The NHL lockout is now in its fourth week, with the league recently cancelling the first two weeks of regular season games. Although there have been discussions between the NHL and NHLPA during that time, those discussions have not centered on the core economic issues. That is, they have not discussed the split of hockey related revenue (HRR), which is the main stumbling block between the two sides getting a deal done. Still, this is a positive step in moving towards a resolution. If you recall the lockout of 2004-05, there were essentially no discussions between the owners and players from the time the NHL enforced the lockout until early December. You would think that the recent dialogue would be an indication that both sides want to get a deal done this time around.
Even with the discussions that have taken place, it is hard to see where the two sides will find a middle ground in the near future to make a deal to appease both parties. After last weekend’s discussions, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the following in an email to the associated press:
“Not prepared to speculate on next steps at this point. Obviously, we’ve been saying for over a month now that we would welcome a new proposal from the Players’ Association. That continues to be our position.”
Clearly Daly and the owners are placing the onus on the players to make the first concession and if they continue with this strategy we could be in for a longer lockout than many are predicting. Again referring to the lockout in 2004-05, the players made a bold move in a last ditch effort to save the season. In their proposal they included a 24% rollback of player salaries. This was a monumental give by the players and yet this could not get a deal done at the time. Instead the owners used this rollback as part of all proposals going forward and it was included in the final deal that ended the lockout. Seeing how that situation played out it is fairly obvious why the players may be a bit tentative in providing any concessions in a proposal with the fear that it will be used against them in all other negotiations going forward.
Let’s also consider the owners first offer to the players back in July 2012. The owners offered the players a reduction in HRR from their current 57% to 43%, which equates to a 24% reduction in player salaries. Although the league’s proposal did not include a “roll back” in salaries (reduction would be captured through escrow instead), the optics of the low ball offer has provided Donald Fehr ammunition to help galvanize his union.
To get the league back up and running before American Thanksgiving (Thanksgiving Friday is the first game to air on NBC) the owners will need to come off their stance of large reductions in current player contracts (whether it be through a roll back or escrow). Thus, they must blink first in these negotiations.
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