In what has to be a first in major professional sports, the National Hockey League has posted its latest collective bargaining offer on its website. Headlines have been focusing on the proposed 50-50 revenue split between teams and players, but other parts of the now-public text are just as interesting, at least to this hockey fan.
For instance, revenue sharing would be considerably expanded if this offer were accepted, a development the NHL Players’ Association has been asking for since negotiations began. Also, in a somewhat surprising development, the NHL’s offer includes a plan to compensate each player fully according to the terms of existing contracts.
Coming out of the last lockout eight years ago, NHL players accepted a 24 percent “rollback” on their contracts to help the league’s teams get under the newly-established salary cap. Under chief Donald Fehr, the NHLPA took a hard-line stance against anything like that happening again, so it’s refreshing to know the owners won’t press the issue on that touchy subject.
After weeks of stalemate, the NHL certainly looks like the more conciliatory side by submitting this proposal, which will be much more palatable to the players than the farcical offer the league put on the table in July. I give credit to commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners for taking a proactive step, but I also realize the PR benefits of posting it online.
For the first time in this lockout battle, it appears the league has the upper hand in fan relations. Bettman has resisted public negotiating in the past, but he must feel the benefits of exposing his CBA proposal to the light of day outweigh being accused of hypocrisy.
Of course, fans just care about getting the season started, for the most part. Bettman’s choice to set a proposed start date of Nov. 2 was meant to play off those emotions and put pressure on the players to make a move. Fehr has already said that he suggests the players turn the NHL’s offer down, but at least we have a reasonable jumping-off point for serious talks in the following days.
From my point of view, the cynical motivation of posting the offer online is almost irrelevant. If the end result is the start of the 2012-13 season, the means will be justified.
I still believe we’ll see some posturing and contentiousness in the following days and weeks, but it’s clear the puck has finally dropped. Legitimate CBA negotations are now underway.