Sidney Crosby is expanding his role as the best player in hockey to matters off the ice – speaking out against the NHL owners as the lockout drags on.
"The desperation to play doesn't really seem like it's on their side," the Pittsburgh Penguins superstar said Tuesday, as a second day passed with no formal talks between the league and NHL Players' Association after negotiations fell apart last weekend.
And no talks are scheduled, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an e-mail.
For the second day in a row, Crosby criticized the owners for refusing to bend on their demands. While both sides admit they are not far apart on revenue sharing between rich and not-so-rich teams, the focus of the sharpest differences seems to have switched from the owners' "make-whole provision" (which deals with paying players the full value of their existing contracts once their share of hockey-related revenue drops to the proposed 50 per cent from 57 per cent) to contractual rights such as free agency, contract limits, salary arbitration and the length of entry-level contracts.
"I think there's a deal to be made and I think negotiations have to go better if there's going to be a deal," said Crosby, 25. "If it keeps going like this, I mean, everybody's going to lose.
"There's no way around it, everybody's going to lose."
This week marks a departure for Crosby from his usual role as a superstar in the Wayne Gretzky mould (one who shies away from controversy).
Crosby was always visible at the front of union ranks during photo opportunities after the negotiations started in the summer. Now, though, he is proving to be well-informed on the issues and willing to speak his mind.
This is an important advantage for the players, as no one approaches Crosby's exalted status with the general public.
It also may not be a coincidence Crosby's strongest comments on the lockout came on a day former NHLer Mark Recchi told The Boston Globe the players should forget about fighting the owners and sign a new collective agreement now.
Recchi, who was heavily criticized on social media for saying if the players do not settle now their offers from the NHL will not get better, argues that, in the end, the players always get their money.
"The longer they're out, the revenues are going to go down and down," Recchi said. "Corporate sponsors aren't going to be lining up … so there goes that money. The schedule isn't going to be 82 games, I don't think, at this point. That's more money lost.
"Look at that last deal. We ended up with the [salary] cap and everyone thought it was a bad deal. But it ended up great, right? No matter what the system is, or has been, the players get their money."
Crosby, though, says the players cannot agree to any demands by the owners that infringe on their contractual rights to negotiate the best possible deal for themselves. At this point, aside from a 50-50 split of HRR, the biggest issue for the owners is to limit the long-term, front-loaded contracts used to get around the salary cap. (They want to do this, in part, by putting a five-year limit on contracts.)
"Guys aren't going to give in when it comes to contracts now, it's not going to happen," Crosby said. "It's not money, it's the rights as a player within your profession, that's what I think guys are definitely going to stand strong on. And it's ridiculous to try to change that after the success of the league that everybody's had here the last seven or eight years."
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was said to have told NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr at last Friday's rancorous negotiating session that the owners are "past the point of give-and-take."
With the owners, it's been all take and no give, Crosby says.
"I don't think there's much negotiating going on," he said. "I think as far as the proposals are concerned, we're kind of at a stop – at a standstill – right now. Nobody's really moving a whole lot on their side and I think we've made steps to show we're willing to negotiate, but I don't think that's happening on the other side."