The NHL and the NHLPA will begin collective bargaining negotiations in the very near future in an economic climate vastly superior to those in 2004, according to NHL?Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Bettman delivered his annual State of the League address last night prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final.
“We look forward to finally beginning meetings with the players’ association,” Bettman said. “The goal is obviously is to reach a collective bargaining agreement that can take the game and the business to even higher levels.”
He said that the league generated $3.3 billion in revenue and reported that the league’s 30 arenas were filled to 96 percent capacity in the regular season and 102 percent capacity in the playoffs.
While Bettman said that “formal negotiations” have not begun, National Hockey League Players’ Association Executive Director Donald Fehr told reporters that they had “on-going conversations with the league office for weeks and weeks, exchanging a bunch of information and analyzing a bunch of information — all of which is a necessary pre-requisite.”
The league provided written notice to the NHLPA two weeks ago that it was exercising its option to opt out of the CBA. Fehr declined to answer multiple questions regarding whether the NHLPA would have opted out of the CBA.
Bettman stated that the CBA was only supposed to last for seven years before expressing frustration at the negative supposition regarding a potential work stoppage.
“I don’t understand all the speculation and the degree of negativity that it connotes,” Bettman said. “We, meaning we and the players’ association, have yet to have a substantive discussion on what each may be looking for in collective bargaining.”
Fehr believes that the relationship between the players and owners is vastly different than what it was in 2004, when both sides took stances that led to the lost year. The current agreement formally expires on Sept. 15, but Fehr did point out that the players “recognize that they made enormous concessions in the last round of bargaining.”
The commissioner did not have an update on the Islanders’ situation, other than to say, “they need a new building. That hasn’t changed. [Owner] Charles Wang continues, despite the tremendous frustration, to look at the options which would keep the club in the New York metropolitan area.”
Bettman did say that Devils owner “Jeff Vanderbeek is working on refinancing the debt on the club and equity raise. [Vanderbeek] appears confident that he can pull this off in the next few weeks.”
Bettman took umbrage with a New York Post report Wednesday morning that suggested both the Kings and Devils were for sale.
“It never ceases to amaze me when a newspaper writes a story and the principles involved absolutely deny it, and they can be the only source,” Bettman said. “The Post was told both by Tim Leiweke and by [the league] that the story was categorically untrue; the Kings are not for sale. But they said they had their own sources so they decided to go ahead with the story.
“The story is not true.”
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman throughout the Stanley Cup final.