Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr's biggest backers will tell you both men are here to make a deal. Now is their chance to prove it. We've entered the ZOPA.
I learned about ZOPA hours, after the NHL made its latest offer, from Daniel Tolensky's Twitter feed. Tolensky, who works for the Pulver Sports agency, tweeted about "The Zone Of Possible Agreement," which he studied while taking Harvard's famous, five-day negotiating course, and I spent some time researching it.
Here is one article to help you along. The key phrase is the first sentence: "A (ZOPA) exists if there is a potential agreement that would benefit both sides more than their alternative options do."
It took us long enough, but we're there.
For the first time since this agonizingly, ridiculous process began, there is a legitimate goalpost in the ground. The players have some serious questions about the offer, especially since it is only seven pages and leaves plenty of unanswered questions, but even the most hardcore NHLPA members admit this is a good starting point.
In fact, the overwhelming response from players was, "Why didn't we get this offer in June?" And it wasn't just them who felt that way. One team executive said: "It's about !#$%^&* time."
Fehr, the executive director of the NHL Players' Association, will certainly ask for some more information on Wednesday morning. After Tuesday's players' conference call, membership was uncertain about several issues. Some of the hardliners are skeptical, especially since the NHL set the original bar so low that any offer would look good. Plus, Tuesday's submission means a smaller share of the hockey-related revenue pie and contract concessions. But others are willing to see how Fehr's queries are answered and go from there.
"I think we're going to make a serious counter," one player said. "We want to put something together to get a deal done."
One agent texted last night: "The next three-four days are critical." I agree with that because the NHL offer leaves room for negotiation and counters, which is undeniably part of the strategy.
Some of the issues probably aren't so difficult: A maximum contract length of five years probably becomes six or seven; A maximum yearly raise of five per cent can become 7.5, etc.
Among the bigger questions:
1. How flexible are both sides about the HRR split in Year 1? An enormous discussion over the next 48-96 hours. Is the NHL willing to go to 52, maybe 53? Is the NHLPA willing to come down that far? The highest hurdle.
2. Another biggie: The NHL offer says HRR definitions need to be "clarified." What does that mean?
3. The NHL says it will "make whole" the players for escrow losses next season. But what is the formula? The NHLPA is concerned that money is going to come from what would have been theirs if the percentage share was not cut down so drastically.
There are others, of course, but the final issue may be what happens if the two sides are, indeed, making momentum yet not in time to play 82 games. It's going to be extremely difficult to get everything done, including ratification and training camp, in time to start on Nov. 2. Would Bettman be okay with fewer games provided real progress is being made?
There's only one way to find out. Give the NHLPA the answers it needs, then get in a room and get talking. Are Bettman and Fehr really the dealmakers their supporters claim?
We're about to find out.
LUONGO LESS ATTRACTIVE?
Details of the NHL's proposals continued to dribble out last night. Credit to TSN's Bob McKenzie for getting an interesting one, ie. players with those league-hated, front-loaded deals who retired after getting traded would see their former team get slapped with the salary-cap hit.
For example, let's say the Vancouver Canucks worked out a Roberto Luongo trade with the Florida Panthers. Eventually, he reaches the point where his salary slides down from the current $6.7 million US and he retires. But it's Canucks who would get clobbered with the $5.3-million cap hit for the duration of his 12-year contract. Brutal for them, right?
Not so fast.
The NHL offer is for six years with an option for a seventh. Look at Luongo's salary over those seasons -- he only drops below that $6.7 million in the final one (to $3.4 million). It is unlikely that he walks away from that. The true cap evasion doesn't come until after this proposed collective bargaining agreement would be completed. So the Canucks probably aren't in serious danger.
In fact, a romp through Capgeek indicates few players and teams would be adversely affected. Here is the contract value for the seventh season (what could be the final year of this proposed CBA) for those with long-term, front-loaded contracts:
Five players have front-loaded deals that end before 2018-19. Here are the salaries for the final seasons of their contracts:
(Hope the latter two are recovering well)
Okay, how many players on this list are 1) likely to be traded 2) actually going to be at a point in their career where they'll want to retire and 3) being paid a figure they'll want to leave behind? Tough trifecta.
A DIFFERENT IDEA
As the parent of a one-year-old, it is impossible not to spend a lot of time thinking about Amanda Todd. I would never, ever want my son to feel as alone as she did. But anyone who is a parent realizes sometimes you are the last to know about your son's/daughter's problems.
I've bounced this off a few people and figure it's an idea worth pursuing. Could a program be created where a lonely/bullied youngster could "contact" a favourite athlete/celebrity just to talk? Obviously, it would have to be through some a trustworthy Kid's Help Phone-type program, but it could have great value.
Here's an idea of how it could happen. What if the NHL and NHLPA create a joint program where players make it clear that, if someone needs help, they reach out to a phone number/email/Twitter or Facebook account. Players do public-service announcements for it, similar to the effective "You Can Play" ads.
Hopefully, the youngster needing assistance is motivated to make contact. The first step is talking to a counsellor, but after the initial conversation, part of convincing them to continue the communication is asking them who is their favourite team or player. Then, either that player or someone else on that team meets with the troubled youth or talks to them on the phone.
It doesn't have to be long and they can choose to continue later via text messaging, etc. But we've all seen how that kind of encounter can make a gigantic difference to a person. Athletes have great power to make people feel important -- and the majority of NHLers are outstanding at this.
Obviously, there are things that would have to be worked out. You don't want people abusing the system just to meet players. You don't want one guy besieged with 50 requests. But if we're looking for solutions to prevent this from happening again, maybe this can help.
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