SBJ/November 17 - 23, 2003/Labor Agents

NHLPA: Players’ message is ‘no cap’

NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow and his top deputies have spent the last six weeks visiting NHL teams, updating players on recent labor talks and, in the process, emboldening them against the idea of a salary cap.

No new talks have been scheduled between the league and the union since they exchanged proposals on Oct. 1, the 14th meeting between the two sides in the last year but the first that was made public to the media.

In this calm period following the storm of attention that meeting attracted, the union is trying to hammer home its position that it is trying to meet the league halfway.

"The message to all the players has been we're prepared to address the NHL's stated concerns in the context of a marketplace system," said Ted Saskin, the NHLPA's senior director. "The instruction from the players is very clear: They have no interest in us discussing or negotiating a salary cap."

The 30-team tour is close to complete, with a few more club visits scheduled between now and Thanksgiving. Meetings were generally held at hotels or neutral locations, and often scheduled around teams' visits to Toronto, where the NHLPA headquarters is located, or nearby Buffalo.

Players reportedly were asked to fill out a questionnaire that asked about their financial holdings, a reminder they may have to dip into their nest eggs should there be a prolonged work stoppage starting next season.

“They have no interest in us discussing or negotiating a salary cap.”

Ted Saskin, NHLPA senior director
Union officials also offered their take on the financial reports released by the NHL, which they claim omits some key revenue streams.

But the most important elements of the meetings were briefings on the Oct. 1 exchange of proposals.

The union had put forth a system, for the second time, based on luxury taxes and revenue sharing, as well as an across-the-board 5 percent salary cut. It estimated that within two years the new system would cut salaries by $200 million in total.

The league asked for a system that would limit payrolls to a set percentage of league revenue. Both proposals were quickly rejected by the respective sides, with the caveat that the NHL said it would consider the union's offer if it included a guarantee that the salary reductions would meet the projections.

That's where things stand now.

"We are willing to negotiate whenever they are willing to stand behind the proposal they make," said NHL executive vice president and chief legal officer Bill Daly. "They refused to do that in June when they first made this proposal, and when it was first rejected, and they refused again in October."

The league has said that high salaries have put the NHL in such a dire financial position that it can't afford to take a chance on any system that doesn't put strict and guaranteed limits on spending. Therefore, open-ended luxury taxes cannot be considered, because there's no way to accurately predict how effective they'll be in dragging down salaries.

The union counters that its proposal specifically tackles all the dynamics that the NHL itself says led to the salary explosion.

Saskin said players have wholeheartedly embraced the message from the union officials.

"The reaction has been one of support and strong disappointment that the NHL has given no indication of having any interest in negotiating," he said.

The NHLPA, sometimes criticized for being aloof or even hostile to player agents, also had a meeting with agents in late October.

"People were happy to be brought up to date," said veteran agent Don Baizley. "Right now there's a difference of opinion over business issues [between the league and the union] and they have to be resolved. We recognize there is a serious schism."

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