NHL talks go nowhere; season likely won't start on time

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 3, 2012 - 7:17 AM

The league and the players' union quickly broke off negotiations, all but assuring a delay of the 2012-13 season.

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A nearly empty hockey stick rack in the Buffalo Sabres locker room.

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The latest talks between the NHL and its locked-out players' union broke off abruptly Tuesday, meaning that as early as Wednesday, the NHL is expected to announce that the 2012-13 season won't start as scheduled.

"It's depressing," said forward Zach Parise, who almost surely won't slip on a Wild sweater for the first time Oct. 13. "I think everyone saw it coming, but once it actually happens, it's unfortunate. It's terrible for the game. There's no other way to put it."

After three days of discussing peripheral issues over the weekend, the NHL and NHL Players' Association tried to discuss the definition of hockey-related revenue Tuesday.

That lasted 90 minutes with "no progress made."

"Today wasn't overly encouraging, that's for sure," said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, adding that the NHL lost $100 million in revenue by canceling the preseason. "Unless ... they show some willingness to compromise, I'm not sure how we get this done."

In the final year of the expired collective bargaining agreement, players received 57 percent of the league's $3.3 billion revenue. Last month, the NHL proposed a six-year CBA where the players' share is cut to 49 percent in Year One, 48 percent in Year Two and 47 percent in the final four years.

The union hasn't countered and has only been willing to see the player share drop as revenues grow. The NHL also wants players to take immediate paycuts -- a non-starter for the union.

"It's tough to grasp when you've got a guy in [Commissioner] Gary Bettman bragging every year that we're making 'record revenue, record revenue, record this,' and all of a sudden they want to take a quarter of what you've made away," Parise said. "That doesn't make sense to anybody. It doesn't matter what industry you're in."

A drop in player share to 47 percent is a 17.5 percent paycut, although Bettman said last month the NHL estimates the salary reduction actually would be 11.5 percent in Year 1, 8.5 percent in Year 2 and 4.5 percent in Year 3, and that since players gave back via escrow in five of seven years under the last CBA (once 12 percent), this should be a non-issue.

"Right now, it's tough to see [an agreement]," Wild center Kyle Brodziak said. "Obviously, somebody is going to have to give in at some point for something to work. As a union, all you can really do is stay together and have your faith in the guys that are leading us."

The union wants to come up with a CBA that will aid the NHL's financially struggling teams. This is the second lockout in eight years and third since 1994.

"It seems some people are narrow-minded and not thinking about the future, just thinking about trying to solve it quick," new Wild defenseman Ryan Suter said. "The players, we want it to be fixed forever so we don't have to deal with this all the time."

With things looking bleak, more and more players are expected to sign contracts in Europe for the length of the lockout. Already 100 players have left, including the Wild's Jared Spurgeon, who has played one game for the SCL Tigers in Switzerland.

Wild captain Mikko Koivu has an option to play for Turku in Finland, but he says he hasn't "signed anywhere yet." Parise says he is close to pulling the trigger on a contract offer from a team in Switzerland.

"You can't keep waiting around. You've got to go play," Parise said. "Depending on how bad this looks or sounds, I'll have to do a lot more serious thinking about it.

"There's definitely a way to come to an agreement, and you hope that we can find it soon."

Bouchard better

Wild forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who missed the second half of last season because of a concussion, is skating and puts his health at 95 percent.

"It's just a question of being able to get rid of just those little symptoms that come back once in a while," Bouchard said.

Because Bouchard was not cleared to play at the season-ending physical, he has access to the Wild's doctors, trainers and gym. If he is not cleared to play by Oct. 11, Bouchard is entitled to his $4.3 million salary.

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