On thin ice: Optimism lost in NHL labor talks
TORONTO (AP) - The NHL and the players' association agree on one thing: Thursday was a bad day at the negotiating table.
Any optimism that existed following the NHL's offer earlier this week of a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue was dashed when the union countered with three proposals that were quickly rebuffed.
"Thoroughly disappointed,'' NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday after the brief bargaining session at union headquarters.
There were no smiles on the players' side, either, as it now seems likely more games will be canceled, and a full season won't be played.
"This is not a good day,'' union executive director Donald Fehr said. "It should have been.''
No new talks have been scheduled.
The players' association offered multiple options in response to the NHL's offer on Tuesday that called for an 82-game season and a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues between owners and players.
Bettman said that proposal was the "best that we could do'' and added that the sides are still far apart.
"None of the three variations of player share that they gave us even began to approach 50-50, either at all or for some long period of time,'' Bettman said.
"It's clear we're not speaking the same language.''
Bettman said he was still hopeful the league can have a full season, but time is running out to make that happen.
"I am concerned based on the proposal that was made that things are not progressing,'' he said. "To the contrary, I view the proposal made by the players' association in many ways a step backward.''
Bettman said Tuesday that the sides would have to reach an agreement by Oct. 25 for a full season to be played.
"We came in here with those proposals thinking that we could really make some progress,'' Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby said. "To hear those words (from Bettman) kind of shuts it down pretty quickly. In a nutshell, it doesn't look good.''
Fehr said two of the union's proposals would have the players take a fixed amount of revenue, which would turn into an approximate 50-50 split over the term of the deal, provided league revenues continued to grow.
The third approach would be a 50-50 split, as long as the league honored all existing contracts at full value.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly disputed the union's assessment of that offer.
"The so called 50-50 deal, plus honoring current contracts proposed by the NHL Players' Association is being misrepresented,'' Daly said. "It is not a 50-50 deal. 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. In effect, the union is proposing to change the accounting rules to be able to say `50-50,' when in reality it is not. The union told us that they had not yet `run the numbers.' We did.''
Fehr said the players would sacrifice nearly $1.8 billion in revenue under the league's proposal. He added that concessions made by the players in the last round of bargaining have cost them $3.3 billion over the term of the last agreement.
The players received 57 percent of revenues in the collective bargaining agreement that expired last month.
NHL players showed up in force Thursday as the union made its various offers.
Among the 18 players at the talks were Crosby, Jarome Iginla, Jonathan Toews and Eric Staal. The scene looked similar to one in August when the union made its first proposal.
The lockout - the third of the Bettman era - began Sept. 16, and the league canceled regular-season games through Oct. 24. Bettman, in announcing the league's latest proposal, called it "a fair offer for a long-term deal'' and "one that we hope gets a positive reaction.''
It didn't, and now the clock is an even bigger factor.
There is only one week to strike a deal for the season to start by Nov. 2, three weeks behind schedule. If those deadlines are met, teams would be able to hold makeshift training camps for one week, and then play one extra game every five weeks to make up for the lost time and complete a full slate.
"I don't know what the next step is,'' Bettman said. "I'm obviously very discouraged.''
In releasing the details, the NHL confirmed its offer was for six years with a mutual option for a seventh. The plan includes a 50-50 split in hockey-related revenue, which is a step forward. The NHL had proposed in July to cut the percentage of HRR from 57 percent to 43, then increased its offer in September to about 47.
Management included a provision to ensure players receive all money promised in existing contracts, but the union is concerned with what management termed the "make-whole provision.'' If the players' share falls short of their $1.883 billion in 2011-12, the players would be paid up to $149 million of deferred compensation in the first year of a new deal and up to $62 million in the second.
However, the union believes that money would be counted against the players' share in later years.
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