Players want input when NHL discusses future
NHLPA wants to be consulted on everything from TV contracts to contraction
National Hockey League players say they are all in favor of labour peace, and they'd like nothing more than to be equal partners with the league in all decisions impacting the game, including franchise relocation and contraction.
After announcing the NHLPA has voted not to reopen the collective bargaining agreement at the end of the season, union boss Paul Kelly said players want a say on some matters that currently are exclusively under league jurisdiction.
"I would not describe the relationship as a true partnership and I never have," Kelly said. "A true partner would have a seat at the table in all the important issues in the sport.
"I have described it as more of a joint venture."
Kelly said the association is consulted on "a number of things and we are not consulted on a number of things."
"They [players] want more of a say on national television contracts in the United States. They want more say on if you are going to expand or relocate, how are you going to do that and where are you going to do that.
"If we are really a true partner, step up to the table and give us those rights and privileges."
The NHLPA announcement of extending the collective bargaining agreement to September of 2011 came at a time when some teams are in financial trouble.
In Phoenix, the Coyotes are living off league handouts, and Kelly included Sunbelt teams Florida, Tampa Bay and Nashville in the list of franchises facing tough fiscal times.
He said while the NHLPA will do what it can to help those teams, he suggested NHL owners do a better job in revenue sharing or face the music and look at moving teams.
Franchises with poor revenue streams are a drag on player salaries in the era of the salary cap.
"There is a point where year after year after year [it] does hurt players and you start to have those serious questions [i.e. relocation]," Kelly said. "If they want those teams to survive and do well, they should figure out a way to distribute the pie a bit."
If there is talk of relocation, the NHLPA wants a seat at the table.
"We'd like to have a say on those franchises and where those new teams might be going and where they might end up," Kelly said.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will brief governors on economic issues on Saturday and then attend his annual state-of-the-union address news conference.
While Bettman has conceded the recession has had an impact, he has said franchise relocation and contraction are not in the cards.
If the NHL was looking to move a team such as Phoenix, Kelly reiterated the league should look at putting a second team in southern Ontario, and he has no problem with deep-pocketed Jim Balsillie being the owner.
2nd team for Toronto?
"I think there is no question that Toronto could handle a second team, whether they play in the Air Canada Centre or they built a new arena," said Kelly. "That market could support a second team.
"I also believe that you could rehab the rink in Hamilton."
NHL owners are quick to dismiss the notion of players having a say in franchise relocation because players don't assume any risk in the sale and move of a team.
Kelly is more worried about the potential of contraction and subsequent job losses, although he said he does "not see contraction as a realistic possibility."
As far as the current collective agreement goes, players were given the right to opt out of the six-year agreement in September.
"The players appreciate that another lockout would be enormously damaging for the sport," Kelly said. "It is almost like you are still recovering from the last hangover and do you really want to go out and do this over again so close in time."