Many people are asking this exact question; what just happened this week during the latest rounds of negotiating by the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players Association? Well, the short story first, they did not reach a deal and hockey is still not back yet. The long story however, is much more intriguing and a lot more confusing.
In what was a very weird sequence of events, after a few days of extremely quiet negotiating with very little information being given to the media; NHLPA leader Donald Fehr came out to finally address the media and answer some questions. He gave a speech shocking the audience and all of the twitter followers anxiously awaiting news, that the two sides had agreement’s on many of the important topics that have been at the forefront of the lockout issues. These included the pension plan, the transition agreements, and the NHLPA was in firm belief that the money issues were behind them. The only huge blocks that stood in the way were the length of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the length of the player’s contract, and the variance length of contracts. Everything seemed to be going well, people were excited, and all that was left was for the Commissioner Gary Bettman to respond.
That unfortunately, is where everything went terribly wrong. The NHL responded by saying the proposal by the NHLPA was “unacceptable” and that they were done negotiating for the weekend. This was followed by a Bettman press conference which showed the anger the commissioner had as he said the NHL’s offer was completely off the table. There was a lot more bickering back and forth between the two sides but now here is what people really need to understand about what happened this week.
In my opinion, there is no way that NHL’s offers are completely off the table. If that is truly the case then we can all kiss the season good bye and possibly the entire league as well. The two sides will continue to negotiate but during this week the two sides agreed to a few more things. That is what negotiating is all about, getting closer and closer until there is an agreement that both sides can live with. Before this week, players had no limits on contracts; this week they agreed to limit their contracts to a certain amount (the players want eight while the owners want five and seven for a team’s own free agent). Before this week the players had no pension; this week the players had an agreement to fund their own pension. Before this week the players had 57% of the revenue, during this week the players had agreed to drop their share substantively. Before this week the two sides were 182 million dollars apart in the transition make-whole payments with the players wanting 393 million and the owners offering 211 million. This changed to the owners offering 300 million which apparently Fehr said there was an agreement in place. (Most of this statistical information can be found on the various twitter updates or here)
These are all significant changes that have occurred this week. Both sides have been trying to influence the media which has led to all of these overreactions. When you look at the details, the two sides are very close. The three key issues in this lockout are the length of the CBA which the NHL says now must be 10 years, the length of the players contract which the NHL says must be five years for free agents or seven year maximum for a team’s own free agents, and the NHL does not want any amnesty buyouts like the last lockout. Here is how I see these playing out; the players are going to have to agree to a limit on contract length which they have already proposed. The players should offer the NHL an eight year CBA with two options that can make it up to ten years. These options would be for the 9th year, both sides would need to opt out to stop the deal and for the tenth year only one side would need to opt out of the deal. They should offer the NHL a six year maximum for free agents and an eight year maximum for a team’s own free agents. The amnesty buyouts should not be an issue as this does not affect too many players and it could be already agreed upon.
If these three issues can be agreed to in this fashion, with the owners and players agreeing to the transition/make-whole payments, then the lockout should be solved. As you can see, there really isn’t that large of a gap in these negotiations so all of this doom and gloom can stop. The only way there will be no season this year is if the NHL is serious about all of their offer’s being off the table because then we are back to square one. Call me crazy, or call me a prophet, but I see an agreement in two or three weeks, and the season starting in early January with around 48-55 games played. Let me know your thoughts on the lockout at twitter.com/margo4pack, whose fault to you all blame, and what would you do about it?