NHL CBA action in New York

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With only four days to go before their CBA expires, NHL owners and players tried again to get arenas opened on time. (Photo by Noah Graham/NHLI via Getty Images)

Staples Center sits empty

By Stu Hackel

The NHLPA and the NHL owners met separately in New York City on Thursday, with the NHLPA holding a 1:30 PM press conference and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman at 3:30.

Here is the video of Donald Fehr's Thursday media session. And video of the open Q&A with Sidney Crosby. I was at today's event and will be writing more in a future post. SI.com will also be posting its own video of players discussing the likely lockout. Gary Bettman offers his response in this video.

Here are two posts about yesterday's formal bargaining session:


6 PM (revised with video) : In his second news conference of the day, this one at a midtown hotel prior to the NHLPA meeting at which perhaps 300 players are in attendance, Don Fehr sounded  as if the league's latest proposal is not any more acceptable to the players than the players' latest was to the owners.

He confirmed some of the details of the NHL's latest offer, which would start at 49 percent of HRR and fall to 47. This is from the current level of 57 percent. "They've moved from an extraordinarily large amount to a very big amount," he said,  and Fehr was quick to remind listeners that prior to the salary cap, the players' collective "free market" value was 74 percent of all revenue; it is now 51 percent under the salary cap. Fehr said that represents $330 million a year. He said the deal the PA proposed is for five years and that the players dropped the "snap back" to 57 percent of HRR they wanted for the agreement's last season.

He said the offer presented by the players today would save the owners $900 million annually if the NHL's business grew at the same rate it has over the past 10 years. "Lot of mathematical gobbledygook from Fehr that is hard to parse," tweeted Jesse Spector of The Sporting News. "What’s clear is it’s different from Bettman’s mathematical gobbledygook." Those of us who are mathematically challenged salute you, Jesse.

Here is video of Fehr's remarks (but not the Q & A) prior to the NHLPA meeting:

Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record tweeted: "General tenor of Don Fehr's second news conference is that owners are still asking for a lot of givebacks financially from players." And Jesse Spector tweeted, "18 minutes of Fehr solo, 12 minutes of questions. Maybe 20 seconds where you could feel optimistic."

So there you have it, the prelude to what seems more than ever like a lockout, awaiting us when Saturday turns to Sunday. There is still time, of course, for more negotiation and additional offers. I think we can expect them. Whether they will be agreeable -- whether the sides can find their way to a deal before the CBA expires -- is the biggest unknown.

3 PM (revised with video): The negotiating session between the partied has ended and, according to reports, both the NHL and the NHLPA had new proposals to submit to each other. Here is video of Don Fehr's remarks.

Fehr said the league's proposal has to be studied by the PA and "we hope they will be studying our proposal further, too. It's too early to say whether or not this is going to represent any meaningful progress," Fehr said. He added that the PA's proposal was consistent with their principles: given the league's record revenue growth over the past seven years and the concessions made in 2005, they see no reason to have an absolute reduction in players salaries and they hope to partner with the high revenue teams to assist those franchises not doing as well.

Both proposals concerned the core economics, which is something that should please the NHL. Gary Bettman has said at various times that what the NHLPA has discussed has not dealt strongly enough with those core economics, by which he means the percentage of Hockey Related Revenue the players would receive. The league's goal in these talks has been to reduce that number, but what the NHLPA proposed prior to today only reduced it temporarily; after the third year, the percentage would "snap back" to current levels.

But Chris Johnson of Canadian Press tweets that "Donald Fehr says players are willing to take a lower percentage over time." If that's true, it would represent further movement on the part of the players toward ownership's position. Fehr declined to discuss specifics of the PA's proposal. However, as our SI.com colleague Al Muir tweeted, "Nice that the NHLPA is willing to talk reduction over time, but without an immediate cut I doubt the league will bite."

Here is video of Gary Bettman's remarks and he didn't seem especially impressed by what the PA put forward. He characterized their proposal as "really not much different, other than a couple things around edges, than the last proposal," which the owners found unacceptable. He described the league's proposal as containing "meaningful movement" but warned that this proposal would only be on the table until the 15th and would be withdrawn if a deal was not reached by Saturday night, although it wasn't a final offer, that it was negotiable.

Perhaps most meaningful is that this proposal restores the current definition of Hockey Related Revenue (HRR), the pool of money from which the players' percentage under the salary cap is determined. The NHL had sought to shrink that pool by redefining HRR but, Bettman said, returning to the original definition simplifies what the sides are negotiating.

