At long last, the National Hockey League owners and players seem to be working toward resolving their labor dispute.
Both sides have quit spewing fan-alienating rhetoric. Both sides have already proven their resolve and suffered massive economic losses.
The NHL has already reaffirmed its Garage League status. Gary Bettman has already cemented his Architect of Doom legacy by orchestrating the third service interruption of his regime.
NHLPA czar Donald Fehr has already proven that he is still Donald Fehr, the toughest players advocate in the sports labor game.
But now it's time for these parties to quit posturing and find ways to meet the sport’s economic challenges for the long haul.
This is about more than just regaining hockey for this winter. This is about having a prospering NHL five, 10 and 20 years down the line.
Once and for all, the league and the NHL Players Association must achieve lasting peace.
The various parties -- hard-line owners, moderate owners, league executives, player agents, players, NHLPA executives -- must find enduring consensus on how to be run this business.
The current negotiations should aim to create a new collective bargaining agreement that will require only minor tweaking for decades to come.
To do that, it must:
• Address the vast revenue disparity between the prosperous teams and money-losing teams.
• Forge a true owner/talent partnership in growing the industry.
• Find ways to make a 50-50 revenue split work while, in some fashion, honoring all contracts already signed.
• Reset the NHL’s financial picture with some near-term player sacrifice.
• Reward that sacrifice by making sure players to share in future revenue growth.
• Respect the talent with more comprehensive player safety measures.
These are reasonable goals. Attaining them in the next CBA is quite possible as long as both sides set aside their prideful desire to win this showdown.
To address the revenue disparity, for instance, the NHL could agree to far more extensive revenue sharing among teams. The league could do a more equitable job splitting up its half of the pie.
If that doesn’t fly with the more prosperous owners, then adjustable salary caps/floors could solve the issue. The players could still end up with their guaranteed revenue share overall and more teams could at least break even.
Overall NHL revenue growth pushed the cap/floor numbers to extreme levels. Most teams couldn’t afford to spend to the cap and many couldn’t really spend to the floor either.
And so here we are, waiting as the two sides finally crunch numbers and propose solutions for real.
Here is what the experts are saying about the specifics:
Pierre LeBrun, ESPN.com: “My sense is that the NHLPA had a message for the league in Tuesday’s meeting: since the players are willing to give a huge concession by going down from 57 percent of hockey-related revenue in the last CBA to a 50-50 split in the proposed new agreement, there wasn’t much of an appetite to give up too much on the systemic player contract issues. The league’s demands of limiting player contract to five years, for example, might be too much to swallow for the NHLPA. And I think when push comes to shove on the league side, that’s not the kind of issue that should stop a deal from happening.”
James Mirtle, Globe and Mail: “The two sides were really likely only some $500-million to $600-million apart over the next five years in their last full proposals, and with the ‘make whole,’ the league is believed to at least be contemplating adding in another $210-million or so on a deferred basis. That puts them a fair bit closer, in order words, to splitting the remaining difference. If players can live with a system that puts a chunk of their money off for a few years, there may be the foundations for a deal there. But that sort of concession likely can’t happen if the league continues to demand the other contractual changes – to free agency, etc. – are made, and they haven’t even gotten around to discussing those in depth yet.”
Bruce Arthur, National Post: “Progress will require saner voices. It will require compromise, fueled by the urgency to salvage as much of a season as they can. It will require the players working off the league's way of calculating 50-50, by percentage of hockey-related revenue, rather than offering concessions by sacrificing a share of future revenues, which protects their take-home pay right now. Similarly, to make a deal before the end of November -- to make a deal without going to the mattress -- the league will have to make concrete moves to protect some or all of that take-home.”
Bruce Garrioch, Ottawa Sun: “After canceling the Winter Classic, the league may have returned to the bargaining table Tuesday to try and help save its precious airtime on the NBC Sports Network. The first games are scheduled to be shown in the U.S. on Nov. 23 and the NHL may be trying to get a deal in place with the players' union to keep one of its biggest backers on board before the whole season goes up in smoke.”
Michael Grange, Rogers SportsNet: “Fehr needs to balance the interests of those playing today and watching pay days they may never get back slip away with the effect being too concessionary will have on the next generation of players. He needs to rebuild a union, but not entirely on the sacrifice of those in it. And he needs to do that knowing that the NHL and its players are joined at the hip -- regardless of how revenues are split, ultimately, the two sides eat at the same table. Taking the owners to the wall and risking a season or an extended shut down damages the game -- as the cancellation of the Winter Classic proves it already has -- and thus hurts the players' ultimate earning power, regardless of how good a deal Fehr can somehow cobble together.”
So there you have it, a pretty good assessment of where we stand today. The long-term fixes are there, just waiting to be made.
It's time for leaders on both sides to pull up their big boy pants and get it done.