Bettman, NHL make new offer in hope of full season

calexander@newsobserver.comOctober 16, 2012 

There’s a chance – repeat, a chance – National Hockey League teams could soon be on the ice.

In an attempt to break the impasse over a collective bargaining agreement and salvage the entire 82-game season, the NHL made a new CBA proposal Tuesday to the NHL Players Association. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said it calls for an even distribution of hockey-related revenue – a 50-50 split between the league and players – while insisting it would not call for a rollback in player salaries.

"We made an offer that was our best shot at preserving an 82-game season and the playoffs," Bettman told reporters in Toronto after the meeting.

Bettman said the CBA offer was contingent on the season starting Nov. 2 and on playing all 82 games. The Stanley Cup playoffs, Bettman said, could be completed by the end of June.

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, addressing the media after Bettman, said the union needed time to analyze the offer and crunch the numbers. The players received 57 percent of hockey-related revenue (HRR) this season under the previous CBA, which expired Sept. 15.

Fehr said a conference call was scheduled Tuesday afternoon with the NHLPA executive board and the players’ negotiating committee. The next meeting with the NHL could be Wednesday or Thursday.

"We’re always happy to receive a proposal," Fehr said. "Gary (Bettman) indicated to me they’d still like to get a full 82-game season in, and we of course share that view.

"I would like to believe this will be an excellent starting point and we can go forward and see if there’s a deal to be made. ... I’ve been looking for a way to get these negotiations jump-started, and if this does it that’s great. We’ll see though."

Bettman said there was nine- or 10-day period to "get this all put to bed, sign, sealed and delivered. Teams would have a one-week training camp, he said.

The NHL players have been locked out since Sept. 15. With the two sides unable to find common ground in negotiations – the proposal Tuesday was the first since Sept. 13 – the league first canceled all preseason exhibition games, then the first two weeks of the regular season.

When the negotiations began, the league first proposed cutting the players’ share to 43 percent – a drastic reduction immediately rejected by the union. In a second proposal, the league said the players’ HRR share would be reduced to 49 percent and gradually down to 47 percent over the course of a six-year CBA.

The players proposed taking 54 percent in the first year of a five-year CBA, with a reduction to 52 percent by the fifth year.

Bettman did not disclose the length of the CBA in the new proposal, although Fehr said it was "at least six years." Neither discussed the amount of escrow the players would have to pay.

It’s believed while the players’ escrow payments would increase next year to achieve the 50-50 split of revenue, the players later would receive a deferred payment to maintain the contract value.

Media reports said the league also proposed limiting contracts to five years in length. Unrestricted free agency would begin at age 28 and eight years of service.

Teams would be allowed to spend more than the salary cap next year, to a maximum of $70 million, according to media reports.

The players in their CBA proposal asked for a significant increase in league-wide revenue-sharing, to about $250 million. It’s believed the league’s new offer is $200 million.

In 2005, the failure to sign a CBA led to a lockout of the players and eventually the cancellation of the 2004-2005 season. This year’s lockout is the third of Bettman’s tenure as commissioner.

Given the growth of the league since 2005, the players’ share of HRR grew to 57 percent, or $1.87 billion last season.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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