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July 22, 2005 - Players ratify new contract

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Players ratify new contract




morane@phillynews.com

THEIR OPINIONS on the agreement were varied.

Some thought they had taken a beating, some thought it was fair for both the players and the owners, and some thought it was just too early to judge.

But if there was one overriding opinion expressed by the NHL players who voted yesterday to accept the new collective bargaining agreement negotiated by their union leadership, it’s that it is time to move on.

“I think as a group we collectively decided that it wasn’t what we were shooting for in the beginning, but it was the best deal we were going to get,” new Flyers forward Mike Knuble said.

“We all agreed that it was something that could grow our sport in the future. There are some initial things that are hard to swallow like the [24 percent salary] rollback. It’s a mental readjustment for some players. They kind of got use to making certain salaries, but it got scaled back.

“But as group we decided that if we sat out any longer, it wouldn’t do any good and we just want to get back at it and move on.”

And with that sentiment, a reported 464 of 532 (87.2 percent) of the NHL Players Association members accepted the deal that was reached in principle last week between players and owners.

Some 225 players voted at the union’s headquarters in Toronto, while the rest voted electronically.

The action shifts today to New York, where the NHL Board of Governors will hold its ratification vote. Should the owners accept the deal, as expected, the league will stage a news conference to unveil rules changes and results of the draft lottery.

The new agreement is for 6 years. Under the new deal, players are guaranteed to receive 54 percent of leaguewide revenues and teams will operate with a $39 million salary cap.

While the emphasis will be the end of the lockout, new rules, and the league’s marketing strategy, in at least one city, the big news will be Sidney Crosby, who unquestionably will be the No. 1 pick in the draft.

With yesterday’s vote, the league got halfway closer to getting back to business after the bitter, 301-day owners lockout.

“I’m pleased to announce that NHLPA members voted today and ratified the new collective bargaining agreement. If the [NHL] board of governors do the same on Friday, the hockey world will soon be able to celebrate the return of NHL hockey,” NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow announced a news conference in Toronto.

Joining Goodenow was commissioner Gary Bettman.

“I have great confidence in our game, I have great confidence in the people associated with our game, and, most importantly, I have great faith and confidence in our fans,” Bettman said.

“My perspective on this is, I think this will turn out to be a wonderful agreement for the players, a wonderful agreement for the game and a wonderful agreement for our fans,” he said.

“And it’s the type of agreement that we think a professional sports league like ours can thrive under for everyone’s benefit, because we are true economic partners, true partners in the game, sharing fairly. And that’s always been our goal and objective.”

Goodenow, who had opposed the salary cap and so-called linkage to league revenues, still seemed to see the glass as half-full when talking about the agreement.

“It’s revenue-driven, so everybody here is just talking about how we can increase revenues and grow the game,” he said.

He said the final document was better than earlier league proposals.

“In my opinion, clearly the deal today, from our perspective, is better and actually more fair to both sides than was being discussed in February,” he said. “There wasn’t really a deal in February.”

Asked whether he would take a 24 percent cut in reported $2.5 million a year salary, as voted by players, Goodenow smiled and said he was up to the union’s executive.

“We haven’t really frankly talked about that,” he said.

The vote concluded 2 days of meetings in Toronto, which were at times tense, as players demanded answers from the union leadership. In the end, however, the players all thought that the questions had been answered and that they had a better understanding of the new deal.

“There were some pointed questions regarding hockey-related revenues and the escrow tax, among some other hot-topic issues,” Flyers captain Keith Primeau said.

“But everybody left with the feeling that those questions had been answered. I’m comfortable with the deal, and a large majority of the players believed that it’s the best deal we could have gotten, including last fall.

“And, who is to say what the deal would have looked like next fall or next winter, based on those conditions. We got the best deal we were going to get.”

Primeau said one question was about how the league’s total revenue will be calculated. He said the players benefit.

“We now know more about the league’s hockey-related revenues, suite-leasing revenues, parking, concessions. My understanding is, that was what took most of the last month,” he said. “There were some in ownership that didn’t want to relinquish what their total revenues were, and if we are going to get a percentage of revenue, then we need to know.

“In doing that, they found a large portion of revenue that was not included in any other reports, revenues weren’t included previously, and that now goes to the total reported hockey-related revenue, of which the players receive 54 percent,” he said.

“Everybody is excited,” said Flyers goalie Robert Esche, the team’s player representative. “I don’t think it was much of a contest, as far as the voting went. I think everybody knew what was going to happen. But players are excited to iron things out, get moving back into their cities, getting kids into school — that sort of thing.

“I think the biggest thing about the deal is, one, it’s really great for the game. It will protect the game, as far as having 30 solid teams that have a chance to win each year, and it really holds the players accountable.

“All that talk earlier in the week about how the players got screwed, and how the owners are the ones that made out, I don’t think that at all. I think it’s a much better deal than the consensus was earlier.

“It’s a great deal all-around. I don’t know how anyone can judge it right now,” he said. “It’s a lot more complex than the collective bargaining deal of years past, and it will take some 2 years to really see whether it was a good deal not.”

While there was plenty of talk about the deal being better than anticipated, some players remain unhappy.

“I still think it’s terrible,” the Flyers’ Jeremy Roenick said. “I think it’s very, very difficult for the players. But it is what it is, and we have to get playing. We have to start mending this league.

“It’s not beneficial for the players, that’s for sure. I’m sure there is a lot of anger going on. We’ve lost a whole year and still came to this deal, but we are at the point where we have to suck it up and go on and make it better.”

Said Columbus player rep Todd Marchant, whose salary will be $2.47 million next season instead of $3.25 million said: “I don’t like the rollback, no question. No one’s happy about that, but it’s something we had to do.”