NHL's Bettman 'disappointed', rejects union's latest proposals

calexander@newsobserver.comOctober 19, 2012 

NHL Labor Hockey

NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr, center, glances at his notes as he stands in front of players, including Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal, to the right of Fehr and Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby, second from left, following collective bargaining talks in Toronto, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman received three counterproposals from the players' association on Thursday and left the negotiating table "thoroughly disappointed," further shrinking the possibility of a full hockey regular season. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

CHRIS YOUNG — AP

The NHL quickly and summarily rejected three collective bargaining offers from the NHL Players Association on Thursday, again leaving the start of the 2012-13 season in doubt.

With many fans optimistic the two sides could reconcile their differences and soon approve a new CBA, the labor meeting in Toronto ended with Commissioner Gary Bettman angrily saying it was a “step backward.”

“It’s clear we’re not talking the same language at all in terms of what they came back to us with,” Bettman told reporters. “I am, to say the least, thoroughly disappointed.”

On Tuesday, the NHL forwarded a proposal to the union that included a 50-50 split in annual hockey related revenue and with no immediate rollback in salary. Bettman said the offer was contingent on the season starting Nov. 2, enabling the league to complete a full 82-game season and the Stanley Cup playoffs by the end of June.

The NHLPA responded with three proposals. NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said one alternative was for an immediate 50-50 HRR split if all the player contracts that had been signed before this season were fully honored.

“We think it makes a lot of sense and it really is fair,” Fehr said.

The other two proposals also would move the HRR split to 50-50 – the first in the third year of the five-year CBA, the second in the fifth year.

The three offers were rejected in 10 minutes, according to Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Crosby was one of 18 players, including Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal, who flew to Toronto to attend the meeting.

“It’s disappointing,” Crosby said. “We came in here today with those proposals thinking we could make some progress. It doesn’t look good right now.”

Fehr noted the league’s proposal would cut the players’ salaries by 12.3 percent – about $1.8billion total in six years, given the 7percent annual growth in revenue the NHL has enjoyed in recent years.

“How could that be fair?” he said.

The NHL, in turn, found fault with the union’s proposal on an immediate 50-50 split and honored contracts. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly, in a statement, said it was being misrepresented.

“It is not a 50-50 deal,” Daly said. “It is, most likely a 56- to 57-percent deal in Year One and never gets to 50 percent during the proposed five-year term of the agreement. The proposal contemplates paying the Players approximately $650 million outside of the Players’ Share (of HRR).”

The players have been locked out by the league since Sept. 15, when the CBA expired. Under that labor deal, signed in 2005, the players received 57 percent of HRR – more than $1.88billion last year.

The union’s first proposal called for small salary increases in the first three years, then a “snapback” to 57 percent in a fourth year. The union later tweaked it to a five-year CBA with no snapback.

The NHL’s first proposal was for a reduction of the players’ share to 43 percent, which was quickly dismissed by the union.

The league later put another offer on the table calling for a reduction to 47 percent over the course of a six-year CBA.

“I’m not sure if their willingness to negotiate has really shown through in their offers,” Crosby said. “They’ve been kind of hard-line offers, take it or leave it.”

Bettman was accompanied at the meeting by Daly and four NHL owners. He said the league was willing to continue negotiations but noted the NHL offer made Tuesday was “the best that we can do.”

“We gave it our best shot. It is our best offer,” he said. “I don’t know what the next step is. I’m obviously very discouraged.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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