Talks between the NHL and NHLPA broke off yesterday in Toronto, with Commissioner Gary Bettman all but rejecting the proposal that the union made Tuesday. Meetings on economic issues will not resume until next Wednesday in Toronto. “There is still a wide gap between us, with not much time to go,” Bettman said at a news conference yesterday afternoon. “It takes two sides to make a deal, two sides to negotiate and two sides to make it go bad.” Bettman cited recent CBAs signed in the NBA and NFL as models for what the league seeks. He also said the union’s proposal was incomplete and wondered when he would receive the balance of it. NHLPA Exec Dir Don Fehr pointed out that the owners never talk about MLB, which has no salary cap, significant revenue sharing and where he oversaw 15 years of labor peace as MLBPA Exec Dir. Fehr said that if there is a wide gulf, it started with the owners’ proposal from four weeks ago for a cut in the players’ share of revenues from 57% to 43%. With the Sept. 15 expiration of the current CBA about one month away, Fehr said the players are prepared for the worst-case scenario of a lockout imposed by the owners. “You hope for the best, but prepare for the worst,” said Fehr (Christopher Botta, SportsBusiness Journal).
GAP GROWING WIDER: In Toronto, Mark Zwolinski notes the two sides "met for just over an hour" yesterday and "emerged with a recognition that there's still a ton of work to do." There was "an air of pessimism that the NHL regular season will not open on time in October." Bettman said, "Generally (the players weren't) particularly responsive to our proposal. ... I'm not sure there's been recognition of the economics of our world, the world of sports, taking into account the NBA and NFL. So, there's still a wide gap with not much time left" (TORONTO STAR, 8/16). USA TODAY's Kevin Allen notes the sides will "continue to do work through committees," but Fehr "now must talk to players." Fehr said, "I do think (league officials) treat (our proposal) as significant concessions. It's just not what they asked for. They asked for $450 million per year, and it's not $450 million per year" (USATODAY.com, 8/16). Bettman said the two sides are "still apart, far apart," and "not on the same page." Bettman added he was "a little disappointed" that the union has yet to present its full proposal. Bettman said that the league "isn't even at the point of making a counteroffer" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 8/16). In Toronto, Terry Koshan notes Bettman "wasn't thrilled that the players essentially ignored the NHL proposal." But Fehr countered that "there was not much more the players had to propose," and "implied the players have given up enough." Fehr said, "This is an industry in which the owners insisted upon and got enormous concessions from the players last time (in 2005) with the stated expectation that would fix things. Well, their position now is it did not fix things. The question then becomes, what do you do about that? You have to find other approaches to come to common ground and I still would like to believe that we will" (TORONTO SUN, 8/16).
FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT? The CP's Chris Johnston noted a sub-committee meeting is scheduled for today, but Bettman and Fehr "won't sit down together again until Aug. 22." Fehr "felt the owners should have been more receptive to a proposal that kept the hard salary cap in place and called for a drag on salaries." He also "wondered aloud whether the NHL might be using the possibility of a work stoppage as a negotiation tactic rather than a last resort." Fehr said, "It looks pretty much like there's a playbook out there that people are following" (CP, 8/15). Also in N.Y., Mark Everson writes the NHLPA proposal "was progressive, inventive, far-reaching, owner-friendly, sport-growing and didn't have a prayer." Fehr "suggested the owners' position looks scripted" (N.Y. POST, 8/16). Also in N.Y., Jeff Klein notes Bettman for the first time yesterday "publicly alluded to the deals the NFL and NBA owners secured last year, when players agreed to substantial across-the-board salary cuts after the leagues locked them out." Fehr "pointed out the 'glaring omission' of baseball in Bettman's statement (N.Y. TIMES, 8/16).
