NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr probably said it best on Wednesday when he remarked, "you hope for the best, but prepare for the worst."
That has been his advice all along to the players as they prepared to enter a third contentious collective bargaining agreement between the NHLPA and NHL in the past 18 years. But Fehr's counsel also is appropriate for hockey fans.
And after the latest negotiating session between the players and owners on Wednesday, it is evident that NHL fans should prepare for the worst.
The owners didn't like the components of the NHLPA's first proposal, which was tabled on Tuesday.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said his group analyzed and understood the players' offer, "but there is still a wide gap between us with not much time to go. I think it's fair to say that the sides are still apart, far apart, and have different views of the world and the issues."
The current collective agreement expires in a month on Sept. 15. But the more important date is Oct. 11, when the NHL was slated to raise the curtain on the 2012-13 regular season.
In order for the season to start on time, that means a deal between the two sides has to come together in late September. That looks unlikely because there is no common ground between the players and the league at this point.
Bettman even complained that the players' proposal this week failed to address any aspects of the owners' initial proposal given to the players last month.
But did the owners really believe that the players were pleased about their extreme plan that not only asked the players to reduce their share of revenue to 43 per cent from 57 per cent, but to roll back their salaries 24 per cent like they did after 2004-05 lockout, cap the length of contracts at five years, and make a player wait until his 10th season before being eligible for unrestricted free agency?
As Fehr ended his session with reporters on Wednesday, he reminded everyone that the players gave up plenty seven years ago when the entire 2004-05 NHL season was lost due to a lockout and they are not prepared to continue the giving spirit.
Among the main points of the players' proposal, they want the NHL to clean up its own divide between the strong and weak market teams with a better revenue-sharing system. The strong market owners, however, don't have an appetite of sharing more money with their weaker brethren.
Meanwhile, the two sides won't meet for another week. Fehr wants to attend separate get-togethers with some players in Chicago and Kelowna, B.C. This may be a good development because after a relatively calm seven weeks in the sporadic media debriefings by the two sides, it was apparent that the proceedings have heated up after Wednesday.
Fehr remarked that he doesn't like the comparison that the percentage of salaries in the NHL (57 per cent last season) need to be more in line with the NBA (49-51 per cent) and NFL's (47-48.5 per cent) recent deals. He pointed to the success of Major League Baseball, which agreed to a new five-year deal last fall. MLB has no salary cap and no labour problems since an August 1994 strike that cancelled the season.
That is something Montreal Expos fans will never forget.
"There's a pretty substantial monetary gulf which is there and when you start with the proposal the owners made how could it be otherwise?" Fehr said. "I mean consider what the proposal was. It was let's move salaries back to where they were before the lockout started, back to the last time. That's basically what it was.
"We had a 24 per cent reduction last time, let's have another one. That was the proposal. That's what creates the gulf."
And prepare hockey fans for the worst, a season that won't start on time.
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