NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was asked Thursday why the league’s financial model needed changing, given the NHL generated a healthy $3.3 billion in revenue last year.
Bettman summed up the league’s perspective in 10 words: "We believe we’re paying out more than we should be."
Bettman’s comment to the media in Toronto came after he met for 90 minutes with Don Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players Association, as the two sides attempt to find accord on a new collective bargaining agreement. If a new CBA is not in place by Sept. 15, Bettman has said the league’s owners would lock out the players, and Bettman said there still was a wide gap between the two sides.
Bettman said Thursday’s session dealt, in part, with an NHLPA proposal on players’ contracting issues. But he said until common ground can be found on the players’ annual share of hockey revenue, not much progress on a new CBA can be made and the Sept. 15 deadline met.
"It’s clear we’re at a point where it’s going to be very difficult to move this process along until we deal with the very fundamental economic issues," he said.
The league has proposed the players’ annual split of hockey-related revenue be reduced from 57 percent to 43 percent. The union has proposed slight increases in salary for each of the next three years, claiming that would shift an estimated $465 million to the owners over the three-year period.
Fehr said Thursday the players’ objective was "a fair agreement, one that’s equitable."
Bettman’s comment about "paying out more than we should" came a little more than a month after Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold awarded free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter matching 13-year, $98 million contracts. Defenseman Shea Weber received a 14-year, $110 million contract from the Nashville Predators, who matched an offer sheet Weber signed with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Bettman indicated Thursday that league-wide revenue-sharing was not a divisive issue in the CBA talks. He said the league has proposed $190 million a year go to revenue-sharing, and the union proposed a $240 million pool that offers more flexibility in helping franchises that are struggling financially.
A part of the union’s revenue-sharing proposal is an Industry Growth Fund that would give Bettman a $100 million discretionary pool to be used as the league sees fit.
"We’re not that far apart," Bettman said of the revenue-sharing proposals.
On Wednesday, Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly met with Fehr and Fehr’s brother, Steve, an NHLPA adviser. A full afternoon negotiating session was postponed.
Bettman said he and Daly again would meet with the Fuhr brothers on Tuesday in New York. He said both sides would do some "homework" before then and "hopefully get on the same page."
Fehr had players meetings scheduled in Toronto on Thursday and Friday.
A lockout in 2004 resulted in the cancellation of the 2004-2005 NHL season. The league’s revenue has grown by $1 billion since the lockout season.
Bettman was asked Thursday if the league could successfully weather another lockout seven years later.
"We recovered well last time because we have the world’s greatest fans," he replied.