NHL negotiations show promise

It was inevitable how the labor negotiations between the National Hockey League and its players would end. The players would not retain the 50 percent of revenues they enjoyed in the previous deal. The owners would not be knocking the players to the ice with another 25 percent pay cut – the second in eight years – to take 57 percent of the revenue for themselves.

The deal was going to be as close to 50-50 as the sides would allow. The question was: How long would it take for reality to set in? How long would it take for small-market owners to pressure NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to launch a season most markets can’t afford to miss? What about dissension in the players’ ranks to undermine the union as it did in 2004? And let’s not forget the growing disillusionment of fans across the continent that could put everyone’s careers at risk.

On Oct. 16, the league made the most significant move in negotiations, laying the groundwork to potentially save all 82 games of the 2012-13 season.

The league proposed a 50-50 split of league revenues coupled with a mechanism to lower the salary demands for clubs. The mechanism would still honor the full dollar amount of current contracts by deferring payments over the length of the life of the contract.

The players expressed cautious optimism, but this is likely the best deal they can hope for. They probably won’t accept the deal outright when they convene on Oct. 18 to discuss it, but they should easily agree to revenue dollar amounts to remove the most crippling obstacle in negotiations.

From there, players will look to tweak free agency requirements in the deal, reportedly not offering unrestricted free agency before eight years of service or age 28, and other issues like a cap on the lengths of contracts. Players will also likely seek to phase into a 50-50 split of revenue rather than an immediate cut that would be more challenging for players’ wallets in the first year of the deal.

But revenue split was the biggest concern for the players, and while they will still lose money, contracts will be honored in full without a salary rollback, and that’s a compromise they should agree to take.

If the mechanism can truly pay all salaries in full, Executive Director of the NHL Players Association Don Fehr needs to take this deal. He has the ownership to turn away from their demands for a salary rollback, which they said they absolutely would not do. This is a tremendous moral victory and validation for Fehr, and he can achieve it without losing games.

Everyone saves face, but Fehr limits the damage on what could have been terribly worse for the players and comes out the biggest winner in the war room. This deal may not go through for the season opener on Nov. 2, but if the most important issue is indeed resolved, we will be watching hockey by the second week of November.