BALTIMORE In today'sCBA talks between the players and the league, the NHLPA finally will give their long awaited answer today to last months resoundingly unreasonable opening NHL proposal.
Donald Fehr, his staff and a host of players have been gathering information while meeting with NHL officials in New York and Toronto. Questions have been asked on both sides. Most of those informational queries have been adequately answered, while some, probably, have not.
Instead NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has dropped the L word as in lockout into the summer discussion in recent days. He has confirmed the owners will indeed lock out the players if no agreement is reached by the Sept. 15 day that the current CBA expires.
A work stoppage is something the players desperately do not want, but something they appeared solidly ready to absorb if the alternative is turning back NHL playing conditions to what they were 10, 20 or even 30 years ago.
Expect a couple of things to happen when reports surface about the contents of the proposal: 1) It will include some level of a revenue sharing and luxury tax system modeled after Major League Baseball, 2) it wont include any of the major bullet point conditions from last months NHL proposal (a drop in players share of Hockey Related Revenue, 10 years of service until free agency, the abolition of arbitration etc.) and 3) it should provide similar conditions those under which the NHL has thrived during the last six seasons.
One source inside the NHLPA said in the days following the leagues offer that there wasnt a single acceptable condition among the major points, and the sense is that it was put out there to potentially fracture the union membership.
That hasnt happened.
Fehr has long concluded that Major League Baseball has the healthiest, the most viable and the most sensible economic system among the four major sports, and thats probably not a surprise given that he was one of the architects that helped craft its structure. It would appear hes now attempting to do the same thing in the NHL where teams like the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers and the Toronto Maple Leafs among others would spend over the salary cap if they were allowed to do so under the CBA.
Those teams could then help subsidize the have not clubs in New Jersey, Phoenix and Florida among others that annually lose money. Those impoverished NHL teams currently under fiscal water are being held up by the NHL as the prime reason why the system is currently broken despite a record 3.3 billion in revenues. A luxury tax system would give them a lift up just like the largesse of the New York Yankees helped allow every other Major League Baseball club survive through the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.
The answers are all there for the NHL owners if theres more concern for the games health prognosis than for its profit margin.
One interesting byproduct of introducing the luxury taxincreased revenue sharing system to the talks: It will pit owner against owner on the NHL side of the bargaining table.
On the other hand, its pretty clearthat all NHL players are on the same page, represented by the fact that Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin will fly in for the players presentation.Crosby is the face of the NHL as its marquee player, and his presence speaks volumes to just how determined the players are to dig in their heels.
Steve Stamkos, Mike Cammalleri, Jason Spezza, P.K. Subban and John Tavares are also among the "whos who" of 23 players that showed up for the presentation. There were no Bruins players at the pivotal meeting on Tuesday, but Daniel Paille, Andrew Ference and Patrice Bergeron have all been present at different stages of the discussion.
Fehr even went to the trouble in recent weeks of meeting with the European players in Barcelona to apprise them of the talks a gesture that past NHLPA leadership had never extended to their considerable European membership.
The NHLs response to a considerably different manner of offer from the players union will be telling. Perhaps Bettman and his Board of Governors will be open-minded about a new financial system where each and every team could survive without having to worry about going into NHL receivership, like the Coyotes. But the NHL is a business and it would be surprising if Toronto, New York and Chicago et al would be willing to give up a margin of their profits for the well-being of the league.
The league's initial proposal expected players to give up a chunk of their share of the pie, shoving a salary cap, a 24 percent salary rollback and year-long lockout down their throats.
Optimism has been hard to come by when it comes to the NHL starting on time in October, and all are about to see exactly how realistic those doomsday discussions have been. The hope is that the worst-case scenario has the NHL season starting between Thanksgiving and New Years Day so not to interrupt the national TV schedule.
A lockout would be painful and fraught with angst from finger-wagging hockey fans, of course, but ultimately the sport, its irreplaceable players and those that love it would all survive in the end.
Keep your fingers crossed, hockey fans, but it could be a bumpy ride before your NHL plane comes to a full and complete landing.