By Al Campbell
VANCOUVER, Sept. 14 (Xinhua) -- As the Saturday midnight deadline looms for the National Hockey League to lockout its players with the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement, it will mark the fourth time since 1992 that a labor dispute has delayed the start of a season.
With the entire 2004-2005 season lost to a labor dispute prior to signing the current CBA, NHL players are vowing they are prepared to make such sacrifices again if the league and the NHL Players Association can't find common ground for revenue sharing.
"I think we've made our points pretty clearly that what we (the NHLPA) feel is a fair and equitable deal and who knows what going to happen," said Vancouver Canucks goaltender Corey Schneider Friday, following an informal practice at the University of British Columbia with various NHLers and minor league players participating.
"If it's going to take a couple of days, a couple of weeks, a couple of months, either way we're prepared for what's to come."
Under the current CBA, the players collectively receive 57 percent of league revenue. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, working on behalf of the owners of the league's 30 teams, originally wanted the players' share to drop to 43 percent in a new agreement.
The owners' proposal has since been revised to a six-year offer giving the players 49 percent next season, falling to 47 percent in the final year.
In addition, there would be various concessions for the owners in hockey-related revenue in broadcasting, merchandising, concessions, luxury boxes and advertising, among others.
With league revenue up 50 percent, rising from 2.1 billion U.S. dollars to 3.3 billion dollars during the current CBA, and the players having their salaries cut 24 percent after the cancellation of the 2004-2005 season, another wage rollback of about nine percent in the first year of the proposed deal, understandably, doesn't sit well with the players.
Donald Fehr, the NHLPA executive director who is negotiating the deal with the NHL, told the media in New York this week that based on the revenue growth, the players union didn't see any need for salary reductions.
He did make a concession that the players might be prepared to share less in hockey-related revenues if there is continued growth in future.
Vancouver Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis said the NHLPA had tabled a "great proposal" to fix some of the issues going on within the league that are causing problems, in addition to giving up major concessions in the 2004-2005 lockout season. However, now they were back at the bargaining table eight years later addressing the same issues.
"We don't want to go through that (lockout) again. We submitted a proposal which, it's certainly not a revenue issue, they've had record revenues seven, eight years in a row, so that not the problem. I think it's a revenue disparity issue. So as a player we put a proposal forward where we're partnering with high-revenue teams and sharing that revenue throughout the league to get healthier."
According to Forbes.com, despite the climb in league revenues, 18 of the 30 NHL teams lost money in the 2010-2011 season. While ice hockey is strong in Canada and the northern U.S. border states, the sport has struggled in non-traditional hockey markets such as Florida, the southern American states, as well as Phoenix and Columbus.
Willie Mitchell, a defenseman with the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, who was in Vancouver skating, said he was optimistic something will get done.
"It's just typical posturing of a big corporate deal, and that's what it is," said the British Columbia native. "It's two sides negotiating together about a deal that's worth of three billion dollars in revenue, that we know of, and when you have a big deal like that it just doesn't happen overnight."
Goaltender Schneider said ultimately how the fans reacted to the lockout should be of "huge concern" to both the players and the league.
"Of course we feel terrible for them, because they want to watch hockey as badly as we want to play hockey. However, most of us have spent 20-plus years, our entire lives, working to get to this point and we feel that we've helped grow the game to record revenues and we've been a big, big part of it," he said.
"We understand the owners' point that there needs to be some concessions for them, and we've done so. We've already come down and we're willing to give back. I just think the question becomes how much?
"When is it enough? When is it enough money for the owners to say, 'OK, that's good.' If they want to explain that to the fans they're more than welcome to. But for us, we're not going to give back what we've worked really hard for that past seven years since the last lockout just so we can go back and start over again."