Counsel presents league's position

Updated: February 12, 2004, 7:54 PM ET
Associated Press

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The NHL would like to resume negotiations with the players' union on a new collective bargaining agreement within the next two weeks.

William Daly, the league's chief legal counsel, said on Tuesday that he hopes the sides can reconvene at the end of next weekend's All-Star festivities in St. Paul, Minn.

"We have made the players' association aware that we are ready to meet at any time," Daly said. "The more dialogue, the more exchange of information, the better understanding one side has of the other's positions ... the more that goes on, the better."

Commissioner Gary Bettman and union head Bob Goodenow met in New York last week and attended a game together at Madison Square Garden. That broke a stalemate that existed since an Oct. 1 bargaining session in Toronto.

The current CBA, in effect for nearly 10 years, expires Sept. 15. According to the NHL, league revenues have increased 163 percent while players salaries have jumped 252 percent during that period.

The league also contends total losses amounted to nearly $300 million last season, just one of the figures the NHLPA doesn't believe.

"The numbers are inaccurate and incomplete," said Ted Saskin, the NHLPA's senior director of business affairs.

The NHL wants a new system that guarantees cost certainty, which the union translates as a hard salary cap. That is a solution it will never accept.

"The current system is the most restrictive in pro sports," Saskin said. He said that a salary cap is a "complete nonstarter" for negotiations.

The league said 76 percent of the revenue earned by member clubs is distributed to the players, the highest proportion in any sport.

In the NBA, players collect 58 percent of the revenue under a "soft cap," while baseball has a luxury-tax system that doesn't limit payrolls but punishes the big spenders.

"I think a cap would work better," Daly said. "That doesn't mean we're locked and fixated on the cap, but I think a cap would work better for the National Hockey League, not for baseball."

Daly spoke to reporters as part of a 30-minute presentation that explained the NHL's bargaining position. This talk was held in Buffalo, where just over a year ago the Sabres filed for bankruptcy protection.

Since being sold, the team has become a viable small-market club but it is still unable to compete financially with big-market teams.

"I've got a lot of confidence that this can be fixed by people coming together and trying to work it out," Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn said.

Daly said the NHL has considered the possibility that the 2004-05 season could be delayed or wiped out.

"The conclusion that we have reached is that it's important at this stage that we do the right thing and not just make a deal to make sure we don't miss time," he said. "Far more harm can come to this league by just doing a deal to do a deal."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press