NHL, players' union to talk for first time since May

Updated: July 21, 2004, 9:31 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Hoping to stave off the second lockout in 11 seasons, the NHL and the players' association will meet Wednesday to resume negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement.

The current deal, extended twice since it was hammered out in 1995, expires Sept. 15. If a new agreement isn't reached by then, a lockout that could threaten the entire season is expected to be imposed.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has vowed on behalf of the owners to work out a deal with the union that will radically change the financial landscape of the league. He is determined to make sure the percentage of revenues paid out in player salaries is sliced, and to establish "cost certainty" for clubs.

An economic study commissioned by the NHL found that players get 76 percent of all league revenues -- far more than the percentage for the other major team sport.

According to the NHL, league revenues have increased 163 percent while player salaries have jumped 252 percent under the current agreement. The league also contends total losses amounted to nearly $300 million during the 2002-03 season.

The players' association has challenged many of the league's financial findings.

The union has said Bettman's vision of cost certainty amounts to a hard salary cap it refuses to accept. The players' association said it has countered with an offer of a luxury tax, a 5-percent rollback in player salaries and changes in entry-level salaries.

Bettman has said owners will wait as long as necessary to achieve their goals.

If so, the next lockout could be worse than the one that lasted 103 days and cut the 1994-95 season in half. Owners have been preparing for that possibility for the last several years, and have built up a $300 million war chest.

The sides have not met since May when they got together in Tampa, Fla., during the Stanley Cup finals. Labor talks began last October, but there have only been two brief negotiating sessions since -- totaling about six hours.

Bettman and union head Bob Goodenow are expected attend negotiations at the NHL office in New York.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press