Former Bruins forward and future Hall of Famer Mark Recchi went through two NHL lockouts as a player. He played for the Philadelphia Flyers and the Montreal Canadiens in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season and stayed home and trained during the lockout that forced the cancellation of the 2004-05 season.
Recchi was a major voice for the NHL Players Association during both work stoppages and has kept involved with the NHLPA behind the scenes. So it’s no surprise Recchi is paying close attention to the current negotiations between the league and union on a new collective bargaining agreement.
NHL owners made their initial proposal last week, one in which the players' hockey-related revenue share would be reduced from 57 percent to 46 percent. Despite an ominous picture being cast by the media in response to that offer, Recchi is hopeful that an agreement will be reached by the Sept. 15 deadline and the 2012-13 season will begin on time.
“Both sides realize we can’t afford another lockout,” Recchi told ESPNBoston.com. “The game has grown so much in the United States over the past six years since the last lockout. The Kings winning it all this year, Boston the year before and Chicago before that, so you won back those Original Six cities and it’s going so well now. So you have to believe, and based on talks I have had on both sides, everyone realizes how bad another lockout will be. That’s why I think we’ll be OK and they will find a solution and avoid that.”
But Recchi said, when it comes down to it, it is up to the owners to acknowledge what they must do to improve the situation. But, he said, the sides also must work out a more specific definition for "hockey-related revenue" since that determine how any new revenue sharing works.
“The owners don’t want another lockout either, but when it comes down to it, this whole process will be about them learning to save themselves from themselves,” Recchi said. “You've got guys like [Minnesota Wild owner] Craig Leopold crying broke a few months ago and then signing two 13-year contracts worth $98 million each.
"They can’t and have never been able to help themselves. If they’re going to do that, they need to truly be willing to be partners and really want to fix whatever is hurting them. The players are happy with the way things are right now, but obviously they don’t want to lose a season so they’re willing to work with the owners. But it’s on the owners to reciprocate.”
While many agents, reporters and fans saw last week's offer as a shot across the bow to the NHLPA, Recchi doesn’t see it that way. Yes, the owners asked the players to take a 22 percent cut in hockey-related revenues and included proposals such as requiring 10 seasons of service time before unrestricted free agency, limiting contracts to five years, eliminating salary arbitration and making entry-level contracts five years rather than three. But as far as Recchi is concerned, the main sticking point will be the hockey-related revenue sharing, and he believes the owners know the players aren’t going to go below a 50/50 split.
“All that other stuff is important, of course, but that’s stuff they can iron out later, and remember this is just a first offer,” Recchi said. “This is how negotiations work. You shoot for the moon and then come down. The owners did that and they know they’ll have to come down. They also know the players won’t go below 50/50. People are getting worried and up in arms over this, but this isn’t any surprise. The PA had to know that was coming and now they will go from there.”
Recchi believes the leadership and calming influence of NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr is helping the players understand the negotiating process.
“It’s all about leadership and experience and they have that now in Fehr,” Recchi said. “He’s been through plenty of labor negotiations and he understands the process. I’m sure he’s conveying this to the players and keeping them calm and keeping things in perspective. They know what they’re willing to give and what they want and they’ve put their faith in him to get it done.”
Recchi said that wasn’t the case leading into recent CBA negotiations and the past two lockouts as players -- due to what Recchi believed was a lack of being informed and caring -- became divided, leaving a fractured NHLPA to fall victim to a unified and determined group of owners.
“The players all learned a hard lesson, especially the last time around, and I think they know they can’t chance this again so they’re paying attention and the ones involved in talks are really staying informed,” Recchi said. “That’s going to help, especially now when everyone else is getting scared about a lockout. I really think because of this we’ll all be OK and there will be a season.”
The three-time Stanley Cup champion joked that the only way to really avoid the doom-and-gloom talk and reach an agreement before the Sept. 15 deadline may be for the owners and players to enjoy a vacation together.
“I’ve been saying all along, they should just go away to some tropical island without telling anyone and bunker down in paradise,” Recchi quipped. “They can be in a happy setting and the good vibes and seclusion would get it done. But honestly I’m not too worried.”