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David Shoalts

NHL collective bargaining in the spotlight Add to ...

Once the major issue of realignment was settled, there was little of substance left for the NHL board of governors to deal with on the second and final day of its annual meetings.

Much of Tuesday was taken up with layout out the collective bargaining scene, as the NHL is in the final season of the current agreement and expects to begin bargaining with the NHL Players’ Association after the all-star game on Jan. 29. The governors heard a report on the recent collective agreements struck by the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball and were told where things stand with the NHLPA.

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Also on the agenda was a report from the NHL’s hockey operations department, which informed the governors the rate of player concussions was down one-third so far this season from a similar period last year. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said this was due mostly to the adoption of more flexible plexiglass and safer stanchions around the players’ benches in league arenas.

Kevin Lowe, the Edmonton Oilers president of hockey operations, said management is more optimistic heading into this round of collective bargaining than it was in 2004, when a lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season.

He did not want to discuss specifics but said one reason is in 2004, the NHL was the first of the four major North American professional sports to try and strike a collective agreement. This time, the NHL can use the other leagues’ deals as examples.

“It’s a better feeling than last time around,” Lowe said. “But until we know what the other side is asking or expecting, it’s kind of an odd feeling, quite frankly. I guess we’ll know in a couple months where we stand.”

The NHLPA is keeping quiet about its demands but conversations with those on the management side show the league is expecting a major clawback from the players in their share of hockey related revenue. Under the current agreement, the players receive 57 per cent of the hockey related revenue.

But the NFL and NBA, the other leagues with a salary cap, received concessions from the players on the revenue front. The NFL players signed a 10-year deal in which their share of the revenue dropped from 50 per cent to 48 per cent; the NBA players went from 57 per cent to a range of 49 per cent to 51 per cent over the life of their agreement.

Bettman was non-committal about the labour negotiations, saying only he expects them to start after the all-star game.

In other business, NHL chief operating officer John Collins delivered good news about the league’s business operations, although no specifics were given to reporters. He said numbers were up on all the league’s platforms, from its website to its mobile service to all of its television carriers.

In a release, the league said unique visitors to its website, NHL.com, were up 17 per cent through October and November from “record numbers” a year ago. But the number of visitors was not released.

The league also said merchandise sales were up 15 per cent at its store in New York, its online sales outlet, and in arena and retail locations across the league.

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