While the real NFL referees were making their first appearance of the year to everyone’s delight on Thursday and MLB playoff races were playing out with time running out in the regular season, without anyone noticing, in a two sentence statement the NHL canceled the rest of the preseason. The NHL had previously called off all the exhibition games scheduled in September (if you didn’t realize.)
Even though this news comes just a day before negotiations were set to resume in an effort to end the lockout, with the regular season supposed to begin on October 11th, cancellation of NHL games has taken a back seat to nearly everything including Carly Rae Jepsen revealing her favorite covers of “Call Me Maybe.”
The two sides have scheduled talks on Friday in New York, although they are on secondary economic issues as opposed to the core of the dispute, which is how to split more than $3 billion in annual revenue. The issues to be discussed include, but aren’t limited to, grievance procedures, travel, medical care, and pensions and benefits.
The NHL and the union last met for formal negotiations Sept. 12, three days before the labor pact that ended the previous lockout – back in 2005 – ran out. Talks are expected to last through the weekend and there is now at least a glimmer of optimism. If a deal isn’t reached soon, regular-season games will be the next thing to be called off, and players will begin to miss paychecks.
If you happen to be the guy in the US who’s interested in this stuff, here’s a brief history of what has led the NHL to this point…
- July 13, 2005: The sides end a 301-day lockout with a deal that appears highly favorable to owners. It includes a salary cap set at 54% of revenues (with provisions to eventually rise to 57%), a team salary cap and floor, the establishment of escrow payments to ensure that everyone gets their proper share, a 24% salary rollback, capped rookie bonuses, salaries limited to 20% of the cap and the eventual lowering of the free agency age to 27 or seven years.
- July 29, 2005: NHL Players’ Association executive director Bob Goodenow, who had fought the salary cap, steps down. It’s the start of unrest in the union. Over the years, Ted Saskin and Paul Kelly leave the post.
- Aug. 5, 2005: Rick Nash, coming out of his entry-level contract, signs a five-year deal averaging $5.4 million a year. Ilya Kovalchuk, in the same situation, tops $6 million a year in an October signing. It’s clear that the earlier free agency age will have an impact on the so-called second contracts.
- July 2007: The Edmonton Oilers make a seven-year, $50 million offer sheet to Thomas Vanek, which the Buffalo Sabres match. The Oilers then go after Dustin Penner (five years, $21.25 million) and the Anaheim Ducks don’t match. Fearful of offer sheets, general managers start locking up their restricted free agents early.
- Jan. 13, 2008: Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin signs a 13-year, $124 million contract. It follows a 15-year deal for Rick DiPietro and a 12-year deal for Mike Richards. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly says the league had asked for a five-year limit on contracts in the last CBA negotiations, but it didn’t fly because players had already accepted a salary cap.
- Jan. 24, 2009: Though the NHLPA says it dislikes parts of the CBA, it agrees to extend it to Sept. 15, 2012.
- 2008-09: The slumping economy means that players give back nearly 13% of their salaries through escrow.
- July 1, 2009: Marian Hossa signs a 12-year, $62.8 million contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. Though previous players have lower years at the end of their deal that decreased the cap hit, his contract goes further. It paid seven years at $7.9 million and then $3.5 million over the final four years.
- November 2009: Months after Kelly is fired, Donald Fehr is hired as a consultant to help rewrite the union’s constitution.
- 2009-10: The NHL’s revenues top $2.7 billion, giving players a 57% share under the CBA.
- July 20, 2010: The NHL rejects Ilya Kovalchuk’s 17-year, $102 million deal with the New Jersey Devils as circumvention of the cap. It tops $11 million as its peak and has six years of sub-$1 million salaries to lower the cap hit to $6 million. The Devils submit a 15-year, $100 million contract to address league concerns.
- Sept. 4, 2010: After negotiations with the union, the league agrees to a definition on cap hits on long-term deals that extend past a player’s 40th birthday. It grandfathers in Kovalchuk’s deal and others by Hossa, Roberto Luongo, Chris Pronger and Marc Savard. The Devils later are fined $3 million and lose two draft picks because of cap circumvention.
- Dec. 18, 2010: The players elect Fehr as executive director. He says that he will need time to familiarize himself with hockey economics and the CBA and predicts that talks could start in the spring of 2012.
- July 21, 2011: After a lockout, NFL owners get their share of revenues increased from 47% to 52%.
- September 2011: New NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan hands out suspensions totaling 27 games of regular-season time for offenses during the preseason.
- October 2011: A disagreement over hockey revenues delays the issuance of escrow checks and revenue sharing payments.
- Nov. 26, 2011: The NBA lockout ends with players agreeing to drop to a 50-50 split in revenues.
