It is not clear whether the Nashville Predators simply went about their business Thursday or whether they rushed to conclude several business matters while they still could.
Regardless, on the same day league owners announced they were prepared to shut down all league operations as of Saturday night, the local franchise signed two players and released the list of 2012-13 games scheduled for broadcast on local television.
Defenseman Jonathon Blum, a 2007 first-round draft pick, signed a one-year deal for an NHL salary of $650,000 and an AHL salary of $105,000, but with a guarantee of $300,000. Right wing Colton Sissons became the first member of the 2012 draft class to sign when he put his name on a three-year entry-level contract.
The decision to announce that Fox Sports Tennessee planned to carry a minimum of 68 games, including 39 of the 41 on the road, was particularly interesting given the imminent threat to the start of the season.
The NHL’s Board of Governors and nearly 300 members of the NHL Players Association met separately in New York on Thursday but did not get together for negotiations toward a new collective bargaining agreement.
Owners voted unanimously Thursday afternoon to impose a lockout if a new CBA is not in place at that time. The full force of Nashville management attended the meeting — chairman Tom Cigarran, general manager David Poile, chief executive officer Jeff Cogen and chief operating officer Sean Henry all were there.
Players gathered for the second day to be briefed by NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr. They did not conduct any formal votes but vowed to remain resolute in pursuit of what Fehr called “fair and equitable” resolution to negotiations.
The current CBA is set to expire at 10:59 p.m. (CDT) Saturday. Training camps are scheduled to open Sept. 21 and the start of the regular season is set for Oct. 11.
“The only thing that needs to be said at this point is that if it comes to [a lockout] it’s a choice which was made,” Fehr said. “It’s not a requirement. It’s not something anybody has to do. If that’s the way it’s going to be then unfortunately that’s the way it’s going to be.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said league owners were unanimous in their stance that the new league season would not commence without a new CBA.
If they lock out the players, as seems is likely, it will be the second time in less than a decade. The last time they did so the entire 2004-05 season was canceled, a first for major professional sports in North America.
“The conclusion remains, as it has been our position from the outset is we need a new collective bargaining agreement to move forward with the season,” Bettman said.
As a result of the last work stoppage, owners got the salary cap they wanted while players got increased opportunities in free agency.
Their goal for the new CBA is to reduce from 57 percent the share of the hockey-related revenue (HRR) that currently goes to player salaries. They also have proposed limits on the length of contracts and restructured free agency.
Rather than reduce the money available for salaries, players have offered a temporary adjustment to their share of HRR in order to create an industry growth fund, which would supplement the revenue-sharing plan the league’s richest franchises use to help stablize those in smaller, non-traditional markets such as Middle Tennessee.
“Less money. Fewer rights. I think everybody understands why the owners would like that,” Fehr said. “Every employer would like that. I have a difficult time understanding why anyone would expect the players to make an agreement on that basis.
“We haven’t ignored the owners. Far from it. … We think everybody needs to do their part here.”
He characterized the players’ proposals as “shared sacrifice.”
The sides last met Wednesday, at which time the sides traded proposals. Neither accepted the other’s as a foundation from which talks ought to proceed.
“Even a brief lockout will cost more in terms of lost salary and wages that what we’re proposing to do to make a deal that we think we need to make,” Bettman contended. “… If you’re dedicated to the negotiating process, you can move this along quickly. If, for whatever reason you’re not interested in making a deal, you drag it out.”
Fehr countered that the owners’ approach has not been to negotiate at all.
“We would like an agreement that stabilizes this industry, provides incentives for the markets which need to grow to grow, and gets us out of the cycle that we’ve been in in this sport,” he said. “The perception that we have sometimes is that all they’re interested in is in talking about salary reductions.”