Feb 20, 2011; Calgary, AB, Canada; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman before the Montreal Canadiens game against the Calgary Flames at McMahon Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

Bettman Takes A One Day Lunch Break

The last thing hockey fans wanted to hear was that the meeting on Wednesday grinded to a halt as early as lunch break.  Worse than that, NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, was the one to walk out after the directing heads met in the morning.  Thus, cancelling the major talks by leaving the building, as NHL-NHLPA talks were to begin after lunch.  However, talks will resume Thursday morning.

Nevertheless, the gesture of Bettman leaving the morning meeting seems to be a drawback from his apparent initial intrigue to the NHLPA’s first proposal.  With the 2012-2013 season on the line, things better improve, and fast.

NHLPA Executive Director, Donald Fehr, was quick to point out that the frustration is expected.  “You can probably observe there’s some degree of frustration between the parties, but that doesn’t surprise me. We’re better off doing other things (with internal meetings on both sides the rest of Wednesday). We had discussions to hopefully insure we understand one another as to how we saw our respective ways to go forward, meaning to continue discussion.”

The focus of the talks were no surprise: player contracts and revenue sharing.. the main stalemate being the revenue sharing.  The current CBA grants the players 57% of the revenue.  The owners are looking to cut that to around 43-46 % and this is where we stand.  It’s no wonder Bettman says they’re “worlds apart”.  14% margin of disagreement is quite substantial when it’s dealing with dollars.

As for the player contracts.. I sense a foul odour coming from the ownership side.  The consensus player salary issue seems to be the lengths of each contract.  All the while, Minnesota goes out and grabs two star free agents for a total of $212 million over 13 years; the Predators lock up their core leader by matching an offer sheet presented by the Flyers for $110 million over 14 years; and the Oilers keeping Taylor Hall for another 7 years for $6 million per.  Is it just me, or does it seem like the owners around the league are scrambling to lock up their core players to long-term deals before the new CBA, which will likely encourage shorter contracts?  Now, you can’t really blame owners for trying to keep their fan-favourites in their uniforms, but it begins to reek of inconsistency when it is the owners that claim they are in favour of short-term deals as part of an economic step forward for the league.

It’s no question that contract lengths are becoming an issue, and before we sit and point fingers at hypocritical owners and GMs, let’s take the occurrences in context.  The more profitable franchises do not hesitate to sign franchise players for big contracts.  This forces smaller market teams to offer big-name free agents monster contracts in order to stay competitive.  The Shea Weber deal is a prime example..

Here was a team, in Nashville, that has made a couple of good playoff runs in the last couple years. Suddenly, Ryan Suter became the center of attention on the UFA market, eventually signing a huge contract in Minnesota.  Shea Weber, a Restricted Free Agent, was sent a 114 million dollar offer from the Flyers which he accepted.  All of this in the span of a month.  In Minnesota’s case, Suter has family relations in the area and Zach Parise was a package deal all along with Suter, at the right price.  And the pressure from huge market teams, like the Rangers, forced a monster contract offer to both of them from Minnesota, as everyone else was certainly firing 100 million dollar plus offers to both players.  With Suter now in Minnesota, Nashville absolutely had to retain their captain’s services.. at any cost.

May 7, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber (6) in game five of the 2012 Western Conference semifinals at Jobing.com Arena. The Coyotes beat the Predators 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

Philadelphia wasted no time in setting the bar, in terms of money.  A whopping 14 year deal worth $110 million.  After using just about every minute toward the offer deadline, the Predators ultimately came to the conclusion that no compensation would replace Shea Weber.  No outcome would put the franchise further ahead than if he stayed with him.  Some speculate that this was a prime approach for Weber to obtain top dollar, while giving the Flyers a fair shot at his services and becoming an instant Cup favourite.  Whether it was the Flyers or Weber, the Predators were pressured into making such a gigantic deal.  Though I don’t fault smaller market owners, the larger market owners continue to perpetuate the issue.  The problem continues to be that the rich markets continue to control the pace of every other teams’ actions.

But the main concern in the CBA talks continue to be the distance between sides regarding the revenue sharing.  Until a middle-ground agreement is constructed, the other CBA issues will likely take a back seat in the meetings.  And the clock continues to tick on the current CBA.  The September 15 deadline is fast approaching and with no evident progress to report.

Stay tuned hockey fans, we should get a better sense of how close or far each side is from the other once the Thursday talks conclude.

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