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August 21, 2012 | 9:32am ET
Negotiations set to intensify
Even though the NHL and the NHLPA have been discussing a new CBA for over a month, real negotiations are about to begin.

TORONTO, ON -- With 25 days to go until the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL and the NHLPA expires, fans are starting to get the same worried feeling in the pit of their collective stomach they had in 2005.

The feeling is justified because there are very real signs of a postponement of the start of the coming campaign.

Interestingly enough, though, neither the owners nor the Players' are willing to say that another lockout is inevitable. In fact, both sides keep insisting there's enough time to save the upcoming season.

Considering how quickly the last seven years have come and gone, time isn't on anybody's side.

On Wednesday, the heads of the NHL and the NHLPA will meet again in what's expected to be two days of back-and-forth negotiating, we're told.

While NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr haven't sat down face-to-face since last Wednesday, they've had a few conversations since. There have also been several sub-committee meetings, which continued on Monday after a day off on Sunday.

The fact that the two sides are in constant communication is a good sign. Bettman and Fehr don't need to be present at every single discussion. But given the latest bit of confusion, perhaps they should be.

According to one League source, the NHL has not yet received a response, or counter proposal, on what they're calling "system issues," which refers to free agency, salary arbitration, entry-level contract, etc. In the NHL's initial proposal, they pitched various restrictions on some of these items, including the elimination of salary arbitration and a five-year cap on player contracts.

While the NHL sits back and waits for a response, Fehr claims the Players' have already given it.

"Players ought to have a right, we think, to engage in ordinary and normal kinds of contract negotiations -- to apply for a job, and if somebody wants to hire them, to go to work there. That's what everybody else gets to go," Fehr said during a conference call with the media on Friday.

"In the last negotiation, one of the trade offs for reduced salaries, was to have more liberal player contracting rules, shorter free agency, and all that kind of thing. What the owners seem to be saying now is we have to have even larger salary reductions and there's no trade offs; we have to go back the other way.

"We have let the owners know that the players basically aren't interested in those things. We have told them that there are a couple of proposals we may make in this area on our own, one of which we did, some smaller ones we are considering -- they know what those are -- and if we decide to make them, they'll have them (this) week. But they don't have any doubt, I think, about our response to their basic player contracting proposals."

Think again.

Perhaps they haven't yet voiced those doubts? The League source did tell me they plan on discussing those "system issues" this week, but shouldn't that have been brought up sooner? Maybe. Probably. It doesn't really seem to matter now.

There are two items that seem to be confusing most: a) the timing surrounding these discussions, and b) players currently signing long-term contract extensions. With roughly three and a half weeks until Doomsday the end of the current CBA, shouldn't we be a little further along? You can definitely make the case that negotiations should definitely be at a stronger point than they are right now, and both parties are to blame for that, but the odd optimism from both sides seems downright weird.

Both parties agree that the salary cap will remain, and that the NHL has some serious financial issues. Perhaps a little more serious than the public thinks.

On Monday, a story in the San Jose Mercury News revealed Sharks Sports & Entertainment (the Sharks' parent company) lost $15 million last season, despite selling out every game. For a franchise like this one, valued in the middle of the pack of NHL teams (around $215 million) and being as successful on the ice as it has been (yes, Sharks fans, we know the playoffs haven't been overly kind to you), you'd think they'd be turning a profit. As surprising as it may be, ownership isn't upset.

"We're OK with that because that's a decision we've made to stay competitive," Kevin Compton, one of the team's head honchos, told the Mercury News referring to his team's player payroll, which is currently sixth most in the NHL.

While it's great to have an ownership group like the one in Silicon Valley, as they don't bother with bank loans, they dive into their own pockets -- like real owners do -- it's also a nice eye-opener for both the NHL and the Players' Association.

From an NHL standpoint, it would love to have more owners like the ones in San Jose (and with Canadian billionaire Bill Gallacher trying to buy the New Jersey Devils, the League may have another in the coming months). They cough up their own cash and aren't bothered by rising bank debts.

From the NHLPA's point of view, this type of owner is your best friend. They're willing to pay top-tier players to perform, even if that means losing a few million each season.

But being the wealthiest doesn't mean you have the biggest voice in the room. Just ask David Thomson, one of the owners of the Winnipeg Jets (he owns part of True North Sports and Entertainment Limited, which owns the Jets). Thomson is the richest man in Canada, the 35th richest man in the world, and the richest NHL owner with a net worth of $17.5 BILLION (Philip Anschutz, who's AEG runs the Los Angeles Kings, is only worth $7 billion). Do you think Thomson has a say greater than that of Boston owner Jeremy Jacobs or Philadelphia's Ed Snider? Hell no. After all, his team is only in Winnipeg.

So as Fehr tries to force the hand of "smaller" (loose term) owners, the League's big boys continue to run the show. And that's what will make this week's negotiation process so fascinating.

It's almost as if player contracts are secondary. Yes, they're a very important part of this process, and something Fehr has made pretty clear the Players' don't want altered, but until the two sides can find a common ground on where revenues are to be properly split, any additional terms will either be put on the backburner or used as a tactic to adjust certainly elements of revenue sharing.

Wednesday, it gets interesting. Thursday, even more so.

If tomorrow's meetings end abruptly, we could be in some trouble. If they move in the right direction, we'll all know. The game has begun, but the puck is just about to drop. These next few days could make or break the 2012-13 season.

David Pagnotta is the Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Period Magazine. Follow him on Twitter.


 

 

ARCHIVES 
Aug. 14, 2012 Positive signs stem from PA proposal
Aug. 13, 2012 NHLPA to present "alternative view"
May 29, 2012 Much to be done in Toronto
Apr. 10, 2012 Habs need proven winner
Feb. 14, 2012 Plenty to consider around deadline
Jan. 06, 2012 Players' wanted say in realignment process

 

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