Hockey players score pension win but little else; owners gain financial relief
By Rob Rossi
Published: Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013, 10:52 p.m.
Craig Adams wanted to see the NHL lockout end.
“I'd been involved quite a bit through the process,” he said Sunday after returning from New York, where he arrived Saturday night to join a marathon bargaining session between the NHL and Players' Association that led to a new labor contract. “I just wanted to make an impact. For me, selfishly, I wanted to be there at the end.”
The way the 113-day lockout ended was a surprise to Matt Cooke, like Adams a veteran of two NHL work stoppages.
Cooke said he never expected the NHL to sit down for 16 hours and hammer out a deal until the early-morning hours, despite the deal considerably favoring owners, Cooke and Adams said.
“Our win was the pension plan,” Cooke said.
Added Adams: “Everything is relative, so you can't say there were gains other than pension. But we got (owners) to move off some of their positions.”
That was all the union could hope for.
Donald Fehr, the masterful negotiator with numerous baseball labor victories under his belt, was hired by the NHLPA two years ago not to pull one over on hockey owners. His objective, Adams said, was to rebuild a broken union — and not allow owners to roll over players in these negotiations, Cooke said.
They didn't, considering what owners will receive compared to what they said was necessary.
• Players will split revenue 50/50, but owners will pay $300 million to honor current contracts. Owners had said they would pay no more than $211 million.
• Maximum length for veteran contracts at seven years instead of five.
• A 2013-14 salary cap at $64.3 million instead of the $60 million owners proposed last Monday.
• Revenue sharing among owners at $200 million as opposed to the $150 million last season.
• Players cannot make more or less than 35 percent of their previous season's salary in any year of a multiyear contract. Before last week, owners had held firm on a 10 percent range.
“It's not a perfect system for us, but this deal gives us a system that could make everybody happy going forward, and maybe we prevent another lockout in eight or 10 years,” Cooke said. “Baseball doesn't have a perfect system, either. Those owners and players are generally happy, and they've gone on together (since 1995) without having to go through this every time.
“The biggest gain for our side is that this system gives us the framework for future guys not to have to do this again.”
And getting back on ice, which players could do by Wednesday for training camp if the NHL opts for a 50-game season over 48 contests.
The lockout was staged eight years after the NHL lost the 2004-05 season to a labor dispute.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has presided over three lockouts since taking his post in 1993.
Bettman and Fehr declined to share details of the new deal. The agreement must be ratified by the union and NHL board of governors, each of which will have completed a vote within days.
Bettman and Fehr have said this lockout was not about personal animosity.
Significant progress was made, both sides conceded, over two days of early-December meetings in which neither Bettman nor Fehr participated.
A federal mediator, Scot Beckenbaugh, took a star turn Thursday and Friday when he shuttled back and forth between the NHL offices and a hotel in New York. His objective: Get the sides back to bargaining after a near deal collapsed late Wednesday.
The lockout provided some surprising developments:
• Essentially no lengthy negotiations during October and November.
• The so-called hard-line owners and principled players were challenged by moderates culled by Penguins ownership, team captain Sidney Crosby and high-profile agent Pat Brisson in early December.
• Players twice authorizing the union executive board authority to disband.
There were costs both measurable and immeasurable:
• NHL employees took a 20 percent pay cut from the lockout's start.
• Some teams, though not the Penguins, cut staff.
• John Collins, the NHL executive who masterminded the Winter Classic, grew despondent after the New Year's Day outdoor game was sacked and sponsors railed against the work stoppage.
• Some NHL players, though no Penguins, were injured while playing in Europe.
• Fans expressed rage daily on social media sites. Stars such as Alex Ovechkin took to Twitter to call owners “clowns.”
Crosby, never known for controversial stances, expressed disbelief in October, November and December when officials from both sides acknowledged there was no communication.
“You get discouraged and frustrated,” Adams said. “It's a slow process that takes more time than anybody would like.”
The NHL lost $20 million daily once regular-season games were canceled.
Pittsburgh lost about $2.2 million in revenue for each of the 20 canceled Penguins' home games.
Crosby, healthy after two seasons shortened by concussion symptoms, lost a chance to reclaim his status as the world's best player.
“Actually, he hasn't lost that,” Cooke said. “We're going to play, and then everybody can see what Sid's going to do. I think he might score 150 points this season.”
Cooke laughed Sunday after making that prediction.
It seemed as outlandish as a lockout in which the big win for players was pension and for owners was almost getting what they wanted.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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