Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NHLPA proposal reason for fans to weep

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Objectively, there should be rejoicing that on Wednesday of this week, more than two months into the NHL labour impasse, the NHL Players Association put its ideas onto paper and put them on the table.

Now there is a measuring stick on just how far apart the sides remain.

Prior to this week, the league has been engaged in the negotiations with some firm ideas. Some are realistic. Some are hard-line. All have been fairly clear. If you've been following along at home, you at least know what the NHL wants.

Before this week, we knew that the players wanted their amount of hockey-related revenue (HRR), pegged in the neighbourhood of $1.88 billion last season, never to decline and then increase over time.

Versions of that have been floated during talks, but the only other thing that's been clear from the players is that they've just said "no" to the NHL on many things. The NHL has been returning a steady fire of "no" in the last number of weeks.

So this week's memo from the NHLPA on its ideas, while difficult to understand in the version that's been made public, will be clear to the important people in the negotiating room. Logic would suggest that now this becomes a process of checking off this item or that, a give-and-take exercise until there is a new labour agreement and a shortened season to be played.

But examining the NHLPA's concrete proposals this week is cause for more pessimism than ever that the season can be saved.

Why?

There are many excellent ideas in the proposal, including regarding revenue sharing, salary only without bonuses to meet the salary lower limit and provisions to discourage back-diving contracts.

Among them, however, are many items that are sure to be rejected. Some, like the expansion of the salary range to 20 per cent higher and lower from the mid-point instead of $8 million, are designed to water down the cap system while some simply appear to be poison pills inserted as mere bargaining chips.

What's not to like? How about:

-- Getting rid of the four-recall rule, which permits NHL teams a maximum of four call-ups (and send-downs) from the minor leagues after the trade deadline, hamstringing all sides.

The way this document is worded, it's the players who have been holding up the elimination of one of the most stupid rules in hockey, ever. We've experienced it here in Winnipeg first hand. This rule is bad for aspiring players and really bad for AHL teams. It's being used as a simple bargaining chip by the players this time when it should have been eliminated a long time ago.

-- Proposing a five-year deal. Are the players trying to keep scared sponsors from never coming back to the NHL? If any confidence is to be restored in the league, a new CBA must be longer.

-- While the back-diving formula proposed should be adopted, it doesn't do anything to stop rich, big-market teams from giving it a shot. These deals and other contracting issues, many of which violate the spirit of the cap system, are suggested league give-backs by many big-market media analysts, who analyze things only through big-market eyes. They do nothing to foster an even playing field that give small-market franchises a chance to be competitive.

-- While the players have agreed to build the system around a 50-50 HRR split, they want the cap to never go below $67.25 million and the players' dollar share to go down. So that's not really a 50-50 split where the league will pick up after this mess.

To small-market eyes and ears -- hello, Winnipeg Jets fans -- it's also easy to find discouragement in the continuing rhetoric.

Much of it is just noise, much of it continues to irritate everyone, including the NHLPA's constant reminders that this is an "owners lockout" and that there would be games if the league would just work off the old deal and negotiate as we go.

If the NHLPA actually sent a letter to members of Parliament earlier this week, that will go under the "farce" column. Just what we need, fat-pensioned, reality-challenged politicians taking sides between millionaires and billionaires.

And all the outrage and threats to go hardline either from players or owners regarding the other's proposals or reaction to said? Both sides are not as savvy as they think regarding the fans.

If you're serious about outrage in November, you're assuming anyone really cares anymore. None of that's helping a deal get closer.

And that's why this is a week for pessimism.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2012 C7

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