NICHOLAS J. COTSONIKA: Players' proposal won't end lockout
BY NICHOLAS J. COTSONIKA, FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
Don't get excited about the proposal the NHL Players' Association presented Thursday to the league. It might seem sexy -- especially to Red Wings fans -- but it won't get a deal done.
The owners won't accept it because it won't save them from themselves.
"The NHLPA proposal is like a shot of morphine," said Jimmy Devellano, Wings senior vice president. "It eases the pain, but it doesn't cure the disease."
A 24-percent salary rollback resets the league's economic landscape. Even NHL commissioner Gary Bettman admits that.
But then what? Won't teams bid against each other again? Won't they drive salaries back up to problematic levels again, despite a luxury tax? The owners think so.
So they still insist on cost certainty, tying the players' salaries to a percentage of league revenue -- something the union considers an unacceptable salary cap.
And so we're still at a stalemate.
Asked Friday if the players' proposal made him more optimistic the season would be saved, Devellano said: "Really, no, because I really don't think it addresses the long-term needs of the league."
Wings fans probably like this proposal.
Before accounting for games already lost, the Wings would save $13.698 million on their payroll this season, fourth-most in the league. They would save $12.061 million next season, most in the league. They would save $5.592 million in 2006-07, tied for second-most in the league.
After signing Chris Chelios and Pavel Datsyuk for this season, the Wings would probably trigger the luxury tax. But so what? Mike Ilitch is a committed owner, right? All of this means is they still would have an advantage over less-successful teams.
One. The Wings have been losing money because they've been betting on long playoff runs and falling short. They would like a guaranteed profit as much as anybody.
Two. Even if Ilitch wanted to accept the players' proposal, there are far fewer owners like him than there are owners like Detroit businessman Peter Karmanos, whose Carolina Hurricanes say they are losing less money by not playing than they did when they were.
I would love to see Bettman walk into the next scheduled meeting Tuesday and say this:
"OK. We accept your proposal. But not for six years and with a couple of caveats. If salaries inflate back to such-and-such a level by such-and-such a time, we have the option to get out of the agreement. We'll be back at the bargaining table."
I would love to see that because I would love to see hockey. But it's just a fantasy. About a third of the season has been lost.
The owners won't go through this lockout only to have another labor dispute in the wings. The reality is that Bettman will walk into the meeting Tuesday and offer something with a link between players' salaries and league revenue again.
The players' proposal probably has only strengthened the owners' resolve, because the players have kept making concessions while the owners have continued to stand firm.
Owners have said all along that they're willing to wait as long as it takes to get the right system for them, and they still don't have it. Why not stay the course? The way the players are going, they'll cave eventually.
Union senior director Ted Saskin issued a warning.
"If they just come back and say, 'Thank you for the rollback, now we just want to put it in a cap system,' I know what the response of the players is going to be, and that would be most unfortunate," he said.
But we're way past the "most unfortunate" stage, aren't we?
Contact NICHOLAS J. COTSONIKA at 313-222-8831 or [email protected]