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  • Collective bargaining negotiations off to rocky start Print
    Columns
    Written by Frank Seravalli   
    Sunday, 15 July 2012 16:14

    Negotiations have officially begun for the Collective Bargaining Agreement and, with their initial offer, the NHL decided to swing for the fences. Their lopsided offer has now set the tone for what are sure to be a tense couple of months.

    Frank SeravalliAfter opening formal negotiations in New York a couple weeks ago, the NHL’s negotiating committee was nice enough to travel to the NHL Players Associations’ headquarters Toronto for more intense Collective Bargaining sessions last week.

    They just forgot to bring a housewarming gift.

    Their initial offer, it seems, was less than inviting.

    According to multiple reports, including from RDS’ Renaud Lavoie in Montreal and the New York Post’s Larry Brooks, the NHL was swinging for the fences in its opening get-down-to-business talks.

    The proposal comes in five parts, according to Lavoie:

    1. A reduction in the players’ share of hockey-related revenues (HRR) from 57 percent to 46 percent.

    2. Players will need to accrue 10 seasons in the NHL before acquiring unrestricted free agency status, as opposed to the current minimum age of 27.

    3. Contracts would be limited to a maximum term of 5 years.

    4. The option of salary arbitration before a neutral arbitrator would no longer exist.

    5. Entry-level contracts for draft picks and undrafted free agents would last for 5 years instead of the current 3 year deals.

    Brooks added that the NHL would like salaries to remain equal in every year of a new contract, as opposed to front-loading or back-loading a deal. The salary cap ceiling would be set at $62.2 million this fall, as opposed to the $70.2 tentative cap, with a floor nearly $4 million above the current minimum.

    That ding you just heard was signaling the end of Round 1 of what promises to be a 15-round main event before the league’s current CBA expires on Sept. 15.

    It’s possible that more than a few players involved in the select negotiating committee, headed by NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr had to pick their jaws up off the floor when walking out of the meeting on Friday.

    Yes, the terms of that offer are flat-out absurd. From the NHL perspective, that is the art of negotiating. Every good negotiator starts low. You can always raise your offer.

    The only problem, especially when dealing with an embattled Players Association that lost an entire season in 2004-05 and bent over backward for owners, is that perhaps making an offer too low would set things off on the wrong skate.

    In reality, not every one of those proposals is a surprise. We’ve known for nearly two years that the owners would try to knock down the players’ piece of the pie, since the NFL and NBA nearly got their players down to 50 percent with their own lockouts.

    This time, the owners would like to redefine what exactly counts as HRR, which would further reduce the gross of the pie.

    That’s a double slap in the face for the players, in addition to that small, 46 percent number. It would be a different story if the owners were willing to widen what counts as HRR to further sweeten the pot and then knock it down to 46 percent.

    That’s not the case.

    Some have called this a Declaration of War by the NHL, in an attempt to flex its muscles in the early stages of negotiating.

    For me, it’s just hard to believe that 7 years later, the owners are so disgusted with the system they thought was worth losing a season to enact that now they want such a drastic change.

    The ridiculous term and money – see: Kovalchuk, Ilya and his 15-year, $100 million deal – that has been thrown around during lean free agency summers, and the ever-escalating salary cap floor which requires teams to spend absurd money on mediocre players just to get there, has created this mess.

    The point is that NHL business has been healthy, posting record revenues in seven consecutive years. There is a reason that the salary cap ceiling has continued to escalate so rapidly, from $39 million to a proposed $70.2 million, and it’s all tied to that HRR.

    According to recent tax filings unearthed by the Toronto Star, Gary Bettman’s personal salary has increased from $3.7 million in 2005 to $7.5 million in 2012.

    Yes, the first shots have been fired. The skies look gloomy as an apparent storm is rolling in – one that has been brewing for a long time.

    But it’s still July. Training camps do not open for another two months. Owners aren’t losing money at this point in the summer and players aren’t making any.

    But after that egregious, 24 percent salary rollback in 2004-05, we just have a feeling the owners were looking for a starting point. This time, they are going to be the ones needing to raise their offer.

    Frank Seravalli covers the Flyers for the Philadelphia Daily News. On Twitter: @DNFlyers 

    Photos by Getty Images

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