The saying goes that its always darkest before the dawn.
Theres plenty of truth to that old axiom in many situations, of course.
The NHL lockout dispute between the NHL and NHLPA might just be another one of them. Many loyal, rabid hockey fans were hustled into thinking the NHL season was going to start on Nov. 2 after the NHLs 5050 proposal on Tuesday spurred optimism across the board.
Those same voices were dealing in dejection on Thursday when Gary Bettman and his quartet of hard line owners shot down three different NHLPA counter-proposals in the span of 10 minutes. That was record time even for the NHL commissioner and his band of hard line negotiators.
Bettman was at his perturbed best while casting a picture of doom and gloom and revealing he was (surprise!) thoroughly disappointed at the NHLPAs multiple responses.
I am, to say the least, thoroughly disappointed. But Im giving you the facts. Its clear that were not speaking the same language with what they came back to us with, said Bettman. Its still my hope that we can accomplish my goal, the leagues goal, that we can get in an 82-game schedule. But Im concerned based on the proposal that was made today that things arent progressing. To the contrary I view the proposals made by the players association was a step backward.
The 5050 offer was the best that we could do. We gave it our best shot. Its our best offer. We told them were prepared to have discussions, were prepared to look for tweaks or discussions but we also believe this is the deal to get the league going. We have each others phone numbers.
So that doesnt sound so hunky dory for hockey, correct?
But when the dust settled, Donald Fehr revealed that the NHLPA did make an offer to go with a 5050 breakdown of Hockey Related Revenue that Bettman stressed is the old definition from the previous CBA that would include a guarantee that the 30 NHL owners honor all contracts already signed with their players. The NHLPA offer also stressed it be accomplished without the use of something the players have come to loathe: escrow.
Clearly the simple math doesnt work as NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly pointed out in a rebuttal statement while claiming this proposal would put the NHL on the hook for an additional 680 million while handing the players most likely 56-57 percent of HRR during the 2012-13 season.
But to the common fan, the ones the NHL has been trying to reach since installing Frank Luntz on the league trough, a 5050 split of revenues along with honoring already-signed sounds like the very definition of fairness.
The simple fact both sides are already discussing 5050 as a destination point means Bettman and Fehr are closer than the hand-wringing rhetoric and verbal venom would make it appear.
Want a big reason to be optimistic?
There was plenty of talk during the Tuesday afternoon NHLPA conference call that the CBA negotiations are playing out very similarly to last years NBA labor talks, and theres a very good reason for that. The NHL and NBA have employed the same lawyers to help assist on negotiations, so both bargaining sessions appear to be emanating straight from the same Lockout 101 playbook.
Just as the NHL came out with an offer that got fans revved up for a regular season that would start at the beginning of November, the NBA floated the same kind of looking good on the surface offer to the players at the end of October last year.The timing and substance of both offers was striking in similarity.
Just as things collapsed Thursday in Toronto at the NHLPA offices, the talks between the NBA and NBA Players Association collapsed days after Billy Hunter had sounded off an optimistic tone about the leagues offer.
A month later, the NBA had their new labor agreement at a 5050 split of revenues, the season began on Christmas Day and nobody remembered anything about the labor warshortened season by the time the playoffs rolled around. Both sides amazingly came to an agreeable resolution after things got pretty contentious publicly with hoop fans caught in the middle.
After all, that is the natural rhythm of big time collective bargaining at the pro sports level where everything is forgiven once a deal is made. That is, everything is forgiven as long as an entire season isnt frittered away.
Theres a blueprint for the NHL to get something done over the next month that will get the players back to work and get the owners back counting their rising revenue numbers with the NBC Sports Network, the Winter Classic and a boatload of advertisers idling and ready to move.
The NHL may be left with a lockout-shortened regular season like their NBA cousins at the end of the day, and that might be unavoidable at this point.
But its difficult to see tent pole events like the Winter Classic getting canceled while the two sides are moving closer, and most believe Bettmans artificial Nov. 2 deadline can be pushed back if things are progressing.
The new CBA might arrive at a deliberate pace while theyre kicking, screaming and caterwauling the entire way. But both Bettman and Fehr agreeing on and writing the phrase 5050 on a deal is a starting point that should lead to real progress sooner rather than later.
If you like semantics, take heart that the NHL and NHLPA sit on the same page when it comes to finding a fair 5050 split of revenues, and need to find a way to meet in the middle on escrowhonoring contracts.
If you like history, then look at last years NBA negotiations and revel in the fact that nobody was lamenting about a month-plus lockout while Lebron James and the Miami Heat were earning their crowns.
If you like the NHL, then take solace that there will be hockey this season and it should be a significant season if not 82 games.
Sometimes things in the rear view mirrors of both Bettman and Fehr may be much closer than they appear.
The saying goes that its always darkest before the dawn.