INSIDE THE SPIN: In Buffalo, Mike Harrington writes Bettman “better realize the bully tactics won't work.” Players gave up 24% of their salaries in ‘05 “and the game has grown exponentially since.” Harrington: “Now the league wants to cut their share of hockey-related revenue from 57 percent to the mid-40s. That's not happening. It doesn't matter that NBA and NFL players took a cut; they had not just gone through a rollback. The players are thinking globally for the good of the game” (BUFFALO NEWS, 8/16). In Ottawa, Don Brennan writes the owners “didn’t need very long to determine they hated the proposal.” It “seemed like a decent plan -- before Bettman crumpled it up and threw it in the trash can” (OTTAWA SUN, 8/16). In Edmonton, Derek Van Diest writes many “expected the players association to come back with their own unreasonable demands, which surprisingly didn’t happen.” Oilers C and union rep Shawn Horcoff said, “There were guys that were pissed off and there was talk of doing that (lowball) from our side. But I think the main focus when the players calmed down, was that, that wasn’t going to get us anywhere.” The players “felt they have taken the high road in dissecting the owners’ offer” (EDMONTON SUN, 8/16).
DISAGREEMENTS ON THE OWNERS' SIDE: In Ottawa, Ken Warren notes so far the NHL's "richest teams have not seriously bought into the idea of helping out their weak sisters to any great degree" (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 8/16). SPORTING NEWS' Sean Gentille wrote what Fehr "has attempted to do, subtly or not, is pit the owners against each other, rather than the owners against the players" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 8/15). The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts writes that "it may be more than the players who have a different view of how the NHL owners can solve their biggest problem -- the gap between the profits of the league's wealthiest teams and the relentless losses of its poorest." Some of the "owners of those weaker teams may share the players' philosophy that lower salaries combined with greater revenue-sharing from the rich teams are the way to prosperity in hockey." But they "are not numerous or strong enough to influence their peers." What is "clear, those union people believe, is that the players' proposal was loudly shouted down by the rich teams." Some union types "were hoping the small-revenue owners, who were so influential seven years ago when the cap system was forced on the players, would speak loudly enough to force a consensus to at least negotiate from the players' opening position" (GLOBE & MAIL, 8/16). THE HOCKEY NEWS’ Adam Proteau wrote Fehr “sent a message to Bettman and his owners that the PA wouldn’t play along with the framing of the issue as an owner-player problem.” He sees it “as an owner-owner problem and while his offer includes the players as part of the solution, it does so only if big-market, incredibly successful organizations are willing to step up as well.” Now, the owners “are the ones who must demonstrate they can be flexible and interested in the other side’s perspective” (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 8/15).
OPTIMISM QUICKLY FADING: YAHOO SPORTS’ Greg Wyshynski wrote, “I didn't understand the champagne being popped over the players' proposal on Tuesday.” The offer “still managed to leave the players’ share of revenues at 54 percent when everyone knows the endgame here is likely a 50/50 split, or a 51/49 for the players at best.” Wyshynski: “That is where the NFL went. That’s where the NBA went. That’s where the NHL is going to go.” Optimism after the NHLPA’s first proposal “was a bit too emphatic for what that proposal actually contained” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/15). In Montreal, Pat Hickey writes the "worst news coming out of Wednesday's meeting ... is that there will be no talks on economic issues until next Wednesday." Hickey: "I was among the naive who thought Donald Fehr ... had provided the framework for substantive discussion." Fehr's response "was conciliatory and reasoned." He acknowledged that the NHL "has some problems, although many of them have to be blamed on the owners" (Montreal GAZETTE, 8/16). In N.Y., Pat Leonard writes "as expected ... Bettman threw cold water on any optimism generated by the players' alternative." The players "made clear they're not caving to all of the owners' demand, but at least their proposal indicated a desire to compromise with the NHL." The NHLPA is "still waiting to hear similar rhetoric from the league" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/16). In Raleigh, Chip Alexander writes the "chances of an NHL Lockout may have increased considerably" as "things appeared more glum after Wednesday's session" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 8/16).