NHL's second-in-command doesn't see quick fix to impasse

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 5, 2012 - 11:20 PM

Bill Daly said that unless the league or the players union comes up with a "brilliant idea,'' talks on a new labor deal will remain stalled.

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Bill Daly: With Sept. 15 lockout possible, the NHL deputy commissioner was to talk with union leaders but not in a formal negotiating session.

Photo: Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press

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Bill Daly expected to talk with NHL Players' Association leadership about several issues Wednesday, but make no mistake, those issues were non-pressing and can't stave off a potential Sept. 15 lockout.

Daly, the NHL deputy commissioner, said formal negotiations remain at an impasse.

"With no talks scheduled, we've stalled -- at least temporarily," Daly said. "Hopefully that changes soon, but it certainly does create a much higher risk that camps won't be opening on time."

Daly said economic discussions will continue when "one side or the other has a brilliant idea for moving this forward."

More than 200 players arrive in New York next week for two days of meetings with NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will hold a Board of Governors meeting in New York on Thursday.

While it has been reported that Bettman would seek approval there to lock out the players if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't in place by midnight Sept. 15, the commissioner already has that approval, Daly said.

"Gary already has authorization of the board to lock out. I'm not sure he needs another vote of the board," Daly said. "It's to update the board on collective bargaining, and we'll see what they have to say."

When talks broke off Friday, Bettman voiced disappointment that the NHLPA didn't officially counter the league's proposal three days prior. He said it appeared the union didn't consider Sept. 15 the real deadline -- the insinuation being that games don't begin until October and paychecks don't start arriving until October.

But Bettman said concessions would be "more difficult" after Sept. 15. Damage to the business already has begun -- prospects tournaments were canceled, the NHL didn't schedule season-opening games in Europe and, Wednesday, scrapped its player media tour.

Daly said the mere possibility of a lockout is "affecting team's abilities to do business."

The NHL took in a record $3.3 billion in gross revenue last season, but Daly said the league is not profitable as a whole, and is seeking to lessen the players' share of revenues.

"The economic realities of doing business in today's world are different than they were [when the last CBA was negotiated] in 2004-05," Daly said.

In the NHL's first proposal, the NHLPA claimed that the league sought a 24 percent Year 1 pay cut from players. In the NHL's second proposal, the NHLPA claimed the league sought a 19.3 percent player pay cut in Year 1.

Daly said those numbers are inaccurate.

"Our proposal last Tuesday would have reduced the players share by 11 percent in Year 1, ... 8.5 percent in Year 2 and ... 5.5 percent in Year 3," Daly said. "In Years 4-6, it would have been at or above as we continue to grow revenues to prior levels."

Asked why players should accept any pay cut when teams negotiated these contracts fair and square, Daly said, "It's not a feature of our system that every player is guaranteed every dollar he contracts for."

Daly was referring to the fact that players put money into escrow in case teams pay players more money than agreed upon. In five of the seven years under the previous CBA, players took salary reductions. Next month, players will receive more than 8 percent back from last year's withheld escrow.

In the first three years of the NHL's proposal last Tuesday, the players' givebacks to the owners would be via escrow.

"Does it have an economic impact on the current contracts? Yes, just as escrow [under the previous CBA] would normally have an economic impact on the current contracts," Daly said.

The NHLPA has been calling for increased revenue sharing (according to sources, $240 million compared with the NHL's proposed $190 million), but Daly said, "We're not that far apart in terms of absolute dollars."

Eight years ago, the owners won the battle of public opinion. This time, the players are doing a masterful job via social media painting Bettman as the bad guy and the owners as greedy.

"Fan perception is important to us, but at the end of the day, we have to do an economic deal that's going to work for our clubs and our owners and our business and that's going to make the league healthy going forward," Daly said. "We hope to do that with the support of our fan base."

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