The National Hockey League is closer than ever to actually having a season. It’s up to the players to decide how close.
The league ignited the engine on stalled collective bargaining talks Tuesday, proposing a 50-50 revenue split between owners and players during a meeting in Toronto. The offer to the NHL Players’ Association is contingent on a full 82-game season that would begin Nov. 2.
“We very much want to preserve a full 82-game season, and in that light we made a proposal, an offer really, that is our best shot at preserving an 82-game regular season and playoffs,” Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters in Toronto. “We believe that this was a fair offer for a long-term deal, and it’s one that we hope gets a positive reaction so that we can drop the puck on Nov. 2, which backing up entails at least a one-week training camp.
“So, we have about nine or 10 days to get this all put to bed, signed, sealed and delivered.”
Union leader Donald Fehr planned to study the proposal – the first made by either side since mid-September – and discuss the nuances during a conference call with the NHLPA’s executive board and negotiating committee. Talks with the league will resume “sooner rather than later,” he said.
“I would like to believe that after we’re done with this that it will be an excellent starting point, and we can go forward and see if there’s a deal to be made,” Fehr told media in Toronto. “I’ve been looking for a way to get these negotiations jump-started, and if this does it, that would be great. We’ll see, though.
“Whenever you make an offer in bargaining, especially one in the midst of a dispute where you have a lockout in place, you make an offer, you expect discussions, you expect further negotiations.”
The proposal is a large step forward by the NHL. Its initial offer would have given the players 43 percent of hockey-related revenue, which reached a record $3.3 billion last season. The league’s proposal prior to Tuesday increased the players’ share to no more than 47 percent.
The players received 57 percent of revenue the past two seasons. Their latest proposal called for them to take 52 percent to 54 percent, with their numbers based on 7 percent yearly growth.
One of the biggest issues for players has been to avoid any type of salary rollback. They want to be paid their previously negotiated salaries despite any drop in revenue percentage. Various reports said the NHL’s proposal provides “salary protection” in the first year of the deal, with players getting any money they lose repaid over time.
“We believe we addressed the concern that players have about what happens to their salaries as a result in this year reducing the percentage from 57 to 50 percent,” Bettman said. “We had a number of significant elements that we believe can and should serve as the basis of a deal to get us playing hockey.”
The regular season was supposed to start last Thursday, but the owners canceled the first two weeks as part of the lockout that began Sept. 16. Bettman said Tuesday that a Nov. 2 start would ensure the Stanley Cup playoffs would be completed by late June.
“The compression that would be involved is one additional game every five weeks,” Bettman said. “Beyond that, we don’t think it would be good for the players or for the game.”
Said Fehr: “They would still like to get a full 82-game season in. We, of course, share that view and would like to get a full 82-game season in. So what our hope is after we review this is that there will be a feeling on the players’ side that this is a proposal from which we can negotiate and try and reach a conclusion.”
The proposed length of the new CBA is a minimum of six years. According to Sportsnet.ca, the offer also includes capping contract lengths at five years, gives full free agency at 28 years old or eight years of service and sets revenue sharing at or near $200 million.
“In some respects I think it is [an improvement],” Fehr said. “In other respects I’m not sure.”
The limit on contract lengths is likely to need extensive discussion among the players.
Long-term, big-dollar, guaranteed deals have become commonplace and helped drive the salary cap from $39 million in 2005-06 to $64.3 million last season.
“We’ve given it our best shot,” Bettman said. “It’s done in the spirit of getting a full season in.”