For the third time in 18 years, the National Hockey League has locked out its players in a labour dispute over how to divide the spoils of an industry that produced a record $3.3-billion (all currency U.S.) in revenue last year.
Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, met with Steve Fehr, the NHLPA’s No. 2 man for lunch in New York Saturday, but nothing came out it.
"We spoke today and determined that there was no point in convening a formal bargaining session in light of the fact that neither side is in a position to move off of its last proposal," Daly told NHL.com. "I'm sure we will keep in touch in the coming days and schedule meetings to the extent they might be useful or appropriate. We are sorry for where we are. Not what we hoped or expected."
It was a day in which NHL teams raced to get players signed to contracts while the old CBA was still in effect.
Two deals were signed in the final hour before midnight - a six-year $31.5-million deal for Evander Kane with the Winnipeg Jets and a four-year, $4-million contract for Matt Martin with the New York Islanders. In all, just under $200-million was committed to new contracts in the 48 hours before the lockout was triggered, a curious turn of events considering the official impetus for the work stoppage is to rein in salaries.
The NHL did not send out any official notification of the lockout. Instead, it posted a four paragraph story on its website, saying that the deadline for a new CBA “passed without an agreement being reached” and as a result, “training camps will not open until agreement on an new CBA is reached.”
Soon after the lockout was implemented, San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture tweeted: “Sorry to the fans and everyone who is hurt by this. It is not our choice. We want to play the way it is.”
As for Jeremy Roenick, a former Sharks player turned TV analyst, he was critical of the $31.5 million the Jets committed to Kane, noting that he’d scored just 63 goals and 63 assists thus far in his career. Tweeted Roenick: “And we wonder the problem?? Holy crap.
“Some general managers need babysitters.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman received unanimous approval to impose the lockout Thursday during a board of governors meeting in New York and he followed through on that mandate at the collective bargaining agreement witching hour – Saturday night at midnight.
According to Bettman, the NHL was no longer prepared to operate under a collective bargaining agreement signed in the summer of 2005 that imposed a salary cap on the players, but ultimately governed a period of unprecedented prosperity, in which league revenues grew from $2.1-billion to $3.3-billion over a seven-year span.
Bettman’s contentions was that the players’ share of the overall pie – 57 per cent – was too high and the owners deserved a more equitable split in the next agreement.
In its most recent proposal, the NHL asked to shrink the players’ share of gross revenues to 49 per cent in the first year of what they proposed would be a six-year deal.
To date, the dispute has been mostly viewed as a collision between a league and a players association with two vastly different views of how the business of hockey might look in the years ahead.
The NHL players association imagines a rosy future, in which revenues would continue to rise at an annual rate of 7.1 per cent. Fundamentally, the NHLPA does not want to see player salaries reduced, so its proposals hinge on increasing revenue-sharing at the NHL level and putting the brakes on further salary increases that they imagine happening down the road.
The NHL believes the players’ union projections are unduly optimistic and say that in the wake of rising costs, they need to retain a larger percentage of the business.
The two sides reportedly touched base in the hours leading up to the lockout, but no new formal negotiations were scheduled. The owners and players most recently exchanged proposals last Wednesday and Bettman was adamant that the league’s offer would be withdrawn if a new agreement couldn’t be forged before the Saturday midnight deadline.
Fehr indicated that his side might employ a similar tactic as well.
“It depends on what happens after Saturday,” said Fehr Thursday. “We take it one day at a time. Everybody’s free to reconsider their proposals at any given time – and if the owners do that, that’s obviously on the table for the players too.
There were no immediate indications of when the next round of face-to-face negotiations might take place.
“If you’re dedicated to the negotiating process, you can move this along quickly,” said Bettman Thursday. “If, for whatever reason, you’re not interested in making a deal, you drag it out.”
“We’ve been taking a low-key approach to the public-relations aspect throughout this process. We haven’t been out there campaigning or hammering or doing whatever. We think the negotiations have to take place across the table between the parties directly.”
According to Bettman, the league “honoured” its obligations under the last CBA. “I don’t expect any awards for that. That was our obligation, both legally and morally. But that doesn’t mean we have any responsibility to do that going forward.”
About the only thing they can agree on at this point is the league’s goals in a new CBA.
“The perception we have is that all they’re interested in is talking about salary reductions,” said Fehr, something Bettman did not dispute.
“I’m not going to get into a public economic debate,” said Bettman. “That will just cause all of us to get a headache. The fact of the matter is, we believe as a league we are paying out too much money.”