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NHLPA views improved offer as a good start

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Depending on with whom one is speaking, the NHL's CBA negotiations are just getting started or they're about to end.

For the owners, it's now or never. For the players, there remains time to talk and go back and forth.

The game of chicken has finally gotten exciting. But when the tachometer gets to the redline like it is now, one either engages the clutch and shifts or blows a piston.

We're at the moment of truth. The NHL is saying this is its best offer. If the players don't bite, the owners will either walk or be forced to cave again.

Don't bet on the latter.

Don Fehr must try to gauge which is true and guide his constituents. The NHLPA's executive director either wants to negotiate a deal or attempt to drive his proposal down the owners' collective throats. We're about to find out which way the wind is blowing.

There's no mystery to this. The owners have all along considered a 50-50 revenue share a deal they could and would make. They threw 43 per cent out as a starting point back in the summer and the players cried foul.

On Tuesday, the NHL moved up seven per cent to 50 per cent and asked the players to come down seven per cent. You may believe in coincidences but where Gary Bettman and negotiation strategies are concerned, I don't.

The league has finally gotten to its line in the sand.


Fehr will now try to cut a better deal. How hard he's going to push is the next veil to be removed. But the league says there's not much wiggle room left.

A league executive, when told a player had viewed the league's offer on Tuesday as a beginning bid, couldn't hide his disappointment.

"A start? That's too bad because we're at the end. We were never told offically that if we got to 50-50 we'd have a deal but we were told indirectly by the players that if we got to 50-50 that they wouldn't let leadership stand in the way," said the source. "This wasn't a take it or leave it offer but we made it clear we were stretched as far as we could go."

Translation: There's room to move on the contracting issues but not much on the revenue split.

An NHLPA source saw the league's offer as a platform for more talks.

"You can be cautiously optimistic. You understand that although it's a start, there's a long way to go. Players are still giving up a lot and not getting much in return. Which isn't great from our standpoint, so we'll look to address that in our counter proposal," the source said. "The conference call was to see where the guys are at. Now we'll spend the next day coming up with a counter proposal. It's good because it's movement. But it's just a start. Now it's time for a counter proposal on our side and then hopefully some movement back and forth."

It doesn't sound like one side is hearing the other. Or maybe they just don't want to listen.

It's clear the league's strategy has been to get to 50-50 all along. The NHLPA, however, has gone out of its way to repeatedly state 50-50 doesn't work.

Now that it's on the table, we will find out where they really stand.

The league negotiated against itself on Tuesday, something they said they would not do.

The hope was that it would budge a deal along. The fear was that it would enbolden the union and its executive director and leave them thinking they could stall and squeeze more from the owners.

Talks are expected to resume on Thursday when the players have a counter proposal to discuss.

"We're going to find out," said the league source. "They'll either have something we can consider and we'll start pushing paper across the table at one another or we won't."

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 17, 2012 C1

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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 www.winnipegfreepress.com
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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