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NHL makes expanded proposal to NHLPA but enormous gap remains

The NHL made another proposal to the players on Wednesday that concerned a host of lesser issues in a new collective agreement.

But unless they close the enormous gap created by the owners' opening proposal on the major economic issues two weeks ago, another lockout looms when the collective agreement expires on Sept. 15.

Now that the NHL Players' Association has had time to analyze the owners' first proposal, it is more unsettling than it first appeared.

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If the owners' demands to re-define the hockey-related revenue that makes up the economic pie they share with the players were implemented a year ago, the NHL's 740 players would have seen their total compensation reduced by $450-million (all currency U.S.). Last season, the players received 57 per cent of the league's $3.3-billion in revenue, trumpeted by management as a record for the seventh year in succession since the 2004-05 lockout, which worked out to $1.88-billion.

However, the effect of the owners' demands would have taken the players' amount to less than it was in 2004 when the lockout began. Since then, however, NHL revenue has grown by more than $1-billion.

What was interesting to the NHLPA's analysts was the owner's first proposal would have reduced player salaries by 24 per cent, the same percentage the players voluntarily took after the lockout seven years ago. This would be accomplished by not only reducing the players' share of hockey-related revenue (HRR) from 57 per cent to 46 but also excluding some revenue from HRR to shrink the source of the players' compensation.

The overall effect, the analysts discovered, would actually shrink the players' share of the revenue to 43 per cent from 57 once the effect of reducing the HRR was added. Under those numbers, for example, the salary cap last season would have been $50.8-million, rather than $64.3-million, and the floor or minimum payroll would have been $38.8-million rather than $48.3-million.

To the individual player, this meant if he made a salary of $1-million, it would have been cut back to $760,000.

The union is still working on its counter-proposal to the NHL owners' opening demands. NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said this could come in the next two weeks but did not want to commit to a date.

In the meantime, the players and the owners will finish off this week's negotiations by breaking into smaller groups Thursday to discuss the owners' proposals on the lesser issues. These are the housekeeping issues that make up the bulk of a collective agreement, or what NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called "the nuts and bolts proposals." They concerned things like grievances, training camp procedures, medical care, methods of communication, roster moves and injuries.

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"The vast bulk of our proposals are now on the table," Bettman said.

Fehr said the players have already made some proposals on these issues to the owners and there is relatively little disagreement on some of them.

"What we have to do is analyze," Fehr said of the proposals. "On a lot of things I don't think there will be a big difference of opinion – you can use e-mail rather than faxes for stuff now.

"On some things we have to analyze what the actual effect of moving from A to B would mean for the individual players means. I don't think that's a terribly long process but it's not a five-minute turnaround either."

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