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NHL: Getting down to crunch time...

NHL Players Association executive director Donald Fehr listens

NHL Players Association executive director Donald Fehr listens to a question during a news conference after a meeting of the NHLPA executive board in Chicago. (June 27, 2012) Credit: AP

 

                 ...to salvage an 82-game season

                  The NHLPA spent today running numbers and fine-tuning a counter-proposal to deliver to the NHL tomorrow at 1 p.m. in Toronto.

                  They will have a list of objections, and hopefully some realistic recommendations.

                  No one who’s been paying attention believed that the union would simply accept whatever was on the latest menu, and Donald Fehr’s letter to players and agents, obtained by TSN and Sportsnet, underscored that.  Here’s a link: :http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhllockout/2012/10/17/cba_memo_from_donald_fehr_to_nhlpa/

                  I’m not going to parse every element, at least not today. Let’s see what the parameters are tomorrow.

                  I can say that the “make whole” mechanism as part of the 50 percent split of hockey-related revenues in the first year is problematic, I’m hearing. Players want a “soft landing”, not a seven-percent whack immediately with huge escrow.  Perhaps 53 percent to start is reasonable, and get to 50 percent down the road.

                  That’s fine, but don’t think the league won’t want the number below 50 at some point over the term of the deal to balance it all out.

                  To me, the PA stumbled in not presenting their revised framework first, when they had chances in the past two weeks, and should respond constructively. If anything, the NHL has set the table with some movement and transparency.

                  Hopefully, it’s more than a starting point; it’s the bones, the base, the framework for a deal, with some wiggle room, from revenue sharing to contract lengths, as well.

                  But where it goes from here depends not only on the PA counter-proposal, but the league’s desire for an 82-game season, and willingness to move off the Oct. 25thdrop-dead date for this particular offer----if an agreement is close, even if it means a 76-game season or thereabouts, in the long-term interest of the sport.

                 Should this deal not happen by Oct. 25, and the NHL sticks to its guns, there could be no hockey in November and December.

                 Call me crazy, but because they appear to be moving on some of the core economics---and if each side doesn’t stand on ceremony and ego, and compromise---there should be NHL hockey this season.

                 Both sides must realize by now that flushing a season down the toilet when there’s an agreement to be reached would be disastrous to the health of the game. Remember the old bromide: 90 percent of all negotiations are concluded in the last 10 percent of the time. Is this a negotiation and not some “cause” or “mission” madly driven by one side or the other?

                 If it’s the latter, both sides lose.

                 Listen, not every player is going to be happy with any eventual deal; doesn’t work that way. As an accomplished deal-maker, Fehr has a responsibility to strike the best one he can by Oct. 25 and put it to a vote of the players, his constituents.

                If they turn it down, well…that’s baseball, Suzyn.

                Maybe they re-group and go back to the table.

                I can’t imagine that the numbers or the dynamic will be better, though.

                The players with long-term deals, the veterans who may be looking at the end of a career, and the well-paid stars, should want to get back on the ice. And how about all the unrestricted free agents, who need a chance to sign, and play another season, when teams have room under a $70.2 million cap.

                To be sure, future caps may be lower, and so may future floors. But there will be more revenue sharing, maybe for financially-stressed teams, like the Islanders, who weren't eligible previously. Players have said they’d sacrifice to pay for some of that.

 ****

                 Thought it was interesting to read about Bob McKenzie’s remarks on TSN TV this morning.

                    “The PA is going to grind the NHL as hard as they can in order to improve this deal,” McKenzie said. “They are going to say, ‘Hey listen: We’ve said all along we’re not going to take a deal that gives us less money and less rights.’ And this new NHL offer gives players less money and less rights….So there’s going to be lots of negativity, there’s going to be lots of ups and downs, there’s going to be --- I would predict over the next seven to 10 days --- there will be at least one or two or three breakdowns in negotiations where it’s going off the rails.”

                  McKenzie thinks an agreement will be hammered out and go to membership for a vote.  “Most of the players would look at it say, ‘I don’t like a lot about this, but I don’t like Plan B even more,”  he said.

                  Plan B, to me, means nuclear winter.  In a financial sense, of course.                  

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