While Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson says a long NHL lockout could mean the end of his career, defenceman Chris Phillips isn’t buying what NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is selling.
“I know it’s possible I have played my last game in the NHL,” Alfredsson told reporters in New York, where he served as a right hand man for players’ association director Donald Fehr.
Alfredsson, one of almost 300 NHL players who travelled to New York in a show of union solidarity, was standing on the right, directly behind Fehr, as he talked about the necessity for NHL owners to give more in order to avoid a lengthy NHL lockout.
A lockout now appears imminent, with the NHL poised to lock out its players at midnight Saturday, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires.
While Bettman says the NHL’s latest proposal will be taken off the table unless the players accept it before that deadline, Phillips believes it’s a bluff.
“He’s trying to play hardball,” Phillips, the Senators player representative, said before taking part in an informal skate Thursday morning at the Bell Sensplex.
“I just find that sort of hard to believe. It sounds like he doesn’t want to get a deal done. What happens if we come close to where they’re at right now? Does that mean you’re going to risk losing the season because you’re not willing to give at all? You get frustrated. He’s trying to play the mean tough guy and I guess you have to call him on it.”
The way Phillips sees it, the NHL is refusing to make any significant movement.
“I don’t understand why he would say that,” he said. “We’re trying to negotiate.”
The war of words continued in New York Thursday afternoon, with Bettman and Fehr both expressing their views.
It’s wrong to say the sides aren’t on the same page; they’re not even reading from the same book, with completely different philosophies on how to bridge the considerable gap.
The players’ association argues there are enough revenues for everyone to be happy, but believes the resolution is for significant revenue sharing, allowing the NHL’s richest teams to help prop up the weak sisters.
The NHL counters that the solution lies in players taking a smaller percentage of overall revenues – escalating downwards from 49 per cent from the current 57 per cent – as well as a rollback in current salaries.
Fehr talked about the necessity for “shared sacrifice” between players and owners, scoffing at the NHL’s latest proposal which he says amounts to a reduction of 17.5 per cent in the players share of revenues.
“The players want to find a way to make an agreement, they want to negotiate until we do,” Fehr said.
Bettman, however, contends that the players’ counter-offers have been “insignificant”, suggesting that the players’ proposals are based on assumptions that the league will continue to post lofty revenue increases every year. Bettman suggests the NHL’s changes from early proposals have been “fairly dramatic”.
While there are rumblings that not all owners are in full agreement with the NHL’s formal stance – only Bettman and league VP Bill Daly are free to speak on CBA matters – the commissioner said there was a “complete show of support” from the league’s board of governors to go ahead with a lockout following a meeting earlier Thursday.
Phillips is annoyed at Bettman’s characterization of the players’ offer.
“They feel that nothing has really changed on our side,” he said. “I don’t know where that’s coming from. I find that hard to believe. But that’s how he chooses to look at it.”
Add it all up and could be awhile, Senators fans, before NHL hockey returns, but the players insist they’re in for the long haul.
“The unity of the union is strong because we are nowhere near a deal,” Senators centre Jason Spezza told reporters in New York.