NHL Owners, Players Tweak Proposals as Labor Deadline Looms

The National Hockey League and its players’ union swapped fresh proposals in a bid to reach agreement on a new labor contract before the existing one expires in two days.

NHL Players’ Association Executive Director Donald Fehr and league Commissioner Gary Bettman each said the other side’s revised offer had changed little from their prior position.

“The proposal was really not much different -- other than a couple of things around the edges -- than the last proposal that they had made that we had indicated was clearly not acceptable,” Bettman told reporters after yesterday’s talks.

Owners offered players 47 percent of hockey-related revenue, one percentage point more than in their previous proposal, Fehr said. Under the deal that ends at midnight Sept. 15, players receive 57 percent.

“While it’s accurate in a sense that the owners’ proposal doesn’t take quite as much money from the players, somebody might say they’ve moved from an extraordinarily large amount to a really very big amount,” Fehr told reporters yesterday.

While differences remain, yesterday morning’s talks at league headquarters in New York City -- the first formal session since Aug. 31 -- produced “some improvement,” Fehr said.

The NHL board of governors will meet today, and as many as 250 players convened last night at a nearby hotel with plans to continue internal talks into today. Both Fehr and Bettman said they would be open to meeting again before the existing agreement expires.

More Dialogue

“What we hope is that, arising out of this, there can be dialogue that can push us the rest of the way in an effort to try and reach an agreement,” Fehr said.

There’s no legal requirement for a lockout in the absence of a new agreement, because the sides can continue to operate under the old accord while negotiations proceed. Bettman said that owners won’t operate the 2012-13 season without a new deal; Fehr said players are willing to compete while negotiations continue.

The NHLPA said yesterday that it filed an application along with at least 16 members of the Montreal Canadiens asking the Quebec Labor Relations Board to declare a possible lockout illegal in the province. The NHLPA is not recognized as a union in Quebec, making a lockout illegal, the statement said.

“Our point is to show that we’re willing to play, we want to play and we’re going to do everything we can to get ourselves playing until we reach an agreement,” Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges said this week on a conference call.

Emergency Hearing

The group has an emergency hearing with the labor board set for tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. eastern time, according to the statement. players are also exploring a way to make the lockout illegal in Alberta through its labor laws, Gorges said.

If successful, the two challenges would allow players on the Canadiens, the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames to continue to receive paychecks and use team facilities should a lockout occur, Gorges said.

It will have no effect on the league’s ability to lock out the other four Canadian teams or the 23 teams in the U.S.

“We don’t believe the provincial jurisdiction on the labor front is something that we’re subject to,” Bettman said.

The sides are arguing over player compensation and revenue sharing. The NHL’s most recent proposal asked players to eventually accept 47 percent of the league’s hockey-related revenue, with a loss of about $256 million in player salaries next year, Fehr said.

Union Offer

The union’s offer, according to Fehr, tied the players’ share to revenue growth, with the proportion decreasing as hockey-related revenue increased.

Under the proposal, should league revenue grow at the same rate as the past 10 years, the players’ share would decrease to 54.3 percent in the first year, then 52.5 percent, 52.0 percent and rise to 52.3 percent in the fourth year, Fehr said.

Other contentious issues include salary arbitration and the length of unrestricted free agency.

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

The current collective bargaining agreement was reached after the entire 2004-05 season was wiped out when team owners shut down the league. The 2012-13 season is set to begin on Oct. 11, about three weeks after training camps open.

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