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Warning Shot

The owners made an aggressive opening play in the NHL's labor negotiations

In context, the NHL owners' opening salvo in the coming labor war was risible. Nine days after the Wild signed free-agent left wing Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98 million front-loaded contracts, the owners' negotiating committee reportedly proposed that the players' share of hockey-related revenue fall from 57% to 46% and that their contracts be limited to no more than five years.

If the proposed claw-backs seem Draconian—they also include an extended entry-level phase, no salary arbitration and no free agency until a player has 10 years in the league—they are in keeping with the spirit of the last CBA negotiation, when the owners came armed for labor Armageddon and locked out the players for the entire 2004--05 season. The NHLPA eventually agreed to a 24% off-the-top salary haircut and a hard-cap system. But the owners' apparent rout of the players turned into a Pyrrhic victory after a spate of long-term contracts effectively skirted the salary cap, which has risen from $39 million to $70.2 million.

Players' association executive director Donald Fehr was expected to respond to the owners' offer with a counterproposal on Wednesday, presumably one that will include increased revenue sharing among the 30 teams.

The existing CBA expires on Sept. 15. The players would hate to miss the first paychecks of the new season, while the owners would be loathe to forgo the showcase Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Michigan Stadium.

Meanwhile, the two sides will haggle over their widely divergent ideas of what constitutes a fair share of a $3.3 billion business. Even if they barely speak the same language.



NEXT MOVE The NHLPA's Fehr will likely counter the owners' proposal this week with one that boosts revenue sharing among teams.