Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The 'whole' truth

Lockout can be ended if sides come to agreement on the 'make whole' component

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There are two things that have become obvious in the negotiations between the NHL and the NHLPA:

1. 50-50 is the future of the revenue share between the league and its players.

2. Contracts already signed need to be honoured (made whole) by the owners.

So let's get on with it and make a deal.

The NHL's last offer agreed to the 50-50 split but the "make whole" proposition didn't fly with the NHLPA because all of the money to guarantee their existing contracts came out of the players' future share.

A league source, however, said owners are willing to negotiate on that point.

"That's what our last proposal did. But if they want to negotiate over whether the 'make whole' comes out of their share of future revenues or ours, or some combination of both, we are willing to have that discussion," said the source on Friday morning.

This seems pretty simple and it also makes it appear as if a deal isn't that far away. But those appearances don't reflect the reality.

The players seem to believe there is a better deal for them down the road. That's their right. They don't have to agree to a contract they don't like.

By the same token, ownership doesn't have to stay status quo. That's why we have a lockout.

The NHLPA's third proposal, which came out on Thursday, claimed to go to 50-50 right away, but it really didn't, as it also stipulated all contracts were to be immediately honoured in full. That is impossible. There needs to be some deferment of salary to achieve 50-50 for this season.

If the players are willing to put some of their money on hold, the owners should be prepared to pay for it.

The NHL has said it needs immediate salary relief. The players don't see it that way, as every offer they make keeps their share in Year 1 at or very near to 57 per cent of revenue as their share.

The players also talk about the 75 per cent of revenues they were getting prior to the 2004-05 lockout. That might work in a 12-team league in strong markets. Or 57 per cent in a 24-team league.

The reality is the league has grown over the last 20 years. There are more jobs for players at better salaries than ever before. But there are also weak franchises.

The players suggest the owners should fund those franchises. Let me ask you this: How would you feel about a larger portion of the $100 or so you spend on tickets to watch the Jets getting funnelled down to Phoenix so someone there can pay 20 bucks for the same seat at a Coyotes game? Didn't think so.

One refrain we keep hearing from the players is they have made givebacks in the billions over the length of the last CBA and they will do the same going forward.

They fail to mention the average salary in the league has grown by more than $1 million per season over the last eight years. The players have done very well under the previous agreement and their salaries will continue to grow under a 50-50 split.

The players no longer insist they deserve more than 50 per cent of hockey-related revenue. But they're not willing to concede that point immediately -- not quickly enough to give the NHL the salary relief it says is needed today.

Ownership is going to have to live with the deals they've already made. Zach Parise is due $12 million from the Craig Leopold-owned Minnesota Wild this season. He should get it. Maybe he'll have to wait a while for some of it, but he should get it all.

Leopold went out and spent almost $200 million on two players this summer. That's his bad and he's going to have to pay for it. Not the players.

It is Leopold's summer of frivolity, however, that should allow the players to sleep well knowing if they give a bit in terms of percentage points, their salaries will continue to escalate.

The league will continue to grow revenue and owners will spend as much as they can on salaries.

The players will be just fine. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 20, 2012 C3

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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