NHL on brink of another player lockoutBy Ira Podell
NEW YORK — The NHL seemed headed for another lockout as neither team owners nor players showed interest in getting back to contract negotiations on Friday, a day before the old labor deal was set to expire.
Brief conversations late Thursday and Friday between leaders on the two sides failed to spur more formal talks — in fact, the idea of restarting negotiations didn’t even come up. The current collective bargaining agreement that ended the season-long lockout in 2005 expires at midnight, eastern U.S. time, on Saturday.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said a lockout — in which players are kept out of team facilities and no games can proceed — would start immediately if a new deal hasn’t been reached.
“It’s their decision,” defenseman Mike Weaver, the Florida Panthers’ player representative said Friday. “When that padlock comes out, it’s pretty much Bettman’s decision on there.”
The lockout would mark the NHL’s fourth work stoppage since 1992.
Bettman has said the season won’t start without a new deal. Preseason games are scheduled to start on Sept. 23, and the regular season is to begin on Oct. 11.
“We have been clear that the collective bargaining agreement, upon its expiration, needs to have a successful agreement for us to move forward,” Bettman said Thursday. “The league is not in a position, not willing to move forward with another season under the status quo.”
On Friday, the Quebec labor relations board turned down a request from the players’ association for a temporary injunction against a potential lockout in the Canadian province, home of the Montreal Canadiens.
But that board also ruled that more hearings are needed to make a longer-term decision. No date was set for further hearings.
With the ruling, Canadiens players will be locked out with their colleagues if a work stoppage goes ahead on schedule.
The last labor stoppage caused the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season, a lockout that ended only when players accepted a salary cap and a 24 percent rollback of salaries.
This would be the third lockout under Bettman. The 1994-95 lockout ended after 103 days and the cancellation of 468 games. The most recent lockout was finally settled in July 2005 — 301 days into the work stoppage.
Damage from another lockout will occur almost immediately, and there is no telling how jilted fans and sponsors will react to another shutdown, especially if it lasts stretches through the fall and into the winter.
Players currently receive 57 percent of hockey-related revenue, and the owners want to bring that number down as far as perhaps 47 percent — which is an increase from their original offer of 43 percent.
The union offered a deal based on actual dollars, seeking a guarantee of the $1.8 billion players received last season. Annual industry revenue has grown from $2.1 billion to $3.3 billion under the expiring deal.