Lockout nears, no deal in sight
SEP 15, 2012 12:13p ET
NEW YORK (AP) -- With only hours until a threatened NHL lockout, the league and the players' union appear no closer to a deal.
For nearly a year, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has vowed to lock out players for the second time in eight years if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't reached by the time the current one expires at midnight EDT Saturday.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and players' association special counsel Steve Fehr, the brother of NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, were expected to speak to each other Saturday morning to see if face-to-face talks would take place. If a deal isn't set by the end of the day, the NHL begins its fourth work stoppage since 1992.
While this lockout might not wipe out the whole season the way one did in 2004-05 lockout, a good chunk of games could be lost without productive talks soon. Brief conversations Thursday night and Friday between leaders on both sides have yet to spur the parties to return to bargaining. The phone conversations concerned information requests from both sides.
Bettman has repeatedly said that the NHL won't operate under the CBA that ended the previous lockout in July 2005. Under that scenario, it would appear unlikely that training camps will open next week as scheduled,. The regular season, to begin Oct. 11, also would be in peril.
Once the lockout was imposed in September 2004, the sides didn't get back together again until December.
Players absorbed a salary-cap system and took an immediate 24 percent rollback of existing contracts in 2005 in exchange for 57 percent of hockey-related revenues. The NHL now says that figure is too high, and is willing to have another league shutdown to reduce that share to 49 percent to 47 percent.
Its original offer was to cut it to 43 percent, and an updated proposal raised it to 46 before another new offer pushed it a little higher Wednesday, the last time the sides met at the negotiating table.
The most recent proposal from the league -- with a six-year term -- came in direct response to one put forth by the union earlier Wednesday that was rejected as being similar to the players' two previous offers.
Instead of making a percentage-based offer, the union is seeking a deal that would guarantee players annually at least the $1.8 billion in salaries paid out last season.
Bettman said the league's latest offer would be pulled off the table once the current CBA expired because immediate damage caused by a lockout would force the NHL to reassess what it could then offer.
In the previous lockout, both sides dug in over the salary cap. Owners wouldn't make a deal without it, and players sacrificed a full season before finally agreeing to a cost-certainty system for teams.
Without such a philosophical difference this time, the sides merely have to figure out a way to divide hockey revenues that grew from $2.1 billion to $3.3 billion under the expiring deal.
It remains unclear whether the sides will settle in time for the NHL to hold its marquee New Year's Day outdoor Winter Classic at 115,000-seat Michigan Stadium between the host Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The All-Star game is Jan. 27 and is to be hosted by the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the league's struggling small-market teams.
On Friday, the Quebec labor relations board rejected a request from the players' association for a temporary injunction against a potential lockout in Quebec. But the board also ruled that more hearings are needed to make a final decision on a request by 16 members of the Montreal Canadiens and the players' association to declare a lockout illegal in the province. No date was set for further hearings.
With the ruling, Canadiens players will be locked out with their colleagues if a work stoppage goes ahead on schedule.
Daly said in a statement the league was "extremely appreciative" of the decision.
"We are hopeful that this ruling will cause the players' association to cease pursuing these needless distractions and instead focus all of its efforts and energies on making progress at the bargaining table," he said.
Likewise, the union was "pleased" with the ruling because it rejected the NHL's request to dismiss the case.
"The ruling acknowledges that the players have raised issues about the legality of the NHL's planned lockout that require a full hearing on the merits," players' association general counsel Don Zavelo said in a statement.
"We remain confident that the lockout is prohibited by the Quebec labor code and look forward to presenting our case to the commission in the near future. Should the NHL carry out its threat to lock out the players in Quebec, it will do so at its own risk."
A similar request was filed late Thursday with the Alberta labor relations board. NHLPA director of operations Alexandra Dagg said the aim was to prevent players from the Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames from being locked out.
The NHLPA argued that because it isn't certified as a union with the province, its members can't locked out under Quebec labor law. In Alberta, the union will argue that proper procedure wasn't followed, including using a mediator.
Following lockouts last year by basketball and football owners, Bettman says hockey management is determined to come away with economic gains, even if it forces another work stoppage.
Damage from another lockout will occur almost immediately, and there is no telling how jilted fans and sponsors will react to another shutdown, especially if it lasts through the fall and into the winter.
Players are concerned management hasn't addressed the league's financial problems by re-examining the teams' revenue-sharing formula. Having made several big concessions to reach a deal in 2005, the union doesn't think it should have to make more this time after record financial growth.
The current contract was agreed to in 2005, and Bob Goodenow resigned as union head two weeks later. After stints by Ted Saskin and Paul Kelly, the union in 2010 turned to Fehr, who led baseball players through three work stoppages in the 1980s and '90s.
Players struck in April 1992, causing 30 games to be postponed. This would be the third lockout under Bettman. The 1994-95 lockout ended after 103 days and the cancellation of 468 games.
The most recent lockout was finally settled in July 2005 -- 301 days into the work stoppage and a month after the league would usually have awarded the Stanley Cup. It marked the first time a North American professional sports league lost an entire season because of a labor dispute, and the first time the Stanley Cup wasn't handed out since 1919, when a flu epidemic caused no champion to be crowned.