The NHL Players’ Association moved toward the owners’ way of thinking Wednesday. In turn, the NHL moved closer to canceling more games.
The latest proposal by the players was dismissed almost in full once again by the league, extending the lockout and pushing the sport toward more cancellations. The union left the NHL offices feeling exasperated after rejection of an offer that Executive Director Donald Fehr said was “about as good as we could do.”
“There was movement on some issues by the players’ association, and that was appreciated,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters in New York. “There was movement by us on some issues, but we’re still far apart. Hopefully, there will have been some momentum from today’s session that we can build off of to hopefully, again hopefully, bring this process to a successful conclusion.”
The sides are expected to chat again Friday, and the talks are likely to coincide with another portion of the schedule disappearing. A collective bargaining agreement needs to be completed by Friday in order for the season to start Dec. 1. With no CBA in place, the league is expected to cancel games in the first two weeks of December plus All-Star Weekend.
At least seven games for the Buffalo Sabres would be affected. They have already had 20 canceled.
“What we’re going through on a daily basis digs a bigger and bigger hole for everybody,” Bettman said.
The union’s offer essentially closed the financial gap between the sides to $182 million — a huge drop from the $1 billion-plus that they started with — but the game remains at a standstill because both parties say they have no more to give. The “make whole” provision and player contracting rights continue to be prime obstacles to a deal.
The NHLPA agreed to the league’s demand of an immediate 50-50 revenue split, with existing salaries being the big caveat. The union asked the league to pay $393 million over the next four years, including $182 million this season (which would push the players’ share to 56 percent), to make previously signed contracts whole. The make good dollars would be reduced to $128 million (or 53.8 percent) , $72 million (52 percent) and $11 million (50.3 percent) over the following three years before falling to zero. Overall, the players would receive 52.2 percent of projected league revenues if their make whole dollars are included. The league has offered $211 million and will not go higher.
“To expect our best economic proposal to get better as the damage continues to increase isn’t particularly realistic,” Bettman said. “From an economic standpoint, we’ve given what we have to give. It was our best offer.
“We made a proposal to save an 82-game season, and frankly we’re all mystified as to why we’re not playing in light of that offer and in light of the fact the players are losing as a group between $8 [million] and $10 million a day. … There’s a lot about this process that one could scratch their head about.”
The players, who held a conference call following the negotiations, were indeed scratching their heads .
“On the big things there was, as of today, no reciprocity in any meaningful sense,” Fehr told reporters. “No movement on the players’ share. No movement on salary arbitration. No movement on free agency eligibility. No agreement on a pension plan, although they say they’d like to do it.
“The players thought, given what the owners said about you have to do it our way on the share and so on, that it was worth an effort to see if an agreement could be reached, and we got the reaction we got.”
“Embarrassing,” New York Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto said on Twitter. “Apologies to all the loyal, passionate fans out there. We clearly do not have a willing negotiating partner.”
The day wasn’t a total loss. The league reportedly agreed with the union’s desire to keep entry-level contracts at three years rather than the NHL-recommended two, but the league refused to budge on player other contracting issues. The NHLPA, meanwhile, agreed to help eliminate front-loaded contracts but rejected the league’s plan to impose term limits and push back free agency.
“We’ve moved far more than halfway [on economics],” Fehr said. “We’ve moved in their direction previously on a couple of the player contracting issues. The rest are very, very, very important to the players.”
Bettman, in addition to saying the players are losing up to $10 million per day, said the league is losing between $18 million to $20 million every 24 hours. That number could rise as backlash increases among sponsors and fans.
“We are unhappy as it relates to all of our business partners that we’re going through this,” Bettman said. “But in the final analysis we have to have a deal that represents the long-term health of this game.”