Bettman added the proposal includes a phase-in period of salary reduction and that there has also been movement upward in the players' percentage of HRR, a figure higher than the 46 percent in the owner's last proposal. He declined to be more specific than that. It is currently 57 percent. There are numerous tweets (like this one from Sportsnet's John Shannon) that puts proposed player salaries under the latest owners plan at 49 percent of HRR in Year One and goes down to 47 percent of HRR at the end of the league's proposed six-year deal. Fehr confirmed this later in the afternoon.

Bettman estimated that the NHL's newest proposal moves between $250 and $300 million in the players' direction. That's on top of the $450 million the NHL says it moved in its previous offer.  Along with restoring the current HRR parameters, that represents additional movement away from ownership's original harsh offer. Yet, as James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail does the math, that means the sides, which were $1.3 billion apart in the first four years of their most recent respective proposals, are still about $1 billion apart. That's not really striking range for an agreement on the "core economics."

Fehr said that while no formal negotiations were scheduled, he expected the sides would talk again after the owners meetings on Thursday. Bettman said that, other than the few hours set aside for the Governor's meeting, he's available to speak.

In other news, the KHL announced its guidelines for NHL players to join KHL teams in the event of a lockout. Here they are. удача.

12:30 PM: Portrayed as a last-ditch effort to get some movement in their stalled collective bargaining negotiations, the NHL owners' and players' representatives resumed meeting in New York on Wednesday morning, their first full-group negotiations in almost two weeks.

This unanticipated discussion may provide some hope that a lockout is avoidable, but it's wise for fans not to get their hopes up just yet, and instead see what comes out of this session. So we'll be updating this post as the news warrants in order to keep you informed about what has transpired. Check back every once in a while throughout the day and evening.

This meeting comes in advance of an NHLPA membership gathering (at which somewhere between 200-300 players are expected) that starts late Wednesday afternoon, and an NHL Board of Governors meeting scheduled for Thursday -- the two get-togethers we discussed on Tuesday. Here's how TSn reported on these events and the issues surrounding them Tuesday night:

There's also a noticeable rise in fan frustration, with calls for fan protests and even boycotts of the team owners' businesses.

I must admit to some ambivalence about these things. On one hand, it's hard to argue that the fans are not the engine that drives this business. They are in all sports and entertainment concerns. There's a feeling that they are being taken for granted in all this, a feeling that hockey fans dealt with not terribly long ago. They don't want to again fall as helpless victims to a process that excludes them, and they have every right to make their feelings known -- and they should. No argument there.

On the other hand, as I drove home last night from my regular Tuesday night skate at an aging suburban New York prep school rink, I could see the twin columns of light beaming into the sky from lower Manhattan on the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. I read earlier in the day and heard again this morning about teachers strikes in Chicago and Ottawa. I passed gas stations where the price of fuel has gotten obscenely high, just in the last seven days. I think about all those who are long out of work or underemployed as our economy tries to recover from the calamitous events precipitated by the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2008. It makes it a bit difficult, in the face of these things, for me to become overly agitated about the business arrangements of the National Hockey League.

I've been following this sport for over 50 years and it's always a pretty big part of my life. But when the owners locked out the players in 1994, I discovered English Premier League soccer. During the lockout of 2004-05, I got involved in U.S. junior hockey. Both those experiences proved worthwhile. So if this season doesn't start on time, life will go on. It just won't be as much fun.

And yet, if things don't go well in the negotiations and games get cancelled, as we've discussed before, there are real life consequences for others whose livelihoods depend on fans coming to arenas. There are those who work at the games of course, and others, too. I ran across this story in the Boston Business Journal in which Pat Moscaritolo, CEO of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, projected that "Roughly each [Bruins] home game is worth anywhere between $850,000 to $1 million, money that is generated outside the four walls of TD Garden. That means spending in the North End, North Station area, spending at restaurants and sports bars, sports paraphernalia, etc.”

Mark Purdy of The San Jose Mercury-News had a similar, more personal, story about how one restaurant owner feared that the cancellation of Sharks games would hurt his business. Yes, a lockout will hurt a lot of people with much more at stake than we who just love watching the game.

None of this is meant to discourage anyone who wants to protest what they believe is an avoidable work stoppage. I guess, personally, I just have some mixed emotions about it. We'll be back with updates as we get them.

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