NHL locks out players, could be in for long haul
The expected is now reality.
After they were unable to reach an accord on a new collective bargaining agreement, the NHL locked out its players at 12:01 a.m. Sunday morning. Until there is an agreement in place, team officials are not allowed to have contact with players. The players will not be paid and are barred from team facilities.
Following the Board of Governors meeting at the Crowne Plaza Thursday afternoon, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters that there was a “complete show of support” for the lockout, noting the “vote was unanimous.”
This is the third lockout in 18 years, and dating back to the players’ strike in 1991-92, the fourth work stoppage in 20 years.
“[Lockouts are] their first option. That’s the sense I’ve gotten. That’s kind of been the theme,” Zach Parise said Wednesday afternoon prior to the start of the two-day NHLPA Executive Board and Negotiating Committee meetings at the Marriott Marquis. Two hundred and seventy-five players attended Wednesday’s session and 283 were present Thursday.
At the crux of the lockout is money. Both sides agree that revenues have grown by 7.1 percent every year since the 2004-05 lockout. Bettman announced before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final that the league earned $3.3 billion.
However, Bettman has argued that the league’s financial growth in the seven years following the last lockout was due to the strength of the Canadian dollar, the relocation of the Thrashers franchise from Atlanta to Winnipeg and the 10-year, $2-billion television contract with NBC.
The league is asking for the players to accept salary reductions. The players earned 57 percent of hockey related revenues (HRR) during the 2012-13 season, which the owners view as untenable.
“Fifty-seven percent of HRR is too much,” Bettman said Thursday afternoon. “We believe we’re paying out [too much in salaries].”
It is a stance that has angered and baffled the players.
“That’s the part that doesn’t make a lot of sense. [The owners] commit those things (money and years) to you and then they want it back,” said Parise.
“Progress [the] last couple weeks has been disappointing,” said Islanders alternate captain John Tavares following Wednesday night’s session. “They’ve made a lot of changes [to their proposal]. It’s been about cutting our salaries.”
The players are “not very much interested in” a reduction in the valuation of their contracts according to NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr. Instead, Fehr has said that the structure around the union’s offers is that they are willing to have “their shares lowered as revenues increase,” while compelling “higher revenue teams” to commit $120 million to augment an equal amount from the players in expanded revenue sharing. The players believe their offers will strengthen franchises fraught with financial peril while covering ancillary costs for the league’s 30 teams.
“[With] our proposal we tried to fix the [structural issues],” Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said Wednesday night.
However the construction of the players’ offers has been deemed unnecessary by the league. Expanded revenue sharing has been in the league’s proposals. Unlike the NHLPA offers, the league’s offer visualizes $190 million in assistance to struggling franchises coming from the players without supplemental assistance from financially solvent franchises.
“We do not believe a system overhaul is necessary,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an email to Metro late last week. “Our primary concern is with the economics of the current system.”
The two sides offered counter proposals during a three-hour bargaining meeting early Wednesday afternoon at the league’s office. The owners’ offer was co-authored by Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and Flames co-owner Murray Edwards after the league determined the players’ proposal was “not much different” than previous offers according to Bettman. The commissioner noted that the offer “would be off the table” after Sept. 15, and reiterated that the league was “not prepared to offer without an agreement.” Fehr has routinely said that the players have offered to play the season under the now-expired CBA.
The NHL and NHLPA have not held formal bargaining sessions since, and it is not known when the two sides will resume talks.
So now the question is how will the lockout affect the 2012-13 season? It is impossible to predict the long-term damage a lockout — no matter how short or long the work stoppage is — could inflict on the league.
In the interim, the training camps that were scheduled to begin on Saturday are now on hold. Assuredly, preseason games will be canceled shortly, and regular season games will be erased if an agreement is not in place by the end of the month. Opening night is scheduled for Oct. 11.
Teams spent the final two days of the CBA locking up players to contracts, highlighted by the Capitals agreeing to a six-year, $23.8-million extension with defenseman John Carlson. Franchises also sent players on entry-level contracts to AHL affiliates. A short list of notable players that have been sent down were Adam Henrique, Adam Larsson, Travis Hamonic, Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz, Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn.
There is flexibility for players who are no longer on their entry-level contacts. Numerous players have openly discussed European leagues as a viable alternative. Tavares told Metro that playing in Europe is “definitely something I would consider.”
The KHL is another potential destination for players. The Russian league recently announced that it modified its rules for signing NHLers. KHL teams can sign three NHL players as long as those players must have played 150 NHL games spanning the last three seasons, has played for their country in the World Junior Hockey Championships, World Championships or Olympics in the last two years and has been on a Stanley Cup champion, conference champion or has won postseason individual awards.
Already the KHL has begun attracting NHL players. Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar have practiced with Metallurg Magnitogorsk according to a report on TSN, while Russian newspaper Sport-Express reported that Lokomotiv Yaroslavl will sign Alex Semin. Alex Ovechkin vowed in a recent interview with Washington reporters that he will play in the KHL, and it’s believed that Ilya Kovalchuk and 2012 No.1 overall draft pick Nail Yakupov will play in the league during the lockout.
While some NHL players will find work overseas, others will rent ice time at rinks in their cities in an effort to stay in game condition. Callahan told Metro that the Rangers are “looking into [options to] keep skating as a group.”
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman throughout the lockout as he brings you breaking news and updates.