New York – The NHL’s collective bargaining talks resumed Wednesday with a sense of urgency that many people expected would happen during the negotiating process. But one thing remains clear; there is still a gap between both parties.
With the clock winding down to a lockout on Saturday, Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman each tabled new proposals that showed the conflicting positions still held by the players and owners on core economic issues.
The NHL’s new proposal added a particular twist to it. “This proposal was intended to get a deal this weekend,” Bettman said. “And if, in fact, a deal was not achievable then what we proposed was off the table. We were quite clear on that.”
Gary Bettman did not provide that many details of the new NHL proposal, but said that the league backed off their request to redefine hockey related revenue as well as softened on some other of their demands. At the heart of negotiations is the owners yearning to reduce the players’ share of revenue, which is now at 57 percent.
According to Pierre LeBrun of TSN, under the owners’ new six-year phase proposal, players would receive 49 percent next season ending up with 47 percent in the sixth year. In terms that fans can understand, the owners want an immediate reduction of players’ salaries to correct the financial situation.
According to the league’s numbers, this new proposal is asking for $275 million less in concessions, which roughly is a nine percent decrease for the players next season. This is a significant concession by the owners who originally proposed a 19 percent decrease for the players.
Commissioner Bettman also indicated that the business of hockey could be affected if there was another lockout. However, Fehr, the executive director of the NHLPA, suggested that the league had done its own damage and needed protection from themselves.
“Think about it this way,” he said. “You have a case where you talk about a lockout, you threaten a lockout, you tell your season-ticket holders and advertisers you’re going to have a lockout and then (once) you impose a lockout, then you someone else to pay for it.”
From the players’ perspective, they feel they should not have to fix a system that’s produced record revenue over the last seven years, and now the owners, who negotiated that system, want a reset on it.
The players currently receive $1.8 Billion dollars of the hockey related revenue and in their new proposal they asked for 54.3 percent of the revenue in the first year and would come down to 52.5 percent in the fifth year. The NHLPA does not want to give anything more than that back to the owners.
The owners’ proposal came in response to a player’s proposal that owners didn’t believe it went far enough to provide the framework to a new deal. Bettman felt that the players’ proposal didn’t include what he considered major movement.
Bettman said, “Their [NHLPA] proposal was really not much different, except around the edges, from the last proposal they made, which have had indicated was not acceptable.”
As Donald Fehr has been saying all along during the negotiating session, “it’s too early” to know whether the recent talks between the two parties will lead to a new deal to replace the current collective bargaining agreement that expires Saturday at midnight.
TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie believes a deal would have to offer something generous to the owners within the next couple of days to avoid the fourth lockout in the sport’s history. He tweeted last night, “the two sides are not even in the same universe,” when it comes to the proposals that are on the table.
However, both parties are just negotiating off their own proposals. Neither side is willing to acknowledge the other side’s proposal, and is just negotiating off their last proposal given to the other side. The NHL and NHLPA have yet to incorporate dialog they were given into any new proposals to move forward in the negotiating process.
Another good thing coming out Wednesday’s meetings was that the players’ have upped their last proposal to five years rather than a four year deal. The NHL owners are looking for a six year deal.
Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman were also in New York to hold meetings with their respective parties. Fehr was to address nearly 300 players on Wednesday night, while Bettman was scheduled to preside over the Board of Governors meeting on Thursday. It is expected the commissioner will formally be given the mandate to announce a formal lockout of the players.
Away from the negotiating table, The NHLPA announced that it had filed an application with Quebec’s Labor Relations Board, along with at least 16 layers from the Montreal Canadiens, asking it to declare a lockout illegal in the province. According to the NHLPA, the NHL cannot legally enforce a lockout in Quebec because the players’ union is not a group verified by the labor board. A hearing is scheduled for Friday in Montreal.
Both sides can agree on one thing, that neither side wants to see hockey interrupted. Both sides know exactly what’s at stake and just need to find a middle ground in order to avoid another season being canceled.