Last week when the talk of lockout was swirling, I started wondering if the NHL owners and players were dumb. I think after the NHLPA presented its proposal Tuesday I have to come off that stance slightly.
You see, the players presented something that isn’t a counterproposal. They presentedsomething that changes the conversation. And on top of that, they presented something that has a huge concession: the players will get less money. And on top of that, they’re not suggesting scrapping the hard cap. Making concessions in your first proposal in labor negotiations is a big deal and should not be ignored.
I don’t expect the owners to immediately negotiate the finer points of the NHLPA proposal because it’s complicated. I am a tiny bit confused just reading the revenue sharing percentage differences, and we haven’t even seen the full proposal. But there are other points in the proposal that grant flexibility in the teams pulling together a roster, though we haven’t seen what that includes. Could it be a luxury tax or something else in addition to the cap? If it is a luxury tax, I hope it’s better than what MLB offers because I don’t think it helps create better parity between teams. This is a league where the Yankees, Red Sox and others spend, spend, spend, and those same teams typically are the ones at the top of the standings. I have lots of questions, and I expect the owners to have many more.
More negotiations are expected on Wednesday, and I’ll be interested to see how the owners will react. It would be a mistake for the owners to ignore the NHLPA’s proposal. It’s worth negotiating. The proposal is outside-the-box thinking. Can the NHL owners do the same?
As someone who has covered a lot of labor negotiations (and also has been involved in some as a union vice-chair back at my old newspaper job), you frequently hear how the best deals are the ones where no one is happy. You have to make concessions to make the best deal for both sides. But one side can’t be making all the concessions. That means both the owners and players have to give to get. The players showed with this proposal they are willing to do that.
The owners need to make their own too, like backing off the limitations such as rookie contract lengths and increasing the free agency age. The owners got everything they wanted in 2005 and they should not expect the same this time around. That’s not how it works and that will not create labor peace.
There’s another factor in what the NHLPA did: Public relations. By proposing something with concessions and attempting to solve the problems rather than band-aiding them, the players union looks like the good guys right now. I am not sympathetic to either side, but right now I would side with the players if I had to choose a side. The NHL owners don’t want to be in a position of looking bad, but that could happen if they stand their ground and are not willing to negotiate the points of what was proposed.
So it’s your move, NHL owners. Are you going to push us closer to the brink of another lockout? Or are you willing to come halfway like the players seem to be doing? We fans would like to see you all work this out together. You’re in this together. But also remember us, too. What you create should be best for you, the players and us, the fans. We want a deal done by Sept. 15, but we also want the best deal that sustains the NHL for years to come.
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