Inside the Flyers: NHL owners, players no closer as deadline and lockout loom

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman seems to be headed toward the third lockout of his tenure.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman seems to be headed toward the third lockout of his tenure. (CHRIS YOUNG / Canadian Press)
Posted: September 10, 2012

It's difficult to tell which was more awkward: a rambling Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair at the Republican National Convention or some of the proposals made by NHL owners in negotiations with the players' association.

If you're a hockey fan, you probably have half-followed the rhetoric being spewed by the owners' and players' representatives in their crawl to get a new collective-bargaining agreement before the current one expires Saturday.

Most fans have one thing in mind: Just tell us when the season starts.

Based on what has been coming out of meetings this summer, the odds of the season beginning as scheduled on Oct. 11 appear low.

The owners seem to have backed off substantially from their ridiculous attempt to get players to reportedly reduce their pay 24 percent in the first year of the new CBA. That rollback would be in the form of cutbacks in salary or in escrow payments.

Question: How can the league try to cut into contracts that (wink, wink) were supposedly negotiated in good faith?

The owners want to reduce salaries even though the league took in a record $3.3 billion in gross revenue last season. NHL officials point out that many small-market teams are losing money. Yet the league has scoffed at the players' association's revenue-sharing plans, aimed at helping the small-market franchises like Phoenix and Florida.

The latest stumbling block appears to be how to share moneys from hockey-related revenue (HRR). But the sides can't even agree on what constitutes HRR. The players took home 57 percent of that revenue in the last CBA, and the owners want to cut it to 46 percent.

Skip the rhetoric, agree to a 50-50 split, and start the season on time.

Instead, the owners seem primed for yet another work stoppage.

Ed Snider, the Flyers chairman and one of the NHL's most powerful voices, declined to talk about the negotiations, which also center on length of contracts (entry-level and standard) and revenue-sharing.

Predictably, the league wants to reduce the allowed length of standard contracts - as if someone put a gun to their heads to give Ilya Kovalchuk (15 years, $100 million), Shea Weber (14 years, $110 million), Ryan Suter (13 years, $98 million), and Zach Parise (13 years, $98 million) such long, lucrative deals.

The NHL also wants to increase the length of entry-level (read: cheaper) deals from three to five years.

The players are prepared for a long battle.

"I'm realistic," Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov said after working out at the Skate Zone on Friday.

Does he expect the season to start on time?

"No."

Added the trimmer Bryzgalov, who before last season signed a nine-year, $51 million deal: "I knew it was coming. As soon as I heard the first proposal, I knew it was going to be for the long term. And I knew it was going to be painful. It is what it is and we have to accept the situation because we can't change it, and we have to continue to fight and have our position."

NHL teams, including the Flyers, will start training camp Sept. 21 if there is not a lockout.

That seems highly unlikely.

"It's frustrating for all of us," general manager Paul Holmgren said. "You ask your players to prepare all summer and be ready for the start of training camp and the long road ahead, and then we've got a roadblock. It's just something the industry has to work through right now. You have to have faith in the people that they'll get it done."

Faith?

Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, appears headed toward the third lockout in his reign.

Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHLPA, could add the sixth work stoppage to his resumé, with five coming while he was involved in Major League Baseball.

Based on those track records, it appears the millionaire players and ultra-rich owners will not be involved in hockey for a while. Neither will many folks working second jobs - vendors, ticket-takers, security guards, etc. - to help pay for mortgages or perhaps put their kids through college.

Those workers, and the fans, are the ones who would suffer the most if the NHL disappears for a while.

The longer hockey is gone, the more the fans' apathy will grow - and that will be a nightmare scenario to overcome.


Contact Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com, or

on Twitter @BroadStBull.

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