The chances of an NHL lockout may have increased considerably Wednesday.
A day after the NHL Players Association made a proposal on a new collective bargaining agreement, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman emerged from a negotiating session in Toronto to tell reporters, “There’s still a wide gap between us with not much time to go.”
The current CBA will expire Sept. 15, and Bettman already has said the league is prepared to lock out the players if a new agreement is not in place. The league and its owners are seeking significant revenue concessions from the players and seem adamant about making changes involving contract lengths and in unrestricted free-agent status.
The players’ union countered on Tuesday with a proposal that would reduce the players’ share of revenue over a three-year period. It would expand the league’s revenue-sharing plan, but keep the status quo on contracts and free agency.
The NHLPA had a show of strength on Tuesday, as Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and other stars flanked NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr as he addressed the media. There appeared to be an air of optimism, with Crosby saying the union had made a strong proposal and the players were “committed to getting a deal done.”
Things appeared more glum after Wednesday’s session.
“There are still a number of issues where we’re looking at the world differently,” Bettman said. “I’m not sure there has yet been a recognition of the economics in our world – and I mean in the greater world and the sports industry.”
Bettman mentioned recent labor and CBA issues resolved in the NBA and NFL. Fehr later said Bettman conveniently left out Major League Baseball, which he noted has no salary cap and has a substantial revenue-sharing plan but has had no major labor issues the past decade.
Bettman said he would not meet again with Fehr until next week. Fehr said he will be conducting player meetings, but noted bargaining sessions would continue and that he would stay in touch with Bettman.
A key point of contention is a proposal by the league that the players’ annual share of hockey-related revenue be sliced from 57 percent to 46 percent (the union claims it would be 43 percent.) The union’s “alternative proposal,” as Fehr called it, would reduce the players’ revenue share by an estimated $465 million the next three years, but also provides $250 million a year in revenue-sharing to bolster teams hurting financially.
Fehr said there were other proposals the union still were considering. Bettman, in turn, said not having the union’s full proposal on the table was “a little disappointing.”
The NHL locked out the players in 2004 and the 2004-2005 season was canceled because of CBA issues.
Asked about Bettman’s “wide gap” assessment, Fehr said there was a “pretty substantial monetary gulf” between the two proposals. He said the league wanted to roll players’ salaries back to where they were before the 2004-05 lockout, saying, “That creates the gulf.”
Fehr said the players had been advised to prepare for a “worst-case” situation, which he said would be a lockout.