What's the catch?
The theory here is a boatload of far-fetched deal-breakers that include a stipulation that renames every Saturday “Bettman Night in Canada,” a mandate from the Maple Leafs that Phil Kessel be the first overall pick in the next All-Star fantasy draft and for the term of all contracts to be kept secret from players until after they’ve signed them.
That's an understandable reaction to Tuesday's news that the owners have made a seemingly "real" offer to the NHLPA. This should be met with skepticism, confusion, really anything but confidence that the NHL lockout is over. Maybe it's pessimism on my part, but it's just strange to imagine the owners being that practical this soon.
Make no mistake: The owners offering a CBA proposal that includes a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue and no rollback on contracts is major news. Considering their first offer called for everything but a mandate from the Maple Leafs that Phil Kessel be the first overall pick in the next All-Star fantasy draft (quite confident this joke stands the test of time), the league has made major strides and appears ready to negotiate. With the way things have looked the last few months, hockey fans should be pleasantly surprised if this offer was the starting pistol for real talks.
The quick details of the proposal (the ones we know, at least), the first one offered by either side in over a month, are as follows: It’s for at least six years, with hockey-related revenue split down the middle and no salary rollback. It would have an 82-game season this year that would begin on Nov. 2, with each team playing an extra game every five weeks in order to pack the full regular season into the shorter window.
The NHLPA has “about 10 days” to accept the proposal, according to commissioner Gary Bettman, though it’s expected that the league will hear from the players union before then.
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr called the league's proposal an "excellent start" on Tuesday. While the word "start" is probably the key word there, the whole world learned on Tuesday that "excellent" is in Fehr's vocabulary. Fehr, who led the MLBPA through the 1994-95 strike, is one of the most feared negotiators of his time and is known to get pretty darn close to exactly what he wants, often with work stoppages involved. If this proposal has Fehr using that new word of his, perhaps there could be hockey this season after all.
The news of the league's latest proposal comes a day after details of an NHL focus group to better understand the fans' perception of the league during the lockout emerged in a lengthy story on Deadspin.com. According to the story, the NHL hired market research firm Luntz International (the firm that came up with the term "climate change" as an alternative to global warming," among other things) to run a study with 30 fans. From Deadspin:
The focus group watched a series of televised speeches from players, owners, executives, and the commissioner himself. From the room's reaction, and Luntz's follow-up questions, it was clear that the group did not have a favorable impression of Gary Bettman. "A New York lawyer," one participant called him.
And that reiterates a line of thinking that everyone should have realized all along: Supporting a team has never been about supporting the owners or the league, so when fans threatened to stop lining Jeremy Jacobs' pockets in the days leading up to the lockout, the logic was bogus. They never bought Bruins tickets to support Jacobs in the first place; they bought Bruins tickets to see Tyler Seguin score highlight-reel goals and to see the maniacal look on Adam McQuaid's face during a fight up close.
So maybe the owners spent a bit of money to find out something that everybody knew all along. The fans wouldn't be sympathetic to the owners as long as they came off as business men interested only in the bottom line. It would take an offer that suggested they were about getting games on the ice rather than taking more from players in order for puckheads to even have a neutral opinion of them. It’s still early to tell, but maybe this is that offer.
If Tuesday’s proposal does prove to be a true base for negotiations to get the league’s stars back on North American ice, then the ball is in Fehr’s court. You can already see that the perception has changed -- not too much, but enough -- by reading the comments section on TSN or checking out Twitter. The owners have done enough with this offer for the fans to beg the NHLPA to accept, and that’s as big a stride in the court of public opinion as anyone could have expected from a group that’s used to being lambasted by the fans.
Again, this proposal comes as good news. It would just be pretty uncharacteristic if it’s as fair as it seems.