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NHL players make labor proposal to owners

TORONTO – The National Hockey League Players’ Association has made its first proposal in the latest round of collective bargaining talks with the NHL.

The union said its proposal to the league includes a smaller percentage of revenues for players and an expanded revenue sharing program to help struggling teams.

Donald Fehr, the executive director of the NHL Players’ Association, said the proposal could “stabilize the industry.”

Fehr said players are set to surrender as much as $465 million in revenue under the proposal if the league continues to grow at an average rate. He said that number could balloon to $800 million if the league grows at the same rate it has during the last two seasons.

“We do believe that the proposal the players made today, once implemented, can produce a stable industry ... that can give us a chance to move beyond the recurring labor strife that has plagued the NHL the last two decades,” Fehr said.

Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and Ottawa’s Jason Spezza were among 23 players that participated in the meeting Tuesday in Toronto.

“I like it a lot,” Crosby said of the proposal. “I think, as Don said, it’s addressing the issues that the league has. (We’re) making sure as players that we do our part to help those (struggling) teams out, but also holding the teams accountable.

“At the end of the day, it’s going to take both (sides) to do that.”

An NHL proposal last month called for a significant decrease for players in revenue share by introducing new contract restrictions, including a five-year cap on deals. The NHLPA has proposed a three-year deal for a CBA with an option for a fourth, Fehr said.

The proposal would have the players accepting a lower percentage of the revenues during the first three years. The fourth year would see the CBA revert to its current terms.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday he has received the union’s proposal and hopes to continue talks Wednesday.

“Our hope is we can take care of business in the next month,” Bettman said. “That’s our goal.”

Bettman said the owners would carefully consider the latest proposal.

“It’s clear to me that they didn’t put it together in an hour or two, and as a result we’re going to need to take a little bit of time to evaluate it, understand it,” Bettman said. “If we’re going to respond, we want to respond appropriately.”

The current deal expires Sept. 15.

“Everything that we’ve done has been well thought out,” Spezza said. “There’s a reason behind our proposal. The biggest reason is because we want to try to find a way to play and find a way to reach a fair agreement.”

Fehr has said the players are willing to work past Sept. 15 if an agreement hasn’t been signed, as long as one is on the horizon. Bettman has already said the NHL is prepared to lock out its players if no deal is reached by then. Negotiations have been under way for seven weeks.

The regular season is slated to begin on Oct. 11.

Fehr said the proposal “should lead to a new CBA.”

“Players did not believe the owner’s initial proposal was appropriate,” he said.

Both sides acknowledged negotiations are firm and constructive.

“In essence, when you boil it all down, what we’re suggesting is that the players partner with the financially stronger owners to stabilize the industry,” Fehr said, “and assist the less financially strong ownership groups.”

The NHL has had two seasons disrupted by labor disputes during the last two decades. In addition to the cancellation of the 2004-05 season, almost half the 1994-95 season was wiped out by a labor dispute.

Training camps are scheduled to start on Sept. 16, one day after the current CBA ends.

“The players want a new CBA,” Fehr said. “And they want it soon.”

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