A funny thing happened on Tuesday. An innocent meeting between the NHL and the players union officially kicked off the CBA negotiations.
Sure, the two sides have been talking off and on for months now. The lockout has been in place for 31 days. But that was all just staring and finger pointing, not negotiating. They really got down to business this time.
For so long you have heard the complaints, or you might have even said them yourself, that it's time for the NHL to get serious. It got serious with a new offer, one that appears to set an incredible foundation for real negotiations to commence and hopefully to set up a deal in the very near future.
"We're focused on getting the season started on Nov. 2," Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "That's what this offer was about."
The NHL's offer, which splits the money 50/50 with the NHLPA across the board, is far and away the NHL's best offer to date. It included numerous other angles where the players wouldn't actually be losing money on the deals they have signed now -- it would reportedly be repaid -- and other angles that will be amenable to the players, including revenue sharing increasing. That covers some of the NHLPA's biggest points; they don't want salary rollbacks and want to see greater revenue sharing. The NHL has heard that and tried to remedy it.
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The union is going to take some time and look this offer over. It will surely scrutinize every detail and find things that it doesn't like. Some of those are easier to see than others, such as the restrictions on contracts (putting a five-year cap on contracts, for example). What's undeniable is the NHLPA is now looking at an offer that it has to at least consider intriguing.
For the first time in a long, long time, there is optimism. And lots of it. But don't throw your caution to the wind just yet. There is still work to be done.
This offer from the NHL probably serves as the true foundation for a deal. That much is very encouraging. That the league is interested in playing a full 82 games and getting this deal done in the next week and a half is also a positive. But don't expect the NHLPA to just say "Great!" and sign off on the proposal. That's not going to happen.
Remember, this deal still requires the players to give up 7 percent of the hockey-related revenue. Based on where the owners' first offer was, this seems great. But based on where they just were in the last CBA, it's still a relatively big reduction for the players. Just trying to keep things in perspective here. They did know a reduction was coming; that was the owners' No. 1 goal in these talks. Hopefully, getting this to where everybody thought it would end up at 50/50 will sound good enough to get the players to make an earnest response.
There will be things to negotiate off this proposal. The question is how much, that's what we're all waiting to hear. It will probably be a while before we get the answer as the union reviews the offer.
Speaking optimistically, we are at a point where we can reasonably expect the sides to put their foot to the pedal and work tirelessly over the next week. That's what the result of Tuesday's offer from the NHL is; it is hopefully the spur that these negotiations need and one that can lead us back to the land of hockey.
That's not the only thing this offer has achieved for the owners. Now they have done what was unthinkable, not even 24 hours ago: They have put themselves back in a positive light. This offer is just so much fairer than anything we've seen from either side at this point.
Think about it: The players have been in the catbird's seat this time around when it comes to fan support. But now with the owners presenting an offer that's very reasonable, at least on the surface, they have the players in a position to look bad. With one offer, the league can turn the tide. The public relations angle might not seem like it means a ton, but outside pressure can have an effect. The NHL seems to have made that clear recently.
The union's response will have to be calculated. As mentioned, the union is not going to take this deal as is; there are plenty of things that they will negotiate. That's where Donald Fehr, the union's boss, comes in. This is what he does best. He hasn't said much to date, but what he did say was very positive to hear.
"Our hope is after we review this, there will be a feeling this is a proposal which we can negotiate and try to reach a conclusion," Fehr said.
Soon enough, none of this will matter, what they all said and how they were viewed. If a season goes a full 82 games, they might be able to salvage fan interest. That's all dependent on getting a deal done soon, though, and now we're getting closer.
With all the pessimism that has been floating around the NHL, it's OK to feel pretty good today. You can start to smell the foul odor radiating from the players' sweaters and pads. The only way that you can't see the finish line in the distance is if you're blind. Just keep your fingers crossed that it isn't a mirage.