Players' proposal serious

The union's offer includes a 24 percent pay cut, but not the salary cap that management wants.

Published December 10, 2004

The NHL season was not canceled Thursday. Nor was there evidence that it will be saved.

But hope remains after the players made what appears to be a serious proposal in an attempt to end the 86-day lockout.

The players offered to take a 24 percent rollback in salaries, a move they claim would save the NHL $500-million over the next three seasons.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called it a "very significant" concession, but was not willing to say it was the first step in reaching a new collective bargaining agreement.

Bettman said the league will review the union's lengthy and detailed proposal and could make a counteroffer when the two sides meet again Tuesday in either New York or Toronto.

"I will acknowledge that one aspect of the proposal is very significant," Bettman said. "That element is a recognition by the union of our economic condition but it is a one-time element. We have said consistently that the focus must be on the overall systemic issues and the long-term needs and health of our game."

The crux of the union's proposal is a luxury tax, something Bettman and the owners still oppose despite the rollback concession made by the union.

"I don't believe in a luxury tax," Bettman said. "I don't believe it works."

Bettman and the owners believe a salary cap will fix the league's financial woes, but the union remains adamant that it will not accept one.

After Thursday's meeting, the union's stance was that it has made its best and, perhaps, final offer.

"If the league comes back and says it wants a salary cap, we're pulling the plug on the season," said Tim Taylor, the Lightning's player representative to the union. "If they do not accept this deal, the season is over. I mean, what we are conceding is incredible. Twenty-four percent? When the executive committee told us that, we were all like, "Are you kidding me?' We thought it might be 10 percent. This just shows you what we are willing to do to save the season, what we're willing to do to save hockey."

Taylor said the Lightning's payroll would go from a projected $44-million to around $33-million because of the rollbacks.

In addition to the salary rollback, the union offered a luxury tax that would penalize teams 20 cents on the dollar if the club's payroll is between $45-million to $50-million; 50 cents on the dollar for payrolls between $50-million to $60-million; and 60 cents on every dollar over $60-million.

The players also added a wrinkle to arbitration. Once in a player's career, a team can take a player to arbitration in the middle of his contract.

"Say a guy is making $9-million and has an awful year," Taylor said. "Well, the team can take him to arbitration and his salary might go back to $3-million."

The players also proposed a cap of $850,000 on entry-level contracts, more than $250,000 less than before.

"The CBA that we proposed to the league will immediately reduce the value of every current player contract," NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow said. "It will immediately set a dramatically lower base in the negotiation of new contracts and it contains numerous systemic changes in all the leverage points that are contained in the collective agreement."

Bettman refused to say whether the union's offer was a step forward or backward in the negotiations because he and the owners want time to review the proposal.

"The magnitude of the rollback is what you need to get our economics back in line is a starting point," Bettman said. "And so it was to me an acknowledgment as to what we've been saying about our economics, and in that respect, I think it was constructive.

"With respect to what we still need to make this league healthy going forward, what type of system, I have always had a firm set of beliefs in that regard. And while I intend to thoroughly review and consider their proposal, I do have an understanding as to what I think we need."