NHL CBA stance frustrates Tampa Bay Lightning's B.J. Crombeen

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, right, with deputy commissioner Bill Daly at Thursday’s news conference, says, “I have to play the hand I am dealt” in talks for a labor deal.

Associated Press

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, right, with deputy commissioner Bill Daly at Thursday’s news conference, says, “I have to play the hand I am dealt” in talks for a labor deal.

While contemplating when the 2012-13 NHL season might be canceled, it is useful to consider what happened in 1994-95, when a 48-game schedule was played after a 103-day lockout ended Jan. 11.

And with commissioner Gary Bettman saying at a Thursday news conference, "I can't imagine we play fewer (games) than that," this season, in the 84th day of its lockout, is approaching a point of no return.

"Am I unhappy about the prospect? You bet I am," Bettman said. "But I have to play the hand that I'm dealt."

And that is where he loses B.J. Crombeen.

The Lightning right wing said it is "mind-boggling" the league angrily broke off talks with the players association on a collective bargaining agreement and called it a "bully tactic" for Bettman to say owners wanted only a yes or no to their latest offer and no negotiations.

"They're trying to squeeze 5 more cents out of a deal that can be done," Crombeen, a member of the union negotiating committee, said Friday. "It's very frustrating. They're just saying 'It's our way or the highway.' You look at the deal we had and the deal we're going to get, every single aspect (the players are) giving up a lot."

Players have agreed to a 50-50 revenue split after getting 57 percent last season. The league has offered $300 million (up from $211 million) for the "make-whole" provision for guaranteeing current contracts. Though the union agreed to the amount, it does not believe it is enough to guarantee all contracts.

The league wants a 10-year deal with a reopen clause for both sides after eight years. The union proposed an eight-year contract with a reopen clause for players after six.

Owners agreed to keep the status quo on entry-level deals (three years), unrestricted free agency (27 years old or seven years in the league) and salary arbitration. But they want a five-year limit on contracts, though teams could sign their own free agents for seven years. Players proposed an eight-year limit.

The league also balked on limiting escrow payments by players (those ensure players do not receive more revenue than they are entitled) and amnesty buyouts of player contracts that would not count against the cap. Both, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said, are "money outside the system."

"We moved drastically in almost every area," Crombeen said, "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. It's the wrong way to go about negotiations."

But Toronto owner Larry Tanenbaum questioned in a statement whether the union really wants to make a deal. And the Denver Post's Adrian Dater said on Twitter he heard from a player he didn't name that union head Donald Fehr, when shown the owners' proposal, told players "we could get more" and to "hold out."

"I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that is 100 percent false," Crombeen said.

The good news, Crombeen said, is Tampa Bay's Jeff Vinik, one of six owners in on face-to-face talks with players this week, was "good" and "reasonable."

Still, he is part of a league that has taken everything it had offered off the bargaining table.

"As difficult and as painful as this is," Bettman said, "having an agreement that doesn't work is something we're not prepared to do."

"The deal is sitting at their finger­tips," Crombeen said. "They just refuse to sign it."

The sides didn't talk Friday. They won't meet this weekend, but they may talk by phone, Canada's Sportsnet reported.

NHL CBA stance frustrates Tampa Bay Lightning's B.J. Crombeen 12/07/12 [Last modified: Friday, December 7, 2012 10:31pm]

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