The NHL became the first major professional sports league in North America to lose an entire season to a labor dispute when it didn’t play the 2004-05 campaign, with that impasse centering on the owners’ desire for a salary cap.
This round of discussions has a different backdrop. League revenues reached an all-time high of $3.3 billion last season, which is believed to be an increase of more than $1 billion annually since the lockout, but there are still some financially unstable teams, notably Phoenix and New Jersey.
On Friday, the owners submitted an initial proposal that according to multiple reports asked for significant concessions from the players in several key areas. While this is only the first proposed plan and negotiations are sure to follow, the offer increased speculation that the league is prepared for a stoppage.
On the flip side, the players certainly don’t want another lockout, and throughout the offseason they’ve expressed cautious optimism that a deal can be struck quickly.
“We’re very hopeful and we have no reason right now to believe the season will not start on time,” Capitals forward Troy Brouwer said in a phone interview last week. Brouwer attended NHLPA meetings last month and said he hopes to attend one of the negotiation sessions. “We don’t want the sport to lose any popularity that it’s gained and I think we all agree if we’re not able to reach an agreement quickly it would not be good for hockey — on either side.”
Talks are ongoing between the owners and players association, and the two sides have met five times since June 29, with three more days of discussion scheduled for this week. Leading the owners is NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who has locked the players out twice during his tenure, and on the other side is NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr. The former head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, Fehr helped create 16 years of labor peace in that sport but also led that union through a strike in 1994-95 before he was brought in by the NHLPA.
“We’ve got a lot to do in a relatively short period of time and both sides are working very hard at it,” Bettman told reporters Friday in Toronto following the latest meeting. “I’m not going to speculate as to what we may or may not do. Our goal is to get a deal as quickly as possible.”
Bettman and Fehr have declined to discus specifics publicly, but there are several main issues that are expected to take priority. It’s important to keep in mind that these factors are intertwined and discussion of one won’t occur in a vacuum.