The NHL and NHLPA are scheduled to meet on Wednesday for the next round of collective bargaining talks, and after Donald Fehr's last proclamation regarding the salary cap, the talks could be very interesting.
Up to this point, CBA talks have been conducted on nonessential issues that don't involve matters that will help end the lockout. Both sides have engaged in bad-faith tactics, and it is fair to say neither side is winning the PR battle, because the fans are angry that there is no hockey.
Instead of the NHLPA and Fehr working on another proposal to send to the NHL—even though said offer may not even be thoroughly considered—the union has made open-ended statements that could be construed as threats.
Fehr had the following to say on behalf of the NHLPA in regards to the salary cap coming off the table in the event of a lengthy lockout (h/t The Toronto Star):
If this goes on for an extended period of time, I don’t know what (the players) are going to do. But I think it’s safe to say, they would be exploring all options.
Where the players are, they want to make a deal. Even though the owners’ proposal went as far away from the players as they could, the players did not respond in kind. They made a proposal which moved in the owners’ direction. If there can be an agreement in a relatively short term, which puts the pieces back together and gets the season going, I think the players can live with that.
Bill Daly, the NHL's deputy commissioner, responded to Fehr's salary cap claims, and the message was delivered on Twitter courtesy of TSN's Gino Reda.
Bill Daly's response."How the PA ulitmately determines to deal with that issue(salary cap) is it's own business....— Gino Reda (@GinoRedaTSN) October 9, 2012
"But it will also be very telling on the legitmacy and credibility of its claim that it wants a settlement..— Gino Reda (@GinoRedaTSN) October 9, 2012
"...that will get the players back on the ice quickly." -Daly— Gino Reda (@GinoRedaTSN) October 9, 2012
It is fair to say that no one really took Alex Ovechkin seriously when he told Slava Malamud of Sports-Express that he could remain in the Russian KHL if there was a salary rollback, and that is because there would still be millions of reasons—primarily dollars—in favor of Ovechkin returning to the league.
In the case of the NHLPA's latest statement, there is some cause for concern, because the NHLPA is essential conveying the message that they are willing to sacrifice the season if they don't get what they want.
Open-ended threats like this will not end the lockout; they only are further examples of both sides attempting to show their unity and strength.
This also could be a tactic on the union's part, and it could be their goal to use this tactic to make the owners' solidarity crumble.
Do you believe that owners would let the whole season be wasted only to have the salary cap come off the table?
Do you think that already-struggling franchises in Columbus, Phoenix, Florida, New Jersey, Nashville and so on can afford to lose an entire year of revenue and then compete in a world where Ed Snider can authorize as many Shea Weber-like offer sheets and contracts as he pleases?
The NHL has the most parity in professional sports, and the salary cap is what separates the NHL from the MLB, where teams with the most money—save the "Moneyball" references—often are the most successful.
When 29 out of 30 teams—sorry Toronto—have made the playoffs since the lockout, that is a good barometer to gauge the competitiveness and parity of your league.
What the NHL and NHLPA need is a deal that works for both sides, and making threats like eliminating the salary cap or threatening to cancel more games will not get the job done.
Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press also stated there is cause for concern because NHL brass has no plans on visiting Ann Arbor this month in preparation for the annual Winter Classic.
It all comes down to money in the end, and the suggestion of a 50-50 split in hockey-related revenue (HRR) is not the worst in the world. However, the final deal will likely result in one side maintaining a slim majority and the players losing a considerable amount of cash.
An Amateur's CBA Proposal
So, how can both sides get a fair deal done without compromising the 82-game season? Try the following simple proposal that contains a concoction of reality, common sense and acceptance of the inevitable.
The NHL is coming off a year in which record revenues were earned. They are making money hand over fist in an economy where millions of Americans are out of work.
Another lengthy lockout could also severely damage an NHL that is still recovering from the 2004-05 work stoppage. The league is coming off a season in which the Los Angeles Kings—one of the country's top television markets—won their first Stanley Cup, and it injected a lot of interest for the NHL in California.
Since Wayne Gretzky was infamously traded to the Kings during the summer of 1988, interest in hockey in Los Angeles had not been as intense as it was this past year. A lockout ultimately kills that momentum, because fans will tune in to watch the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers instead.
If the endgame for the owners is to gain a bigger percentage of the pot, why does it have to all be up front?
Wouldn't a deal that starts at 55, 54, 53 or 52 percent of HRR going to the players and moving closer to an even split at the end of a five- to seven-year CBA make the owners more money a year than they are already making now?
These numbers are used because there is no way the NHLPA will be able to pull off what the NBA and NFL players' associations failed to accomplish during their collective CBA bouts.
The owners currently receive 43 percent, so under this proposal, at the very least they gain an additional two percent off the bat, and in a best-case scenario they gain five percent immediately.
The instant gain in percentage points would means millions of new dollars coming to the owners, and isn't that enough to start?
If the players have to wait for escrow payments to receive a percentage of their salary, why can't the owners wait for the length of a CBA to gradually get new money each year? In the end, they are still getting paid.
A CBA that immediately sways the balance of power in the league doesn't make sense. This is going to be a drastic change in how the business is operated, so there should be some learning and adjustment period.
Under the new CBA, the first season should keep HRR split as is, because it would allow players to plan financially for the future.
Ultimately, all of this means nil as long as both sides are discussing nonessential issues and trading threats back and forth.
The NHLPA and NHL both have expressed desires to get back to playing hockey. They have all said they feel bad for the fans, but actions speak louder than words. It would be better for the NHL and NHLPA to exchange agreements and have them subsequently denied than to drudge through this verbal stalemate.
Despite the doom and gloom, there is one reason to have some faith. If you take one thing away from this current CBA bout, take the fact that both sides are talking more in 2012 than Bob Goodenow and Gary Bettman ever did during the course of the 2004-05 lockout.
Until then, fans should not further invest emotions in the negotiations. It may seem hard at first, but channel your energy into supporting your respective team's prospects in the AHL, OHL, WHL, QMJHL and NCAA.
NHL hockey is one of the greatest sports in the world, but the fans need to convey the message that it is not the be-all, end-all. October will continue onward, even though the NHL and NHLPA may not be willing to do the same.
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