NHLPA Takes Its Case Public

Friday, December 17th 2004, 6:29 am

By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ The NHL players' association is taking its case public.

Annoyed and dismayed by financial figures they call ``absolutely ridiculous,'' NHLPA officials sought to discredit projections that the NHL made when it rejected the union's proposal for a new collective bargaining agreement.

The NHL lockout reached its 93rd day Friday and has wiped out 430 regular-season games, plus the 2005 All-Star game.

Negotiations broke off Tuesday after the NHL rejected a players' proposal that featured a 24-percent salary rollback. The league handed back a salary cap-structured counteroffer that also was turned down during the 3 1/2-hour meeting in Toronto.

``They based their reaction to our significant proposal by saying they'd be right back where they were. Well, that's a bunch of hogwash,'' union head Bob Goodenow said. ``They mixed up and diced up statistics in a blender and came out with what I think are absolutely ridiculous forecasts.''

No new negotiations are scheduled, leaving the NHL perilously close to becoming the first North American sports league to lose a season to a labor dispute.

``It is a lockout that's going to extend for an awful long time if the parties aren't able to try to work together,'' Goodenow said.

Although no drop-dead date has been set, there figures to only be about a month of negotiating time left to save the season. The lockout during the 1994-95 season ended on Jan. 11 and allowed for a 48-game season to be played.

The players' association already believed that the NHL's financial figures were off when they saw them in the counterproposal. After a few days of crunching numbers, the union made sure to let everyone know just how wrong it feels the amounts are.

Using a 3-year projection based on league numbers, the NHLPA said its offer would produce a $275.5 million profit for teams as opposed to a $568.5 million loss, as stated by the NHL.

``They were desperate to mischaracterize things and try to throw a high, hard one past a lot of people,'' Goodenow said. ``That's why we've taken the time to go back and restate reality.''

The NHL countered that projected league revenues would go up 3 percent annually over the next three seasons while player costs would rise by an average of 12.1 percent.

By its calculations, the league figured to lose $71.7 million in the 2004-05 season, $183.9 million the following season, and $312.9 in the third year.

Goodenow said the league took its own forecast of 2004-05 revenue and increased that amount by only 3 percent, a figure far below the NHL's self-reported number of 9.4 _ the amount of average growth the NHL said it had the past 10 years.

``We stand behind the 3-percent average annual growth projection we used for our modeling, particularly for a business that will be coming out of an extended shutdown,'' Bill Daly, the NHL's chief legal officer, said Thursday. ``We do not believe the union's public negotiation with the media warrants any further comment.''

In plugging those numbers in, the NHLPA claimed its latest proposal would generate a profit of $58 million in the 2004-05 season, and $91.5 million and $126 million in subsequent years.

``We are not saying that revenues will grow by 9.4 percent or player costs by 12.1 percent in the next few years,'' Goodenow said. ``We believe the numbers from the last five-year, post-expansion era have far greater relevance. According to the league's own numbers, over the last five years on a per team basis revenues have on average increased 7.8 percent while player costs have increased an average of 7.3 percent.''

In using those figures, Goodenow said a $411.9 million profit would be produced instead of a $568.5 million loss _ a difference of $980.4 million from the league's projections.

``All we're saying is you have to compare apples with apples,'' NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin said. ``Don't take a plug number of 12.1 percent in player costs, which were experienced during a time of rapid revenue growth in the '90s, and then ignore the revenue number from that same time period.''

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