The hockey world holds its collective breath this morning as the NHLPA readies a response to the NHL's surprise proposal on Tuesday that offered a 50/50 split of HRR, seemingly using the existing definition, and (controversial) provisions to "make whole" existing contracts over the coming years.
Reception of the proposed deal has been overwhelmingly positive on Twitter and other outlets representative of the "public perception." The allure of an 82 game schedule and a playoff that runs through the last week of June holds a powerful sway over the emotions and imaginations of NHL fans everywhere.
From a purely PR perspective, the NHL put the ball in the player's association's court on Tuesday. If they reject it outright this afternoon they go from the darlings to the villains in the minds of those who fund this entire empire. That would be you and I - The fans.
They'll reportedly offer a counter-proposal as early as noon EST today, but they've yet to work directly from an NHL proposed deal in these proceedings, preferring usually to craft responses within a separate, proprietary framework, much to the chagrin of Gary Bettman.
The question today is - What do the players value more? Getting paid the money they're owed due to contracts signed by all parties? Getting 76-82 games in this season? Ending this charade?
Or do they value "winning" over a less-than-favorable compromise? Are there larger issues at stake?
As the lockout's first month has played out it's been evident there are several "principles" driving the players in their resistance to the league's demands. One is that they "lost" the last negotiation in addition to losing an entire season's worth of revenue. They hired Fehr to avoid one of history's many repeats. The other is that they're unwilling to accept anything less than full value on existing, signed contracts.
Perhaps the biggest principle of all is the desire to stop the pattern NHL owners have established over the course of the last three negotiations - That the players will eventually bend and accept what the league tells them to time and time again. If a stand is not made here, perhaps, they feel that history will only repeat itself in five to seven years. Perhaps even beyond that.
Players know they aren't getting 57% ever again, but to accept a drop from 57% to 50% (a 12.3% decrease) immediately will feel like a loss given that the last CBA the owners say doesn't work for them was designed...by those same owners.
To date the league has not provided the players with a genuine "giveback" or concession - Something that's better for the players than it was in the expired CBA.
It's likely that there are several aspects of the proposal that remain tweak-able, but will those secondary issues be enough to satiate the player's desire to come out of this having "saved face" to a certain extent?
Fehr's letter to the players Tuesday afternoon, eventually made public, was an expected bit of pessimism and displeasure, because this negotiation is now in large part very public. Like so much else in this process it was likely part pageantry, part truth.
Will he privately rally them, convincing them that now is no time to go back on their principles due to a superficial, tempting offer to resume their more comfortable everyday lives, or will they all see that a "50/50" split was where this was eventually going, and make a workable counter-proposal within the league's newly proposed framework?
Players like Mike Modano and Jeremy Roenick have talked publicly about the irrevocable financial damage the previous lockout did to the careers of so many. They weren't able to ever get that money back. Is the threat of the same enough to get the ball rolling cordially this afternoon, or is the real dark period about to begin?
The hockey world holds its collective breath. Will Friday be simply the day that the Texas Stars play their third game of the season, or will it be "one week to the opening of Dallas training camp?"
The whole development this week is either a PR ploy neither side is willing to advance in a serious way, or it's the beginning of the end (of the lockout). Check back with us this afternoon for reaction either way.
And hope. It's OK to hope a little.