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NHL players head to Europe as lengthy lockout looms

NHL: Empty arenas are on the horizon for the National Hockey League (NHL), as a deadlock in negotiations between league officials and the player’s union resulted in a lockout, putting the upcoming season in jeopardy and forcing players to look for opportunities abroad.

By Jean-Pierre Mestanza

Friday 21 September 2012, 09:18AM

ALL IN BRAWL: Fans may be without another NHL season if players and officials can't resolve their issues peacefully.

ALL IN BRAWL: Fans may be without another NHL season if players and officials can't resolve their issues peacefully.

Since 1992, the NHL has had four work stoppages, including a suspended season in 2004-2005. The sticking point is how to divide the league’s annual revenue, an average of just over US$3 billion (B92 billion).

Both sides say they are committed to working out a deal, but so far have no plans to meet face-to-face at the bargaining table.

“You see [players] that are interested, that’s not just because they care about their finances and what they’re going to get paid,” said Pittsburgh Penguins Canadian superstar Sidney Crosby to a room full of reporters last week.

“They want to play. They want to know what they’re standing for, and I think they believe in it.”

Facing the threat of a second lost season in eight years, NHL players are starting to jump ship to European leagues, including Ottawa’s Sergei Gonchar and last year’s Most Valuable Player Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Both have signed with Metallurg of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

Other players have also signed contracts with teams in Sweden, Finland, and Germany as more are expected to follow suit the longer the lockout lasts.

In 2005, after the season was suspended, the player’s union reluctantly agreed on a salary cap system as well as an immediate 24 per cent rollback on current salaries in exchange for a 57 per cent share of revenue. This time around, NHL owners are offering to cut that revenue to 47 per cent, a move several players have openly said they found insulting.

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“The fact of the matter is we believe as a league, we are paying out too much money,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman before the work-stoppage started.

“If you’re dedicated to the negotiating process, you can move this along quickly. If, for whatever reason, you’re not interested in making a deal, you drag it out.”

Bettman said that annual salaries have gone up an average of 75 per cent in seven years.

According to NHL Player’s Association president Donald Fehr, the players are willing to reduce their share of the revenue to the 53 per cent area with room to negotiate more, depending on what the union would get back.

Still, players are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best after finding themselves in a similar situation seven years ago.

“If the league [NHL] continues to insist on their [demands] then it will take a full year. That’s because we are not going to cave in,” said Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin to a US newspaper, “then I will spend the entire season in the KHL. It’s an absolute reality.”



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