Sidney Crosby, the National Hockey League’s Most Valuable Player in 2007, said a lockout will probably delay the start of the season because players and team owners can’t reach an agreement on a new labor contract.
NHL players and owners met independently yesterday in a pair of New York hotels three blocks apart. The distance between the sides at the negotiating table appears even wider, as league Commissioner Gary Bettman and Players’ Association Executive Director Donald Fehr agreed that no progress had been made since both sides rejected fresh proposals two days ago.
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Crosby said that, while players have been willing to agree to concessions, they feel as though owners had their minds set on a lockout since talks began this offseason. Bettman has said a lockout will begin immediately after the current accord expires at midnight tomorrow. The season is scheduled to begin Oct. 11.
“Right now I don’t think it’s looking like we’re going to start on time,” Crosby, 25, said.
Bettman, who denied that the league wanted a lockout, said after yesterday’s two-hour board of governors meeting that owners were unanimous in their support of the group’s current direction. He implied the players were holding up progress.
“If you are dedicated to the negotiating process, you can move this along quickly,” Bettman told reporters. “If, for whatever reason, you’re not interested in making a deal, you drag it out.”
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. The players have said they’re willing to compete while talks continue.
There are no formal plans to continue negotiations prior to tomorrow’s deadline, although each side said it was open to more dialogue.
Flanked by at least two dozen players including Crosby and Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, Fehr said that, while players have accepted a sacrifice in the form of pay cuts, the league hasn’t admitted that other areas require expense cuts.
“That raises the fundamental question again as to whether the approach that is being taken is one that is fair or equitable, or which is reasonably calculated to lead to an agreement as opposed to a dispute,” Fehr told reporters.
The sides two days ago focused talks mainly on player compensation and revenue sharing. Under the current agreement, the players receive 57 percent of hockey-related revenue.
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 yesterday. The union’s offer, according to Fehr, tied the players’ share to revenue growth, with the proportion decreasing as hockey-related revenue increased.
Under that 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.
The National Basketball Association players’ union agreed during last season’s lockout to a new labor accord that gives 50 percent of revenue to the players, down from 57 percent. National Football League players accepted a share of no less than 47 percent in their most recent deal, which also followed a lockout.
NHL 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 2004-05 season was wiped out when team owners shut down the league. Fehr said yesterday that players were growing frustrated.
“They’d like this done,” he said. “No athlete likes to lose games.”
-- Editors: Dex McLuskey, Rob Gloster