NHL and NHL Players' Association to resume talks

Thursday, July 15th 2004, 1:31 pm
By: News On 6

TORONTO (CP) _ The two sides in the NHL labour talks are heading back to the bargaining table next week in New York.

The NHL and NHL Players' Association haven't met since May 25 in Tampa during the Stanley Cup final.

``We remain hopeful that our meeting next Wednesday will result in progress being made toward a resolution,'' Bill Daly, the NHL's executive vice-president, said Thursday from New York.

``Either way, we believe it is now important to begin meeting more regularly because time is getting short, and the only way this can be resolved is if the parties continue to talk.''

The current collective bargaining agreement, twice been extended over the last 10 years, expires Sept. 15 _ the day after the World Cup championship game in Toronto. If there is no resolution to collective bargaining talks by then, a lockout is expected.

Bob Goodenow, executive director of the NHLPA, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will both be at next Wednesday's meeting. The key issue facing them is what the NHL likes to call ``cost certainty.''

The NHLPA refuses to buy into any system that either resembles a salary cap or guarantees a percentage of revenues to the league's owners.

``The NHLPA has approached all meetings with a view towards negotiating a fair agreement for both sides,'' NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin said Thursday in Toronto. ``To date, the NHL has been fixated on a cap and that will not allow us to make any progress.

``Hopefully the NHL will take a more flexible approach in our upcoming discussions.''

The solution to the impasse may only come if the league settles for a luxury tax system, something the union is willing to embrace.

Should that happen, the question will be at what figure does the payroll tax kick in? Should it be $40 million US, $45 million, $50 million, or more? It definitely has to have more bite to it than Major League Baseball's luxury tax, which last year only penalized clubs that had a payroll of more than $117 million. As a result, only the New York Yankees were taxed.

As it stands right now, the NHL wants a labour agreement that ensures costs won't overrun revenues. The union says the league's proposal, no matter how it is worded, amounts to a hard salary cap _ which it has refused to accept.

The NHLPA says it has proposed a system that includes revenue sharing, a luxury tax, a one-time five per cent rollback in salaries and some changes to the entry-level system.

But the league wants a system that guarantees that costs ``bear a rational relationship'' to revenues.

According to the league's numbers, which the union doesn't buy, 75 per cent of total revenues in 2002-03 went to player costs, leaving only 25 per cent to pay for coaches, travel, building costs, marketing and advertising. That's not enough to make money, in the NHL's eyes.