Oldfield: 7 steps to end the NHL lockout

While a group of NHL players and owners prepare to meet without their chief negotiators, labour expert Dan Oldfield offers seven proposals that could lead to a deal.
Fans protested outside the NHL's headquarters in Manhattan this weekend. (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

There is going to be a meeting on Tuesday in New York City involving six NHL owners and some players.

When I first heard the idea, I have to confess it intrigued me.

It’s pretty clear the professional negotiators haven’t been able to get it done. Maybe putting a bunch of people in the room from both sides who have not been directly involved in the talks will get done what hasn’t in months of bargaining.

But then I began to think about an economic theory I have that goes something like this: When the tap in my bathroom is broken I call in a plumber. And when a circuit breaker keeps going off I call in an electrician. And when my car breaks down… well, you get the idea.

I do believe when you are stumped at the bargaining table it is always good to see what else can be brought to the process that might change the outcome.

And it is tempting to think that if there were fewer hard-line owners and players sitting down for a chat, miraculously a different outcome would emerge.

But is it reasonable to actually believe the issues that have kept the parties frozen — just steps away from a deal — are somehow going to dissolve?

There are only 30 owners, and they’ve been consulted extensively throughout. So it is reasonable to suspect the hard position at the table comes from them. Is that going to change?

Or will the exercise be to try to convince the players that the owners are prepared to simply wait them out until they go broke or can’t stand to be away from the ice anymore?

Likewise, the players don’t believe the owners have given enough, and they too will try to convince the owners they are prepared to wait until franchise values reduce, sponsors leave, and fans drift off.

It seems to me this players/owners meeting, the cancellation of games, the use (or misuse) of the mediation process, talk of decertification, and bargaining publicly through the media, etc., has all been in order to avoid making the compromises necessary to end the dispute.

Ultimately the parties will negotiate a new collective agreement.

It will not look like either of the "best we can do" offers currently sitting on the table. There will be movement by both parties.

Maybe it will happen in the next few weeks, or sometime next year, but there will be a deal. And the best people to get the deal done are the same people who have been working on it for the past many months.

7 steps to a deal

I have a few practical proposals to end the NHL lockout:

1. Treat 2012-13 as an extension of the old contract, with the same split of revenue as last season but reduced to reflect the shortened schedule. In this way, at least one year of existing contracts will have been exhausted.

2. Make a new six-year deal with a 50-50 split of revenues to run from 2013-14 to 2018-19.

3. Set "make whole" money from the league at up to $280 million over the life of the agreement (again, to reflect the shortened length of this season), but also dependent on revenue growth over the life of the deal.

4. No limit on individual contract duration, but salaries for the purpose of determining the impact on cap amounts may only use a rolling five-year period. Example: Player A signs a 10-year deal. Only the compensation for the first five years of that deal can be used to determine the average salary for the cap hit. In year two the cap hit amount will be an average of the year two through year six compensation. In year three, the cap hit is the average of year three to year seven. And so on.

5. The players accept the entry level contract limits proposed by the league.

6. The league accepts the salary arbitration proposal from the players.

7. Free agency rules remain the same for the first three years of the deal and move to the levels proposed by the league for the final three years.

In any event, the time has come to stop avoiding the issues, start making the hard decisions, and find the areas of compromise.

I wish them well at Tuesday's meeting. But the parties already know what they need to do and ultimately will do. They just need to do it quicker.

Dan Oldfield is the lead negotiator for the Canadian Media Guild, a former journalist, and a longtime hockey fan.