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NHL Season On Thin Ice With Labor Dispute


Talks aimed at ending the National Hockey League lockout resumed today in Toronto.


The lockout began in September and both sides would need to reach a deal by next Thursday if they want to preserve the full 82-game season. A new proposal from the league was made public yesterday and the players union responded today with several counter proposals.

BLOCK: Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports Puck Daddy blog joins us to talk about the issues, and whether fans should keep their hopes up for a hockey season this year. Greg, welcome.

GREG WYSHYNSKI: It's a pleasure to be here.

BLOCK: One of the big issues that the two sides are stuck on has to do with revenue sharing. And I gather that under the old agreement, the players were guaranteed 57 percent of league revenues, the owners originally demanded that that be cut to 43 percent. Now, they're up to 50/50, I guess.

WYSHYNSKI: Yeah, and the 43 percent was in an offer that the NHL gave the players back in July that I think they regret. It involved a dramatic drop in their share of the overall revenue, which, by the way, was $3.3 billion last year. If you talk to the NHL that was just a way to get the ball rolling on negotiations. If you talk to the players, they're still quite hung up on that proposal.

But the new proposal the NHL dropped this week is a stroke of PR genius. It's a 50/50 split, which is where a lot of people felt this negotiation was headed anyway, because that's where the NBA and the NFL kind of went in their labor negotiations. And it also tries to preserve the 82-game season, so the players wouldn't miss any paychecks and the fans would get to see a full 82 games of hockey.

BLOCK: The union, though, is saying that 50/50 split is coming at a time when NHL revenues are at record levels, $3.3 billion last year. So they're saying, why the pay cut to players?

WYSHYNSKI: And it's a great point because, honestly, this entire thing is cash grab. The last time they went through lockout and saw the 2004-2005 NHL season canceled, it was for these big philosophical debates: do we want a luxury tax system or do we want a salary cap system? This time it's more like, we think the players are making too much money, and we think down the line this might affect our ability to be profitable as franchises.

So the players have every right to gripe about the owners. But, at the same time, there's really not much leverage they have. I mean, the owners are going to be able to come in and strike the deal that they want. And the players just have to dig their heels in and see if they can just maintain as much of their share of the pie as they can.

BLOCK: Greg, the NHL has a 10-year, $2 billion TV deal with NBC, and the Winter Classic game that's played on New Year's Day is hugely popular. How does all of that affect these negotiations?

WYSHYNSKI: Well, whether or not there is a season, the NHL still gets paid by NBC. I think they get paid $200 million. And it's one of the reasons why I think this round is different than the last round. You know, in 2004-2005 the NHL didn't even have a television contract in the U.S. There's a lot more at stake this time for the NHL to put on a full season than last time.

BLOCK: Well, what is the timetable here? What happens if they don't reach a deal by next week? Is the season gone or could they just have a shorter season, eventually?

WYSHYNSKI: Well, it depends on if you're talking to unfettered optimists like me...

BLOCK: Which I am.

WYSHYNSKI: ...or real nasty hockey pessimists. The pessimists among us believe that if they cut into the 82-game schedule, then the next step might be half a season, then the next step might be canceling the season. I think the NHL put out a good offer and it wouldn't surprise me to see this thing go in for a few more weeks, maybe reduce the season by a few games. And then I look towards Thanksgiving because it would give you enough time to publicize and hype the Winter Classic and have that game on the schedule. So right around that time, to me, would be sort of the perfect time to bring the sport back.

BLOCK: Greg Wyshynski edits the Puck Daddy Blog for Yahoo! Sports. Greg, thanks so much.

WYSHYNSKI: Any time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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