Players offer to reduce salaries

Friday, December 10, 2004

TORONTO -- The NHL players' association offered an immediate 24 percent rollback of salaries Thursday as the centerpiece of a new proposal handed to the league in an effort to end the season-long lockout.

"The CBA that we proposed to the league will immediately reduce the value of every current player contract," NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow said Thursday night. "It will immediately set a dramatically lower base in the negotiation of new contracts and it contains numerous systemic changes in all the leverage points that are contained in the collective agreement."

The union said all current contracts would be cut, a move that would save NHL teams over $500 million in the next three years.

"I will acknowledge that one aspect of the proposal is very significant," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. "That element is a recognition by the union of our economic condition but it is a one-time element.

"We have said consistently that the focus must be on the overall systemic issues and the long-term needs and health of our game."

The rollback would change the dynamic for unsigned players, who would work out new deals based on the adjusted salary figures of comparable players and not on the value of their original contracts.

Originally, the sides set up to meet on Friday, as well, but those talks were pushed back until next Tuesday. That session will be held either in New York or Toronto.

"We will fully review the union's proposal and respond to the union next Tuesday, and it is our present intention to make a counterproposal," Bettman said.

Time is running short to work out a deal and still have a legitimate season. Already 382 regular-season games, plus the All-Star contest have been canceled.

Bettman again declined to announce a drop-dead date that would make the NHL the first major North American league to cancel an entire season over a labor dispute.

"When we have the deal, we'll see what we can do about having a semblance of a season," Bettman said.

What the new proposal didn't contain was a link between league revenues and player salaries -- the cost certainty Bettman wants for the 30 clubs. The union again offered a luxury tax instead of a salary cap.

"I don't believe in a luxury tax," Bettman said.

The negotiating session was the first between the league and the NHLPA since Sept. 9, the date of the union's last proposal. Without a deal in place, Bettman imposed the lockout that reached its 85th day on Thursday.

The sides met for about four hours at the NHL's office at the Air Canada Centre, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, before ending the session shortly after 3 p.m. The NHLPA invited the league back to the table last week.

Bettman said the NHL was handed a binder with 10 tabs, and added the league will need several days to read and review the 236 pages.

In addition to the salary rollback, the players' association also offered a luxury tax that would penalize teams 20 cents on the dollar if the club's payroll is between $45 million to $50 million; 50 cents on the dollar for payrolls between $50 million to $60 million; and 60 cents on every dollar over that threshold, an official within the players' association told The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

In addition, an offer was made to change arbitration and make it more like baseball's system in which clubs and players submit figures for an arbitrator to decide on, the source said.

An entry-level contract cap of $850,000 was also proposed.

Goodenow was joined at the session by senior director Ted Saskin, associate counsel Ian Pulver, outside counsel John McCambridge and the executive committee of active NHL players: president Trevor Linden, and vice presidents Bob Boughner, Vincent Damphousse, Daniel Alfredsson, Bill Guerin, Trent Klatt and Arturs Irbe.

Bettman and executive vice president Bill Daly were joined on the NHL side by senior vice president and general counsel David Zimmerman, outside counsel Bob Batterman as well as members from the executive committee: Calgary Flames part-owner Harley Hotchkiss (chairman of the board), Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs (chairman of the finance committee), Nashville Predators owner Craig Leopold, Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos, and New Jersey Devils CEO and GM Lou Lamoriello.

Arenas have been given the go-ahead by the league to free dates previously reserved for hockey on a 45-day rolling basis. As of now, that means there won't be any NHL games before the middle of January.

Bettman has said that teams lost a total of more than $1.8 billion over 10 years and that management will not agree to a deal without a defined relationship between revenue and salaries. Owners say teams lost $273 million in 2002-03 and $224 million last season.

An economic study commissioned by the NHL found that players get 75 percent of league revenues. The union has challenged many of the NHL's financial findings.

The league has been operating under the same collective bargaining agreement since 1995, when the last lockout went 103 days before a 48-game season was played. That deal was extended twice.

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