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NHL sides not speaking same language

Hockey-related revenue formula a sticking point

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NEW YORK -- There is no new deal on the horizon in the NHL's collective bargaining talks.

One day after receiving a proposal from the league that commissioner Gary Bettman labelled "meaningful" and "significant," the NHL Players' Association made it clear Wednesday it didn't share that view.

Union executive director Donald Fehr took issue with the fact the offer included a reduction in the players' share of revenue to 46 per cent -- when factoring in changes to how hockey-related revenue is calculated -- and said it would see the amount of money players give up to escrow increase "significantly." As a result, the union concluded the proposal wouldn't actually see current contracts paid out in full.

"From a players' standpoint, you should understand, it doesn't make much of a difference," said Fehr. "Should the player not get the dollar value that is on his contract because there is a rollback, which is simply a name for crossing out one number and writing in another, or whether he doesn't get an amount because there is escrow, he still doesn't get it."

The union plans to deliver a counter-proposal by the end of the week.

With a Sept. 15 deadline for a lockout creeping closer, progress would be made if the two sides could start speaking the same language. The calculation of hockey-related revenue -- or HRR -- has emerged as a sticking point.

That number is currently used to calculate the salary cap, with players receiving 57 per cent, and the NHL has proposed changes that would lessen the total pot available. According to a source, the league would like minor-league salaries to count as an expense and believes caps should be removed on revenue-generating activities such as concessions.

"What we're trying to do with the definition of changes is better reflect the reality," said Bettman.

Fehr believes the changes have served to complicate negotiations.

The proposal the league tabled Tuesday called for revenues to be split 50-50 for the final three years. However, by the union's calculation, the actual number players would end up receiving is equivalent to 46 per cent under the current system -- a claim Bettman acknowledged to be "in the ballpark."

With the ambiguity created by the redefinition of HRR, and a smaller pot of money to draw salaries from, the players are calling for the status quo.

"From our side, it's better to leave things the same because everyone understands what they mean and everyone understands what the effect is," said Fehr. "It makes it much easier that way."

But nothing is coming easy in these negotiations.

Bettman no doubt rankled the union when he suggested players should feel no "entitlement" to 57 per cent of revenues just because that number was included in the agreement coming out of the 2004-05 lockout. The league's initial offer in July called for the ratio to be flipped so that players would end up getting 43 per cent.

"There's no sense the 57 per cent (for players) is baked in perpetuity," said Bettman. "The fact of the matter is if the players have been getting 57 per cent, we were getting 43 per cent -- and we were paying all the expenses of running the game, running the league and running our clubs."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 30, 2012 D3

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