Bettman still opposes NHL luxury tax
EDMONTON (CP) - The Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames have no
future if the league doesn't get a better deal with the players, NHL
commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday.
He told reporters in Edmonton that a deal that gives parity to the
league's 30 teams is essential for small-market clubs that can't
afford to compete for players with the wealthier big market teams.
"Most franchises are doing better than they were, but franchises like
this franchise and Calgary don't have a future if we don't fix this
the right way," he said.
"Owners have had enough of this situation and we owe it to our fans
to stabilize the franchises and to ensure that our franchises are
Bettman, who met with the 38-member Edmonton Oilers Investors Group
before visiting Calgary on Wednesday, said it isn't any fun for the
fans of small-market teams that don't believe their teams have a
chance at making the playoffs, let alone have a shot at winning the
In fact, Calgary came within one game of winning the Cup last season,
losing to Tampa Bay in the final. Edmonton missed the playoffs but
Forbes magazine said the Oilers ranked seventh in the league last
season with operating income of $3.3 million US.
"What Gary Bettman failed to tell his audience in Edmonton was that
the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames were among the most profitable
teams in the NHL last year when the (Canadian) dollar averaged 74
cents (US) and they were operating under our recently expired CBA,"
Ted Saskin, NHLPA senior director, said from Toronto.
"With the dollar consistently over 80 cents this year, and the
significant concessions we have already offered in our proposals,
they would have been far more profitable."
Bettman said Edmonton and Calgary are not the only clubs in peril if
a better deal is not struck between the league owners and the locked
"We're at risk big time. Lots of franchises are at risk if we don't
fix this the right way."
Bettman received a standing ovation at a packed Edmonton Chamber of
Commerce breakfast speech when he pledged to get the right deal to
ensure the economic viability of the club.
"I believe more than ever that without our Canadian franchises there
is no National Hockey League," he said. "This is where hockey works.
This is where hockey is important."
"No longer should we have to go through drives to save the Oilers. No
longer do we have to go through competitive droughts."
Bettman said the right economic system will give the Oilers their
rightful place in the league they dominated in the 1980s until player
salaries went through the roof.
"I promise we will get you what you need and most importantly, what
you deserve," Bettman told the applauding business owners.
Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe said it isn't only fans who don't
enjoy the current arrangement that sees the best players go to the
richest clubs and leaves the small-market teams unable to afford to
sign coveted free agents.
He said he won't continue as general manager if the system is not
fixed to give the Oilers a fighting chance.
"If we had to go operate under the previous system, I wouldn't do it
again," he said.
Lowe said he spoke out about not wanting to continue as GM without a
better deal because of what he termed "the rhetoric" he was hearing
that that the Oilers were an example that small-market teams can
succeed under the current CBA.
"I wanted to make an emphasis on the fact there are people suggesting
the system is OK. My point was that it's not OK. It doesn't work."
Oilers chairman Cal Nichols said the Oilers will likely have to
borrow money to keep afloat if the lockout goes into a second season.
He said the club anticipated losing $13 million this year if the
players didn't take the ice, but that figure is down to $10 million
thanks to the success of its AHL Roadrunners franchise, now based in
Edmonton after a stint in Toronto.
While in Edmonton, Bettman reiterated the league's position that it
won't consider the players' proposed luxury tax.
"They claim that will somehow fix our problems, I'm here to tell you
today . . . that a luxury tax will not work and in fact I think it
would create a potential for future disasters in the NHL," he said.
He said the only offer the players have made is to continue the
status quo which is not acceptable.
The NHL and NHLPA haven't had a formal collective bargaining session
since Sept. 9 in Toronto when the league officially rejected the
union's luxury tax-based proposal.
The league has said it doesn't believe in a luxury tax because it's
not predictable and doesn't guarantee what it calls cost certainty.
The owners are seeking a salary cap, much like the system in the NFL.
Bettman also reiterated that the owners don't have a drop-dead date
for when they would have to pull the plug on the 2004-05 season.
He said the players' association is kidding itself if it doesn't
believe the owners are unified in their position.
"A lot has been said and speculated about how we managed to achieve
this level of unity," he said. "It wasn't by me putting a trance on
the owners. It wasn't by me mixing up a potion of Kool-Aid that I got
all the owners to drink."
"The reason why the owners are so unified is the problems are so
profound and they know it. . . . They've had enough."