- Dec. 5, 2011: The board of governors realigns the NHL into four conferences. Every team will play each other at least twice and the top four teams from each conference will make the playoffs.
- Jan. 6, 2012: The NHL postpones realignment for a year because the union wouldn’t sign off on it. It was concerned about the uneven sizes of the conferences (less chance of making the playoffs) and said it didn’t have enough information to determine travel burdens. The NHL talks about filing a grievance.
- Jan. 28, 2012: At the All-Star Game, Bettman says there is plenty of time to get a deal done. He adds that the league didn’t expect to file a grievance over realignment.
- April 21, 2012: Shanahan suspends Phoenix Coyotes forward Raffi Torres for 25 games for a late, high hit. The NHLPA later appeals the length of the suspension.
- June 29, 2012: Talks begin with an NHL presentation about the financial state of the league.
- July 2, 2012: Bettman, who handles the Torres appeal, puts the suspension at 21 games. That saves Torres about $85,000.
- July 13, 2012: The NHL makes its first proposal. It seeks a cut from 57% of revenues to 43%, plus a five-year cap on contracts and the elimination of salary arbitration. Players would spend up to five years in entry-level deals and would become unrestricted free agents after 10 years, up from seven. The actual offer is 46% of revenues, but hockey-related revenues are redefined in the owners’ favor, so the net effect was 43% of the current definition.
- Aug. 9, 2012: Bettman promises that the league will lock out players if a deal isn’t reached by Sept. 15.
- Aug. 10, 2012: Supplementary discipline — including the Torrres case — is brought up in talks.
- Aug. 14, 2012: The NHLPA makes its proposal, offering to give up some of its future share of revenue in exchange for increased revenue sharing to aid financially stressed teams. In the fourth year, players could revert to 57%. The union says the proposal could save owners $465 million to $800 million.
- Aug. 15, 2012: Bettman doesn’t embrace the union proposal. “There are a number of issues where we see the world differently,” he says.
- Aug. 23, 2012: Bettman says a wide gap remains. “We believe that we are paying more than we should be. … It’s as simple as that,” he says.
- Aug. 28, 2012: The NHL offers a counter-proposal that would cut the players’ share of revenues to 50% (46% of current revenues) instead of 46% (43% of current). It would do so over time, too. The league projects that the salary cap would return to 2011-12 levels in four years, but the first three years would be $58 million, $60 million and $62 million).
- Aug. 29, 2012: Bettman says that the league would take care of the players’ decreased share through an increase in escrow payments rather than a rollback. Says Fehr: “From a player’s standpoint, it doesn’t make much difference. If a player doesn’t get the dollar value on his contract because there’s a rollback in the contract, which is simply a name for crossing out one number and writing in another number or whether he doesn’t get an amount because there’s escrow, he still doesn’t get it.”
- Aug. 31, 2012: The union makes a proposal in which the fourth year might be something other than 57%. The sides declare a recess and Bettman accuses the NHLPA of stonewalling.
- Sept. 7, 2012: The NHLPA files a challenge in Alberta trying to prevent players there from being locked out. It argues that the league didn’t sufficiently engage an arbitrator who was appointed to try to settle the dispute.
- Sept. 12, 2012: The union and 16 Montreal Canadiens players file a challenge in Quebec. In the province, employees can’t be locked out unless represented by a union registered with the Quebec Labor Board. The NHLPA isn’t.
- Sept. 12, 2012: As more than 275 players show up for two days of NHLPA meetings in New York, the sides resume talks but continue to negotiate off their own proposals. The players offer options to extend their proposal to five years at potentially lower rates than 57%. The league balks and makes a counter-proposal. It offers to keep the definition of hockey-related revenues the same as they currently are. But the players’ percentage would start out at 49% then drop to 47%. The sides remain stalemated.
- Sept. 13, 2012: Though Bettman didn’t need approval from the board of governors for a lockout, a motion was put in place and he got a 30-0 vote. He indicated that since the NHL made the last offer, it was incumbent on the NHLPA to come forth first. Earlier, Fehr said he hoped that a lockout would disrupt hockey’s growth. “The question is whether the disagreement we’re now having is going to screw that up,” he said
- Sept. 14, 2012: Some phone contact, but no talks. The Quebec labor board rejects the NHLPA’s request for a temporary injunction but agrees to hold further hearings.
- Sept. 15, 2012: The NHLPA said it requested talks with the league but was turned down. Daly said both sides decided against a meeting because neither side was willing move off its last proposal. The NHL put up a story on its website that time had expired and training camps wouldn’t open without a new CBA. The lockout is officially under way…
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