NHL and players appear deeply divided on contract issues
Published Monday, September 17, 2012 11:18AM EDT
There’s no sign that the two-day-old NHL lockout will end any time soon, with both the players and owners appearing to dig into their positions.
The players have been locked out since 11:59 p.m. Saturday, after months of negotiations failed to result in a contract agreement by the deadline.
The NHL pre-season is set to begin on Sept. 23, with the regular season scheduled to start on Oct. 11. But that will only happen if a deal can be reached between NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, and the NHLPA’s Executive Director Donald Fehr.
That looks unlikely at this point, said TSN hockey insider Darren Dreger.
“It’s going to be a while because you’ve got both sides crying solidarity,” Dreger told CTV’s Canada AM on Monday. “There’s great resolve from the players’ association certainly and the owners as well saying look, if we don’t fix it now we’re going to be going through this cycle again at the conclusion of whatever agreement they come to terms with. So this could be a while.”
The two sides haven’t met since Wednesday, when a three-hour bargaining session resulted in little or no progress. At the centre of the dispute is the players’ share of revenues, which owners want to reduce.
Under the previous seven-year agreement, players received 57 per cent of revenue the league brings in. However, owners reportedly hope to bump that down to about 47 per cent.
“While our last CBA negotiation resulted in a seismic change in the League's economic system, and produced corresponding on-ice benefits, our current negotiation is focused on a fairer and more sustainable division of revenues with the Players,” the NHL said in a statement Sunday.
The players have said, through Fehr, that they’re willing to take a smaller piece of the revenue pie, as long as larger market clubs are willing to commit to helping smaller teams, with less of a fan base, to stay afloat.
The labour dispute marks the third time in 20 years that the NHL and players have reached an impasse. However, unlike during past disputes, Dreger said public opinion appears largely on the side of the players, who have offered to keep playing while negotiations are underway. Owners, however, have said that’s not an option.
Jonathan Gatehouse, a senior correspondent with Maclean’s magazine, recently wrote a book about Bettman called “The Instigator.” He said the NHL’s commissioner isn’t likely to back down from a fight, and agreed it could be some time before the two sides reach an agreement.
“He’s the guy who’s there to be hated, like the villain in pro wrestling. But we’ve gone beyond that. As I say in the book, he may have been Frankenstein’s monster but now the monster controls the castle,” Gatehouse told CTV News Channel.
Bettman represented the league during the two previous labour disputes --- one in the 1990s and another in 2004-2005 -- when he went so far as to cancel an entire season in order to achieve his goals, the only NHL commissioner to ever do so.
However, Fehr is an equally tough customer, Gatehouse said.
“He’s a very formidable man, very clever, every inch Bettman’s equal. It’s going to be a titanic clash of egos…but at the end of the day they both know there’s billions of dollars to be divided up and they’re going to do it,” Gatehouse said.
The NHL could begin announcing, as early as this week, the cancellation of the first pre-season games.