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Faceoff Circle

Talk of a lockout is hanging over the NHL because the collective bargaining agreement ends in one year

September 16, 2003|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

King President Tim Leiweke, a member of the NHL's executive committee and advocate of major labor changes, opened his club's books to The Times to support his claim that the club loses millions of dollars each season. Other clubs followed suit.

"We have to have some kind of economic sense here because it's not a foundation and it's not a trust," said Leiweke, who has said the Kings lost $10-12 million last season and will lose $5-6 million this season. "At the same time it's in everyone's best interest -- players, fans, owners -- to be in a position where everybody has a chance of making it work and competing on the ice. That's the best thing that could happen in any sport, and if you don't believe that, look at the NFL."

Goodenow said opening the books proved nothing because no club listed arena revenues "and that is the major linkage for NHL teams.... Looking at the overall business enterprise is very complicated and takes a lot of time and effort."

If owners are drowning in red ink, it wasn't clear from this summer's activity.

The Ducks raised their payroll from about $45 million to $52 million, but Phoenix and San Jose cut theirs, saying the move wasn't in anticipation of a salary cap.

"The economic model that we believe in includes the payroll area right where we are," said Coyote General Manager Mike Barnett, whose payroll will be in the low $30-million range. "We feel we can be competitive at that level and I don't see any reason to change. I've always believed in the concept of drafting properly and developing your own players and building from there."

San Jose's Doug Wilson will have a payroll in the high 30s, down from the mid-40s last season, partly because the Sharks are no longer paying players they'd traded.

"How I spend my money and build is going to be based on drafting and developing and making good hockey decisions," Wilson said. "I don't care what the system is. I'm positioned for whatever system that comes down."

Long-term signings might have been less common, but many teams plunged in. Derian Hatcher (five years, $30 million with Detroit), Sergei Fedorov (five years, potentially worth $40 million with the Ducks), Vaclav Prospal (five years, $16.5 million from the Ducks) and Jere Lehtinen (four years at an average of $3.6 million with Dallas) got healthy deals. Also, Dallas gave Mike Modano an extension through 2004-05 at $9.5 million, a big chunk of payroll if a salary cap comes into play.

"There hasn't been any money thrown around like in the past. [Owners] are controlling their business better," said Patrick Brisson, an agent with IMG who represents Fedorov. Brisson also got a four-year, $10-million deal for center Bryan Smolinski before Smolinski became a free agent, and a four-year, $13-million deal for defenseman Greg de Vries with the Rangers.

"The way I read this, and I'm always a little optimistic, that compared with the current CBA obviously things will change," Brisson said. "The way teams are managing the current CBA, they're finally doing it in a way that's good for them."

But is it too late? The NHL long ago told each club to pay $10 million into a fund that could be tapped for operation during a stoppage. Agents regularly caution clients to spend carefully in case paychecks stop coming a year from now.

"It's reality," Brisson said. "It's not adversarial, just preparation. It could be a month, it could be a year. We've got to be careful to educate them about what could happen. That's our duty."

Daly and Goodenow say they talk often but have reached no agreements.

"I certainly believe there's time to get it done," Goodenow said. "We're committed to trying to do something in these negotiations. We're committed to not having a disruption, and if it comes, it will come from the other side in the form of a lockout."

Said Daly: "I really think the issue is simple. You get in a room and talk about what the business generates and what a fair and equitable division of revenues is. You get that, and all the big issues -- what free agency looks like and everything else -- can fall into place very quickly."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Players' Share

*--* Year-by-year NHL salaries: 1990-91 $276,000 1991-92 $368,000 1992-93 $465,000 1993-94 $558,000 1994-95 $733,000 1995-96 $892,000 1996-97 $981,000 1997-98 $1,167,713 1998-99 $1,288,974 1999-2000 $1,356,380 2000-01 $1,434,885 2001-02 $1,642,590 2002-03 $1,790,209

*--*

Source: NHL

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