“Unemployment,” tweeted New York Islander Michael Grabner. “Not the most fun time right now.”
It’s the league’s fourth work stoppage in 20 years and third lockout as owners try to find a way to corral salaries at a time when league revenues are growing at a record pace. The league has gone from a $ 2.1 billion (all figures U.S.) business to $ 3.3 billion in the last seven years.
Kevin McGran tweets live from New York
The league’s 30 general managers have handed out contracts worth $ 1.67 billion to 179 players since July 1, according to Matthew Wuest, the man behind capgeek.com, but at the same time are demanding salary clawbacks.
On Saturday, Milan Lucic signed a three-year, $ 18-million extension with the Bruins and Nashville defenceman Kevin Klein inked a new five-year deal for $ 14.5 million. These are head-scratching offers — about $ 135 million to 13 players over the final two days of a collective bargaining agreement the league says isn’t working.
The players say the system is working fine. They’re working to maintain the salaries they have while slowly reducing the share of revenues they receive. Currently, they get 57 per cent, or about $ 1.8 billion annually. Their latest offer would reduce that share to 52 to 54 per cent, depending on growth projections. The league wants to slice about $ 350 million off salaries starting next year.
The two sides talked a couple of times on Saturday. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and Steve Fehr, the brother and chief adviser of NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, kept the lines of communications open through the phone. There was no need for formal talks since neither side was budging off their core economic stances.
“No movement (of) substance in the last 48 hours,” said Daly.
Fans organized protests through social media. About 20 showed up at the NHL offices, chanting: “Lock out the players, lock out the fans.” They were wearing paraphernalia from the Leafs, Canadiens, Rangers, Devils, Flyers, Penguins and Sharks.
“It’s all about money. It’s absolutely ridiculous.”
“Not a good feeling packing up the gear and leaving the team facilities,” tweeted Jon Blum of the Nashville Predators.
“Dinner with a couple of the guys at my place. Hate to say it, but could be a goodbye dinner,” tweeted Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks.
There was no shortage of doomsday scenarios floating around as the impasse continues. If the NHL is true to its word, its last offer is now off the table and its next offer will be worse.
In the league’s last offer, Bettman offered the players a six-year deal guaranteeing them 49 per cent of hockey related revenue in Year 1, working down to 47 per cent by Year 3. That’s a better offer than their first, which was 43 per cent.
Bettman also wants rollbacks on salaries. The players want every penny they signed for to be honoured.
Fuelling the doomsday scenarios are the facts that both sides have income: the league will still get $ 200 million from NBC in its lockout-protected national TV deal.
The players — who won’t miss a cheque until mid-October — will receive their escrow money from last season. The expiring CBA called for them to put 8.5 per cent of their salary into escrow. They’re getting most of it back in early October, an average of about $ 200,000 each.
If Bettman’s next offer gets worse, Fehr has hinted the players would “reconsider” their options and made it known they may ask to abolish the cap and return to a free market system.
The league — which set the lockout date — seems to have left some wiggle room to hammer out a deal. For one thing, none of the players would be working now, anyway. Training camps aren’t supposed to open until Friday. The first exhibition game is Sept. 23.
The locked out players are free to seek employment elsewhere. Some teams will assign or loan players to major junior or minor-league teams. The Hurricanes sent Jeff Skinner to the AHL Charlotte Checkers and the Oilers assigned Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the AHL Oklahoma City Barons.
Other players will seek jobs in Europe.