NHL players and owners plead with fans as lockout begins

By Julian Linden, Reuters

Posted at Sep 17 2012 07:03 PM | Updated as of Sep 18 2012 03:03 AM

National Hockey League (NHL) owners and players spent the first day of the lockout engaged in a public relations battle after their failure to reach a new labor deal threatened to wipe out the upcoming season.

The NHL imposed a league-wide lockout at 12.01 am EDT (0401) on Sunday when the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expired at midnight.

The league issued a message to fans defending their position to change the existing deal while the players' union released a video explaining why they wanted to keep the current setup.

"This is a time of year for all attention to be focused on the ice, not on a meeting room," the NHL said.

"The league, the clubs and the players all have a stake in resolving our bargaining issues appropriately and getting the puck dropped as soon as possible."

A handful of high-profile players, including Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, pleaded their case in a slick video published on the internet.

"As players, we understand that the people that suffer the most are the fans," Crosby said.

"Like any partnership, you want both sides to benefit, and I think that's the case here. As players we want to play, but we also know what's right and what's fair."


With both sides having walked away from the negotiating table, it was unclear when talks would resume. The league has not yet cancelled any games but everything remains on hold until a new deal is signed.

The NHL's official website immediately shut down its player reference section and removed any pictures of players.

Training camps, due to start on Friday, were looming as the first casualty while time was running out for the regular season to begin as scheduled on Oct. 11.

Industrial disputes are not uncommon in North American professional sports and the NHL became the third major code to impose a lockout in the past 18 months, following the National Football League and the National Basketball Association.

This is the fourth work stoppage for the NHL in the past two decades. The most recent was eight years ago when the entire 2004-05 season was cancelled.

"It's kind of a sad thing that you look at the history of our game, the history of our league, and how so often it keeps coming back to the same thing," Chicago Blackhawaks centre Jonathan Toews said on the video.

"I think the goal here, especially from the players' standpoint, is to find something that is fair and reasonable and is something we can instill for years to come, where we're not going to have these problems down the road."

With the league currently enjoying massive interest and generating record revenues, the stakes are high for both sides although neither shows signs of buckling on the key economic issues.

The NHL's $1 billion 10-year television deal, signed in 2011, remains safe but the costs will quickly mount up and run into the millions once games are lost.

The players would not receive their regular four-weekly payments after Oct. 15 but could sign new deals to play in Europe.

Ticket and merchandise sales would freeze up but the biggest losers would be the cities where teams are based. Thousands of staff, not only franchise employees but people who work in restaurants and bars near the stadiums, would face the prospect of losing their jobs.

The main sticking point is how to divide $3.3 billion in revenue. Under the previous deal, the players received 57 percent and the league 43 but owners wanted a bigger share, arguing that while profits were rising so too were costs.

The NHL initially asked players to lower their share to 43 percent but amended that to a six-year offer that started at 49 percent and dropped to 47 percent.

The NHL Players' Association rejected the offer, saying they wanted something closer to the previous agreement. (Editing by Pritha Sarkar)