Gary Bettman: NHL labor negotiations took ‘step backwards’

October 18, 2012

(Chris Young/AP)

Heading into Thursday’s round of labor negotiations, there was some optimism that an NHL season might start sooner rather than later. After the session, though, that hope dimmed considerably.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters in Toronto that the process took a “step backwards” and that the two sides are “nowhere close” after the brief meeting in which the NHLPA presented three offers. The league rejected all three — in no more than 15 minutes, according to NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr. 

“Today is not a good day,” Fehr said. “It should have been, but it wasn’t.”

Bettman said that each proposal was a variation of the players’ initial offer, which was tabled in the summer, rather than off the NHL’s most recent offer.

“None of the three variations of player share even began to approach 50-50, either at all or for some long period of time,” Bettman said. “It’s clear that we’re not speaking the same language in terms of what they came back to us with.”

On Tuesday, the NHL presented a collective bargaining proposal that centered on dropping the players’ share of hockey-related revenues from 57 percent to 50 percent immediately. (Check out the full details here.) It included a “make whole” provision that would pay players the full value of their existing contracts in the first two years of the agreement by reducing players’ shares in the final four years. 

How to reduce the players’ share immediately, while ensuring they receive the total salary of existing contracts, remains the main point of contention.

The NHLPA offered three alternatives to the “make whole” provision to lower the players’ share, Fehr said, adding that the suggestion the union isn’t moving from its previous stance is “misplaced.”

The first two proposals, Fehr explained, saw the players’ share gradually reach 50 percent in hockey-related revenues over the term of the agreement. In the third, however, the players agreed to a 50-50 split immediately, as long as the owners honored existing contracts without escrow. (Full details on the NHLPA’s proposals here, via CBC.)

But soon after Bettman and Fehr spoke with reporters, the NHL sent out a news release disputing the players’ assertion that their proposals moved toward the 50-50 split, particularly the third offer. 

“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,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in the statement. “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.”

Along with its proposal this week, the NHL stressed that in order to salvage a full 82-game season it would need a new collective bargaining agreement in place by Oct. 25, a week from Thursday. According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, the league could cancel a large number of games Friday.

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