TORONTO — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman received three counterproposals from the players’ association on Thursday and left the negotiating table “thoroughly disappointed.”
No new talks have been scheduled, and the possibility of a full hockey regular season is quickly shrinking.
The union offered multiple options in response to the NHL’s offer on Tuesday that called for an 82-game season and a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues between owners and players.
Bettman said that 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,” Bettman said. “It’s clear we’re not speaking the same language.”
Bettman said he was 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 said Tuesday that the sides would have to reach an agreement by Oct. 25 for a full season to be played.
NHL players showed up in force Thursday as the union prepared to respond to the league’s proposal.
Among the 18 players at the talks were Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla, Jonathan Toews and Eric Staal. The scene looked similar to one in August when the union made its first proposal.
“Simply put, the owners’ new proposal, while not quite as Draconian as their previous proposals, still represents enormous reductions in player salaries and individual contracting rights,” NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said in response to the league’s offer. “As you will see, at the 5 percent industry growth rate the owners predict, the salary reduction over six years exceeds $1.6 billion. What do the owners offer in return?”
The lockout – the third of the Bettman era – began Sept. 16, and the league canceled regular-season games through Oct. 24. Bettman, in announcing the new proposal, called it “a fair offer for a long-term deal” and “one that we hope gets a positive reaction.”
But the clock is ticking. There is only one week to strike a deal for the season to start by Nov. 2, three weeks behind schedule.
If those deadlines are met, teams would be able to hold makeshift training camps for one week, and then play one extra game every five weeks to make up for the lost time and complete a full slate.
In releasing the details, the NHL confirmed the offer is for six years with a mutual option for a seventh. The plan includes a 50-50 split in hockey-related revenue, which is a step forward. The NHL had proposed in July to cut the percentage of HRR from 57 percent to 43, then increased its offer in September to about 47.
Management included a provision to ensure players receive all money promised in existing contracts, but the union is concerned with what management termed the “make-whole provision.” If the players’ share falls short of their $1.883 billion in 2011-12, the players would be paid up to $149 million of deferred compensation in the first year of a new deal and up to $62 million in the second. However, the union believes that money would be counted against the players’ share in later years.
The latest league proposal also includes:
- A listed salary cap of $59.9 million for the 2012-13 season, with a provision each team could spend up to $70.2 million during a transition season.
- Changing eligibility for unrestricted free agency from age 27 or seven years of service to age 28 or eight years of service, down from 10 years of service in the league’s earlier proposal.
- Increasing eligibility for salary arbitration from four years to five years.
- Including all years of existing contracts beyond five years against a team’s cap, regardless of where a player is playing. If a player is traded and retires or stops playing, the applicable cap charge would be applied against the team that originally signed the contact.
- The reduction of entry-level contracts to two years.
- A term limit of five years on any future contracts and a stipulation that the average annual value can vary only up to 5 percent. This mechanism is designed to eliminate long-term, back-loaded contracts. The NHL wants to prohibit lengthy deals, such as the $98 million, 13-year contracts Minnesota agreed to in July with forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter.
- The elimination of re-entry waivers.
- Increasing the annual revenue sharing pool by 33 percent to $200 million, assuming annual league revenue of $3.033 billion, with a provision that half the pool be funded by the 10 teams with the highest gross revenue. A cutout against clubs in large media markets, such as Anaheim, New Jersey and the New York Islanders, and clawbacks against not selling enough tickets would be eliminated. A new revenue sharing committee, which would include NHLPA representation, would have input to determine distribution.
Among the items not addressed in the league’s public detailing of its offer were realignment, drug testing and the NHL’s participation in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.