SBJ/20090817/Special Report

Hockey owners and players both have some issues; escrow and TV still on union’s mind

The NHL collective-bargaining agreement could have expired next month, but the NHL Players’ Association extended the deal in January.

That could give the impression that players are content with their deal — now set to expire in September 2011 unless the players decide to extend it one more year — but they’re not.

“I think that the players are very unhappy with some aspects of the deal,” said NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly. “They clearly believe the players’ share [of NHL revenue] could be more generous.”

DEADLINE: 9/2011

The percentage of league revenue that players receive is based on the total revenue figure. The percentage for 2008-09 has not been determined, but it is expected to be 56.7 percent, the same as the previous season.

Players put a portion of their paychecks into escrow accounts during the season, money that is either paid to owners (in case salaries exceed the percentage of revenue that is ultimately set) or returned to the players with interest. After getting back all the money they paid into escrow accounts in the first two years of the deal, players could end up losing as much as 16 percent of their paychecks for last season.

Kelly said that when players extended the CBA in January it was not clear to them how big a bite would be taken out of their paychecks.

With its hard salary cap and its ability to impose an unlimited escrow on players, the NHL CBA is widely viewed as the most owner-friendly labor deal of the four major sports, but owners aren’t entirely satisfied with it, either.

 “There are obviously improvements that can and need to be made,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, but he wouldn’t say what changes owners are looking for.

 Unlike the situation in the NFL and NBA, and the situation NHL owners were in back in 2004, NHL owners are not planning a major overhaul of the CBA signed in 2005.

“Our next negotiation will be negotiating changes to the existing model, as opposed to creating a new model,” Daly said.

Kelly indicated players may request a bigger say in league business decisions, including TV contracts. He and some players have made it clear in recent months that they feel the league’s deal with Versus does not give them and the game enough exposure.

“If we are not trying to work cooperatively and constructively in a lot of the things we do — and getting a new TV contract is one of those things — I think we are making a huge mistake that will hurt everybody,” Kelly said.

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