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12th hour effort to save the season
NHL and NHLPA take a final stab
2/15/05 - by Mike Lee

The lines have been drawn in the sand and both the NHL and NHLPA insist that this their final offer. Well, at least until Wednesday, when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's fourth "final deadline" of the week expires at 1 p.m. EST. That's when Bettman's news conference / line in the sand / season ending deadline bell will toll. In a nutty day of back and forth jostling, both Bettman and NHLPA head Bob Goodenow narrowed the gap with concessions that brought both sides closer, but still keep the two sides $4.3 million dollars per team apart.

The NHL served up a $42.2 million salary cap on Monday night, but that was countered with a $49 million rebuttal by the players association on Tuesday morning. Simple math says that $45.75 would meet halfway in the middle, but that would make too much sense. Both sides that are waging this battle intend on emerging as the victor, so a middle of the road concession really makes no sense at this point. Nothing about this whole debate really does, so why start now.

Bettman responded to Goodenow's proposal via a written letter that began, "Dear Bob". Thank goodness Goodenow's parents did name him John. Of course, Bettman's message on Tuesday could be a Dear John letter to the players and fans.

"We attempted to reach out to you with yesterday's offer of a team maximum cap of $42.2MM ($40MM in salary and $2.2MM in benefits) which was not linked to League-wide revenues. As Bill (Daly) told Ted (Saskin), "de-linking" a maximum team salary cap from League revenues and total League-wide player compensation has always been problematic for us, especially since we cannot now quantify the damage to the League from the lockout.

This presents the risk we will pay out more than we can afford. As you know, if all 30 teams were to spend to the maximum we proposed, and if the damage to our business is as we discussed at our meetings in New York, then the League would continue to lose money," Bettman said in his one page letter.

Bettman went on to concede an additional $2.5 million dollars, upping the league's cap proposal to $44.7 million. In the end however, Bettman's tone was not as conciliatory.

"This offer is not an invitation to begin negotiations - it's too late for that. This is our last effort to make a deal that's fair to the players and one that the Clubs (hopefully) can afford," Bettman said in his wrap up. "We have no more flexibility and there is no time for further negotiation."

Goodenow responded with a short response that called out the union's displeasure with Bettman's counter proposal.

"Based on your own calculations from Exhibit 12, over 21 Clubs are spending significantly less than your team payroll limit number of $42.5 million. I am at a loss to understand how you suggest your offer earlier today represents a $75 million dollar increase when it only impacts the spending of nine teams!", Goodenow retorted. "You will receive nothing further from us."

The league's final proposal also includes a 50% luxury tax on payrolls between $34 and $42.5 million.

The players union also restructured the exception provision so that teams can only go over the cap twice during the six-year term of the collective bargaining agreement, which would not exceed 10% over the limit of $49 million. Should teams exceed that amount they would incur a 150% tax. Additionally, a luxury tax would be imposed on salaries after the $30 million mark. 25 % on $40 million-$43 million, 50% on $43 million-$46 million and 75% from $46 million-$49 million. The deal also included a minimum payroll of $25 million.

Players and team representatives all publicly backed their own respective sides.

Should the two side resolve their differences before the Wednesday deadline, a 28-game season plus a 16-game playoff system would be set in motion.

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