Counter may come Thursday

NEW YORK -- Despite claims by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman that the league's second proposal had a "meaningful" and "significant" move from its initial offer in the sides' labor discussions, the proposed financial concessions being asked of the players leaves the sides with a sizable gap to bridge.

Although the league's second proposal, submitted Tuesday during the first day of labor talks between the NHL and NHLPA this week, did not include salary rollbacks, the players would see a hike in escrow instead.

Escrow, a practice under which players are exacted a salary toll that is then returned according to the league's yearly revenue, is already exercised under the current collective bargaining agreement -- although it is expected to rise significantly from current years.

The NHLPA projects the percentage will rise to 15 to 20 percent. Last season players paid 8.5 percent in escrow, the vast majority of which they are expected to get back. According to NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, the scenario does not appeal to the players' union.

"From a player's standpoint, you should understand, it doesn't make much of a difference," Fehr said. "If a player doesn't get the dollar amount of his contract because there is a rollback in a contract, which is a name for crossing out one number and writing in another number, or whether he doesn't get an amount because there's escrow, he still doesn't get it. It amounts to the same thing."

As part of the new proposal, the players would see a decrease in hockey-related revenue (as it is currently defined) from 57 percent to 46 percent, according to the NHLPA's most recent analysis. The initial offer proposed a cut from 57 percent to 43 percent.

Bettman defended the league's proposal and scoffed at the players' sense of "entitlement" at the 57 percent share, a figure which was collectively bargained under the current agreement.

"Somehow there's an entitlement to be at 57 percent," Bettman said. "There is no such entitlement. And again, looking at at least two other sports -- the other two that have cap systems (the NFL and the NBA) -- the players recognized in this economic environment the appropriateness of reducing their share."

"Reducing the share is not extraordinary," Bettman continued, referring to the NFL and NBA, both of which endured recent labor standoffs. "It's become more a matter-of-fact."

Fehr, who declined to say whether he found the league's latest proposal as "significant" or "meaningful" as it was heralded, said the NHLPA likely will issue a response to the league's latest proposal by Thursday or, at the latest, Friday.

Talks are scheduled to continue in Manhattan this week and next with a labor stoppage looming. The league already has stated its intent to lock out the players if a new deal is not reached by Sept. 15, when the current deal expires.

On behalf of the union, Fehr also has requested information from the league on how the NHL's current proposal would impact each individual club. Although not far apart financially on the revenue-sharing aspect of the deal -- there is a gulf of roughly $50 million -- the structure proposed by both sides remains starkly different.

The union, which has offered a reduced share of revenue in exchange for a partnership with the financially strong owners to help the franchises that are struggling, wants to know the sums the big-money teams are willing to pay that would not be financed by player salary reductions.

"What we want to do is look at the effect of the owner's proposal, combining the salary issues with the revenue-sharing issues, on the individual team owners," Fehr said. "And we don't have any information on that yet."