Oh, it looks bleak right now. Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr came out spitting fire after a brief "negotiating session" at NHLPA offices, stomping all over each other's proposals and killing optimism.
Even Sidney Crosby, among the biggest optimists throughout the process, said "I hope" when asked if there was going to be a season.
Unfortunately, this is part of the process, especially since both sides made a comically bad decision to wait so long before really begin serious negotiations. But, Mr. Crosby, please allow me to disagree. I've been a pessimist all the way through, but I see a deal. This is now "Protecting Existing Contracts" (the players) vs. "the 50/50 split" (owners).
And, in NHLPA Proposal III, the path was revealed. Publicly, Fehr said he offered a 50/50 split, but with the current contracts protected. After he finished speaking, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly sent out an email saying Fehr was being disingenuous, because that would "hide" $650 million US from the system, putting the players' share at 56 or 57 per cent.
(Daly's got a point there: I was surprised when Fehr said he hadn't run the numbers on that option, because there is no way he puts anything on the table without knowing exactly what he's doing.)
But, as I look deeper into Proposal III, there's something that makes sense. Sixty percent of the players have contracts beyond this season, and by making that offer, the NHLPA essentially said, "We have two kinds of members -- signed players and free agents. They should be handled differently."Two-tiered system
So do it. Just like the Canadian Auto Workers did.
The CAW just negotiated a deal with Ford, Chrysler and General Motors that saw its workers divided into two "tiers." New hires begin at lower hourly rate and with a different pension setup.
Now that the NHLPA has opened the door, why wouldn't that philosophy work? Every contract signed from this moment until forever is ruled by whatever new guidelines are created by both sides (escrow, terms, salary arbitration, etc.) at a 50/50 revenue split.
As for the current contracts, here's what they could do. The players say an immediate cut to 50/50 means a 12 per cent escrow haircut, which they don't want. So create a separate equation for those players.
Maybe next year it's 53/47, moving down towards 50/50. Maybe it's a guaranteed minimum and maximum loss for these players. And every time one of them finishes their contract, they are subject to the "new rules" and 50/50. All of the math wizards on both sides are paid handsomely to figure out a way to make this work. Perhaps there's a better way of doing it I can't think of right now.
(Updated Friday morning
: If the NHL is really serious about a "make whole" provision - and by serious I mean making it very clear that the league, not the players, will take financial responsibility - this is where the plan can work. Make it part of the package for players who already have a contract, and I'd bet someone else's first-born child that we'd have serious traction.
What that might mean, though, is the players bending on some of their contract issues. But, again, if the NHL came at them with a serious proposal along these lines, I'd be curious to see the reaction.)
Now, someone's going to say the North American auto industry is in worse shape than the NHL. Okay, but I would counter with this: we all know this league consists of haves and have-nots. The haves are in great shape. (Even Edmonton, Mr. Katz.)
The have-nots? There might not be enough places to move them all if this goes on much longer, and that's not good for the players, either.
Soon, we're going to get through the phony posturing, the silly public-relations exercises. Meetings will happen without us knowing, they won't end in less time than it takes me to eat a tasty Peanut Buster Parfait and there won't be 850 people attending them.
Everyone's annoyed tonight. It doesn't look good, but we are gaining momentum. There are more proposals being exchanged, more meetings between the two sides. We know the cornerstone issues for the players and the owners.
It would be great if there was none of this aggravation, but as one player said back in 2004, "We're all pawns in this game."
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