The ongoing collective bargaining agreement negotiations between the National Hockey League and the NHL Players' Association are starting to stir up familiar feelings for Mathieu Schneider.
Schneider – who was active through both the 1994-95 and 2004-05 NHL lockouts as a player – says the players are frustrated by the prospect of the current work stoppage resulting in game cancellations. This time around, he is representing the players as Special Assistant to NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr.
"The fact that we're sitting here in this position once again, of course, it's frustrating for the players," Schneider told TSN on Monday.
The Players' Association has yet to table a counter-proposal to the league's latest CBA offer, which the NHL filed on Sept. 12. The league voted unanimously to lock out the players the next day while both sides continued discussions.
"In each proposal that we've brought forward, we have moved," Schneider said. "We're the only ones that have been giving in this entire negotiation. Everything that they have put forward takes more from the players; on the contracting issues, on the straight share of the revenue and that's the frustrating part for the players. Our next offer will be giving more back to the owners, they're next offer will be taking more from the players."
One of the issues in negotiations thus far has been the division of hockey-related revenues. With early proposals from the league believed to have redefined hockey-related revenue, the most recent is believed to operate on the terminology used in the existing CBA.
"We started off with them asking for $450 million per year and now they're at $330 million per year," Schneider says. "My question is: what are we supposed to do in this situation?"
While the players have stated they understand that reaching a deal may require concessions in terms of clubs' salary commitments, the PA has been vocal about its refusal to accept an immediate rollback similar to the one conceded at the start of the previous CBA in 2005.
"We're giving the owners an opportunity to grow themselves out of their problems," Schneider said in reference to the PA's proposals to date. "We want them to recognize what we've put on the table. Over the next five years, our last offer could give them over $1 billion in concessions if they grow the game. For them to dismiss the seven per cent growth rate, I think, is a little ridiculous."
Schneider did directly address the PA's recent campaign dubbing the current situation an "NHL Owners Lockout".
"What happened during the last lockout was the players took a lot of the heat," Schneider said of the labour stoppage that resulted in the cancellation of the 2004-05 season. Those negotiations largely centred around the decision to implement a salary cap.
"This is a decision by the owners to lock out the players," he said. "The players wanted to keep playing. There was never mention of the players going on strike and we wanted the fans to know that, essentially, we were all fans growing up playing this game, probably the biggest fans."
Schneider believes the concessions made to reach the previous deal were in part what has led to the existing problems in negotiations.
"We've had record revenues, record growth of the game, record attendance," Schneider said, "and still we're sitting here today in a system that the owners designed."
"We don't want to be sitting here going through this again in four years, which is where we think we'll be operating under the current system."