Well, it finally has gotten ugly in New York.
With the collective bargaining agreement set to expire Sept. 15, labor negotiations between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association have been “recessed,” with neither side even agreeing as to who asked to cease discussions.
NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr said the league asked for the recess and the union is ready to resume at any point. Commisioner Gary Bettman said that was an “unfair and inaccurate characterization,” and the league is willing to resume at any point.
Regardless, no future talks were set up today, neither side has been willing to budge off their positions and the second NHL lockout in eight years is looking inevitable.
Bettman said what started as a “promising week” ended in “disappointment” when the league got “stonewalled” by the NHLPA not officially countering the league’s Tuesday proposal. That proposal asked the players to go from making 57 percent of the revenue to 46.
Fehr said the league had previously objected to the NHLPA’s first alternate proposal that called for a bounceback to the current 57 percent player share of the revenue in Year 4.
So, the NHLPA tried to address that fourth year today, Fehr said, but the owners said if there’s not an “immediate reset of salaries,” there’s no reason to continue to talk.
Basically, the league wants the players to immediately take paycuts – whether that be by rollback in salaries or money put into escrow, and the players thus far are unwilling to do that.
And that, frankly, is understandable. Teams negotiated these contracts. Teams agreed to these contracts. The NHL registered these mutually-signed contracts. If teams signed players this past summer and the past few years to contracts they never had any intention of paying in full because they knew all along what they would be demanding in terms of paycuts in the next CBA negotiations, well, that’s completely disingenuous.
What if the 700 NHL players came to the owners this summer and said, “Hey, I know you and I agreed to these contracts, but we’re not playing unless you give each of us a 24 percent raise?”
Think that would be kosher with the owners? No chance.
That’s to me where the NHL owners really lose the vote of public opinion. They’re the ones that found all the loopholes in the last CBA. They’re the ones who have spent the past few years doing everything to circumvent the cap they wanted. They’re the ones who signed these players to super-long deals.
Now it’s not working for them and they want the players to absorb all the burden again. Still, how long are the players willing to play chicken? They want to play in the best league in the world, the owners are the ones that control that ability and typically, ... eventually, ... at some point in the future, the players are the ones who blink first because they want to play.
The question is how much damage happens to the league and how much money do the players lose before that eventually occurs?
Regardless, the NHLPA has yet to make a counterproposal off the NHL’s first or second proposal, Bettman says, and Bettman says the NHL can’t continue to negotiate with themself.
The NHL has proposed a CBA as long as six years. The NHLPA wants a three-year CBA with a player option to revert to this expiring CBA in Year 4. The NHL refuses.
Neither side seems willing to budge. If the two sides plan to meet again, “somebody needs to be in a position to say something new,” Bettman said.
Bettman also took umbrage with agents who have been quoted as saying the real deadline is October, when games begin.
He said once it gets past Sept. 15, the dynamic changes, the business is damaged and it’ll be harder to make concessions.
The sense of urgency to get a deal done for the players may also not be there because come October, each player will get a check for 8 percent of last year’s salary (escrow money being returned). That gives players a bit of a safety net in terms of lost income.
A lot of folks -- players and myself -- have pointed out that Bettman could be about to go 3 for 3 in NHL lockouts since 1994.
In the interest of fairness, this may become Fehr’s sixth work stoppage of his career.
Fehr was named General Counsel of the Major League Baseball Association in 1977, acting director in 1983 and executive director in 1985.
The MLB work stoppages during that time: 1980 strike, 1981, strike (80 days, 712 games lost), 1985 strike, 1990 lockout, 1994-95 strike (232 days, 938 games lost, including the World Series).
Right now, the NHL Players’ Association is unified. There’s no sign of cracking, of giving in.
Last time, the NHL recognized the weak union and knew it would eventually fold like a deck of cards. That eventually happened, and it still resulted in an entire lost season.
That’s why this is so scary. A full season was lost eight years ago AND that was with the NHL going up against a fractured union.
Now, this union stands steadfastly behind the tough negotiating of Fehr and is showing no signs of caving.
We’re officially at a critical juncture.
Bettman ended his press scrum by saying he wished he had better news. With a lockout looming larger, the fans especially wished that.
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