Sports  NHL Owners set to lock players out

Owners buckle down to lower player salary

The current NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA) is set to expire on September 15. Given this, there are now less than two weeks untill the NHL’s third lockout (a season cancellation or abridgement) under Commissioner Gary Bettman, as there are no negotiations scheduled for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

In the current agreement, which was established at the end of the 2005 NHL lockout, the players’ share began at 54 per cent of the NHL’s overall revenues in 2005 and climbed to nearly 57 per cent in the 2010-11 season.

Relative to other sports, NHL owners find this cut to be steep. The NFL recently reduced its players’ share to 46-48 per cent of  overall revenues, and the NBA splits its revenue nearly equally between players and owners.

Dividing up the NHL’s $3.3 billion in annual revenues remains the central point in driving negotiations.

Despite the fact that the NHL’s owners are signing a growing number of players to huge contracts, the NHL is firmly committed to lowering player salaries.

Following talks between the NHL and its player’s union on August 31, NHLPA executive Director Donald Fehr told the media that the NHL would not respond to proposals that don’t include salary cuts. “At this point, all talks are recessed,” he said.

The union’s initial deal proposed a lower share of revenue for players over the first three years of the offer, reverting back to the current level of 57 per cent in the fourth.

“We proposed several concepts for the fourth year that would allow the fourth year to be something less than 57 per cent of revenues,” Fehr said to the media, “The suggestion was that if we could get over the fourth year and their objection to the 57 per cent snap back, that would give us an opportunity to move forward… Unfortunately, so far at least, that proposal we made today did not bear fruit.”

Bettman responded to the media, saying that “in the final analysis, the emphasis was on returning back to 57 per cent in the fourth year, which obviously isn’t acceptable.”

The NHL has also claimed that it needs a bigger share of the revenue due to the fact that it has lost $240 million over the last two seasons. However, the NHLPA and most media outlets are skeptical. The NHL reportedly makes $3.3 billion in revenue per year and spends $1.9 billion of that on player costs. That leaves about $1.4 billion left over to spend on non-player costs. An estimate of those costs by the Levitt Report  in 2003 was $770 million. Many are doubtful that non-player costs have doubled within that time frame.

In part, NHL owners have been able to take a hard line against the NHLPA because of the income the former derives from NBC television network–$200 million earned regardless of the labour situation.

Concurrently, NHL players miss out on paychecks.

“The lockout is not something anyone wants,” NHL player Erik Karlsson told Slam! Sports ( earlier this week, “What’s most important is that we get a deal done that is good for everyone. We’re not going to give up anything just because we want to get it over with. We want to make it right. Everybody wants that as well: [to] Make a deal that’s going to make everyone happy and last for a long time.”

Just as other NHL players are considering their options in case a lockout is imposed, Karlsson plans to seek out an alternate place to play, despite his limited options.

“Sweden closed their league, and that was probably going to be my number one option if that was available,” he said. “It isn’t, so I guess I’m going to have to wait to see what’s going to happen here … it depends on how long it drags on. We don’t have that many options anymore. Russia is one. I don’t know if you want to go there anymore. We’ll see about that. Switzerland is going to be hard because they only have so many imports on each team … maybe the Swedish Elite League changes its mind once (the lockout) gets closer.”

The Toronto Sun talked to NHL players and reported some of their plans in case of a lockout: Taylor Hall says he will consider Europe, Sam Gagner, Switzerland and Nail Yakupov, Russia, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ plans remain more open-ended. These vague, far-off plans are all the players can do until an agreement is reached by both sides – and considering the NHL’s determination to take as much as possible from the players, it could be a long time till we see one.