Acrimony blew into the NHL labour talks on Friday as the main session between the full negotiating teams lasted less than three hours.
There were conflicting reports of just what the NHL owners offered in their latest "make-whole provision" to pay 100 per cent of existing players contracts and what the players are demanding for their share of revenue in the first year of a new collective agreement. The day ended with accusations on the ownership side, through the media, that NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr did not fully explain the owners' latest proposal to the 725 members of the union.
This was flatly denied by Fehr, who held a press conference Friday night after the owners' accusations surfaced. He said he keeps the players informed and any proposal from the owners "is in front of players who are in the room."
Ron Hainsey of the Winnipeg Jets, a member of the NHLPA bargaining committee, flanked Fehr at the press conference and backed up his assertion. "Every player is welcome in every meeting," Hainsey said.
Another member of the bargaining committee, Pittsburgh Penguins forward Craig Adams also brushed aside the allegations. "If anybody is suggesting [Fehr] is holding information back, it's totally untrue," he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Despite the ugly mood that descended on the talks Friday after cautious optimism earlier in the week, Fehr expected negotiations to resume tomorrow. He also said the owners and players are not as far apart on the key economic issues as the NHL is letting on, which surprised most observers.
Now that there is a broad agreement the owners and players will eventually share the NHL's hockey-related revenue 50-50, the sticking point is the players' demand to be paid in full for their existing contracts. According to several reports, the owners offered this week to pay the players in full if they went immediately to a 50-50 split.
The players would get paid 100 per cent of the value of their existing contracts over two years. In the first year, the owners offered to pay $149-million (all currency U.S.) and an additional $62-million in the second year. Both payments would be deferred for one year to allow the owners to absorb them easier.
The owners' offer assumes the make-whole provision will not be necessary in the third year for two reasons. One is that the majority of current player contracts will be up by then and the other is that continued revenue growth will cover the contracts.
Fehr said Friday night that offer still means "players won't be able to receive every dollar of their deal."
There was also controversy over what the players are said to be asking in the first year of a new agreement. The New York Post reported the union demanded the $1.883-million in salaries the players received in the 2011-12 season when they received 57 per cent of HRR, plus five per cent more to account for revenue growth. There were reports this was demanded even if the league is unable to play a full 82-game schedule this season.
Fehr said the players are seeking $1.883-billion but only an additional 1.75 per cent per year, which would be compounded over the length of the agreement. He said the union was not actually looking for this amount this season, it just wanted to establish it as part of a new economic system. Once that was done, the player salaries would be pro-rated for this season to account for any lost revenue because of a lockout-shortened schedule.
Significant differences also remain in the areas of free agency, salary arbitration and contract lengths.
Owners Ted Leonsis of the Washington Capitals, Jeremy Jacobs of the Boston Bruins and Craig Leipold of the Minnesota Wild, who have all been prominent in the negotiations, all left Friday's meeting with suitcases, indicating they will not be attending Saturday's talks.
But Bettman said he is prepared to continue negotiating as long as the union is also willing. "Whatever it takes," he said. The commissioner declined to discuss the specifics of Friday's session.
There were three meetings on Friday, which covered three separate topics. One was the NHL schedule and critical dates, the second was player pensions and the third was the core economic issues.