Friday, September 03, 2004

NHL /Union short on optimism

YORIO: NHL, union short on optimism

Kara Yorio / TSN
Posted: 2 hours ago

One question cut to the chase and told the story in the end.

TSN: "Is there a chance (a deal will get done)?"

Ted Saskin, NHLPA senior director of business affairs: "If they get off the cap, there's definitely a chance. If they're committed to getting a cap, they know the only way they're going to try to get a cap is to lock out the players and do it for a long time so they can break the will of the players. I don't think #&151; knowing the hockey players I do represent and how strongly committed they are to getting a fair deal #&151; they are going to get a salary cap. So unfortunately I'm not that optimistic."

Not that optimistic.

So will the NHL compromise and get off the cap? (Have they already in some proposals as they claim?) It was 20 hours of meeting this week and no resolution. Saskin says the two sides will meet next week #&151; with the Sept. 15 deadline fast approaching #&151; and that "absolutely" the players association will come with a proposal. It will not have a salary cap. It will likely have a luxury tax and revenue sharing system.

NHL executive vice president and chief legal officer Bill Daly says any proposal the league will consider must ensure that salaries can be controlled, that there will be a percentage relationship between revenues and players' earnings. He says a luxury tax system alone cannot do that. He says that is just a system that everyone can "hope" works to fix the league's financial problems.

But can any system ensure viability, profitability? The last CBA had a salary cap on entry-level contracts but one clever agent (who happens to now go by the title of Coyotes general manager, Mike Barnett) saw the loopholes and came up with a special plan for his client, Joe Thornton. The Thornton Model, filled with bonus clauses that skyrocketed young players' salaries, is one of the things the league laments now as bringing it down and creating the financial crisis.

But what if there's another clever agent out there just waiting to find the loopholes in a new agreement? And won't GMs be looking to exploit a system as best they can? Can anything #&151; like revenue and profit #&151; be ensured by a CBA system?

"Probably the answer to that is no," says Daly. "But we've got to get as certain to that as we can."

But the league must give their owners and general managers some responsibility. No matter what side you take, you can't argue when Saskin says, "Teams have to take some responsibility for the management of their business."

Everyone must be responsible for themselves and their actions and the NHL and the NHLPA must be responsible to the game. If they keep that responsibility in mind and they see the real and detrimental ramifications a long lockout will bring about, they can find common ground next week.

Will the league negotiators want to give up its hope of some sort of salary cap before the deadline even hits? No, but they should. Will the PA negotiators want to give in to a system that links payroll to league revenue? No, but they should be realistic. All business salaries are linked to the amount of money the business makes.

The next time the two sides get in a room #&151; whatever day that may be next week and in whatever city #&151; they need to talk like people who have a common interest and a common goal. That goal should be to play hockey this season, starting in September when training camps are scheduled to open.

But the fact is, Saskin isn't optimistic. Daly certainly didn't sound optimistic. They will meet next week. There will be a new proposal. But will there be a new vision by both sides? Will they have a new attitude of compromise? Can they do what it will take to get this season off the ground in time?

I'm not that optimistic.

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