SBD/May 31, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Bettman Expects NHL Labor Negotiations Will Begin "In The Next Few Weeks"

Bettman addressed the CBA, officiating, Olympics and unstable franchises
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman last night said that he "expected to begin negotiating with the players association in the next few weeks" on a new CBA, according to Kevin Allen of USA TODAY. Bettman, speaking to the media before Game One of the Kings-Devils Stanley Cup Final, said, "My guess is in the next few weeks we would begin in either small groups or large groups to set the table about what we each might want to talk about." The current CBA agreement expires Sept. 15. Allen notes the league "has not formally said what its objectives are," but based on the NBA and NFL labor talks, "the expectation is the NHL will want players to accept a smaller percentage" of the $3.1B in revenue. Their current share is 57%. NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr said of talks, "I'm sure it will be started in the next few weeks. But I would not confuse a big formal kickoff session as the start of bargaining." Fehr added that more than 20 players "would be involved with the union's negotiating team" (USA TODAY, 5/31). The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek notes some believe that the two sides "are inevitably on a collision course, seven years after they lost a full season (2004-05) to a lockout." But Bettman "brushed aside that suggestion, on the grounds that the two sides have not had 'a substantive discussion' on what they may be looking for in collective bargaining, so to suggest that they are at loggerheads already would be premature." Fehr: "I have learned that making predictions in this business is a bit of a foolish enterprise" (GLOBE & MAIL, 5/31).

TALK OF A LOCKOUT GROWING: THE HOCKEY NEWS' Ken Campbell wrote there seems to be an "enormous amount of chatter in the hockey industry that the league will lock the players out on Sept. 15 and have them return to work at the end of November." There is "still an enormous gap between the have and have-not teams regardless of how high revenues have climbed." There are "several issues to be worked out concerning contract terms and revenue sharing, which are issues that will be as important for the teams to resolve among themselves as it is with the players." Campbell: "All indications are this will be another round of claw-back negotiating on the part of the NHL, which is fully aware that public sentiment is rarely in the favor of millionaire hockey players." The league is also "cognizant of the fact the players sacrificed a year of their careers the last time around. Will the ones who did so be willing to do the same again and lose millions in career earnings they will never, ever get back?" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 5/30). ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun wrote the "growing sentiment around the industry is that talk won't get real serious until September, when the threat of canceling camp or games enters the picture." LeBrun: "I don't think there's much chance there won't be any hockey at all next season, but the start of the season is certainly in jeopardy" (ESPN.com, 5/30). CBSSPORTS.com's Ray Ratto wrote there is a "timing to all such labor-management dances." Neither side wants to "look too eager, or too strident, or too cavalier, or too fretful." A deal "gets done on its own timetable." Ratto wrote, "All that said, this is still stupid." There is "no compelling reason why they can't sit down during the Final and at least hash out a framework for the arguments to come" (CBSSPORTS.com, 5/30).

OLYMPIC PARTICIPATION: SI.com's Sarah Kwak noted another "sticking point of CBA negotiations may be NHL players' Olympic participation in Sochi 2014 and beyond." Both Bettman and Fehr "expressed some concern over the Games' impact given the upcoming locations." Kwak noted there will "likely be immense pressure from NBC (rightsholders to the NHL and Olympic Games) and the players themselves, who seem to relish the opportunity to play for their countries." Fehr said, "In a vacuum, most players -- perhaps an overwhelming majority of players -- would like to stay involved with the Olympics. But that's if you ask them the cold question. If you get into, if you'd like to go to the Olympics, then this, this, this and this, then you might get some differences" (SI.com, 5/30). Bettman said that the NHL in the Olympics is "not a negotiating chip for the next CBA and it's 'a joint issue' for the NHL and the NHLPA" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/30).

THROWING OUT THE RESEARCH: SI.com's Kwak reported Bettman last night announced that two years after the "reintroduction of the NHL Research and Development Camp, the league has done away with the summer event, where it can test the viability of rules changes." The NHL will instead "hold a meeting of players, general managers and coaches to discuss the state of the game and proposed rule changes" (SI.com, 5/30). The GLOBE & MAIL's Duhatschek notes at the August meeting, the NHL will "address the always controversial state of officiating -- and the perception that standard of enforcement slipped" during the '11-12 season. NHL Senior VP & Dir of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell said that the summer get-together "will try to clarify exactly [how] teams want the game called" (GLOBE & MAIL, 5/31).

FRANCHISE UPDATES: Bettman said that the league's sale of the Coyotes to former Sharks CEO Greg Jamison "was still in process." He said Jamison was "continuing to put his equity together." Bettman added that Jamison is working with the city of Glendale "to conclude a lease agreement that will be voted on at a city council meeting next week." The council vote is "expected to go in favor of Jamison, but the libertarian Goldwater Institute may challenge the agreement as a violation of state law." Bettman said, "We haven't got a Plan B for Phoenix" (NYTIMES.com, 5/30). He added, "I can't say anything with 100 percent certainty. I think the likelihood is, based on everything we know today, the process should conclude successfully, but it's not something I'm in a position to guarantee." He added that "relocation talks of any official nature have not taken place with any prospective city" (ESPN.com, 5/30). Bettman also said that Devils Chair & Managing Partner Jeff Vanderbeek "is moving closer to keeping control of the club by refinancing the franchise's debts." He said that it "appears Vanderbeek will not be forced to relinquish his shares in the Devils despite the fact the team owes approximately" $80M in debts. In Newark, Rich Chere notes Bettman also "indicated that July 1 is not the deadline to settle debt and ownership issues and indicated the deadline is some time after that date." He also said that a N.Y. Post story suggesting the Kings are for sale "is not true" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 5/31).
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