NHL, players to resume labour talks Friday
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. (MIKE BLAKE/Reuters file photo)
When the NHL and the NHL Players Association meet Friday in New York, it will have to be a pretty large venue to incorporate the elephant in the room.
The two sides will put aside the biggest, toughest issue -- how to split up the $3.3 billion in league revenue -- and focus on the other issues that will have to ultimately be resolved to craft a new collective bargaining agreement.
"We are going to re-engage on some of the other issues. We have crafted an agenda of items that we hope will produce progress and some agreements that may aid the overall process," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an email.
"Until the (NHLPA) moves on the economics though, we won't be in a position to make a deal."
A request for comment from the NHLPA was not returned.
Not that things like free agency, arbitration rights, entry-level contracts, player safety, supplemental discipline, working conditions, pensions, drug testing, the future of the NHL in the Olympics and the question of who owns the game (as far as realignment, schedule and playoff format go) are going to be easily resolved, either.
The fact of the matter is, how the basic question of splitting up the revenues is answered could have an effect on free agency, arbitration and entry-level contracts and vice versa.
If the two sides could find a way to put a drag on salaries for players moving from the entry-level system to their second contracts -- we saw the big deals guys like Taylor Hall of the Edmonton Oilers and Tyler Seguin of the Boston Bruins received recently; Hall got a seven-year deal worth $6 million a year-- then that, perhaps, could slow the overall commitment owners have to make to salaries and affect how the salary cap is structured.
Same thing with arbitration and free agency. If it takes, say, eight, nine or 10 years, rather than a possible seven, for a player to become an unrestricted free agent, then that might slow salary growth as well and affect the big picture.
The two sides are stuck in their current trenches when it comes to the basic philosophy of how to move forward on economics. The owners want a salary cut (from 57% of revenues to 49, to start with) while the players want increases of 2, 4 and 6% over the next three years while allowing the owners to keep whatever percentage of the growth in the business is above those thresholds.
The respective positions are non-starters for both sides at this point, but it's good they're going to be talking.
In the meantime, the NHL lockout ranks second in newsworthiness behind the NFL's lockout of its on-field officials, at least in the minds of those but the most diehard hockey fans.
The two labour disputes -- and the heavy-handed and oh-so-predictable tactics of Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz in his battle with the city of Edmonton over a new rink -- are doing nothing to change people's perception that pro sports owners are becoming increasingly greedy and more ruthless, as if that is possible.
They seemed to all collide Monday night at the NFL's debacle in Seattle in which the Seahawks were handed a victory over the Green Bay Packers on a blown call by the replacement officials on the last play of the game. Katz and other Oilers brass were visiting the city, which has plans for a new arena.
It was a blatant ploy by Katz to put pressure on Edmonton city council to bend to his demands.
No, it hasn't been a good week for the image of professional sports franchise owners.
And that's saying something.