Good news on the NHL front, for real this time. We think.
With the news Friday that the NHL had given in on some of its stances in a new collective bargaining agreement offer, it would appear that labor negotiations have gone from "too close to lose a season" to "so close that a lot of people should lose their jobs if it doesn’t get done."
Here are the details of what the owners have offered in their new proposal, which was first reported early Friday morning by "Eklund" of HockeyBuzz.com (and later confirmed by more reputable outlets such as ESPN).
- There was movement on the owners' term limit for contracts from five years to six years, with seven-year limits for players being re-signed by their own team.
- Teams can have one compliance buyout before the 2013-14 season. It would count against the players’ share rather than the salary cap. Previously, the league wanted no compliance buyouts.
- The “make whole” provision -- money to offset the loss of hockey-related revenue as players go from 57 percent to 50 percent -- remains at $300 million. That had been agreed upon by both sides earlier in December.
- The league moved from 5 percent to 10 percent on year-to-year salary variance.
This isn’t every little thing the players wanted -- they wanted eight-year limits on contracts, which is silly (see below) -- but it’s definitely enough to save the season. The sides should be able to cross the T's and dot the lowercase J's from here and hammer out a deal. If they don’t, this looks a lot worse for the players than it does for the owners.
Here are a few thoughts to take away from this development, which should be the beginning of the end of the lockout.
AT LEAST ONE PLAYER APPARENTLY WANTS TO TAKE IT
Pierre LeBrun’s report of the offer on ESPN was sourced by a player, which presumably means that at least one player wants to take this deal. If he didn’t, why would the player make the league look good by volunteering otherwise-quiet information that the owners had moved on their biggest sticking points?
In the past, offers have been shinier than they have been legitimate, with the devil often being in the details. Given how the information coming from a player appears, it doesn’t seem the league is trying to pull a fast one. It’s good enough in one player’s eyes. If it wasn’t, the player would have kept quiet.
Players should want to take this deal, just like they should have wanted to take the owners’ last offer earlier in the month. The five-year max on contracts easily could have been something the players gave the owners in exchange for different concessions, as the eight-year limit the players wanted wouldn’t apply to the vast majority of players. Remember, only 22 players in the league currently have contracts of eight or more years.
The last offer -- $300 million make-whole, five-year limit on term contracts, no complaince buyouts -- was not put to a vote by the players' association. It's hard to imagine that this deal wouldn't be accepted if put to a vote, but some further negotiation might be required before both sides are fully satisfied.
THE OWNERS DON’T WANT TO LOSE THE SEASON
That’s something that’s been in question throughout the whole process, and while a guy like Jeremy Jacobs might not care what happens to hockey as long as he gets the best deal, the majority of the owners didn’t want to see yet another season lost. Given how trivial the remaining issues were when talks broke off earlier this month, it’s smart thinking on their part.
The owners could have sweated this out with the mindset that they had made the most concessions in the last talks while holding firm in the belief that it was the players’ turn to make the next move. Apparently the owners didn’t want to let a blinking contest dictate the future of the sport, so they took another big step toward what the players want.
According to reports, the league wants to have this deal done by early January. Piecing together a collection of tweets from the Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika and the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch, the league wants to get the deal done by Jan. 10 or 11, open training camps on Jan. 12 and have the season start on Jan. 19.
If all that were to happen, the 2012-13 season (technically just the 2013 season now) would start one day earlier than the 1994-95 season, which began on Jan. 20 due to that season’s lockout.
DONALD FEHR CAN SAY HE ‘WON’ THE NEGOTIATION
You should never underestimate NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr’s ego, but if he can’t be satisfied with this offer and would rather risk losing the season, he will have failed miserably at his job. He was hired to get the players the best deal, and this deal is far better than what most expected in the lockout’s early days.
Given that, yes, Fehr has done a good job of getting more from the league. He’s been a tough negotiator, and his belief that waiting would mean a better deal has been right. Now he needs to let his players know that this is acceptable.
There’s nothing left to be gained or proven for Fehr. He got the owners to give the players $300 million to offset what they’d be losing in hockey-related revenue. He got the league -- after NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly famously said a five-year term limit on contracts would be the “hill we will die on” -- to move to six years (seven for teams re-signing their own players) on the limit for contracts.
The league has stood down. The owners have given in. They’ve moved where they said they wouldn’t move. Fehr has “won” this negotiation and can add the NHLPA to the list of professional sports unions that he has helped in his impressive career.
Of course, a negotiation can’t be won unless it ends. That’s the next step, and it should be an easy one.