On Tuesday night NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear where the negotiations between the league and its players stood when he told Chris Botta of the Sports Business Journal, “We’re done making proposals. We’ll see what they want to do.”
Former Capitals veteran Mike Knuble isn’t buying it. And he’s pretty sure NHLPA executive director Don Fehr and his special counsel and brother Steve Fehr aren’t going to be bullied into crafting a new proposal.
“It’s not a ping-pong game,” Knuble told CSNWashington.com. “We’re not going to make an offer because someone said it’s our turn.
“I’m sure Don and Steve will have their internal meetings and figure out which direction they want to go, but they’re not bowing to any sort of pressure from Bill or Gary [Bettman]. They’re not going to make a move that will hurt us just for the sake of making one.”
Knuble believes the NHL has a date circled on its negotiating calendar – a date in which a shortened regular season can be salvaged – and when it arrives another offer will be presented.
“I think sometime in December,” he said. “I just think that when the NHL wants to be serious about talking we’ll get a deal done. But I don’t think they’re at that point yet.
“I believe they still feel their time line isn’t there yet. When it will be I think we’ll all know it and I think things will happen pretty quickly when they get to their time line.”
Knuble, 40, said he believes today’s NHL players are just as adamant about getting a fair deal as they were in 2004-05 when an entire season was lost. In addition to forfeiting a year of income in that lockout players accepted a 24 percent rollback on their 2005-06 salaries.
“It’s like tearing off a Band-Aid,” Knuble said. “It was a slap in the face taking 24 percent right off the top of everybody’s salary. I think a lot of players who were involved in '04 vowed that would never happen again. We would never go through that again.”
Today, the players’ rallying cry is protecting the contracts they thought were signed in good faith. Over the summer dozens of high-profile players signed lucrative deals, none more lucrative than Sidney Crosby’s 12-year, $104.4 million extension with the Penguins and the 13-year, $98 million free-agent contracts signed by Minnesota’s Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
“Were those contracts signed in good faith or were they signed with the idea they were getting a discount?” Knuble said. “I don’t know. I think that’s why players are frustrated.
“All our All-Stars are signed to multi-year deals and those high-profile guys aren’t going to take that lightly, to be stripped like that again. It happened once, but it’s not going to happen again and guys are pretty adamant about that. Guys know it’s going to go to 50-50, but how do you want to get there?”
In an attempt to get to a 50-50 split in revenues, the NHL has proposed a “make whole” provision in which $211 million in player salaries would be paid in deferred payments over two years.
The players want their current contracts paid in full and not in deferred payments.
Knuble said he believes the NHL is weeks away from its best offer and is following a path similar to the one taken by the NBA last season, when the league and union settled on Thanksgiving and began a 66-game season on Christmas day.
“Everybody remembers LeBron James and the Miami Heat won,” Knuble said. “That’s all they remember about last year and I think the NHL would love to see that.”
Knuble said he thinks a shortened season would need to consist of at least 55 games to legitimize the grind of the Stanley Cup playoffs. He also believes some small-market teams are perfectly content losing the first two months of the regular season, which are traditionally the slowest and least attended of the NHL season.
He also believes there will be hockey this winter.
“I do, just because I’m optimistic,” he said. “When we lost the [2004-05] season we all never thought that would happen. We didn’t think that was in the realm of possibility, but they showed it is.
“Every day that goes by I guess the window closes a little bit, but I don’t think we’re at crunch time yet. I think that’s another month away.”