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Q&A: What are the NHL owners and players fighting over?

2012 NHL Stanley Cup Final ? Game Six

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President, Business Operations, Alternate Governor Luc Robitaille of the Los Angeles Kings holds up the Stanley Cup. The Kings may not have to give it back this year if an impending lockout leads to canceled season, as it did in 2004-05.

If the National Hockey League's players and owners can't come to an agreement over a new contract in a little more than 12 hours, the NHL will be dealing with its fourth lockout in the past 20 years. So what are these guys fighting about. I'm glad you asked...

Q: If the owners do lockout the players, how long could fans be without their beloved hockey, hockey fights, and opportunities to wear player jerseys to stadiums across America and Canada?

A: This would be the fourth lockout since 1992. Back then, the lockout was relatively short and only 30 games were sacrificed. In 1994-95, hockey was AWOL for more than three months. And in 2004-05, the lockout lasted nearly a year and led to the cancelation of the NHL season.

Q: What does each side want?

A: The owners want to renegotiate the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the players' union, which expires tomorrow at midnight. The CBA dates to 2005, when it took a reduction in player salaries of nearly a quarter, as well as a salary cap, to get a deal. It bears noting that this was before the financial crisis. Now the owners want to reduce what the players get from so-called "hockey related revenue" (HRR), according to AP. How much? Originally, the reduction was from 57 percent to 43 percent, but the owners upped that to 47 percent. The union did away with the percentages and asked for a preservation of the status quo: the same $1.8 billion they got in 2011-12. This could mean they will in practice accept less than 57 percent. But they've included a provision to get back to 57 percent of HRR by 2015-2016, according to NHL.com.

Q: Why can't the owners sign off on that?

A: Because overall the league isn't in such great financial shape. The top teams are okay for the most part, but the books of the Stanley Cup champion L.A. Kings, the league's tenth most valuable team, don't look so great. Below the Kings, it there are additional pockets of ugliness. The owners also think they're dealing with salary inflation among the players, with the average paycheck swelling by a million in just seven years. The on-ice talent, in other words, has been winning the gettin' paid battle. Sort of.

Q: So the players are being greedy?

A: That's not what they say. Their argument is that the salary cap they accepted in '05 to address more or less than same issue of salaries getting too high has artificially surpressed their salaries, setting an arbitrary limit on where the market would be willing to price them. So in their world, they're actually losing the gettin' paid battle.

Q: So what's the solution?

A: Increasingly, it doesn't look like there will be one. That's why the lockout is imminent. The players don't really want to give any ground, particularly since they've accepted salary reductions and a cap, as well as free-agency restrictions, in the past. You could say that their offer to keep their share of HRR at a 2011-12 level is reasonable, but it's clear that the owners don't think they can make any money if they don't reduce the current and future cost of players.

Q: Sounds like the kind of thing you strike over.

A: Was that a question? But yep, it certainly does.

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