On Thursday, the 30 NHL owners voted on whether to proceed with a lockout if a new collective bargaining agreement isn’t reached prior to midnight Saturday. According to TSN, Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs called for the vote’s formal motion.
“A vote was taken,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said during a press conference in New York. “It was unanimous.”
The 30-0 clean sweep confirmed what Bettman has told the NHL Players Association repeatedly since last November: The NHL is not prepared to open without a new CBA. The current CBA, which will expire on midnight Saturday, is far from having a successor.
“If it comes to that, it’s a choice which was made and is being made as we speak,” NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said. “It’s not a requirement. It’s not something anybody has to do.
“If that’s the way it’s going to have to be, it’s unfortunately the way it has to be. If they’re interested in finding a way to reach an agreement to make sure the NHL goes forward with the players and the fans don’t lose any hockey games, maybe it’s a choice that ought to be reconsidered.”
According to Bettman, the puck is on the NHLPA’s stick. During a bargaining session Wednesday, the NHLPA presented a proposal the league viewed with little interest. In response, the NHL offered a counterproposal of a six-year term.
In the first year, the players would receive 49 percent of hockey-related revenue. By the term’s end, the players would receive a 46 percent share. The players currently claim a 57 percent share.
As of Thursday, no formal negotiations were scheduled before Saturday’s deadline. Based on the NHLPA’s interpretation of the league’s latest offer, there is not much to discuss.
According to Fehr, the NHL’s proposal would require a 17.5 percent salary reduction in 2012-13. Existing contracts would not be rolled back, but the league would claim its reduction via escrow. Fehr estimated a 17.5 percent reduction would equal $330 million per year in lost salary.
“What would your reaction be in similar circumstances?” asked Fehr. “That’s the way you need to understand the dispute, which hopefully will not end up in a dispute. That would be when a shutdown occurs. It’s a disagreement that we have.”
The players are holding firm to their proposal, which does not include a reduction in salary share. Their proposal centers on revenue sharing to assist small-market clubs.
The NHLPA does not want a repeat of what took place following the 2004-05 lockout. The players accepted a salary cap and a 24 percent salary rollback. They interpret the current stalemate as another round of salary concessions from a league that reported $3.3 billion in revenue in 2011-12.
“We would like an agreement that stabilizes this industry, provides incentives for the markets which need to grow to grow, and gets us out of the cycle we’ve been in in this sport,” Fehr said.
The NHL has dismissed the NHLPA’s suggestion of revenue sharing. Bettman described the NHLPA’s proposal Wednesday as representing no movement of any significant nature.
Asked for his viewpoint on the league’s dismissal of revenue sharing, Fehr said, “A little bit surprised and significantly disappointed.”
In his public remarks, Bettman has not acknowledged struggles of small-market teams. Bettman has simply stated that the players’ 57 percent share is too high. On Thursday, Bettman cited some of the rising costs — transportation, coaches’ salaries, support staff salaries — that teams must bear.
During negotiations, Bettman has referred to labor contracts in the NFL and NBA. Both sports are closer to a 50-50 revenue split.
“Players in two other leagues recognized it was not inappropriate or unfair to reduce what they were getting in a challenging recent economic climate,” Bettman said.
The leaders of the NHL and NHLPA briefed their respective constituents Thursday. Bettman addressed the Board of Governors. Fehr concluded two days of meetings with 283 players. During his press conference at a New York hotel, an armada of players stood behind Fehr. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara was among the players looming behind Fehr in a show of support.
Following the meetings, the players were scheduled to return to their home cities. Given the absence of common ground between the sides, it appears to be a formality that the players will not be welcome at their rinks upon their return.
“It almost feels like — you don’t want to say it — but it almost feels like this was in the works anyways, for whatever reason,” said Sidney Crosby, the game’s No. 1 star, referring to a lockout. “Whether everybody didn’t want to negotiate against themselves or whatever the case was, they weren’t really going to be budging.”