They took to the microphone one after another, a trio of Canadian captains of NHL teams ready to express their anger, disappointment and disbelief over the state of labour negotiations.
First came Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and then Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan.
And, somewhat fittingly given what’s on the line, they were anchored by Sidney Crosby, the face of the sport.
On an ugly day for the game, one in which it was essentially determined the 2012-13 lockout will claim at least some regular-season games, the Pittsburgh Penguins star wasn’t his usual blasé self, as he took aim at what he saw as the league’s lack of “willingness to negotiate.”
This was Crosby with his heart in the fight – one he had hoped would end with any of the three proposals the National Hockey League Players’ Association made at the union’s head offices on Thursday.
“You come with three proposals, thinking you have a chance to gain momentum and it’s shutdown within 10 minutes,” Crosby said, calling the owners’ proposals to date “hard-line offers.”
“It’s not even given a day to think about or crunch numbers. It’s shutdown within minutes. That doesn’t seem like a group that’s willing to negotiate. I mean that’s pretty clearly take it or leave it.”
Historically, the NHL’s stars have rarely been at the front of labour wars. And in Crosby’s case, he hardly has much to gain by stepping into the fray.
While he would lose a chunk of his $7.5-million (all currency U.S.) salary next season under the owners’ proposal, it’s likely the vast majority of the 12-year, $104-million extension that kicks in beginning in 2013 would wind up in his bank account provided he continues to play.
But this is a fight that’s become more about the principle than the dollars and cents for many of the players.
All three of Toews, Doan and Crosby spoke to the players’ central goal on Thursday – to be paid the full amount on their existing contracts – and appear united behind the notion that ownership put huge figures down on deals leading into the lockout and now wants to pay out less than 100 per cent of what’s there.
With negotiations breaking down yet again, the bad blood and war of words appeared to escalate, with the three normally uncontroversial players all speaking candidly on the subject.
“We’ve been more than willing to bargain and negotiate fairly,” Toews said. “We’re willing to eventually work toward 50-50 [split of revenues]. For the time being, we just want them to honour the current contracts we’re under right now. That’s pretty much all we’re asking.”
“They wanted us to meet them at 50-50 and we did,” Doan said. “We’re trying to do everything we can to make it work.”
After the series of press conferences by commissioner Gary Bettman, NHLPA head Donald Fehr and the three players, the union held a conference call with a larger portion of its membership to inform them of the bad news.
In the hours that followed, players began to take to social media to express their outrage over the situation directly to a increasingly apathetic and angry fan base, many of whom began responding back.
“I hate myself for thinking the owners would be reasonable,” Nashville Predators defenceman Hal Gill tweeted.
That the ugliness has spilled over so publicly to being between the league’s marquee stars, owners and fans is hardly good for the NHL’s image coming out of this dispute, whenever that may finally be.
Meanwhile, even Crosby is losing faith an agreement can be reached in time to save games. He said Thursday he will now more seriously consider going to play in Europe, as the potential for a lost season continues to grow.
“In a nutshell, it doesn’t look good right now,” Crosby said.
Under the owners’ proposed 50-50 deal, Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby’s salary in the upcoming six seasons would likely be affected by escrow, potentially by an estimated $2.5-million depending on how league revenues and player salaries grow. A “make whole” provision in the deal could return about half of that to him later in the agreement.
Under owners’ offer
*– salary lost in Years 1 and 2 of agreement would be returned over time by taking cut out of future player salary share