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NHL likely to reject union offer
Memo: Proposal to end the lockout falls short. Rejection might be final blow to end the season.
By TOM JONES
Published December 14, 2004
At first glance, some thought last week's proposal by the NHL Players' Association to end the 90-day lockout seemed too good to reject.
Guess what? The NHL is about to reject it.
The two sides will meet today in Toronto, where the league is expected to turn down the union's proposal and counter with one of its own. The latest development could end hopes of salvaging the 2004-05 season.
The players offered, among other concessions, a 24 percent rollback in salaries, but the NHL doesn't believe the concessions will solve the league's financial woes over the long haul.
The Sports Network of Canada obtained a copy of an eight-page memorandum sent by the NHL to the 30 teams outlining reaction to the union proposal. The memo states the league's intention to reject the proposal and come back with an offer that includes a salary cap.
"In sum, we believe the union's Dec.9 CBA proposal, while offering necessary and significant short-term financial relief, falls well short of providing the fundamental systemic changes that are required to ensure that overall league economics remain in synch on a going-forward basis," NHL executive vice president Bill Daly wrote in the Dec.12 memo.
Daly went on to write, "While the immediate "rollback' of 24 percent offered by the union would materially improve league economics for the 2004-05 season, there is virtually nothing in the union's proposal that would prevent the dollars "saved' from being redirected right back into the player compensation system, such that the league's overall financial losses would approach current levels in only a matter of a couple of years."
Bottom line: The league believes only a hard cap on payrolls will fix its financial problems.
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk told the Ottawa Sun the players' offer is "not a solution. It's a one-shot deal that doesn't work."
The owners' reaction today could send the season down the drain. After the union's offer last week, Lightning player representative Tim Taylor said if the league turned it down and came back with an offer based on a salary cap, the union would walk away from the negotiating table.
"If that happens, we would walk away and come back next September with our exact same offer," Taylor said. "We've bent over backward to save the season. If this isn't good enough, I don't know what is. If they reject this, then I think it's obvious the owners are not interested in saving this season."
The union invited the owners back to the bargaining table Dec.9, the first negotiating session since Sept.9, and made an offer with some aspects that even NHL commissioner Gary Bettman termed "significant."
Aside from a 24 percent rollback in salaries, which the players claim would save the league more than $500-million over the next three seasons, the proposal contained a luxury tax, a revenue-sharing plan, a lower cap on entry-level contracts and bonuses, and an offer to allow teams to take players to arbitration.
The offer, though, did not include a salary cap, something the owners insist they must have.
Neither side would comment on the memorandum.
"It would not assist the collective bargaining process to comment on excerpts from a leaked league document," Ted Saskin, the NHLPA senior director, said. "We will comment on the NHL's response to our proposal when it is finally delivered to us."
Daly had no comment, while Lou Lamoriello, the New Jersey Devils general manager who is on the NHL's negotiating committee, said, "I'd rather just let things be and then wait until (today)."
AHL SUSPENSIONS: Coaches Tom Rowe of Lowell and Trent Yawney of Norfolk were suspended for 10 games for trying to fight each other in a bench-clearing brawl over the weekend. Four players received shorter suspensions, and the coaches, teams and several players were fined.
LARIONOV FAREWELL: Russian and New Jersey Devils star Igor Larionov, 44, capped a 27-year career in an exhibition game in Moscow in which Team Russia defeated the World Stars 6-4.
- Information from the Associated Press was used in the report.