA issues What the owners proposed July 13 •  Reduce players’ share of annual hockey-related revenues from 57 percent to 46 percent. •  Restrict contracts to a maximum of five years. •  Lengthen entry-level contracts from three years to five years. •  Begin unrestricted free agency after 10 years in the league (it’s now seven years.) •  End salary arbitration. What the players proposed Tuesday •  A reduction of the players’ share of hockey-related revenue for first three years of CBA. •  An option in the fourth year to revert back to current split of hockey-related revenue (57 percent to players) depending on continued growth of league revenues. •  A significant expansion of league revenue-sharing to help those teams struggling financially. •  No changes in contracts or contracting system.

The first salvo, by the NHL owners, came in July.

On Tuesday, the players answered, although far less dramatically.

With a month to go before the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement expires, the NHL Players Association made a proposal that would reduce the players’ share of hockey revenue by an estimated $465 million the next three years. It also called for an expansion of league revenue-sharing to help financially-strapped teams.

"The players made a proposal on core economic issues we believe should lead to a new CBA," NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said after the meeting in Toronto.

If a new CBA is not in place by Sept. 15, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said the players will be locked out. A doomsday scenario would be a replay of 2004-2005, when an entire NHL season was lost because of protracted haggling over the CBA.

Few expect that to happen given the strong financial health of the NHL, but there are no guarantees the start of the season -- now scheduled for Oct. 11 -- won’t be pushed back and a number of games lost.

On July 13, the NHL owners created a stir with a proposal that the players’ share of hockey-related revenues be slashed from 57 percent a year to 46 percent. Other important issues were addressed, including length of contracts and unrestricted free-agent status, but the revenue rollback was the eye-opener.

"The players did not believe the owners’ initial proposal was appropriate," Fehr said.

While neither Fehr nor Bettman spoke about many specifics of the NHLPA proposal, Fehr said the players were willing to take a reduced share of hockey-related revenues in the first three years of the new CBA. He estimated the total at $465 million but said it could be as much as $800 million depending on the growth of league revenue.

In return, Fehr said the players wanted the option to return to the current split -- the players receiving 57 percent -- in the fourth year should the league’s revenue continue to increase. The NHLPA also is asking for "significantly expanded, more aggressive and more targeted” revenue-sharing, providing more assistance to the teams that are struggling financially.

Fehr said the players’ proposal -- which would not alter the NHL’s hard salary cap -- can "produce a stable industry."

Fehr characterized the meeting as "pretty frank, pretty direct." But he also noted, "We don’t see the world in the same way."

Bettman said the NHL committee needed time to fully evaluate the NHLPA proposal and could offer a response Wednesday.

"Our hope is we can take care of business in the next month," Bettman told reporters. "That’s our goal."

Among those at the meeting at the NHLPA offices was Jim Rutherford, president and general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes and a member of the NHL’s negotiating committee. The 23 players at the meeting included Tim Brent of the Canes, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.

In 2004, the NHL hired an auditor, Arthur Levitt, who reported the league had lost $273 million in the 2002-2003 season and said it was "on a treadmill to obscurity." Levitt said 19 teams had lost an average of $18 million that season.

Things aren’t so dire for the NHL now. Total revenue for last season was reported to be $3.2 billion, more than a $1 billion increase from before the 2004 lockout.

Business has been good for the league and for Bettman, who negotiated a new 10-year television deal for the NHL last year. It was reported this week that his annual salary and compensation rose from $3.7 million to almost $8 million since 2004.

If there is an NHL lockout, it would be the third since Bettman was named commissioner in 1993. The 1994-1995 season was shortened to 48 games because of labor problems.

Alexander; 919-829-8945

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