The NHLPA response over the next two days will tell the complete tale of exactly what the NHL is facing in the next few months.
Labor strife and regular season time missed are moving closer to certainties rather than idle threats. The tea are there for all to see.
The NHL took a preposterous first proposal that players association executives determined would slash the players percentage of Hockey Related Revenue (HRR) from its current 57 percent level to 43 percent of the 3.3 billion money pie.
After a painstakingly crafted counter-offer from the NHLPA sought to solve the NHLs problems with a plan linked heavily to revenue sharing that would bail out the teams regularly losing money, the NHL returned on Tuesday with a proposal similar to the first offer that was barely worth its weight in pucks.
This time NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the Board of Governors have upped the players share to 46 percent of the HRR a drop of 11 percent for the players and a cutback of roughly 330 million in earnable wages. For a group of players that have helped lift the NHL to unforeseen heights and agreed to a wage-limiting salary cap the last time around, that is whats commonly referred to as a dope slap.
Instead Bettman interestingly labeled it a meaningful, significant offer to reporters camped out in New York City over the last few days. The league has leverage and financial muscle, and theyre attempting to flex it simply because they can. Meanwhile NHL agents are preparing their clients for the worst with one hockey representative telling his players to prepare for there to be no NHL hockey until Christmas at the earliest.
Essentially this is what the NHL did with their latest offer: They improved on kicking the NHL players in the teeth by instead opting to kick them in the stomach.
Or perhaps the analogy should be more like how one hockey source with knowledge of the negotiations portrayed it to CSNNE.com: You took a really expletive proposal and made it a little less expletive. But that still makes it pretty expletive.
So that about sums it up, doesnt it?
Bettman is underscoring that the leagues offer is a meaningful and significant move, but thats pretty misleading, said the same source. The league hasnt moved one dollar. They moved off their own ridiculous offer that turned back player rights to years into the past, but they havent moved one dollar.
The players made an offer to partner with the big revenue clubs to help the smaller revenue clubs. They offered to give back some of their future growth in player compensation. The NHL isnt acknowledging at all the role that the players have played in growing the game.
The good news is that the NHL and the NHLPA are still negotiating and discussing things while sending offer volleys back and forth to each other. The bad news is that the NHL and NHLPA are speaking difference languages. It doesnt appear the league feels compelled to get on the same page as the players until after they start missing games in October.
Its a shame, but it shows how seriously committed the league is to getting exactly what it wants.
Why else would the straight-faced NHL present a proposal to the players that would turn back the clock three years on the salary cap ceiling to 58 million, and allow 16 out of 30 teams to already be in cap trouble before the season has even begun?
Theres no rush to action by a group of owners thats proven theyre willing to miss a season to achieve their goals, and theres no hesitation by an NHL commission fully prepared for a third work stoppage under his watch.
All of this will be happening while they take full advantage of two vital things that have made the NHL a golden goose during a time of economic recession: invested players that care intensely about protecting the game they love and diehard fans that returned after the NHL wiped away the entire 2004-05 season.
Bettman and the league know they can let their Gordon Gecko-style greed flag fly high, and those two things will always help insulate the NHL when things take a turn for the nasty.
Rookie preseason games and the beginning of training camp is already very much in danger as it appears both sides will blow past the Sept. 15 date when the current CBA expires. At that point the NHL owners will officially lock out the players and the NHL regular season will probably start cancelling games if both sides dont have something hammered out by Sept. 25 a date that would give teams a 10-14 day training camp to get ready for the NHL schedule.
Most expect that the NHL season will get underway prior to New Years Day to preserve the advertisingtelevision jewel that is the Winter Classic, but the two sides dont seem very close right now.
Forget about years until free agency, salary arbitration, entry level contracts and everything else that was wrapped up in that first draconian proposal from the NHL.
The negotiations will stall or turn in the arena of HRR, and the ever-changing definition and percentages divvied up by the players and the league will dominate negotiations until theres a breakthrough or a breakdown.
The players seem to understand that it will eventually become something closer to a 5050 split with the league as the NBA and NFL both agreed to in the last year leading up to hockeys summer of the CBA. Instead of creating their own ridiculous wish list proposal that asked for 59 percent of the hockey related revenue, players took the high road and negotiated with an adversary that doesnt seem to want to give them a fair shake.
Perhaps the NHL will get serious once they start to miss games, or once they realize that the NHLPA isnt going to break under the unprecedented solidarity Donald Fehr has fostered with the hockey rank-and-file.
But none of that is going to matter until both sides invest in a translator that has them speaking the same language.