NHL on lockout brink

On Causeway Street, the mantra remains “business as usual.’’ The Bruins are planning to open training camp Sept. 21. They are negotiating with Tyler Seguin on a long-term extension, one that could be finalized next week. The front office has devised several scenarios to become cap-compliant (the Bruins have approximately $67 million committed to 2012-13, including Tim Thomas and Marc Savard) if the ceiling decreases under the next collective bargaining agreement.

Business, however, projects to be anything but usual.

The first consequences of labor unrest have already taken hold. The Bruins were scheduled to participate in a rookie tournament next Friday in Florida with the Panthers, Lightning, and Predators. That tournament has been canceled. The Bruins will not hold a rookie camp locally.


Next week’s New York City media tour has been scrubbed. Thomas, Zdeno Chara, and Patrice Bergeron were previous participants.

Prior to camp, Bruins players regularly held informal skates at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington. None are scheduled.

On Sept. 15, the current CBA will expire. If there is no new deal upon that expiration, the NHL will initiate a lockout.

The start of camp is in doubt. Nobody can determine whether the Bruins will visit the Flyers Oct. 11 to kick off the regular season. The last lockout resulted in the dark 2004-05 season.

“We all want to see hockey being played,’’ said Bruins president Cam Neely. “We’re preparing as we would normally for main camp to open up until we hear otherwise.

“Having said that, we know what the alternative could be. We have to prepare for that as well. We really don’t know until we know, so to speak.’’

The NHL and the NHL Players Association have not bargained since last Friday in New York. After a 90-minute session, they ended talks. They cannot even agree on which side initiated the recess that remains in place.

“The owners elected to recess,’’ NHLPA executive director Don Fehr told reporters after the session.


“To suggest that we recessed or called off negotiations when they didn’t even make a counterproposal to our proposal on [Aug. 28] is an unfair and inaccurate characterization,’’ NHL commissioner Gary Bettman responded.

Proposals made

The NHL and NHLPA agree that the salary cap should remain in place. That stands in contrast to 2004-05, when players held out against the cap.

The current disagreement centers on player salaries. Players receive 57 percent of hockey-related revenue. The NHL believes that is too high. The league has referred to agreements in the NFL and NBA, where player revenue shares are closer to 50 percent.

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“We think 57 percent of HRR is more than we need to pay,’’ Bettman said.

In its first offer, the league pegged player salaries at 43 percent of HRR. In its second proposal, the NHL increased it to 46 percent — a figure, Bettman noted, that shifted $460 million toward the players.

Under the second proposal, the cap would decrease to $58 million. Maneuvers for the Bruins to get under that could include placing Savard on long-term injured reserve and trading Thomas.

“We’ve locked up our core guys,’’ said general manager Peter Chiarelli. “If I have to do something to get to a lower cap number, I feel I can do that quite easily.

“I don’t want to trade any of our top players. My point is that we’re business as usual, with the caveat that I feel we have some flexibility.’’

After the 2004-05 lockout, salaries were rolled back by 24 percent. Under the NHL’s second proposal, players would not be subject to contract rollbacks. However, players would be responsible for escrow payments. Bettman estimated escrow to be around 12-13 percent.


In response, the players are wary of accepting a figure lower than 57 percent. In their only proposal thus far, the players proposed to slow future revenue growth for a three-year term. They proposed to direct funds (between $100 million-$125 million) toward revenue sharing. The NHLPA believes it can play a part in bolstering small-market franchises such as Phoenix, Florida, and Dallas. The union also wants wealthier organizations such as Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto to participate in revenue sharing.

“It’s understandable that some of the wealthier owners don’t necessarily want to put their hard-earned money toward another team,’’ said Vancouver goalie Cory Schneider, a Marblehead native and a member of the NHLPA negotiating committee. “However, for them to say the owners unanimously dismissed it, we think there are a lot of small-market teams that would really benefit from that plan and really like that plan.

“We haven’t heard from them individually. They have their priorities. We have ours. We were willing to give something back. It’s a little counterintuitive for them not to share revenue but take that revenue from us.’’

In the fourth and final year, the players would return to receiving 57 percent of HRR.

“The response made to us is that if the players are not prepared to agree to an immediate rest in aggregate salary levels — a meaningful, absolute reduction in player share in dollar terms for next year compared to last year — they see no point in discussing or responding to the proposals we put forward at the meeting today,’’ Fehr said.

Not even a framework

Secondary issues also exist. In its first proposal, the NHL mandated a five-year cap on contract terms and a 10-year period before players are eligible for unrestricted free agency. The NHLPA has raised concerns regarding ice conditions, player discipline, and scheduling.

Those issues, however, are ancillary compared with the fundamental disagreement regarding salary share. Because of how prickly the argument has become, the sides have yet to concur on the basic framework of a new CBA. The NHL has proposed a six-year term. The NHLPA’s offer is a three-year agreement, with an option for a fourth year. So far, there has been no common ground on the biggest issue.

“Somebody needs to be in a position to offer or say something new,’’ Bettman said. “Considering we made such a large move on [Aug. 28], to have gotten the response we got is disappointing. We’re not in a position to offer more and negotiate against ourselves.’’

Next week, players will go to New York for meetings with the NHLPA and the negotiating committee. It’s possible that formal negotiations could restart next week.

However, there has been little urgency of late. Players do not receive salary during training camp. They train throughout the summer and are instructed to report to camp in peak condition for fitness testing. Given their conditioning, players might not need camp to prepare themselves for game shape.

If a lockout takes place, alternate plans will begin. Some players may consider going overseas. High insurance costs, however, may discourage them from seeking European employment. It is not guaranteed that an acquiring team would insure a player’s NHL contract.

Younger NHLers could play in the AHL. Providence will start camp Sept. 28. During the 2004-05 lockout, players not subject to waivers were eligible to play in the AHL. Bruins who fit that criterion include Jordan Caron and Torey Krug.

“We’d spend more time down there,’’ Chiarelli said of shifting hockey operations toward Providence. “We’d be repositioning some of our pro scouts more toward the American League and a little bit of amateur. I’d be on the road more.’’

With the current CBA just a week away from expiration, time is getting short.

“It’s definitely coming by a little quicker than we’d like,’’ said Daniel Paille, the Bruins’ union representative. “It’s something that we didn’t want, but sort of expected. We feel that we can do as much as we want the right way. We’ve just got to wait. Eventually, something will get done and we’ll all be happy.’’

On Thursday, Paille was part of a group of players skating at a rink in Boston. Other Bruins included Johnny Boychuk, Anton Khudobin, Milan Lucic, Tuukka Rask, Dennis Seidenberg, and Shawn Thornton.

Following drills, they concluded their morning session with a game of shinny. They skated at approximately 75 percent of their usual top-flight speed. They didn’t take many slap shots. There was no checking. There wasn’t a single fan in the stands.

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