MILTON, Ont. – The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association are set for another round of negotiations this week with the hope of establishing a new collective bargaining agreement before the current one expires on Sept. 15.
Executive Director Donald Fehr says owners “have pointed us in a direction of some very tough hills to climb,” with three days of talks set to begin Tuesday in Toronto. Fehr says the NHLPA is not yet prepared to make a counteroffer to the owners’ initial proposal.
Fehr says the players will make their offer, “when we’re ready.”
There were multiple reports coming out of the last round of talks that the owners’ offer included players’ hockey-related revenues get slashed from 57 per cent to 46 per cent. It also was reported that players would be forced to wait 10 years before becoming unrestricted free agents and that contracts would be limited to five years.
“We’ve asked for a bunch of additional financial information,” Fehr said at an NHLPA charity golf tournament at Milton, Ontario. “They’ve indicated that the preparation is in progress and we’ll need to review that before we come to any final conclusions.”
The owners want to cap salaries and shorten years of a deal, but that didn’t stop the Philadelphia Flyers from signing Nashville Predators defenceman Shea Weber to a staggering 14-year offer sheet worth $110 million last week.
“What I’ve said about player contracts, and I’ll continue to say especially when you see one like that one, or the earlier ones this year or things in past years and so on, is that contracts speak for themselves,” Fehr said. “You don’t have to be somebody extraordinarily well-versed in the intricacies of hockey and economics and capology to draw conclusions from it.”
Fehr said negotiations are scheduled to go on next week, as well.
“There’s a ways to go yet,” he said.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman oversaw the 1994-95 NHL lockout that delayed the start of the season and forced a 48-game regular-season schedule. When labour problems lingered in 2004-05, Bettman shut down the league. It took years for the NHL to recover from the lost season.
“The momentum that’s been gained, kudos should be given to a lot of people on both sides that we’ve had record revenues growing over the last seven years,” Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Steve Montador said. “Everybody wants to grow. Yeah, we want to keep going. We want to play. We don’t want to have any hiccups, and there’s still time to get through that.”
Fehr appeared opposed to the idea of shortening contracts and limiting player salaries.
“What would you feel like if somebody came to you, or what would anybody else feel like, especially in an industry in which revenue has gone up extraordinarily over the last seven years, but that’s what we’re faced with,” he said.
Montador, the team’s player representative, said it was too early to worry about a potential lockout.
“There’s a lot of time, and if we have to, we can continue playing under the old rule if we want,” he said. “That’s something I think everybody would want, business as usual at least as far as getting a chance to start on time.”
Fehr is very protective of the players’ prerogatives under the National Labor Relations Act. He believes players are effectively 50-50 partners with owners over anything that affects their work rules, such as realignment, which stalled last season after the players’ association refused to agree to the changes.
Montreal Canadiens defenceman and team representative Chris Campoli is glad to have Fehr, who represented baseball players for years, on his side.
“There’s no one more qualified to be doing what he’s doing,” he said. “He’s the best in the world. As a player, in my opinion, I have a sense of comfort with that. We know we’ve got the best. So going in, I think there’s a confidence when it comes to that. and there’s a lot of composure we have as a group because of it.
The NHL regular season is slated to start on Oct. 11.
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Milton, Ontario contributed to this report.