The negotiations between the NHL and its players’ association are becoming increasingly nasty. The anger and distrust have risen on both sides.
The stories of Craig Leopold and Proposal Three help explain why.
In the spring, Leopold bemoaned the league’s financial system. The owner of the Minnesota Wild said exorbitant player salaries were preventing him from making a profit.
In the summer, Leopold committed $196 million to two players, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise.
Now that it’s fall, Leopold represents the league in collective bargaining talks and helps present proposals that could trim the salaries of Suter and Parise by 12 percent before they even play a game for the Wild.
It’s no wonder players are angry.
“When people ask for money, they usually say, ‘Give me your money or I’m going to hurt you,’” Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. “They don’t say, ‘Give me your money and I’m going to hurt you.’ That’s kind of the point we joke about, but that’s where we’re at.”
The owners are ticked off, too. They feel the players’ union has yet to stray from its original proposal and is “misrepresenting” its new ones.
The NHLPA made three offers Thursday in the latest round of failed talks, then vocally bemoaned the fact the league spent just 10 minutes looking them over. Proposal Three is probably why the rejections came quickly.
Donald Fehr, the union’s executive director, publicly explained “we haven’t been able to run the numbers yet” but the offer was along the lines of the 50-50 revenue split the league proposed.
“We think it makes a lot of sense,” Fehr said. “We think it really is fair. It couldn’t be more balanced.”
According to the NHL, the proposal was actually between 56-44 and 57-43 in favor of the players.
“The proposal contemplates paying the players approximately $650 million outside of the players’ share,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. “In effect, the union is proposing to change the accounting rules to be able to say ‘50-50,’ when in reality it is not. The union told us that they had not yet ‘run the numbers.’ We did.”
It’s no wonder there’s distrust.
It’s also no wonder the NHL canceled more games Friday and is days away from canceling a huge chunk more, including the Winter Classic.
The league, which previously canceled games from Oct. 11 to Oct. 24, has axed all games through Nov. 1. Four more contests for the Buffalo Sabres - Friday in New Jersey, Oct. 28 at home against Philadelphia, Oct. 30 in Boston and Nov. 1 against Phoenix in First Niagara Center - are gone, bringing the total to nine.
If a new collective bargaining agreement isn’t reached by Thursday - the league’s deadline to start an 82-game season Nov. 2 - a larger portion of the schedule is expected to disappear. That could include the New Year’s Day Winter Classic between Toronto and Detroit, scheduled to be played in 110,000-seat Michigan Stadium.
“My understanding is at some point in the not-too-distant future, we will have to commit many millions of dollars if we’re going to play the Winter Classic on Jan. 1,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “Obviously, under these circumstances and all the uncertainty, we’re not going to commit many millions of dollars if we don’t think we’re going to have a deal. The Winter Classic time frame, in terms of making that decision, is probably rapidly approaching.”
Each side has one non-negotiable item on its agenda. The NHL wants a 50-50 split, preferably immediately. The NHLPA wants players to get every dollar in their previously signed contracts.
According to Globe and Mail reporter James Mirtle, who has a background in statistical analysis, it’s impossible to have both. So the stalemate continues .
“At some point, this process has to get moved along,” Bettman said. “The next step is hopefully we’ll hear back, but I don’t know what the next step is. I’m obviously very discouraged.”
Said Fehr: “When somebody takes a hard stand like the owners have taken, you have to assume they mean it. You go from there, but it doesn’t mean you make an agreement that is not in the interest or consistent in the desires of the players.”