The National Hockey League Players’ Association may respond to the second collective bargaining agreement offer extended by the NHL on Friday. Or it may not.
After all, the NHLPA said Wednesday it would likely respond to the offer on Thursday. Then on Thursday, the day union executive director Donald Fehr—yes, the same Donald Fehr who helped drive Major League Baseball off the side of a cliff “Thelma and Louise” style in 1994—he was “optimistic” the sides would meet Thursday (per ESPNNewYork.com) asked for another day before countering the league proposal.
At issue? Money, of course. It’s always money in these things, regardless of how much both sides may talk about other issues. Money is what prompted the NHL to lock out its players for the entire 2004-05 season and for four months in 1994-95. Money is what prompted the NHLPA to strike near the end of the regular season in 1991-92.
The sides have a little more than two weeks before the current agreement expires. The league has already said it intends to initiate another lockout of the players if there is no new agreement in place by Sept. 15.
Specifically, it is hockey-related revenue that is the sticking point this time around. The NHL wants to cut the players’ share of said revenue from 57 percent to 46 percent. Fehr said changes in how that figure is calculated would result in players surrendering more money to escrow.
Commissioner Gary Bettman is already walking the hard line, saying that players shouldn’t feel any “entitlement” to 57 percent of revenues (per The Sporting News).
The current collective bargaining agreement ties salaries to revenues. But the league’s proposal calls for the two to be separated for the first three years of a proposed six-year deal, with the HRR to be redefined for the final three years.
The new deal would also take a huge bite—18 percent—out of the salary cap for the 2012-13 season. The league and players announced in June that the cap ceiling for next season would be $70.2 million per team. Under the league’s proposed CBA that would drop to $58 million, increase to $60 million in 2013-14 and top out in the neighborhood of $71 million in 2017-18.
More than half the teams in the league would be forced to shed salary under the new proposal, including the Boston Bruins, Minnesota Wild, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks, Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning, Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and New York Rangers.
Where this gets dicey for hockey fans is that Bettman appears to be speaking one language and Fehr another one entirely.
Bettman points to recently negotiated agreements in the National Basketball Association and National Football League as precedents for moving the revenue split closer to an even 50-50 and noted both came after lockouts.
Fehr, on the other hand, cites baseball’s labor peace that has been in place since 1995 with no salary cap and, later on, significant revenue sharing.
The NHL recovered from the last lockout, the one that scrubbed an entire season. Under the deal that emerged after the 2004-05 lockout, the league’s revenues have grown from $2.1billion a year to $3.3 billion.
In any event, both sides seem to be counting on the goodwill of the fans, who returned in droves in the fall of 2005. But can hockey fans really be expected to be spat on yet again by rich athletes and richer owners without making those parties feel the consequences?
If games start being cancelled, we may find the answer to that question fairly soon.