NEW YORK - With a seemingly inevitable lockout charging straight ahead, a trio of Leafs who endured the last NHL work stoppage couldn't help leaving midtown Manhattan without some frustration.
"From the league's stance, it seems like they have it in their minds, they're set to lock us out and take it from there before they start negotiating," Mike Komisarek told TSN.ca as he and a pair of teammates, John-Michael Liles and Matthew Lombardi, exited the most recent set of NHLPA membership meetings.
Negotiations between the league and the players' association remain at a relative standstill with the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire on September 15, paving the way for the fourth NHL work stoppage.
Komisarek, Liles and Lombardi were among the 283 players on hand for a pair of players' association meetings, led by executive director Donald Fehr. Beginning with a detailed explanation of their most recent proposal and a lengthy question and answer period, the players met for upwards of five hours on Wednesday evening, reconvening again on Thursday morning to iron out the plan moving forward.
Frustrated with the league and its insistence on drastically cutting their percentage of hockey-related revenue, players left New York with little optimism in hand, hoping with only a whimper for a sudden change in the current tide. League revenue has grown dramatically since the last agreement was reached in 2005 with average salaries rising in tow, but despite the dramatic uptick in growth, Gary Bettman and the owners pine for a greater share of the pie; up from the current 43 per cent.
In their latest proposal, the players' association looked to secure the $1.8 billion or so garnered last season with a series of increases over the length of the five-year deal. The offer also addressed revenue sharing with an intent toward stabilizing the smaller market teams across the league.
"Right now they keep saying 'We have to keep taking from the players, we need to take from the players, we need to take from the players'," Liles explained. "Well, the proposal we put forward, we feel, is the best way to make the league as solid as possible top to bottom, not just 'Hey let's put some more money in the owners pockets for now' and then in five years they're going to come back for more."
"I think the PA is trying to implement a system where we're not doing this again in five years," Komisarek said. "Coming out of the last lockout with the rollbacks and the salary cap and everything that the current system has in place now, it seemed like the owners and Bettman got the deal that they wanted and here we are seven years later after an average of 7 per cent growth every year over the term of the last deal and here we are and they're saying it doesn't work again."
Meeting for the first time since late August on Wednesday, the league countered the players' association proposal with an offer of their own, simplifying matters by cutting player revenue to 49 per cent in year one, down to 48 per cent in year two, followed by 47 per cent in the final four years. "I think that they're trying to pull a bit of a PR fast one with some of the proposals that they've made," Liles noted. "When you get down to brass tacks, it's pretty misleading some of the numbers that they throw out…it's not essentially the proposal that they're actually coming forth in the media and saying."
Overwhelmingly in support of Fehr and his detailed leadership, the players claim to be better informed at this point from seven years prior, preaching unity at every turn.
"It's a lot different this time around," Lombardi concluded. "I feel like the guys are on the same page. Everyone believes in the cause and we truly believe in this process in terms of standing strong and fighting for what we believe in."