Lockout ahead?/Devils square with Rangers

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New Jersey’s Travis Zajac (back) and Jeff Carter celebrate the latter’s goal as New York’s Ryan McDonagh skates away Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.
Paul Bereswill, Getty Images Sport

While Canadiens fans wonder what Marc Bergevin’s club will look like in the fall and who will be behind the Habs bench, the possibility exists that the season might not start in October.

The NHL provided the NHLPA with notice in recent days that it intends to change and/or end the current collective bargaining agreement. The terms of the current CBA require that one of the sides notify the other it wishes to change or end the agreement no later than 120 days before the expiration of the labour agreement and Friday will mark 120 days before the CBA expires on Sept. 15.

The two sides have yet to begin negotiating the new agreement.

This current CBA was the one that ended the lockout of 2004-05 that cancelled the entire season. The main issue in the lockout was the imposition of the salary cap by ownership, to which the players capitulated after losing the season. The fact that the NHLPA did not wish to change the current agreement means that the players under Donald Fehr — who always fought against the cap when he headed the MLB players union and advised the NHLPA against agreeing to the cap — now feel they can live with it in its current form.

The overall economic health of the NHL can hardly be an issue, with record revenues of over $3 billion reported for the most recent year. And player’s salaries have gone up along with the rise in revenues, the salary cap moving from $39 million in 2005-06 to $64.3 million this season.

Just what the league wishes to change about the CBA is not known, although there has been widespread speculation over the last year that it could include matters as relatively small as allowing clubs to buy their way out of a bad contract without having it count against the salary cap, and as large as the split of revenue the players receive from the NHL-NHLPA partnership.

Prior to the lockout, the NHL claimed player salaries ate up as much as 75 percent of league revenues. Since the lockout, player salaries are fixed at around 57 percent of revenue.

According to Liz Mullen of Sports Business Daily, the NHLPA had no problems with the current agreement and had no intention of notifying the league it wanted changes, so this is being done unilaterally by ownership.

As Pat Hickey wrote in The Gazette earlier this week, Fehr’s brother Steve, who is an outside counsel for the NHLPA, told Mullen that the players will not agree to any further reduction of their share of revenue. Hickey noted NFL players accepted 48-49.5 per cent of revenues after a lockout last summer, while NBA players lost nearly half a season before agreeing to a 50-50 split.

“I think it is fair to say that if the approach is what many are predicting, that the owners come in and say we have to shave 5, 10, 15, 25, 30 – pick a number – points off the percentage of revenues in the cap that players receive, there may be a lot of players who say: ‘Wait a minute, we already gave at the office,’ ” Steve Fehr told Mullen.

“We made massive concessions last time that were designed to fix your so-called problems. If it has not fixed your so-called problems, we need to have a long, hard discussion about what those problems are and what we should do about it.”

But Steve Fehr added he did not know if NHL owners would follow the path of NBA and NFL owners, who asked players to take a reduced share of revenues in ’11, or if they would follow the route of MLB owners, who did not seek major economic concessions and reached a labor deal without a lockout last year.

“If, on the other hand, there is more of an approach that was taken by MLB, it may be a quick and easy negotiation,” he said. “That is actually what Gary Bettman has said, that he expects a quick and easy negotiation and he probably knows more about it than I do, so perhaps that is the direction it will take.”

In December, Sean Fitz-Gerald of The National Post asked Don Fehr, “Are we in any danger of another labour stoppage?”

He replied, “All I can say is, I would certainly hope not. In the last negotiation, there obviously was a long stoppage at the owners’ instigation. Both long stoppages in hockey have been lockouts, the players haven’t had any extended strikes. The owners insisted upon and received enormous concessions from the players, so one would hope that those days are days that people can write about in the history books, and we don’t have to look at them going forward. Having said that, I’ve been doing this too long and in too many different places to make predictions.”

We’ll be going five or more games in the East.

The New Jersey Devils showed they’re made of tough stuff Wednesday, the Devils beating the New York Rangers 3-2 on Madison Square Garden ice to even the Eastern Conference final at one game apiece. Game 3 is Sunday in New Jersey.

• Tonight: The Kings can go up 3-0 on the Phoenix Coyotes in Los Angeles.

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