NHL will skip replacements
Bettman says they won't be used next year
Thursday, April 21, 2005
By Dave Molinari, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
NEW YORK -- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman never mentioned "replacement players" when speaking to reporters after the Board of Governors meeting yesterday.
That didn't prevent him from making it clear that the league has no intention of using them to start the 2005-06 season.
"If we do not have a collective bargaining agreement [with the NHL Players' Association], we will not open the season on time," Bettman said.
That represents a major change for the league. After a Board meeting March 1, officials of the league and various teams suggested next season would begin on schedule, regardless of whether a new CBA was in place.
Bettman, though, insisted replacement players became a topic of conversation only because "we were going to explore all of our options. Having discussions, exploring options, doesn't mean you're doing it or not doing it."
He added that "you can only look at all of your options for so long, and then you have to pick one."
Replacement players weren't an attractive option for several clubs, most notably Philadelphia and Toronto, and for many fans. NHL executive vice president Bill Daly said the league has done "extensive polling" in all 30 league markets to gauge reaction to replacement players, and that "the views vary" from city to city.
Team president Ken Sawyer declined to articulate the Penguins' stance on replacement players and seconded the position staked out by Bettman.
"We still want to open on time with a new CBA," he said. "That's our goal, and we're going to stick to it. If we don't have a new CBA, we won't open on time.
"We expect to be back playing in the fall, with a new CBA. ... We've missed a year. I think everybody, including the players, realizes we need to be back playing."
Bettman, it should be noted, did not rule out using replacement players at some point beyond the scheduled start of next season, if a new CBA hasn't been worked out by then.
"If that is not achievable, we'll have to look at the alternatives again," he said.
The Board met for about four hours, with most of the session devoted to CBA-related matters.
There was no discussion of how the order of selection for the next entry draft will be determined -- a contentious issue when general managers met two weeks ago -- and revenue sharing was touched on only briefly.
That is believed to be a critical issue for the Penguins -- owner Mario Lemieux has repeatedly spoken of its significance -- but Sawyer said "let's deal with that later" when asked about it after the Board meeting.
Bettman, meanwhile, said revenue sharing is "not a system, in and of itself," but a tool that can help some clubs be competitive.
"We want a system that enables the league, as a whole, to be healthy," he said. "We will do what is necessary so those teams [requiring assistance] can be stable and competitive, get them into the system."
Bettman said the order of selection at the draft is "not a front-burner issue" and that "what we're involved in right now is much more important" than a particular draft.
That was a reference to the CBA negotiations, which Daly said will be held at a more vigorous pace in coming days. The league plans to meet with NHLPA officials at least twice a week in the near future; Bettman said he planned to contact NHLPA head Bob Goodenow yesterday to schedule the first of those sessions.
The objective when the sides get together will be constructing a financial framework for the league, and it still looks as if the latest proposal from the NHLPA could form the basis for a deal.
That plan calls for a floating payroll range which, based on last season's revenues of $2.1 billion, would go from about $30 million to $50 million.
Daly said that suggestion was "modified" during a negotiating session Tuesday, but offered no details.
It seemed to make a favorable impression on at least some Board members, though. Detroit's Jim Lites said, "We're inching closer to a deal." And Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford said the NHLPA proposal could become the basis of an agreement "if you work the numbers."
Bettman would not divulge the deadline by which a deal must be finalized if the 2005-06 season is to begin on time but said there is no point in delaying it.
"The result is inevitable," he said. "This is going to get fixed, so let's get it done."
If you can't play with the big dogs,stay the hell on the porch