NHL Union Says Labor Negotiation With Owners May Begin This Week

National Hockey League players union leader Donald Fehr said negotiations on a new labor agreement could begin this week and extend beyond the Sept. 15 expiration of the current accord.

The league’s current collective bargaining agreement was reached after the entire 2004-05 season was wiped out when team owners shut down the league. Fehr said yesterday at the union’s executive board meetings in Chicago that players were prepared to start talks.

“They’re going to start very quickly after the end of our meeting on Wednesday,” Fehr, the executive director of the NHL Players’ Association told reporters.

NHL spokesman John Dellapina did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment. Commissioner Gary Bettman has said multiple times that the league is prepared to negotiate once the players indicate they are ready.

League revenue, buoyed by a 10-year, $2 billion television contract with Comcast Corp.’s NBC, swelled to an estimated $3.2 billion this season from $2.2 billion in 2006, according to the NHL. The league has not said how much of this year’s record revenue is profit.

Fehr, a former executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, cited multiple times in baseball’s labor talks when games continued during negotiations. He said hockey players do not believe a work stoppage is inevitable.

“There’s nothing magical about September 15,” he said. “The law is that if you don’t have a new agreement, as long as both sides are willing to keep negotiating, we continue to play under the terms of the old one until we reach one.”

Players’ Share

Negotiations are likely to center on the players’ share of overall revenue, currently at 57 percent. Unions in the National Basketball Association and National Football League both accepted a player share decrease to around 50 percent during negotiations of new labor accords in the past two years.

A similar decline to 50 percent from 57 percent would cost the players more than $224 million a year, based on this year’s $3.2 billion in league revenue.

“We have not made a proposal,” Fehr said. “We haven’t heard an owners proposal.”

About 50 players turned out to the three-day meetings, where an official negotiating committee will be announced. Phoenix Coyotes forward Shane Doan said the turnout showed the role players would take in the talks.

“It’s great to see so many players engaged and active in our association with the important negotiations ahead,” Doan said. “The game seems to be doing really well, with the NHL bringing in record revenues for seven straight seasons, so we believe a fair deal can be reached to keep the momentum of our sport moving forward.”

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