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CBA negotiations have long way to go, as owners, players differ on starting point

Donald Fehr

Hockey fans hoping that CBA negotiations could be resolved quickly were disheartened early this week when Donald Fehr described a "meaningful gulf" between the players and the owners. A few days later, another pretty important gulf has sprung up: with less than a month to go until the owners' September 15th deadline, the NHL and the NHLPA have still yet to agree on which proposal is the basis for their negotiations.

Anyone hoping the two sides are on their way towards bridging the gap had best be concerned, because it should be clear by now that, as it stands, they're building two separate bridges.

"I still remain hopeful that [the NHLPA's] proposal will remain the basis for discussion as we go forward," said Donald Fehr during a conference call Friday.

It's doubtful. Recall Gary Bettman's response to that proposal from earlier this week: "In terms of how we're looking at the world, and I say this on a broader sense as it relates to the game and the health and everything else, we're not on the same page."

In short, it's still unclear what the two sides are negotiating off of, and as a result, things continue to go slow. Fehr disclosed Friday that he and Bettman hadn't spoken since Wednesday.

[Slideshow: Top players attend talks

(Yeesh. Can we please avoid any more long gaps without speaking? If the league wanted this negotiation managed by two people that never talk, they should have handed things over to my mother and I.)

Of course, Fehr made sure to point out how much busier he is. "One of the things that differentiates my job with Gary Bettman's is I have about 30 times the number of constituents I have to converse with than he does," he said.

It's never a good sign when instead of discussing the issues, the two sides are just puffing out their chests. The "No talking, just peacocking" approach to negotiations tends to lead to communication breakdowns.

But the two sides can't move on to Step 2 until they can agree on step 1, and Fehr made it clear Friday that the players won't have it be a reduction in player salaries and contract negotiating power.

The players continue to support the creation of an "industry growth fund", forgoing a percentage of increased revenues over the next few years and allowing the commissioner's office to distribute the leftover money where it's needed. Most have felt that a reduction in the player's revenue share is inevitable -- that it would eventually come down to somewhere near the 50% mark, as it has in other sports. But according to Fehr, the NHLPA believes the player revenue share is already around there.

"Let me caution you when you start talking about 50/50 splits, if you start talking about all revenue, as opposed to hockey revenue, the way we calculate it the players are already at about 50/50."

[Related: Uncertainty does little to curb spending]

"We don't see eye-to-eye in all respects in how revenue is to be counted," he said.

When pressed for an example, Fehr pointed out that the 57% figure fails to take into account the way the cap suppresses the market in which NHLers are negotiating their contracts.

"The normal way we value things in North America and economic arrangements is we have a market value, and we know the players' aggregate market value is more than 57%. And that's why we have a salary cap, because the owners didn't want to pay that much."

But while the innate economists among us may be fascinated by alternative methods of counting revenue, the real question here is whether or not there's going to be a lockout.

"Nobody on the players' side is talking about stopping the season," said Fehr. "Nobody on the players's side is saying we have negotiations up to a date and then that's all. I've been in experiences before where we play without a contract under the old rules and you continue negotiating until you find a deal. We certainly hope there isn't. We certainly don't think there's a reason for it."

"If [the owners] choose to do it, it's something that they chose to do."

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