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Published: Friday, 8/22/2003

Storm players on strike

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Frustrated by the lack of movement toward a new labor agreement, the union representing players in the ECHL - including those who skate for the Toledo Storm - have gone on strike.

Toledo is scheduled to begin its regular season Oct. 17.

“We will not be recognizing any contracts that are in the ECHL at this time,” said Dean Moore, director of ECHL player relations for the Professional Hockey Players Association. “Until the agreement is ratified, players will stay in their home cities, work out and continue to work [summer jobs] because they can't afford not to with what's on the table now.”

Toledo vice president and general manager Mike Miller declined comment, referring calls to league offices.

“It didn't come as a surprise,” said ECHL president and chief executive officer Brian McKenna. “It's a negotiating tool that any union has at its disposal.”

Moore said there are four major issues for the players: salary cap, insurance, the veteran rule and the reserve clause.

Early in negotiations, the owners proposed cutting the weekly salary cap from $10,000 and dropping the number of skaters per team with more than 250 games played from four to one.

Struggling financially, the now 31-team league wants to cut costs. It's believed that most clubs, including the Storm, are losing money.

Moore said the latest proposal from the league is a three-year deal with a $9,500 weekly cap with no player-assistant spots. Previously, each team could have two such players who had only half their salary count toward the cap. The first year of the contract would allow four vets with 250 games and three with 260 the last two years.

The biggest issue for the players is insurance. They want year-round coverage for their families while Moore said the league wants to continue seasonal coverage and ask the players to continue paying $1 per day toward insurance.

Moore said the union is suggesting an $8,000 salary minimum and a $9,750 soft cap that would permit teams that exceed that amount to contribute a luxury tax of 50 cents on the dollar toward an insurance fund for the players.

With the elimination of player-assistants, a lower cap and a salary minimum, the union will save each team some $50,000, Moore said.

“Year-round insurance will cost only about $20,000,” Moore said. “That's a huge concession to turn the sinking ship around.

“The players said to us, `Enough is enough.' We're not prepared to conceed concessions across the board and not get anything in return.”

Despite the posturing, both sides are hopeful a settlement can be reached.

“If we get back to the table in good faith, I don't see how a deal won't be done,” Moore said. “Right now, we're very far apart.”

McKenna responded affirmatively when asked if he thought the season would start on time: “Not playing hockey is not in anyone's best interest.”



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