Questions and answers regarding NHL lockout

The NHL lockout is well over 100 days long, and yet it is still

hard to tell whether the league and the players’ association are

all that close to a deal to save the hockey season. Unlike eight

years ago, when a lockout caused the cancellation of the entire

season, the issues keeping the sides apart this time are mostly

financially based disputes and not a philosophical divide as was

the salary cap debate then.

So what exactly is putting another hockey season on the brink of

ruin? The NHL already is the only North American major professional

sports league to lose a whole year because of a labor dispute. It

certainly would like to avoid doing it twice.

Q: What are the major issues still keeping the sides apart?

A: There are a variety of things that need to be resolved. They

range from a pension plan, to the maximum length of player

contracts, the annual salary difference in multiyear contracts, the

salary cap amount for the 2013-14 season, and the length of the new

collective bargaining agreement. The sides seem to be willing to

agree to a 10-year deal, but there is disagreement as to whether to

have an opt-out clause after seven years or eight.

Q: Is this the first time there has been labor unrest in

hockey?

A: This is the fourth time in 20 years that labor issues

affected a season. A lockout in 1994-95 was resolved in time for

the NHL to stage a 48-game season after a settlement in January.

The 2004-05 season was canceled completely because of a lockout,

marking the first time the Stanley Cup wasn’t awarded since 1919.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said he won’t stage a season with

fewer than 48 games. He said an agreement with the union would have

to be reached by Jan. 11 for that to happen this season.

Q: How does this lockout differ from the one eight years

ago?

A: Back in 2004 and 2005, the NHL was willing to lose an entire

season to have a salary-cap system instituted for the first time,

which the league wanted to provide cost certainty for all 30 teams.

The original salary cap in the 2005-06 season was $39 million, and

it rose to $64.3 million last season. After the NHL generated

record revenues of $3.3 billion last season, the cap for the

2012-13 season was set at $70.2 million. In the previous agreement,

teams also were required to reach a minimum payroll amount of $16

million below the upper range of the cap. Players had received 57

percent of hockey-related revenue under the deal that expired in

September. It is believed the split would be 50-50 in the new

agreement.

Q: What would it mean if the union declares a disclaimer of

interest?

A: The union no longer would have the right to collectively

bargain and would become something akin to a trade association.

This action, if upheld, would remove NHL players from labor law and

allow individual players to file antitrust suits against the NHL.

Players’ association head Donald Fehr would cease negotiating on

behalf of the players collectively, but talks with the league on a

new collective bargaining agreement could continue – collective

bargaining rights would have to be regained for a labor contract to

be signed.

Q: Are there other legal matters in play in the dispute?

A: The NHL filed suit in federal court in Manhattan to have the

lockout declared legal. The league also sued the union in

mid-December, figuring the players were about to submit their own

complaint against the league and give up collective bargaining

rights to gain leverage in negotiations. On Thursday, the union

filed a response with the court arguing the NHL is using this suit

”to force the players to remain in a union. Not only is it

virtually unheard of for an employer to insist on the unionization

of its employees, it is also directly contradicted by the rights

guaranteed to employees under … the National Labor Relations

Act.” The court scheduled a status conference for Monday. Also on

Thursday, the NHLPA filed a motion seeking to dismiss the league’s

suit.