The NHL today arrives at a sad, awkward juxtaposition.
As it celebrates the careers of gifted forwards Pavel Bure, Adam Oates, Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin with their induction in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, the league is embroiled in a lockout that shows no signs of ending.
The NHL and the Players’ Association met briefly Sunday in New York, just long enough to re-establish their differences — not only regarding how the game’s revenue should be divided, but on new rules regarding player contracts.
“(The NHL) has indicated to us from the beginning that (revenue) share was really important and contracting issues were really important,” union executive director Don Fehr told reporters in New York. “We’ve told them both are important, but as (players’) share is limited, contracting rights become not only more important, but vastly more important.
“Their answer is, the players will have vastly fewer rights, vastly less leverage for vastly longer portions of their career under the NHL proposal.”
The NHL wants to limit contract terms to five years, plus require that player salaries don’t fluctuate more than 5 percent from one season to the next. The aim is to limit back-diving contracts — deals with extra, low-salaried years added on the end to circumvent the salary cap.
Further, the league wants to delay free agency until 28 years old or eight NHL seasons, up one year from the current system.
Under the NHL’s proposal, young players would face longer entry-level contracts (four years, up from three) and an extra season before they’re eligible for salary arbitration.
“We think the system will operate better (with the new proposals),” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. “We have concerns for a while about contracts that we feel are a circumvention of the system, and that’s an issue we need to clean up.
“The other issue deals with allocating more money to more established players. It’s something we hear from our (general managers) regularly. They believe they’re forced to make talent assessments too early in a player’s career and it would be better for the game — their teams, the product, and ultimately the revenues of the product — if they could make those decisions later in the player’s career.”
Fehr said the union was told by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman that there was no room for “give and take” on the contract proposals.
If the sides can’t find traction soon, look for more regular-season games to be canceled and, possibly, the 2013 NHL All-Star Game, which is scheduled for Nationwide Arena on Jan. 27.