Lightning's Crombeen fires back at NHL: "They're trying to squeeze 5 more cents out of the deal"
For Tampa Bay Lightning right wing B.J. Crombeen, the good news coming out of this week's face-to-face meetings between players and owners to discuss a new collective bargaining agreement was that Lightning owner Jeff Vinik was "good" and "reasonable" during talks.
But Crombeen, a member of the Players' Association negotiating committee, said it is "mind-boggling" the league on Thursday angrily broke off negotiations, and said commissioner Gary Bettman's assertion that Thursday was all about a yes or no answer from the union on the league's latest off was a "bully tactic."
"The deal is right there in front of them," Crombeen said Friday. "It's pretty simple for them if they want to make a deal, but they made it very clear to us that they don't. They're trying to squeeze five more cents out of a deal that can be done, and we can be back playing hockey sooner. It's very frustrating, but I wouldn't say I'm overly surprised because of the way they acted throughout the whole process."
"If you lay their proposal, which they say is yes or no, and our proposal side-by-side, the difference is minimal," Crombeen continued. "They're just saying it's our way or the highway. It's the wrong way to go about it. They can say how much they're giving up and how much they're going beyond what they're supposed to, but you look at the deal we're giving up and the deal we're going to get and in every single aspect of it we're giving up."
It is difficult to argue the players will not come out of this poorer.
They have agreed to a 50-50 split in revenues after last season getting 57 percent. The league has offered to up the money it puts into the "make-whole" provision to $300 million from $211 million. But the union, while agreeing to the provision, contends that does not fully guarantee that current player contracts can be honored.
The league has agreed to simply keep the status quo on entry-level contracts (three years), unrestricted free agency (27 years old or seven years in the league) and salary arbitration. It also proposed a five-year limit on contracts (though teams would be able to sign their own free agents to seven-year deals) with a yearly salary variance of just five percent in order to stop the cap-circumventing practice of back-diving contracts. It wants no limit on player escrow payments and does not want amnesty buyouts of player contracts, both of which deputy commissioner Bill Daly called "money outside the system."
The league also wants a 10-year CBA with a re-open clause after eight years for either side. Players want an eight-year deal with are-opener for the players after six years. It proposed an eight-year limit on contracts with the lowest salary year not less than 25 percent of the highest.
The players did get a pension, though funded with their own money.
"It's mind-boggling that the pension, which has no effect on them, they're going to return to us and we're expected to give them a very, very tight contract life with a variability that's going to squeeze the middle class out of the game," Crombeen said, adding about the league's proposed 10-year CBA length, "The average (career) for players is four to five years, which is essentially two groups of players that are going to go through the league and have no say in the agreement they're going to be part of. There's also a very high risk projecting what the economy and industry is going to look like in 10 years. It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense for them to say we have to agree to all those things. How they can think a yes or no answer at that point is how you negotiate, they're not ready to get a deal done."
It certainly will be harder now with emotions frayed and the league pulling off the table everything it has proposed. Of course, things can go back on the table pretty quickly, and it still is believed by many the league hopes to have games during the Christmas holiday. That said, if it is to play a 48-game schedule similar to the one used after the 1994-95 lockout, games should be started by early January, and as Bettman said Thursday, "I can't imagine we play fewer than that."
Bottom line, Crombeen said: "We moved drastically in almost every area we had and their big gift was to give us back free agency and salary arbitration and entry-level contracts to what they are right now. It's mind-boggling that they expect us to think that's a fair and equitable deal."