NHL lockout: With league's 50/50 proposal, don't celebrate, don't throw in the towel

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

A 50/50 revenue split! Reduction of entry level contracts from three years to two years! A crackdown on back-loaded, cap-evading deals and the ability to trade cap space! This new NHL CBA proposal must be awesome! Not quite.

The NHL dropped what some called "a bombshell" yesterday by submitting a new CBA proposal to the NHLPA. This proposal came a month after Gary Bettman said his more severe proposal would "come off the table" as soon as the old CBA expired Sept. 15.

It also came after weeks of begging the NHLPA to make another offer.

So, desperation ... or PR?

The league's new offer, though it's still being examined by the NHLPA, includes plenty of things many neutral observers would call no-brainers: 50/50 revenue split, modest changes to entry level contracts, arbitration rights and unrestricted free agency, and steps to eliminate backloaded, cap-averting contracts like the Ilya Kovalchuk deal. There is even an apparent direct nod to the players' concern, that of revenue sharing and the big market vs. small market disconnect.

According to Bob McKenzie of TSN:

Every NHL team would be eligible to receive revenue sharing but top 10 $ clubs responsible for contributing 50 per cent of $200M pool.

If taken at face value, that's big.

But don't celebrate just yet.

For one, although this proposal is far closer to the universe of the logical than what the NHL owners trotted out in June, it still reduces the cap range from about $43.9 and $59.9 million (though with stipulations that would allow teams to spend to $70 million) -- a drop of more than $10 million on the current cap. It also represents a significant drop from the 57 percent of revenues the players were getting in the just-expired deal.

Nonetheless, a lot of the reported facets of the NHL's offer sound reasonable. The question is, why did it take until mid-October for it to come about?

The answer could go one of three ways, and probably goes a long way to determining whether there is real meat behind the offer or just something for public consumption mere days after the leaked details of a league fan focus group put egg on its face:

  1. They always saw Donald Fehr as a tough adversary, so they felt compelled to start from extremes in June, with a plan to get closer to a palatable offer in late October while the pressure's on but while there is still time for a full season.
  2. The PR hits they've suffered so far took them by surprise, so they felt the need to back up with a more serious offer that is significantly less than "ask for the farm" and closer to "reasonable."
  3. Or the worst-case: a nakedly cynical ploy to try to put PR pressure on the NHLPA before they cancel an even bigger chunk of games and make an 82-game season impossible.

Whatever the league's strategy and the reason for the recent appearance of a shift, we'll soon find out how effective it was based on how the NHLPA responds. To that end, the NHLPA could take this proposal three ways:

  1. As a request for too much, but at least it's -- finally -- a real step for the start of serious negotiations.
  2. Still too much, with too many rights takebacks buried in the details -- and thus time for more belligerence.
  3. Finally, reason! A structure we can work with! Start hammering out the details and final sticking points, and let's get this 82-game schedule underway!

Obviously, few are expecting the third option from the PA. Do not forget that in just about every way, this proposal is still a cut in the good life the players were living as the previous CBA expired. And truthfully, even if the PA likes facets of this proposal, it's only smart negotiating tactics to respond with suspicion and to carve some gains back.

Fehr is a smart man. He has the unity of his players behind him. Even if some domestic players are itching to get back to paychecks, whatever Fehr advises is likely to be the direction they take. And with all the details and changes in the NHL's proposal, you can bet Fehr will show resistance, at minimum, on several issues.

That's why you shouldn't celebrate just yet. This labor war may have seen a breakthrough Tuesday. But even if Tuesday results in progress, it is far from over.

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