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NHL's improved offer to players carries consequences if rejected

Damage-control time

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NEW YORK -- The final push to arrive at a new NHL collective bargaining agreement is on.

After almost two weeks without face-to-face negotiations, labour talks between the league and NHL Players' Association resumed with a flurry of activity Wednesday.

Both sides tabled a proposal in an attempt to avoid another work stoppage. The current deal is set to expire just before midnight on Saturday and the owners have said they'll enact another lockout if a new agreement isn't reached beforehand.

The NHLPA's initial offer was countered with one by the league that will see the players get 49 per cent of revenue in the first year and scale back to 47 per cent over the course of the six-year deal, according to a source. That's up from a starting point of 46 per cent in the NHL's last offer, but still well down from the 57 per cent players saw last season.

Commissioner Gary Bettman says the league will withdraw its offer if it's not accepted by the time the current labour agreement ends.

"With every day we're experiencing -- and will continue to experience -- damage to the game and to the business of the game," said Bettman. "What we're trying to do now is stem that damage. What we would be prepared to do now to make a deal before there's extensive damage is not the same that we'll be prepared to do in the event we get to a point where we've suffered the damage."

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said the union's proposal was "consistent" with its previous offer.

"Our proposal was made with the same principles that we have always had in mind, and those are that we didn't see any reason, given seven years of record revenue growth and the enormous concessions the players made the last time, to have an absolute reduction in salaries," he said, adding the players would be willing to have their share "fall over time" as league revenues grow.

Fehr added he doesn't "know whether this will lead to anything."

Bettman said the union's proposal offered "very little movement if any," which prompted him to draft a counter-proposal with Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and Calgary Flames owner Murray Edwards.

"We're certainly on our side anxious to get a deal done as soon as possible, but it takes two sides to negotiate," Bettman said.

Bettman also said the definition of hockey-related revenues, the pool of revenues the league and players share under the collective bargaining agreement, would remain unchanged in an effort to simplify the process.

"I assure you, nobody wants to make a deal more than I do," Bettman said.

The sides resumed discussions at the league's Manhattan offices with just over three days remaining before their collective bargaining agreement expires. It's the first formal session they've held since Aug. 31.

On Wednesday night, the union opened a meeting with some 300 players in attendance while the NHL's board of governors is scheduled to convene today.

Meanwhile, the union says it has filed an application with Quebec's labour relations board, along with at least 16 players of the Montreal Canadiens, asking it to declare a lockout illegal in the province.

According to the NHLPA, the NHL cannot legally enforce a lockout in Quebec because the players' union is not a group certified by the labour board. A hearing on the application is scheduled for Friday morning in Montreal.

"The players don't want to see hockey interrupted," Fehr said. "We believe that under Quebec law the lockout would not be appropriate and would not be legal. So we're serving that position.

"We would like to think that's consistent with the interests of the fans and eventually with the interests of the owners."

When asked how this would help the other 29 markets, Fehr responded: "One day at a time and one place at a time."

Bettman dismissed the filing in Quebec as a "tactic."

"We don't believe the provincial jurisdiction on the labour front is something that we're subject to," he said.


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 13, 2012 C1

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