Players have slowly started to gather in Columbus in preparation for the Blue Jackets’ 2012-13 season. These players are seeing training staff, working on fundamentals on the ice, and making community appearances to meet fans.
Business as usual, right? Hardly.
Despite the sense of normalcy in locker rooms like the one in Columbus, a battle is underway between players and their employers. This time, the likes of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin have been on the same team.
It is that battle the looms its ugly head every few years. The collective bargaining agreement between players and owners ends Sept. 15 just days before the start of training camp.
This one appears to be going the distance and maybe longer.
Unlike the collective bargaining agreement that took a year to work out after the NHL lost the entire 2004-05 season, a hard salary cap is not the issue. In that agreement, owners pushed for a hard salary cap and players resisted even after the season was wiped. The salary cap is undoubtedly going to stay however what that cap level will be is the issue.
Currently, players take home up to 57 percent of all hockey related revenue. The owners want to cut this number in two ways. One is redefining what actually hockey related revenue is. The second is to simply lower this percentage down to 43 percent.
“There are still a number of issues where we are looking at the world differently,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.
Opposing the owners is NHLPA chief Don Fehr. Fehr’s strategy has been one that has included getting the teams to share revenues. This is likely an idea that gets mixed reactions from owners as a small number of teams are doing quite well while most are struggling with making a profit.
“If you have a cap which approximates fair market value, it isn’t any good to the owners – you don’t save anything,” Fehr said.
Players presented a counteroffer on Tuesday but not much progress was made. Players still want more than 50 percent of the revenue. On top of that, players do not want a limit to the length contracts. Bettman’s offers have included a five-year limit to players’ salaries.
A way around the cap has been for players to sign long-term contract that are front loaded but the cap hit is spread out over the life of the contract. Players are against closing this loophole.
When players and owners finally came to an agreement in 2005 for a new CBA, the league had fewer assets. This time around, the league has stable television partners in NBC Sports, CBC, and TSN.
Current and former Jackets have sat in on meetings between owners, Bettman, and other NHL players. A pair of former Jackets, Ron Hainsey and Manny Malhotra, have been among the players that have met with Bettman in recent weeks. Current Jackets members James Wisniewski and Brandon Dubinsky were also named to the negotiation committee.
“When you are rewriting a system, you want to be as informed as possible,” Malhotra said several weeks ago. “At this point, there is a lot of asking questions and getting answers.”
Bettman has left no question mark on what happens if a deal is not struck by Sept. 15. The NHL would be headed to its second lockout in the last decade if the deal is not finalized by then. Seems like both sides believe a deal can be struck by then.
“I think it is absolutely possible to get something done,” Hainsey said about beating the Sept. 15 deadline.