NHL gap close enough to bridge

NHL gap close enough to bridge
November 23, 2012, 8:15 pm
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As the NHL inches closer to the point of no return, the rhetoric between the league and its players’ union has escalated.

But don't be fooled by the strong words. The owners and players may be closer to an agreement than either side suggests.

“The players have done everything they could to get the game back on the ice,” NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said. “This is a fight they didn’t want; it’s a fight they didn’t pick; it’s a lockout that they had no part in.

“And, they’re suffering right along with the fans. They made an enormous movement in the owner’s direction to try and end it and ... that hasn’t been successful.”

Consider that another shot fired across the bow in a battle that has grown increasingly nasty. With Friday’s cancellation of 96 more regular season games, along with the 2013 NHL All-Star Weekend in Columbus, the NHL labor war has resulted in a loss of roughly 34 percent of the 2012-13 season.

At best, the league can now salvage a 60-game season limited to all games being played within the conference.

In a statement issued on Friday Fehr noted that the league will lose more money in the next two weeks than the $182 million gap that exists between the two sides on the key issue of revenue sharing.

“On Wednesday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said that the league is losing $18 [million to] $20 million per day during the lockout,” Fehr said in a statement, “therefore two more weeks of cancelled games far exceeds the current economic gap.

“It makes the NHL’s announcement of further game cancellations, including the 2013 all-star weekend, all the more unnecessary, and disappointing for all hockey fans -- especially those in Columbus.

“The players remain ready to negotiate but we require a willing negotiating partner.”

In their last negotiating session on Wednesday the union proposed a 50-50 split of revenues along with $393 million in deferred payments. Under that proposal, all current contracts would be honored at face value.

The NHL has not budged from its offer of a 50-50 split and $211 million in deferred payments.

And although NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the two sides are “still far apart,” consider this:

If you divide $182 million by 30 NHL teams you get $6.06 million per team. Extend that over the NHLPA’s five-year proposal and each team takes a hit of $1.21 million per year. That’s the equivalent of one entry-level contract.

That seems to be a bridge very easily traversed, even when you consider the players' unwillingness to give up their current contract rights, like keeping unrestricted free agency at age 27; entry-level contacts at three years and placing no limits on contract lengths.

Earlier this week, Bettman said the NHL already has made its “best economic proposal” and that any expectation by the union that a better offer is on the horizon “is not realistic.”

If that’s the case, why not call off the season right now?

The reality is that the owners and players are closer to an agreement now than at any point in their negotiations. It might take another week or two for the bitter feelings to subside, but a deal is certanly there to be made and there is one last window in which a 60-game season can be saved.

Bettman and the league’s 30 owners know this. Fehr and the NHL’s 700-plus players know this.

So before you throw in the towel on the 2012-13 season, keep this in mind: the players and owners have moved too far from their original proposals to fall through the $182 million crack that divides them.