Wednesday, September 5, 2012

NHL, NHLPA Remain At Stalemate Over CBA Talks

It's officially time to panic.

Late last week news broke that negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHLPA, headed by Don Fehr, and the owners, headed by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, have broken off after the owners rejected the players' first proposal last Friday. According to Fehr, it was ultimately the owner' decision who decided to break off talks, and the players remain willing to reopen negotiations whenever the owners want to come back to the table to talk about a new deal. Both sides had been negotiation for three days last week prior to the breakdown of talks. No other talks between the two sides have been planned at this time.

Click below to read more details on the latest breakdown of CBA talks, plus my thoughts on this whole mess and where we go from here.

You can read more of the details from TSN here.

My apologies for not posting the last month or so. It was a combination of me being away on vacation for a few weeks and the scarcity of Rangers news after the Rick Nash trade. I'm back now, though, and will be updating again frequently whenever any Rangers or NHL lockout news breaks from this point forward.

So here we are on Sept. 6 in the same position we've been in all along. The only difference is that now there are only nine days remaining until training camp is supposed to open, and both the players association and the owners are nearly out of time to agree to a new CBA. Things can always change in an instant with these negotiations as we've seen over the last two years in the NBA and NFL, but there's really not much hope right now when you consider the fact that both sides have broken off negotiations and have no future conversations planned at the moment.

Now, missing the first few days of training camp wouldn't be a gigantic deal if a new CBA is agreed upon quickly, but the more time that goes by with players being locked out the worse things can get for a team like the Rangers when you consider how much importance John Tortorella places on his training camps. We've seen guys excel and fall flat on their faces in recent years based on how they've looked in training camp, and I think it's really important for guys like Rick Nash and Chris Kreider, who are going to be relied on to help carry this team offensively, to go through a Torts training camp for their first full seasons as a Ranger. I have no doubt both guys will be in proper condition and will be skating and working out on their own, but it's still different to go through a training camp because guys are looking to get used to each other on the ice and in the locker room. Training camp is important for conditioning just as much as it is for players to figure out who they work well with and create chemistry with different linemates before the season starts.

The fact of the matter is that the NHL's first proposal they made to the Players' Association was rumored to be so ridiculous that the players couldn't even fathom putting together anything close to a counter-proposal. Bettman wanted a decrease of the players' revenue sharing from 57 percent to 46 percent in addition to five-year Entry Level contracts instead of three, no contracts any longer than five years and for players to have to be in the league for 10 years before being able to become unrestricted free agents. Bettman and the owners asked for the moon up front and every indication is that they've been unwilling to move off their demands. Don Fehr submitted an offer acting as if the first contract the NHL offered the players never even happened. Not surprisingly, Bettman turned down Fehr's offer last week, and now talks are at a stalemate.

I'll post more of my thoughts in the upcoming days about the increasing likelihood that players will be locked out on Sept. 15, but for now I'll just say that it would be an absolute travesty if another lockout happens under Gary Bettman's watch. I've never had a problem in voicing my displeasure for the job that Bettman has done as NHL commissioner, and if another lockout happens I don't think there's any way he should be allowed to continue being commissioner. I'm not putting this situation entirely on his shoulders, but the facts don't lie. If a commissioner of any professional sports league has two seasons cancelled under his watch within at all, much less within a span of less than 10 years apart, something is terribly wrong, and it's clear whoever is in charge is not doing his job.

My initial reaction is that Bettman and the owners' demands are a joke. They not only want players to earn considerably less money with their Entry Level and free agent contracts that they sign, but they also want them to take an 11-percent cut in revenue sharing. So basically, the owners want players who are out there taking a physical pounding five nights a week over the course of the season to fill their buildings and make them money without having to pay them. I really don't have a problem in saying that I'm absolutely siding with the players on this one. For players not to be able to hit unrestricted free agency until they've been in the league for 10 years is just an unbelievable thing to ask for, in my opinion, when you consider the fact that most guys don't even last 10 years in the league these days. If the NHL thought they had problems with players fleeing for the KHL before, having these bonehead rules for free agency would only increase the amount of players who decide to earn more money by playing over in Russia.

If a lockout does happen, the biggest concern I, like most fans have, is the fact that most players are going to want to play somewhere else overseas until the NHL season begins (if it does), and they will. These guys want to stay sharp and play hockey, so if they can't do it in the NHL they're going to do it somewhere else. Henrik Lundqvist, for instance, has already indicated that he'll explore his options playing in Sweden this season if a lockout happens, and obviously no Rangers fan is going to be in love with the possibility that their franchise player could risk getting injured playing hockey in any fashion that doesn't involve helping lead the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals. I bring up Lundqvist specifically because being a goalie is obviously a lot more physically taxing than any other position in the sport, and it never takes much to strain a muscle. Nothing we can do about it, though, except keep our fingers crossed.

But it's still early to delve too much into these negotiations when you consider the fact that this was only the owners' first proposal. Details still haven't leaked out about the players' proposal other than the fact that Bettman was about as turned off by the players' first offer as the players were with the owners'.

As I said, I'll share more of my thoughts about the CBA negotiations over the next few days and weeks, but hopefully it's all for naught and both sides miraculously reach a new labor agreement before Sept. 15. But the fact is there's 10 days to go and there's been no movement from either side to reopen negotiations since talks broke down last week.

It's officially time to panic.


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