National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman arrives for collective bargaining talks in Toronto on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)
TORONTO — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said a “wide gap” remains in labor talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association in issuing his first public comments on Wednesday, a day after the union presented its offer.
While Bettman said he can understand the proposal the NHLPA made, he cautioned that the two sides see the world differently. He added that he’s also “disappointed” that the union failed to provide what he called a full proposal at this late stage in negotiations.
The current collective bargaining agreement expires on Sept. 15, and the NHL has already warned that it will lock out its players if a new deal is not reached by then. The NHL regular season is set to open Oct. 11.
Bettman’s response to the NHLPA’s proposal is regarded as a setback in talks, and further raises fears that the NHL could be headed for its fourth labor dispute in 20 years. That includes the 2004-05 season which was wiped out entirely by a lockout; and it dates to April 1, 1992, when a 10-day players’ strike forced 30 postponed games to be rescheduled.
Though talks are set to continue at the union’s headquarters in Toronto this week, Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr aren’t scheduled to sit down at the bargaining table together until next week.
The union’s offer stood in stark contrast to what the NHL made in its initial proposal a month earlier.
The NHLPA proposed a deal in which players would give up as much a $465 million in revenue if the league’s overall revenue continues to grow at an average rate over the first three years of the deal. Fehr indicated that number could balloon to $800 million if the league grows at the same rate it has over the past two seasons.
Players would then have the option in the fourth year to revert to the current system, in which they receive between 54 and 57 percent of league revenues.
The union also proposed that the NHL commit money to a revenue-sharing system to help struggling teams.
Fehr described the players’ offer as one that could stabilize the industry.
The union also argued that its ability to present a proposal was delayed because the NHL was late in providing the economic information the NHLPA had requested. And when that information was finally received, the union was put in a position to pore over more than 76,000 pieces of paper.
The NHL’s initial proposal placed much of the burden on its players. The league is seeking a 24 percent cut in revenue — from 57 to 46 — and introducing severe limits to free agency. That includes players waiting 10 years to be eligible to become unrestricted free agents, as opposed to seven in the current deal, and eliminating players’ rights to salary arbitration.