After Thursday Are The True NHL CBA Negotiations Over, Or Just Beginning?

Bruce Bennett

Were Thursday's events the death knell of the 2012-2013 NHL season, or is another baby step toward a resolution?

Yesterday was supposed to be a make or break day in the 2012 NHL CBA negotiations between the owners and the NHLPA. Hope was rekindled with the owner's new offer Tuesday to split revenues "50/50", a destination many prognosticated a year ago when the NBA and NFL reached similar deals.

Then hope was stomped out after 60 minutes of meetings.

"None of the three variations of players' share that they gave us even began to approach 50-50 either at all or for some long period of time," Bettman intoned Thursday afternoon, "and it's clear that we're not speaking the same language in terms of what they came back to us with."

Panic ensued. Shoulders slumped. AHL Live subscriptions were purchased. The season was all but written off.

As the smoke clears and exposition on each proposal has received it's proper due on Twitter and other outlets, it does indeed look dire, but when hasn't it?

Pierre LeBrun draws optimism today from the fact that the NHLPA is seemingly willing to go to a "50/50" split. Well, kind of...

For the first time in this entire process dating back to last June, the players made official offers that included the numbers "50-50" in them.

OK, so the league doesn't really view those offers as anything close to its version of reality when it comes to a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue. And the players came up with some different ways, perhaps, to get to 50-50 in those offers, but the bottom line is this: The NHLPA literally used "50-50" in a document of its own making.

[ESPN]

The two sides are moving closer together, but the crux of the issue remains, and that's that players want their existing contracts to be honored one way or the other, and didn't really like taking away HRR from future players to defer payment to guys with deals now.

Michael Grange illustrates what the player's offers really come out to in terms of HRR.

It isn't "50/50"...

So there's a long way to come. The league's "make whole" concept may not have been to the player's liking, but it was imaginative, like it or not, and it's the kind of unlooked-for provision that may be able to bridge the gap in the coming days if a season is to be saved, including the Winter Classic.

What he said.

The questions moving forwards are 1) Who is willing to offer something resembling a true compromise, and 2) How much time do they have left before the size of the pie leftover (number of games schedule when it's all said and done) mitigates the revenue over which the haggling is being done, altering the math and logic?

At the very least the league didn't take their offer off the table yesterday, or threaten to if 82 games aren't preserved.

"We very much want to preserve a full 82-game season," Bettman said on Tuesday, "and in that light, we made a proposal, an offer, really that is our best shot at preserving an 82-game regular season and playoffs, and this offer that we made obviously was contingent upon having an 82-game regular season."

"Contingent upon having an 82-game season" was language some feared might be tantamount to another ultimatum and a limitation on the offered deal. Which is to say that it was thought the owners could take the 50/50 split off the table if 82 games weren't preserved. That language was not revisited by Bettman Thursday, so there's hope that room for negotiation into November exists.

An 82 game season is a temping notion, but a 68-76 game season would appease the vast majority of interested parties and produce revenue in the same ballpark, especially with a full playoff to follow, even if the league would deny it.

***

So what happens now, Mr. Fehr?

"What happens now is first of all, on our side, we communicate with the rest of the membership," said Fehr. "Obviously we'll communicate with their agents too because they speak with their agents too. We'll let them know what the circumstances are. We'll do that for as long as it takes and then we'll go back to work and see if we can figure out something else that matters. I hope and assume that the owners are doing the same thing."

The possibility exists, seemingly, that they could make the next move and suggest something else, essentially taking two turns in a row. The league made it abundantly clear that they felt this latest offer was "the best it could do," but it should be pointed out that their offer Tuesday was not expected, so anything is possible.

Fehr described scenarios in which there could be meetings soon without counter-proposals dealing with clarifications on what the league proposed as far as revenue sharing between teams goes, as well as lingering issues on desired clarifications on some HRR definitions that the NHL has said they desire to make.

No meetings are planned at this time, and the weekend is upon us.

If "50/50" can be achieved while honoring existing contracts, then someone needs to figure it out. Amnesty clauses, owner sponsored deferred compensation, growth contingent incentives for players...there are possibilities. Imaginative minds will make suggestions. Whether the league takes them, makes them, or simply wants to win the negotiation in spite of them remains to be seen.

The two sides do appear to be inching closer, ever so slightly. You just have to squint fairly hard to see it.

Have you any optimism left?

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