Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Time for NHL fans to tune in for the sounds of bargaining

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Don Fehr may or may not want to make a deal. Same goes for Gary Bettman. We should know a lot more about each sides' intentions a little later this week and whether or not an NHL lockout is simply a forgone conclusion.

There is time to find common ground and make meaningful strides towards a new CBA prior to Sept. 15 to avoid missing any of the upcoming regular season. But only if both sides want to work together.

Is Bettman only intent on jamming his deal down the players' throats and unwilling to make concessions? Is union boss Fehr on a mission to put his stamp on hockey and is he inflexible on economic issues?

If they're not talking this week and merely meeting for the sake of meeting, you can begin to make plans that don't include NHL this fall.

When the two sides emerge from meetings in Toronto beginning today and ending Thursday, they will either tell us they've begun to actually bargain or they will tell us they remain on different planes and have been unable to reach across the gulf.

The union's proposal has some openings for discussion. They left the hard cap mostly alone, which is a key for ownership. They also put forth a proposal for increased revenue sharing.

Both of these are areas Bettman should be able to work with.

The union also forwarded a formula whereby the players' slice of revenue would grow at a slower rate if league revenues continue to increase.

It's a start.

If the union is willing to budge on these concepts, there is potential for the two sides to get much closer. Hopefully their proposal was a first offer and there is room to give. If it's a take-it-or-leave-it approach, get ready to watch a lot of basketball this winter.

Bettman and ownership have some giving of their own to do. They started out with some aggressive asks.


Trimming the players' share of revenue to 46 per cent won't happen. But one has to believe it was an opening bid with room to move. Can Bettman adopt the instrument put forth by Fehr, or does it all have to be his way? If Fehr can get his system to spit out numbers closer to a 50 per cent share rather than the 54 to 57 per cent range they are asking for, there should be room for discussion.

Bettman must also prove he has the support of his owners where revenue sharing is concerned. The league's original proposal allowed for modest increases in this area. The union wants change to be a little more voracious. Bettman will need to bring his owners to the trough.

The union's proposal was for a three-year agreeement and then a snap back to their original share of 57 per cent of revenue. Fehr doesn't want the players to be negotiating from a lower share when the next agreement comes up. It's clever but hopefully it's just a negotiating card he can play in exchange for some of the contracting issues the owners want to tweak, such as the age of free agency.

Will Fehr go longer and trade the snap-back concept to keep free agency where it is now? In order to get a longer deal, will the owners accept the snap back? It's called bargaining and it's how deals get done.

The rhetoric has already started. Don't listen to it. It's meaningless jibber jabber. As fans, do you really care how the rich players and richer owners cut up the pie? Of course not.

The price of tickets isn't going down. Same for the cost of beer and soda. There's no CBA between fans and the league to make sure the public doesn't get screwed. That isn't going to change. Neither is the fact player salaries and franchise values are going to rise. No matter what anyone says, owners and players will continue making more money as time moves forward. End of story.

So now it's time to listen for the sounds of bargaining. Only that can lead to the sound of steel carving ice and pucks banging off boards.

If all we hear is the stubborn braying of donkeys, the echoes of hockey could be very far off.

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


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 22, 2012 D1

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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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