Cross Checks

CBA talks not as dire as it appears
October 18, 2012 8:05:19 PM PDT
By Pierre LeBrun



TORONTO -- Everyone take a deep breath.

It’s not over yet. Far from it.

Just as many fans got too excited Tuesday -- perhaps because the NHL injected some adrenaline into a stagnant negotiation with a surprise offer -- some people were ready to jump off the deep end Thursday.

Calm down.

The reality is that things were never that rosy on Tuesday, just as things aren’t nearly as dire as everyone would have you believe after Thursday’s short and sweet bargaining session here at the NHLPA’s head office.

Yes, the NHL rejected all three of the NHLPA’s newest proposals. Talk about a hat trick.

And yes, the NHLPA -- according to the NHL -- in large part rejected much of the framework from Tuesday’s NHL offer.

Doesn’t sound too good, right?

Except despite all the rhetoric spewed out Thursday, the devil is indeed in the details.

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.

That my friends, for whatever it’s worth, is a baby step if for no other reason than the NHLPA being willing to use the same mathematical vernacular as the NHL when it comes to splitting up HRR.

Now comes the tougher part: both sides agreeing what is really 50-50 of HRR and, most importantly, agreeing on how to get there without shortchanging the players under contract in the opening years of the new CBA.

I know I sound like a broken record by now, but this negotiation has always hinged on that single factor: the players not wanting to lose a single dime from current contracts they signed in good faith with owners before this lockout.

Frankly, and I’m on record saying this, I think that’s only fair.

The NHL, to its credit, or more precisely NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, came up with a creative mechanism in Tuesday’s offer that tried to address making the players "whole" in their current contracts.

Regardless of whose argument you buy on whether that mechanism flies or not, the bottom line is that the NHLPA doesn’t accept its current definition as any kind of solution.

But here’s the key: The NHL, a source told ESPN.com, reiterated to the NHLPA in Thursday’s meeting that it is willing to play ball on that concept, that it is willing to be more flexible in trying to find a solution to keep players "whole" on their contracts.

If that sounds like an invitation from the league to continue to try to find a way on that crucial point, it is. And NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr himself hinted at wanting more clarification on the matter and you can only deduce that will invite more dialogue.

That, my friends, is where this process has any hope. Both sides have agreed that a 50-50 split of HRR is where this deal is headed in some fashion or other. Now they just have to agree on how to get there without emptying the players’ wallets.

Thursday felt like an enormous step backward in the process. But in reality, whether it happens next week or next month or next year, the deal is there to be made.

Stop me if you’ve heard me say that before.


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