“The sides are far apart and have different views of the world,” were Bettman’s words as he addressed the media today. We already knew that, but the fact that he says this in response to the NHLPA proposal indicates an unsettling truth: the lockout is far more probable today than it was yesterday.
As I reported yesterday, there were reasons to be optimistic about the proposal. Players were willing to reduce their share of hockey-related revenue temporarily to alleviate the problems that the owners complained about (especially when it came to financial problems for smaller market teams), and they provided a solution that would help stabilize the finances of the league as a whole through targeted sharing. They also did not push to dissolve the salary cap. As far as we’ve seen from both sides, the players gave in as fairly as they could to everything but contractual changes, and it seemed like this might be a ‘happy medium.’
Not so for the owners, according to Bettman. Chris Johnston reported that “Bettman made it clear the NHL fully understands the NHLPA’s proposal. The owners just don’t like too much about it.” According to Michael Grange, Bettman says that the NFL and NBA set the context for these negotiations. Chris Johnston quotes him as saying, “Players in other industries and other sports in the last year have recognized the importance and need to make adjustments.” Yet Donald Fehr pointed out the NHL’s “glaring omission” of the MLB contract as context, which he helped lead to a tranquility that has kept the league in operation since 1994. He went on to say that the players have indicated that “every sport has its own economics, they’re self contained–you have to negotiate within that context.” He then goes on to say that players believe their concessions address their specific context and that they understand that both sides do have different views. ”The process is to find an agreement you can both live with even if you come at it from differing perspectives,” Fehr summarized.
Other problems that Bettman pointed out with the NHLPA’s proposal were the absence of contractual changes and the lack of direct response to the NHL proposal. While it is true that players did not address the contractual issues brought up by the owners–and indeed proposed to leave the current contract system intact–they did agree to keep the salary cap, which is a huge concession to them that they already made in 2005. As a matter of fact, Fehr’s closing statement was that ”players gave up a lot last time and aren’t prepared to do so again,” as phrased by Chris Johnston. The players expected that giving in after last lockout would fix things and prevent another situation like that in the future, and now that it seems that was not the case they are much less likely to acquiesce to the owner’s demands. He also pointed out that “there’s only one part here that’s talking about September 15th… players haven’t threatened the job action. It hasn’t even been discussed.” Fehr’s sentiment echoes what a lot of hockey fans have said throughout the summer: ”You hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”
It is also true that the NHLPA’s proposal was not a direct response to the NHL’s own, something that was made clear by Fehr’s constant referral to it as an “alternative proposal” rather than a counter-proposal (as it was characterized by many people yesterday, including myself). While we can consider it a counter-proposal on the literal basis that it counters the NHL’s own, the details that have been revealed so far show that the NHLPA presented a proposal that addressed the points made by the NHL in ways that were not necessarily the ones the NHL wanted, which Fehr cites as a possible source of the ongoing issues. He pointed out that the system is one “the owners insisted on seven or so years go” and that the system itself might be the problem, at least partially. He also addressed the “wide gap” mentioned by Bettman by admitting that “there is a pretty substantial monetary gulf… and when you start with the proposal the owners made, how could it be otherwise?”
On a bright side, Fehr called this “a very preliminary response” to the NHLPA’s proposal when he addressed the media. As Aaron Ward pointed out today, the theme of the NHLPA proposal was partnership between players and club owners to help the teams in need, and Fehr himself said that this would take more hammering out and more proposals to meet the needs that are presented as talks progressed. He stressed that this was not the end of talks, as “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” There are still talks to come in Kelowna and Chicago as Fehr addresses the membership before returning to Toronto, and he says he will keep in touch with Bettman as both sides go back to the drawing board (ibid.).
The awesome NHLPA Twitter has once again posted the video for your viewing pleasure:
Updates will continue as more information becomes available.