NHL nixes union offer, still seeks a salary cap

Counterproposal rejected

with no meetings soon, season faces cancellation

Hockey

December 15, 2004|By Helene Elliott | Helene Elliott,LOS ANGELES TIMES

TORONTO - The NHL and the players union exchanged insults and accusations yesterday and made no progress toward a new labor deal, chilling their relations as the league's lockout of players reached the three-month mark.

In their second meeting in six days, the NHL rejected a union proposal centered on a 24 percent salary rollback and a luxury tax triggered at $45 million. The union, in turn, rejected a counterproposal by the NHL to set salaries at 54 percent of revenue because it sees a salary cap as an unacceptable restriction of the marketplace.

No new talks are planned. Through yesterday, 414 regular-season games and the All-Star Game had been wiped out.

"If I've played my last game, it's something I can live with," veteran forward Trevor Linden, president of the NHL Players Association, said yesterday.

"I love to play, I love the game, but I'm not going to sacrifice my beliefs."

Los Angeles Kings forward Trent Klatt, a member of the union negotiating committee, said he's pessimistic about saving the season.

"I would tell players to go to Europe. I would tell players to go back to school or take up entrepreneurial goals," he said. "If there's a compromise between a salary cap and a luxury tax, right now I don't know where it is."

Commissioner Gary Bettman praised the salary rollback as confirmation "of the magnitude of our losses and the accuracy of our financial reporting." His counterproposal included a graduated rollback that wouldn't have affected salaries of players earning $800,000 or less, but would have cut salaries of those earning $4 million to $4.99 million by 30 percent and those earning $5 million or more by 35 percent.

Bettman said other provisions of the union's proposal, such as reducing entry-level salaries and restructuring arbitration rights, wouldn't curb the forces that lifted the average salary to $1.8 million last season and led to $1 billion in losses over 10 years under the previous collective bargaining agreement.

He said the NHL will never agree to a luxury tax "at any level or any threshold," because it's "meaningless" and unpredictable.

"If you accept everything the union says will result from this proposal, the players will receive 56.6 percent of our revenues on Day 1 of the new agreement," Bettman said at a news conference at the Air Canada Centre. "We countered with 54 percent. We should be able to reach an agreement because, after all, this should be about money.

"So if we cannot make an agreement, with such a modest gap to bridge, it must be because the union does not believe its proposed system will actually reduce costs to the 56.6 percent level and keep them there. Rather, the result, or perhaps the union's hope, will be the resumption of the inflationary spiral."

Bob Goodenow, the union's executive director, said Bettman misinterpreted the rollback offer and understated the savings of the proposal. The 24 percent "was simply a number to reset the dial" and "not at all an acknowledgment or vindication" of figures showing player costs consumed 76 percent of league revenue last season.

Bill Guerin of the Dallas Stars, who said owners seem more united behind Bettman than during the lockout that curtailed the 1994-95 season, said the NHL has experienced "a consistent decline" since 1994 and hinted Bettman was to blame.

"It's never one man, but he's running it," Guerin said.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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