After two lockouts, Gary Bettman isn't going to enter a room to collectively bargain without knowing what chips he's willing to push into the middle of the table. On Wednesday, days away from when the CBA expires and the lockout presumably begins, Donald Fehr and the players gave the NHL an offer and Gary Bettman presented a preconceived counteroffer.
The ante from the NHL: a willingness to stick with the current definition of hockey-related revenue rather than the redefinition in its previous proposals.
"It seems to me that having a work stoppage and damaging HRR long-term doesn't make sense," said Bettman.
Along with it, another caveat: Instead of grabbing an "extraordinary" amount of the revenue from the players, the league would instead grab a "very big" amount — giving the players between $250 million to $300 million of the money they currently have, that the owners intended to take, back to them.
[Nicholas J. Cotsonika: NHL, NHLPA need spirit of compromise]
All of this is being hailed as a reasonable offer from the league after months of empty cash-grabs and salary suppression schemes, which is why Bettman's one of the best in the business at the negotiation table: The league was always willing to arrive at this point with this offer, and now have the players by the how-do-you-do with a take it or leave it "concession" before the lockout.
If they leave it … well, then clearly all that "we just want to play" verbiage was just B.S. The owners were vilified for standing for nothing beyond greed; the players had the high ground as victims who just want to get back to entertaining the fans. Now the owners are the ones moving to the middle, and the players are being stubborn. Perception is a cruel mistress.
Who says the NHL doesn't want to win the PR battle?
Under the owners' new six-year phase-in proposal, players would receive 49% next season, and end up with 47% in the sixth year. In immediate terms, players would receive a roughly 9% decrease in salary next season. In the league's previous proposal, the first year loss was pegged at 19%. According to the league's numbers, this proposal is asking for $275 million less in concessions than owners asked for in their last proposal.
Is the endgame still a 50/50 split of revenue, with a decline in the players' share over the life of the deal? Probably. Will the players bargain up to 50/50 in the framework of this deal, knowing that it comes off the table the minute the CBA expires? Based on Fehr's tone Wednesday, that'd be a "no."
That said, there's still some common ground. The NHL and NHLPA are on the same page in defining hockey-related revenue — at least in this proposal. The NHLPA went up to a five-year term, as the NHL wants six years.
But you still have the NHLPA saying it has a revenue-sharing plan, the NHL saying that's not an important facet of the negotiation, and the players countering with "so far we have not seen one dollar of revenue sharing come from anywhere but players wages."
You have the NHL offering what it feels is a fair framework for percentage of revenue to the players, and the NHLPA claiming its deal "would save owners $900 million over life of CBA."
It's still "my kung-fu is the strongest" with little middle ground or compelling reason to settle.
It's still two sides preparing for the inevitable.
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