Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Get ready for the NHL labor rumble
By Pierre LeBrun
NEWARK, N.J. -- Everybody take a deep breath. It’s about to get quite interesting on the business side of hockey.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his counterpart, NHL Players’ Association executive director Donald Fehr, both confirmed Wednesday evening before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals that collective bargaining is slated to begin in the next couple of weeks.
The current seven-year collective bargaining agreement expires Sept. 15 at midnight ET.
"My guess is in the next few weeks we will begin, either in small groups or larger groups, to set the table of what we each might want to be talking about," Bettman said during his annual state of the union Cup finals news conference.
"I’m sure it’ll be started in the next few weeks," said Fehr, who watched Bettman’s news conference from the back of the room before scrumming himself with media afterward.
The growing sentiment around the industry is that talk won’t get real serious until September, when the threat of canceling camp or games enters the picture. Eight years ago, during the last round of CBA talks, the summer of 2004 was really a PR exercise with both sides posturing and doling out big-time rhetoric before the fall brought more serious discussions.
Ultimately, of course, the sides weren't able to hammer out a deal and the 2004-05 season was canceled. I don’t think there’s much chance there won’t be any hockey at all next season, but the start of the season is certainly in jeopardy.
Hard to say, though, without a single negotiating session having transpired.
"I don't understand both the speculation and the degree of negativity that it connotes considering we, meaning the league and the players' association, have yet to have a substantive discussion on what we may each be looking for in collective bargaining," Bettman said.
"If somebody is suggesting it, it's either because there's something in the water, people still have the NBA and NFL on the brain, or they're just looking for news on a slow day. It is nothing more than speculation at this point. There can't be any substance to it because there haven't been any substantive conversations."
Fehr wouldn’t bite, either, when asked to handicap how it would play out.
"I have some ideas as to how it’s going to go but I have learned that making predictions in this business is a bit of a foolish enterprise," Fehr said. "Too many things can happen that can cause you to change course."
The battleground will center around the league’s attempt to scale back the players’ share of hockey-related revenue. Currently, the players get 57 percent of the pie. With the NBA and NFL having negotiated their players’ shares to less than that percentage, the expectation is the NHL will try to do the same.
Fehr, of course, would rather look at another labor deal for his model.
"All I can say with all the talk about other sports is that the one which is far and away the most stable is baseball. Far and away," he said.
Specifically, Fehr is expected to push for greater revenue sharing in hockey, just as he did in baseball. That’s not a popular notion with the NHL’s bigger-market clubs.
Fehr, the longtime baseball union chief, is a fierce negotiator. His presence in the hockey labor landscape has made some people nervous, but like anyone, he hopes the season starts on time.
"All I can say is, I certainly hope it does," Fehr said. "That’s the goal. Hopefully, it’s a goal that everybody shares."
Commissioner Gary Bettman was, of course, asked about the latest on the Phoenix Coyotes' ownership situation.
"I spoke to [prospective owner] Greg Jamison early today," Bettman said. "He continues to do the two things he needs to do to secure the future of the Coyotes where they are, in Arizona: One, working to conclude a set of documents with the City of Glendale on the building management situation. And he continues to put his equity together.
"The City of Glendale, I believe next week, is supposed to vote on the management agreement. Once that's in place, I think Greg will be able to conclude hopefully the finalization of his equity raise."
But the commissioner stopped short of guaranteeing the Coyotes definitely will be in Phoenix next season.
"I can't say anything with 100 percent certainty. I think the likelihood is, based on everything we know today, the process should conclude successfully, but it's not something I'm in a position to guarantee," Bettman said.
He also reiterated that relocation talks of any official nature have not taken place with any prospective city.
"We haven't worked on a Plan B for Phoenix," Bettman said. "Our hope and expectation, going back to the earlier question, is this will get done. If it doesn't, we'll have to deal with it at the time. But it's not anything we're focused on at this time."
Still no ruling on Torres hit
Gary Bettman still hasn’t ruled on Raffi Torres' appeal of his 25-game suspension for his high hit on Chicago's Marian Hossa.
"Mr. Torres sent us a notice of appeal about two weeks after the original decision was rendered," Bettman said. "We promptly scheduled an in-person hearing, which he requested. I now have to write an opinion, which I will do, am doing, but there are a couple of other things going on. Since Phoenix's season is over, the timing of this isn't quite as imperative as if the Coyotes were still playing. But in the not-too-distant future, I'll issue an opinion."