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August 14, 2012 | 6:40pm ET
Positive signs stem from NHLPA's proposal
The NHL Players' Association presented the NHL with their proposal this morning, an economic view of how they "see the world."

TORONTO, ON -- The NHLPA pitched its proposal to the NHL today, as negotiations towards a new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the two sides remain ongoing.

Everyone was eager to see what would come from today's discussion and presentation, and surprisingly, the atmosphere following the session was fairly positive... from both sides.

"Today, the players made a proposal on the core economic issues, which we believe will lead to a new CBA," said NHLPA head Don Fehr. "The players did not believe that the owners' initial proposal (made on July 13) was likely to do that.

"We do believe that the proposal the players made today, once implemented, can produce a stable industry, one that, going forward, can give us a chance to move beyond the recurring labor strife that has plagued the NHL for the last two decades.

"Players want a new CBA, and they want it soon. But, obviously, it has to be one which is fair and equitable for the players, as well as to the owners."

With 23 players huddled around the executive members of the NHLPA as they made their pitch to  NHL staff members like Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, four team owners and two team general managers.

While there wasn't much discussed between the two sides -- it was more of a gathering of information on the NHL's part -- a meeting is tentatively scheduled for tomorrow morning after the League has gone over all the material.

"It's clear to me that they didn't put it together in an hour or two," Bettman said. "As a result, we're going to need a little bit of time to evaluate it, understand it, and we told them we would go back to our offices and do that, and that we would be prepared to meet again tomorrow morning."

As illustrated in their offer, the NHLPA is proposing a new three-year CBA, with a Players' option for a fourth. The salary cap would remain, but the Players would take a significant cut in hockey-related revenue (HRR) within those three years, which, according to Fehr, could generate about $465 million for the NHL and its clubs -- that money would then be split among the 30 teams to help stabilize the economy.

However, based on how well the League and its revenues have progressed in the last two seasons, the HRR "could reach about $800 million," according to Fehr.

"Under our alternative proposal, essentially the players have indicated that they will take a reduced share of HRR, going forward, for the next three seasons," Fehr said. "That would be based on a reduction from what would be produced otherwise under the current formula with the league growing at traditional rates that it has for the last seven years.

"We also propose significantly expanded, more aggressive, and more targeted revenue sharing. The purpose of this is to help clubs and ownerships groups which may need it. Under our proposal, revenue-sharing could reach, and probably would reach, more than $250 million, per year.

"In essence, when you boil it all down, what we're suggesting is that the players partner with the financially stronger owners to help stabilize the industry and assist the less financially-strong ownership groups."

In a nutshell, with all the money the players are reallocating to their owners, the NHL should become a tremendously economically-sound environment within three years. If that occurs, the fourth-year option would, if exercised, "would snap back to the current agreement" where the players receive a much higher HRR.

Salaries wouldn't increase that much over the next three seasons, either. A slow progression in player salaries would be implemented based on generated league-wide revenues, to ensure that the teams in need are getting the appropriate assistance.

"Obviously, we put a lot of time into this proposal and we think we can really improve the business side of things -- not only now to help both sides, but also going forward when these kinds of threats of lockouts or strikes or any kind of serious labor disputes (are put to an end)," said New York Islanders center John Tavares, one of the players in attendance today. "We want to grow the game, and grow it in a way where we can work together, and find a solution to the long-term."

Some of the provisions put forth today by the NHLPA are designed to create incentives for clubs to grow local and national team revenues. Fehr and the Players believe stabilizing all 30 markets is the best approach in creating a healthy league.

"Regardless of how you view the industry, as a whole, it may be that there are some individual franchises that need some attention," Fehr said. "The owners have certainly indicated to us that they believe that is true. So, what we wanted to do was try, as you should in bargaining, and address the concerns that are given to you, if you believe that you can do so."

Added Ottawa Senators veteran defenseman Chris Phillips, "I think was a positive day for us to counter and give our proposal and our ideas on how to make it a viable system for all clubs to succeed."

It's near impossible to draw any conclusions from today's meetings, given that the members of the NHL barely responded to what was put in front of them. Yes, there were some discussions related to various topics, but as Bettman put it, "We need to evaluate it and make sure we fully understand it."

"You don't really know them on a personal level, so you don't know how they react to certain things," said Edmonton Oilers forward Sam Gagner. "They didn't really say too much on what their thoughts were on it. Obviously, they want to gather the information and make sure they have a firm grasp on what it is that we're proposing before they come back to us with anything."

With the salary cap remaining in play -- which has surprised many -- there seem to be a few points proposed that would alter the definition of the cap.

Fehr indicated that "there are a couple of small exceptions to (the cap), but they're very limited and very defined."

In terms of the Players' reaction to the points made in the NHL's initial proposed related to contracts -- such as a five-year entry-level limit, the elimination of salary arbitration, and a five-year cap on length on of contracts -- there was no direction acknowledgement.

"We have proposed that there be no changes in any significant way to the player contracting rules," Fehr indicated. "We have a couple of things that we're going to get back to them on that we're still working on, but essentially, the current system would not be modified."

According to one League source, the NHL was "interested" and "intrigued" by what the NHLPA brought to the table, and that seemed to resonate with the players, who aren't drawing any conclusions.

"They were intuitive, they listened and were very interested in what we had to say," said Tavares.

Communication between the players has also helped the process. There appears to be a significant number of athletes interested in participating, as much as they can, in these negotiations and are keeping close tabs on how everything progresses.

"There's been a lot of communication, in terms of this deal," Phillips said. "We haven't all been fully aware of the exact numbers of what it's going to be, but we've all been very informed."

As the NHL continues to evaluate the proposal, both parties seem optimistic a deal can still be reached before Sept. 15, when the current CBA expires.

"I think our goal, and their goal, is to still get something done before the 15th, and the word 'lockout' hopefully doesn't come up again," said Gagner.

There's still plenty of work to be done, though, as the NHL will undoubtedly counter the NHLPA's offer and the two sides will negotiate to a middle ground.

"Our hope is that we can take care of business in the next month," Bettman added. "That's our goal."

That timeline could become fairly realistic based on how tomorrow's events unfold.
 

David Pagnotta is the Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Period Magazine. Follow him on Twitter.


 

 

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