NHL, NHLPA 'not speaking same language'

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr says the three proposals the players union made to NHL owners on Thursday put a potential labour deal in "range," but commissioner Gary Bettman maintains the two sides are "not speaking the same language."
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, left, stands in front of players, including Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, back centre, as he addresses the media following an hour-long talk with NHL owners. (Chris Young/Canadian Press )

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr says the three proposals the players union made to NHL owners on Thursday put a potential labour deal in "range," but commissioner Gary Bettman maintains the two sides are "not speaking the same language."

The union put forth multiple options as a counter to the NHL's Tuesday offer of a 50-50 split in hockey-related revenue. The league's offer consisted of a 10-point plan, which the league made public Wednesday.

Of the three proposals the NHLPA submitted Thursday, one included a move toward a "50-50" split of revenues if current contracts are honoured.

"This is not a good day," Fehr said. "It should have been."

Bettman called the NHLPA's offers "a step back" and was "thoroughly disappointed" after the hour-long talks.

He also said the owners' proposal was the "best that we could do" and added that the two sides are still far apart.

"None of the three variations of player share that they gave us even began to approach 50-50, either at all or for some long period of time," he said. "It's clear we're not speaking the same language."

But Fehr questioned the timing of the owners' latest proposal.

"If we just saw the owners' best offer, why didn't we see it until Sept. 14? I can't answer that question," he said.

The owners' proposal also called for the full 82-game schedule to begin Nov. 2, contingent on a deal being struck by Oct. 25. It also includes a six-year deal with a mutual option for a seventh season.

Fehr said the players would sacrifice nearly $1.8 billion US in revenue under the league's proposal. He added that concessions made by the players in the last round of bargaining have cost them $3.3 billion over the term of the last agreement.

Players received 57 per cent of the $3.3 billion revenue generated last season. Based on the numbers from the 2011-12 campaign, players would forfeit $231 million a year if they accepted a 50-50 split.

The position of the NHLPA has been that they wouldn’t mind eventually getting to that split, but have suggested a gradual move, accompanied with other changes to the CBA.

In a release, NHL deputy commissoner Bill Daly said the offer from the players' association is "misrepresented."

"The so called 50-50 deal, plus honoring current contracts proposed by the NHL Players’ Association earlier today is being misrepresented. It is not a 50-50 deal. It is, most likely a 56- to 57-percent deal in Year One and never gets to 50 percent during the proposed five-year term of the agreement.

"The proposal contemplates paying the players approximately $650 million outside of the players' share. 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."

Time running out

Bettman is still hopeful the league can have a full season, but time is running out.

"I am concerned based on the proposal that was made today that things are not progressing," he said. "To the contrary, I view the proposal made by the players association in many ways a step backward."

Bettman didn’t indicate that the NHL will negotiate on the players unions’ counterproposal.

No new talks are immediately scheduled.

Eighteen players were present for Thursday's talks, including Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla, Jonathan Toews and Eric Staal, but the NHLPA members also seemed to lack optimism after the session.

"You come with three proposals thinking you've got a chance to get a little momentum and get some progress and it's shut down within 10 minutes," Crosby said. "It's not even given a day to think about or crunch numbers, it's shut down within minutes.

"That doesn't seem like a group that's willing to negotiate."

With both sides still far apart on how to divide the revenue, CBCSports.ca hockey writer Tim Wharnsby doesn't see the league playing a full season.

"I think right now you can throw out an 82-game schedule," Wharnsby told CBC News. "Like Bettman has said many times, they needed a deal by Oct. 25, that's a week from today. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen because they’re still very far apart.

"There is still the possibility of a partial schedule. We can wait all the way until February. We saw that in 1994-95 [when the league] had a 48-game schedule. It basically started in late January. The NHL didn’t cancel the entire 2004-05 season until Feb. 16 so there is still some time here to get some kind of a season done. But unless there’s movement on both sides it doesn’t look like a real possibility now."

With files from The Canadian Press