NHL players' next move is crucial | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaNHL players' next move is crucial

Posted: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 | 11:41 AM

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Union head Donald Fehr has irked the NHL by limiting the details in his written proposals. (Richard Drew/Associated Press) Union head Donald Fehr has irked the NHL by limiting the details in his written proposals. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

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The word of the day is "curious." As in, "I'm curious to see what the NHLPA is going to come up with for its next proposal."

This is a significant moment in Labour Goofiness 2012, and what happens over the next 24-48 hours has huge ramifications for the NHL's future.
The word of the day is "curious."

As in, "I'm curious to see what the NHLPA is going to come up with."

This is a significant moment in Labour Goofiness 2012, and what happens over the next 24-48 hours has huge ramifications for the NHL's future.

So, without a seat in the room to know for certain, here's what we're looking at:

The NHL is trying to pin down Donald Fehr

One of my weaknesses as a human being is that I'm a crappy negotiator. (Ask Hockey Night in Canada producers about the time I actually offered to pay more for a cab than the cabdriver asked for.) In an effort to improve, I've studied successful tactics and worked towards using them effectively.

Fehr has frustrated the NHL by refusing to negotiate directly off its proposals. It's a standard negotiation strategy -- if you don't like what's being offered, come up with an alternative. Sometimes it works, sometime it exasperates the opposing side. In this case, it's been the latter.

The league made it clear last night it wants a written proposal that includes specific positions on all of the outstanding issues -- share of hockey-related revenue (HRR), the "make-whole" provision on honouring existing contracts, other contracting issues... everything.

There are a few reasons for this. The obvious one is it will allow the league to know where Fehr and the players stand on each of these critical areas. It also gives the NHL a better idea of where it is willing to concede to bridge the gaps. (Despite what it says, there is some room for compromise. How much is the question.) And finally, Fehr has kept his written proposals limited in scope at various points in the process -- in at least one case, just a few written lines.

He's very clever (although an opponent would call it infuriating) when it comes to keeping his options open. The NHL wants to end that.

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The players want to exhaust all options

They're itching to play.

Now, you have to be careful when it comes to interpreting that. It doesn't mean they are going to collapse or get into the "Please sir, may I have another?" position. As much as the NHL is annoyed by Fehr, the players feel the same towards the league.

They just want to continue discussions. They want to know that if this does fall apart, it won't be because they didn't try. We've had, what, six meaningful days of negotiation in five months?

Publicly and privately, they've wanted more conversation.

Reports from last night indicate the league refused to discuss contracting issues (term lengths, free-agency age, arbitration, etc.) without core economics being part of the conversation. Thinking about it, that the meeting would play out that way made a lot of sense.

Here's why. Imagine you are a player. This is how you'd look at things:

*We're going to a 50/50 split of revenues. We've conceded that.
*We're close on revenue sharing, and we can live with what we've worked out there.
*Now, what do you mean we're going to face tough limits on individual contracts?

That's of great importance to them. The league knows that and won't concede anything until it gets what it wants elsewhere -- or sees that the players are willing to bend on one major issue.

That's why it shot down the debate on contracts, for now.

Will the NHLPA change its position on share of HRR?

This is it. This is the "must-have" for the NHL.

The players have an important group decision to make in preparing this proposal. Throughout the process, they've maintained they will not take a penny less than the $1.883 billion US in salaries received last season.

In its most recent offer, the NHLPA basically said, "Let's work on the framework of our new CBA, then apply the lockout corrections." The league doesn't want that. It wants the players to show what they expect their share of HRR to be as a percentage, not as an actual dollar figure.

Understand, this will be a very difficult concession for the players to make. A good percentage of them feel they should not have to pay for losses because they did not choose to be locked out. Fehr certainly believes that.

But, refusal to concede here is an absolute non-starter for the league. (Its counter to the players' argument is they were the ones who refused to negotiate earlier in the process.) And, even if the players do make a move in that direction, it's not going to be a big one.

That leads to...

Are we seriously ready to negotiate?


Some of the meetings during this standoff have taken less time than Usain Bolt needs to run the 100.

A lot of this hinges on what the players do with their proposal. But, if they make the requested change to share of HRR, is the league ready to reciprocate?

Many of you reading this will say, "I don't care." But, there are plenty who hope the answer is "Yes."

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