Sunday, December 17, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Financial pain not yet impetus for NHL labor deal

The NHL and the players association finally returned to the bargaining table this weekend, but the topic hasn't been the core economic issues that need to be solved to get a new collective bargaining agreement and end the lockout.

The sides haven't had substantive negotiations about the distribution of hockey-related revenue since Sept. 12. In the interim, the preseason has been canceled, and it seems a matter of time before some regular-season games — the season is supposed to start Oct. 11 — are jettisoned as well.

"It's wait and see," said right wing Adam Hall, the Lightning's player representative to the union. "Sometimes these things take a little bit of patience. That's just the way they go."

The holdup? Perhaps neither side has felt real economic pain.

Players in a few weeks will get checks from the NHL equal to between 8 and 8.5 percent of last season's salaries. Players had 8.5 percent placed in escrow to assure that as a whole, they did not make more than 57 percent of league revenue. Most of that money is being returned.

For Tampa Bay captain Vinny Lecavalier, who was paid $10 million, that comes to between $800,000 and $850,000.

Signing bonuses also must be paid, and injured players not cleared to play get their salaries whether the season is lost or not. Payments to satisfy contract buyouts also are guaranteed.

The Lightning has $20.36 million in such obligations.

In other words, even for players who do not find jobs in Europe, there is income.

As for owners, it is believed several will see a better bottom line if their troubled franchises don't have to pay player salaries. And the $200 million still being paid by NBC for TV rights is a nice cushion.

Where are the pressure points that will create the urgency to get a deal done?

For the players, the longer the lockout, the more the pressure, especially for those on the low end of the escrow checks.

For the owners, maybe it is Thanksgiving, when ticket sales, and corresponding concession and merchandise sales, usually pick up. Perhaps it is the approach of the Jan. 1 Winter Classic, which produces the season's highest television ratings.

That said, teams already are issuing refunds for canceled preseason games, and missed regular-season games likely means adjustments to local television, advertising and sponsorship deals. So, in the short term, maybe there is more pressure on the owners, especially if, as some predict, moderates who want a season played join forces against hard-liners.

"Whether it's the owners or the players, there's going to be the same strategy to get a deal done whether or not the lockout goes a certain amount of time," Hall said. "There are some strong, determined people in this culture of ours, and the union has never been more solid."

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