NHL Players Offer 24% Salary Cut

Thursday, December 9th 2004, 8:16 pm
By: News On 6

TORONTO (AP) _ The NHL players' association stunned the league and even its members with its latest effort to save the hockey season. When the owners walked away Thursday after the first bargaining session in three months, they had a 236-page document to go through and an offer of a 24 percent rollback of all salaries to consider.

``It was shocking for me to hear it,'' said Dallas forward Bill Guerin, a member of the executive board. ``That's a lot of money out of a guy's pocket to be giving up.''

But like the Sept. 9 bargaining session that triggered the lockout a week later, the new offer doesn't provide the cost certainty that commissioner Gary Bettman is seeking for the 30 NHL clubs.

He noted that one aspect _ presumably the rollback _ was significant. But he still isn't in favor of a luxury-tax system, that players prefer, over a salary cap.

A cap is an option the union says it will never accept.

``We have said consistently that the focus must be on the overall systemic issues and the long-term needs and health of our game,'' Bettman said.

By union estimates, the six-year, six-point proposal would save the NHL a total that exceeds $1 billion.

The union said all current contracts would be cut, a move that would save NHL teams $270 million in the first year and $528 million over three years. The players' association offer on Sept. 9 only included a 5 percent salary rollback.

Another key portion of the proposal is a luxury tax, but those numbers were similar to the previous offer. If a deal is there to be made, the payroll tax would likely be the area that provides the most room for negotiation.

``I'm not sitting here saying that something couldn't be moved or adjusted, but I am saying this is the basis for an agreement, this is the basis for there to be hockey this year,'' NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow said.

Bettman said the NHL needed time to go through the offer. The sides agreed to postpone the next meeting from Friday until Tuesday, either in New York or Toronto.

At that time, Bettman said the league will likely make a counterproposal.

Time is running short to work out a deal and still have a legitimate season. Already 382 regular-season games, plus the All-Star game, have been canceled.

Bettman declined to announce a drop-dead date that would make the NHL the first major North American league to cancel an entire season over a labor dispute.

``When we have the deal, we'll see what we can do about having a semblance of a season,'' Bettman said.

After this major giveback offer, players had an even stronger resolve against a cap.

``If they want to come back with a linkage to a salary cap, then there will be no season,'' said Ottawa forward Daniel Alfredsson, who would stand to lose millions of a recently signed five-year deal.

The proposed luxury tax would penalize teams 20 cents for each dollar they spend between $45 million and $50 million. The penalty would increase to 25 percent the second year and 30 percent in the third.

Teams spending between $50 million and $60 million would be taxed 50 cents on the dollar the first year, 55 cents the second year and 60 cents the third. Those with payrolls above that would have to pay 60 cents for every dollar the first year, 65 cents the second, and 70 cents the third year on each dollar over the threshold.

The NHLPA offered to change arbitration and make it more like baseball's system in which clubs and players submit figures for an arbitrator to decide on.

An entry-level contract cap of $850,000 also was proposed, which would return the ceiling to that of the 1995 draft class. Last season, the cap on entry-level contracts was $1.295 million.

The players' association also proposed a revenue-sharing plan to bring the bottom 15 teams within 30 percent of the revenues of the top 15 teams.

``This is no grandstand ploy. ... This is serious negotiations,'' Goodenow said.

Arenas have been given the go-ahead by the league to free dates previously reserved for hockey on a 45-day rolling basis. As of now, that means there won't be any games before late January.

Bettman has said that teams lost a total of more than $1.8 billion over 10 years and that management will not agree to a deal without a defined relationship between revenue and salaries. Owners say teams lost $273 million in 2002-03 and $224 million last season.

Last season's average salary was $1.8 million, and the NHL has proposed pushing that back to $1.3 million with its salary-cap structure.

An economic study commissioned by the NHL found that players get 75 percent of league revenues. The union has challenged many of the league's financial findings.

The league has been operating under the same collective bargaining agreement since 1995, when the last lockout went 103 days before a 48-game season was played.