If the NHL season had started on time last Thursday, Ottawa Senators defenceman Chris Phillips would have received the first installment of his $3.083 million salary on Monday.
Instead, Phillips was back on the ice for the lockout skate with a dozen or so others at the Bell Sensplex, insisting that players aren’t about to cave in on their principles in negotiations with NHL owners, even though they’re now directly feeling the financial pinch.
Phillips, 34, is part of the league’s old guard and may not receive another NHL contract once his current deal expires following the 2013-14 season. Yet as a Senators player representative, it’s about battling for what’s fair.
“That’s what this is all about,” he says. “It would be selfish of us just to take a deal to get a paycheque and hurt the guys that are going to be coming up and playing the game in future years.”
Negotiations are scheduled to resume in Toronto Tuesday, but Phillips isn’t optimistic that there will be a thaw in the tense discussions. While there are rumblings about the possibility of a new offer being presented by the owners, Phillips says it’s never clear what will be on the table when the sides meet.
“Sometimes they’re economic, sometimes they’re not,” he says. “I think there’s a lot of hype every time they’re getting together, which I don’t think is necessary, so I don’t read into it too much when I hear (about new meetings). Everybody has their gut feelings on what might or might not happen, but until both sides are ready to get a deal done, it’s not going to happen…unless, I guess, one of us did something drastic from where we stand right now. I don’t see that happening.”
Like most players, Phillips says the owners set the stage for the nastiness with their opening move, “a ridiculous offer from where we were,” reducing the percentage of overall league revenues paid out to players to 43 per cent from 57 per cent under the now expired old collective bargaining agreement. He also believes that many franchises are struggling due to the lockout and that “it’s the voice of Gary Bettman and a few that are ruling” the owners’ camp. Team representatives who speak out about the lockout are subject to fines.
Players, on the other hand, have been free to speak during the negotiations and according to Phillips, it’s not about “digging in our heels and trying to win” or a quest for “revenge” after the owners received their wish for a salary cap following the 2004-05 lockout. He acknowledges that players ended up in a better position than most would have expected over the duration of the past collective bargaining agreement – the potential for players to become free agents at a younger age resulting in owners locking up their star players with lucrative contracts in their early to mid 20′s – with the average salary climbing to $2.4 million from $1.4 million. The NHL gained in the boom, as well, with annual revenues climbing to $3.3 billion from $2.1 billion.
Phillips says it’s important to remember that the last CBA was inspired by the owners. “To come back and try and take away everything or punish us because of that just doesn’t make sense and isn’t what happens in the real world,” he says. “We’re trying to come up with a deal that’s fair and we think we’ve done a good job with that. To say we’re not going to bend at all would probably be untrue, but for them just to start at a ridiculous number and move off of that…well, there’s not going to be deal done until they’re ready to get down and get serious.”