So far, NHL players, owners can only agree to disagree

April 03, 1992|By Ray Parrillo | Ray Parrillo,Knight-Ridder

Minutes before NHL players went on strike Wednesday, Philadelphia Flyers president Jay Snider walked into the team's practice site in Voorhees, N.J., forced a grin and said, "Guess it's like Armageddon."

Financially, Snider may not have been overstating the matter.

The players' first strike in the league's 75-year history moved into its third day today with little hope of a quick settlement.

The players' union said it made two new proposals at a meeting yesterday in Toronto, both of which were rejected by the owners. The owners, through the league office, said the union's latest offerings contained nothing new.

The only thing owners and players seem to agree on is that if there is no quick agreement on a new collective-bargaining pact, the strike probably will wipe out the Stanley Cup playoffs and threaten the start of next season.

In hockey's world of high finance, a long strike could be very expensive for both sides.

"Right now, the league's out of business," Snider said.

Right now, the players have the leverage.

The playoffs, with increased ticket prices to as many as 105 games, are when the owners make much of their profit and the players make a relatively small amount. That's why the players, who have been without a collective bargaining agreement since Sept. 15, chose this week to strike.

The playoffs, scheduled to start Wednesday, generate an estimated $100 million from tickets, concessions and television. For some clubs, the playoffs can mean the difference between red ink and black ink.

Snider estimated that the Flyers, who did not qualify for the playoffs, will lose about $2 million this season. He also estimated a net loss of about $200,000 if the Flyers' final two home games, one of which was scheduled for last night, are canceled.

On the other side, the playoffs have never been a very profitable time for the players. Each player on a Stanley Cup champion earned $25,000 under the old collective bargaining agreement. Players on teams eliminated in the first round received $3,000. Because a team is required to play four best-of-seven series to win the Cup, players on a Cup champion earn about $890 a game if all four series go seven games.

The owners have offered to increase the playoff pool from $3.2 million to $7.5 million in the first year of a new agreement.

It also appears that a protracted strike will only raise more issues over which both sides can haggle, such as whether or not players will have to give back parts of their salaries if the last five days of the regular season and the playoffs are canceled.

League president John Ziegler, who has suddenly become adept at dispensing information, has cited a court ruling stating that the standard player's contract requires a player's participation in playoff games in exchange for basic contract salaries.

"Our position is they'll owe us money," Snider said.

Said Flyers goalie Ron Hextall, "I don't understand why players on teams that don't make the playoffs have to give money back if playoffs are canceled."

Rick Curran, an agent who represents 40 players, including Eric Lindros and the Flyers' Mark Recchi, said he's not sure they would.

"I've seen where they [owners] are passing that information around in their media bulletins," Curran said. "Well, you have to wonder how valid it is. Is that someone's interpretation of a court ruling? Is it a valid decision by the courts?"

Players with two-way contracts, Curran said, get paid based on the number of days in the regular season. For example, a player who gets $200,000 a year to play for the Flyers but $35,000 to play in Hershey, Pa., receives his pay based on how many days he's with one team or the other during the regular season.

Players, who receive their paychecks on the 15th and the 30th, or last day, of each month, will lose five days of salary if the rest of the regular season is canceled. For a player making $350,000, that means a loss of about $9,400, based on the 186-day regular season.

Curran said yesterday that a new bargaining agreement was almost reached last weekend.

"The amazing thing is that a deal was so close to being made over the weekend, it's not even funny," Curran said. "I know the two parties were very close Saturday night. Then the owners went to Chicago on Sunday and the players presented them a compromised proposal. That's when the owners' focus seemed to change. Rather than go back to work on an agreement, they decided to challenge the players' solidarity. I know for a fact the players were shocked.

"Now that that's happened, the players don't trust the owners," Curran added. "And that's the current environment of this situation. It's unfortunate. When there's no trust, there's no communication."

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