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NHL owners rooted in more revenue, structure

| Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, 3:20 p.m.

NEW YORK — As the NHL and the Players' Associations resume talks Friday, a narrative is developing that could please Penguins fans.

The Flyers are likely to lose — immediately anyway — under the next collective bargaining agreement.

The new one will almost certainly contain a salary cap near $60 million for this season and prevent clubs from saving cap space by burying veterans with hefty one-way deals in the minors.

That should make the lead-up to the start of the season, even one potentially delayed by a work stoppage, most interesting for fans in Boston, Minnesota, Vancouver, Calgary, Philadelphia and San Jose. Clubs there are committed to more than $65 million in cap space.

The Penguins, at $60.26 million, are one of 14 teams committed to at least $60 million for the upcoming season. Five other clubs are between roughly $57 million and 59 million.

The salary cap was set for $70.2 million, but that was under terms of the current CBA that expires Sept. 15.

A close study of the latest NHL proposal — the NHLPA is expected to counter Friday — suggests the league is set on a CBA more favorable to owners economically and better suited to protect them from their worst enemies.

Owners have proven over the past seven years to be their own worst enemies, at least when it comes to handing out lengthy, lucrative contracts.

The competitive structure of a new CBA is unlikely to favor high revenue clubs with corporate owners best suited to front-load contracts and absorb the cost of poor signings.

Negotiations have remained cordial, though that could change pending the NHLPA's counterproposal.

Only one recent labor negotiation between a league and its union did not turn ugly publicly — the one last year between Major League Baseball and its players.

The former head of the MLBPA, Don Fehr, was not involved in those talks. He has spent most of the past two years working as executive director of the NHLPA.

His opponent in these negotiations is NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

Fans of the Penguins, Coyotes and Predators need no refresher course on how Bettman can impose his will. Those teams remain in their markets largely because of Bettman.

Bettman and Fehr are masters at winning, and the union has experienced unparalleled collectiveness under Fehr. But there is arguably no group of sports owners entrenched together more than the NHL owners who back Bettman.

Anyone expecting the NHL board of governors to try for a three-fourths vote necessary to approve a CBA not recommended by Bettman is more likely to see the Winter Classic moved to July 1.

Anybody expecting Bettman not to get what his owners want probably forgot about the cancelled 2004-05 season. The gain from that cost, simply, was a structure for competitive balance the NHL is not going to abandon.

The league has its cap, and as is the case with guaranteed contracts won long ago by the union, the cap can be considered an “entitlement” — a word Bettman used to assess how the union feels about its 57 percent share of revenue under the current CBA.

NHL owners want to get their hands on more revenue and appear to be united on wanting a better economic system and an even stricter competitive structure.

That is good news for hockey fans — with the possible exception of those hoping for the season to start on time and, well, those in the City of Brotherly Love.

Notes: The Penguins signed four restricted free agents — left wing Eric Tangradi and defensemen Brian Strait, Robert Bortuzzo and Alex Grant — to one-year, two-way contracts. ... The NHL released its national TV schedule and, should the season start on time, the Penguins will be prominently featured. NBC will broadcast up to five Penguins' games on Sundays, and the Penguins will be on NBC or NBC Sports Network 17 times.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rrossi@tribweb.com.

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