NEWARK, N.J. – NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and players’ association chief Donald Fehr sounded cautiously optimistic Wednesday before Game One of the Stanley Cup final about reaching a new collective bargaining agreement without labor strife that could lead to another work stoppage.
The tone during their separate news conferences sounded in stark contrast to rhetoric during the 2003-04 season, when Bettman became embattled in a bitter labor war with former NHLPA chief Bob Goodenow. The NHL ended up canceling the 2004-05 season and reaching an agreement the following summer. Goodenow ended up getting fired.
"We’re in a completely different situation," Bettman said. "There’s a new executive director who has gotten himself up speed, new people, new relationships. Time will tell how this all sorts out. I’m hopefully it sorts out easily. Labor peace is preferable to the alternative."
For the past seven years, the league and its players’ association have worked under a salary cap in which the players receive 57 percent of revenue. Speculation has been rampant that the NHL will be looking for more money after the NBA and NFL effectively convinced their unions to accept a smaller take before reaching agreements.
Bettman announced Wednesday that the NHL generated about $3.3 billion this season, a record amount and roughly a 50 percent increase from 2003-04.
"If someone is suggesting it, there’s something in the water, people have the NBA and NFL on the brain or they’re just looking for news on a slow day," Bettman said. "It’s nothing more than speculation. There can’t be any substance to it because there haven’t been any substantive conversations."
Bettman for months has been ready to begin preliminary discussions with Fehr, who was hired by the NHLPA to oversee negotiations after reigning over major league baseball’s union for more than two decades.
Fehr said talks with Bettman could begin with weeks after the Stanley Cup final is completed. He held an informal news conference about 30 feet from and about 10 minutes after Bettman held his own.
"You don’t have the kind of atmosphere going in that’s necessarily presage to conflict," Fehr said. "You don’t seem to have that. I’ve been in both situations before. Whether you have it not doesn’t predict the outcome.
"Gary has been through this a number of times. I’ve been through this a number of times. Hopefully, we’re both professional enough to treat it that way."
--- Bucky Gleason