Perspective: NHL and NHLPA are close to a deal

Photo: Canadian Press.

Say what you want about Gary Bettman – and you probably will – but he got at least one thing right today in his fuming rant: the last week has been an emotional rollercoaster, indeed.

Less than 48 hours ago, the concern was whether or not the NHL would play games on Christmas Day, and now it’s whether or not they’ll play games at all this season.

Despite what Bettman will have you believe, it’s hard to imagine a deal not getting done at this point considering how far both sides have come off their original proposals.

Let’s start with the NHL.

Their first proposal back in July asked for a number of things. These were the big ones:

Core economic issues:

-       Dropping the players’ share of Hockey Related Revenue (HRR) from 57 to 46 per cent.

-       Changing the definition of HRR, which would actually drop the players’ share down to 43 per cent. This would result in an immediate 24 per cent rollback of player salaries – a big no-no for players.

Player contracting rights:

-       Increasing the number of years before a player can become an unrestricted free agent from seven to 10.

-       Adding a maximum contract length of five years.

-       Increasing entry-level contracts from three to five years.

-       Mandating that every new contract have an equal value from year to year, which would eliminate all the back-diving contracts we’ve seen in recent years.

-       Eliminating signing bonuses and salary arbitration.

Many saw this proposal as a “declaration of war,” so to speak, rather than a genuine attempt to prevent a lockout.

The NHLPA’s first proposal wasn’t a thing of beauty, either. Player contracting rights remained unchanged from the previous CBA, and they saw things much differently in terms of core economics. Here were the main points:

-       Three-year CBA, with option for fourth.

-       Uncoupling salaries from revenues in first three years, which would apparently drop their share of HRR down to around 54 per cent (and back to 57 per cent in Year 4).

-       Increasing revenue sharing by around $250 million per season.

A lot has happened since those two initial proposals. In a nutshell, both sides have agreed on the definition and percentage split of HRR, the players’ concerns of immediate salary rollbacks, revenue sharing, unrestricted free agency, entry-level contracts, and salary arbitration (among other things).

Limiting maximum contract length to five years, restricting an annual increase in player salary to 5 per cent per year, and the length of the CBA (they’re just two years apart on that) are the remaining obstacles.

Let’s be honest, the maximum contract length is really a non-issue. It’s just not that important, considering many believe longer contracts would actually benefit clubs just as much as they would players. But if clubs do consider it to be an important issue, I’ve got a simple solution. Instead of changing the rules, stop dishing out foolish, lifetime contracts. Either way, it’s by no means an issue “to die on,” as was indicated by NHL second-in-command Bill Daly.

Eliminating back-driving contracts is obviously something that needs to be done. Both sides seem to agree. So, get it done.

That leaves the length of the new CBA. The players are proposing eight years and the owners are proposing 10. Do the two years really make much of a difference? I’ll let you answer that.

It’s unreasonable for the NHL to suggest that the remaining three issues are non-negotiable, which Bettman did today. Sure, they’ve “moved” off their first proposal, but that’s not saying much. There’s a difference between “moving” and making “concessions.” These two words can’t be used interchangeably, as they often are.

Don Fehr and the players, meanwhile, need to put their egos aside and work to satisfy the NHL’s remaining demands – even if it means they won’t “win” the negotiation. Yes, they’ve made concessions – more than the owners have, that’s for sure – but how much will the remaining issues truly affect them? Again, I’ll let you be the judge.

Both sides need to stop with the posturing. It’s getting old. There’s a deal to be made here – it’s time to make it.

Farhan Devji
Farhan Devji is an author, journalist, and communications professional based in Ottawa. His work has appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, the Edmonton Journal, the Vancouver Sun, and the Montreal Gazette. Contact him directly at fdevji@gmail.com.

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