There seems to be a new life to the latest negotiations in the Collective Bargaining Agreement thanks to the NHLPA’s first proposal put forth Tuesday afternoon led by their boss, Donald Fehr.
When the owners put out their outlandish proposal one month ago that included rollbacks in players’ hockey related revenue from 57 percent down to 46; 10 years to unrestricted free agency; contract limits of five years; ending salary arbitration; and the extension of entry level contracts from three years to five, it was widely assumed that the players would put together with an outlandish counter proposal of their own, or perhaps have taken a scene from The Godfather Part II and offer nothing. Obviously, that would have led to bitter negotiations and most likely have delayed the start of the 2012-13 NHL campaign.
However, the PA’s proposal showed what was more important to them. And that is for a new CBA to be signed by September 15th – when the current deal expires – to start the upcoming season on time, and in return to “stabilize the industry” according to Fehr.
According to the union, their proposal includes a smaller percentage of revenues for players and an expanded revenue sharing program to help struggling teams (potential good news for fans of the New York Islanders and even the Phoenix Coyotes). Fehr also said that the players are prepared to surrender as much as $465 million in revenue if the league continues to grow at its average rate and as much as $800 million if the league grows at the rate it has during the last two seasons.
In all, the proposal would have the players accepting a lower percentage for the first three years of the deal, while reverting to the current CBA terms for the fourth and final season.
“We do believe that the proposal the players made today, once implemented, can produce a stable industry … that can give us a chance to move beyond the recurring labour strife that has plagued the NHL the last two decades,” Fehr said about the PA’s offer.
Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who was in attendance for the talks along with Alexander Ovechkin, Jason Spezza and Steven Stamkos (just to name a few), spoke highly of the PA’s offer.
“I like it a lot,” he said. “I think, as Don said, it’s addressing the issues that the league has. [We're] making sure as players that we do our part to help those [struggling] teams out, but also holding the teams accountable. At the end of the day, it’s going to take both [the players and the owners] to do that.”
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the NHLPA proposal is that the current salary cap system would still be in place, especially considering that Fehr was an outspoken critic of any salary cap system during the Major League Baseball players strike in August of 1994. The end result was a cancellation of that season’s World Series, the first time that any pro championship was cancelled — of the four major sports — due to labor issues.
The NHL’s version of the hard salary cap was put in place by the owners during the last round of CBA negotiations. And although there seemed to be some critics when it was implemented, the cap brought a great deal of parity to the league by forcing teams to spend to the cap floor.
Over time, the cap grew from $39 million for the 2005-06 season to $70.2 million for the 2012-13 campaign (which could be adjusted before the start of the year).
Because of this, Fehr thought there was no need for the union to remove the salary cap, because the owners still fell the need to keep it.
“In essence, when you boil it all down,” said Fehr, “what were suggesting is that the players partner with the financially stronger owners to stabilize the industry and assist the less financially strong ownership groups.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who has been in the forefront of the league’s last two lockouts — the first being in 1994-95 that resulted in a shortened season — hopes the league examines the PA’s proposal when meetings resume on Wednesday.
“It’s clear to me that they didn’t put this [proposal] together in an hour or two,” he said. “And as a result, we’re going to need to take a little time to evaluate it.”
It’s clear with the current CBA set to expire that both sides have a sense of urgency to get a deal done. And Tuesday’s first proposal showed that the players are serious in starting the season on time.
“The players want a new CBA,” Fehr said. “And they want it soon.”