By Ben Raby
Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin was among 23 members of the NHL Players Association who met with union chief Donald Fehr Tuesday in Toronto in hopes of averting a potential work stoppage.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has threatened to lock out the Leagues players if a new collective bargaining agreement is not in place by Sept. 15 and talks between the NHL and the PA are slowly intensifying.
The two sides are meeting for four days this week in Toronto and Tuesdays session saw the PA make its first formal proposal in these negotiations.
The PAs presentation came a month after League owners put forth their initial proposal which included significant cuts in player salaries and limitations regarding contract lengths and free agency.
Among the biggest hurdles the NHL and the PA face is how to divvy up the Leagues annual hockey related revenue (HRR) between owners and players.
Under the CBA signed in 2005, players have received 57 percent of annual HRR- an amount that has been reflected annually with the players salary cap. Just as the NHLs hockey related revenues have increased in each of the last seven years, so too has the salary cap ceiling (set at 70.2 million for 2012-13).
In their initial offer last month though, the owners proposed that the players receive only 46 percent of the NHLs annual HRR moving forward.
In their counter-proposal Tuesday, the PA did not place a specific number or percentage on how much HRR they should receive. Instead, the PA proposed a fixed increase on player salaries (reflected by an increase in the annual salary cap) for each of the next three years.
Since the NHLs 2005 work stoppage, team payrolls have risen annually at the same rate that the Leagues annual hockey related revenue has increased.
Over that time the NHLs annual revenue has increased by a yearly average of seven percent meaning that the salary cap has also grown by an average of seven percent in each of the last seven years.
According to the PAs proposal, player salaries would increase in each of the next three years by fixed amounts as opposed to being tied directly to league HRR.
The PA is arguing for player salaries to increase by two percent in the first year of the agreement, by four percent in year two and by six percent in year three. The players argue that based on the annual average increase of seven percent in league revenue there will be greater profits for club owners.
Fehr went as far as to suggest that if the NHLs annual revenue continues to grow at the existing average rate, the deal could see the players sacrifice as much as 465 million in salaries in the first three years.
The PAs hope is that the owners would benefit from greater profits in the first three years of a new deal- profits they hope will be dispersed to struggling franchises through greater revenue sharing in an effort to strengthen the league as a whole.
"In essence, when you boil it all down, what were suggesting is that the players partner with the financially stronger owners to stabilize the industry and assist the less financially strong ownership groups," Fehr told reporters in Toronto.
There were some NHL pundits who expected the players to fight for the elimination of a salary cap altogether, or at the very least argue in favor of a soft cap that would allow teams to exceed the agreed upon cap number but be forced to pay a luxury tax.
Instead the PA left the hard salary cap in place, while also arguing for player contracts to remain unchanged as they relate to term limits, salary arbitration rights and free agency eligibility.
I like it a lot," Crosby said of the proposal. "I think, as Don said, it's addressing the issues that the league has. Were making sure as players that we do our part to help those (struggling) teams out, but also holding the teams accountable At the end of the day, it's going to take both (sides) to do that."