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Published: 10/1/2003

ECHL, players agree; strike ends before season

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The framework for a new, three-year collective bargaining agreement has been reached between negotiators for the ECHL and the Professional Hockey Players' Association, ending a strike by the players which began Aug. 20.

Team player representatives gave their approval to the settlement yesterday morning during a conference call with PHPA leadership.

The ECHL's Board of Governors ratified the agreement on Monday.

The pact comes just before training camp is set to begin for the 31-team league.

The Toledo Storm opens Monday morning at Tam O'Shanter in Sylvania.

Here are the basic terms of the agreement, with details of the final year of the recently expired contract in parentheses, according to a player rep from a Southern-based team who spoke with The Blade:

w The salary cap will be $10,000 in each of the first two years of the agreement, $10,500 in Year 3. Teams will be required to maintain a minimum player payroll of $8,000.

(The salary cap was $10,000 with no payroll floor).

w The salaries of player/assistant coaches must be included in the weekly cap.

(Teams were permitted to carry two P/A's, with only half of their salaries counting on the cap).

w Per diem will be $30 per day.

(It was $34).

w The playoff pool will be $210,000.

(It was $300,000).

w Teams will be permitted four veterans with 288 games of pro experience during the first two years of the contract; four with 260 in Year 3.

(It was four with 250 games).

w At the end of the season, teams will be permitted to extend eight qualifying offers at an increase of five percent over the previous salary; of which only four can be veterans. The remaining players become free agents.

(All players remained property of their teams if extended a qualifying offer at 7.5 percent).

w The eight players have to be qualified by July 1 and have to agree to a contract by Aug. 1 or the player becomes a restricted free agent with the previous team having the right to match any offer.

(Not applicable).

w Players and their families receive nine months of insurance coverage beginning with the start of the first regular season league game.

(Players paid $1 per day into a pool for their families, with payout coverage ending seven days after the conclusion of the ECHL's final Kelly Cup playoff game).

The main issue for the players was insurance; they wanted year-round coverage for their families. Teams, most of which - including Toledo - are losing money, wanted to cut their single largest expense - player costs.

“We haven't figured out the bottom line [in savings that it will mean for each team],” said ECHL president and chief executive officer Brian McKenna. “We hope it allows our owners some cost certainties.”

Toledo player rep Alexandre Jacques did not participate in the conference call. He's in training camp with the American Hockey League's Milwaukee Admirals.

“Both parties made some concessions,” Jacques said when informed of the terms. “I think it's a good thing for hockey; I don't think it would have been a good thing to start the season without [regular] players. Especially players with families, we were willing to sit out, but nobody wanted it to go that far.”

Teams were planning to open camp on time, with or without a labor agreement. If a deal hadn't been struck, rosters would have been filled with replacement players.

“It's been a tough summer recruiting for [Toledo coach] Steve Harrison and [assistant] Nick Vitucci without knowing what the salary cap would be, but the business of hockey is behind us,” Storm vice president and general manager Mike Miller said.

“Now the games can begin.”



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