Today, as expected, the NHLPA presented their proposal for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but steered shy of the word "counter-proposal" because their vision of the league's future is fundamentally different than that proposed by the owners over a month ago.
For hockey fans hoping for a timely start to the season, there is a tiny ray of hope here, in that the players chose not to take a super-aggressive stance like the owners did, when a "gimme gimme gimme" attitude came across in every point. Instead, they offered significant concessions on key issues which may allow the two sides to avoid the drawn-out affair which led to a lost season and the imposition of the salary cap back in 2005. Emphasize that word "may".
Only now are negotiations truly going to get underway, however, now that each party has laid out their starting positions. It took a long time to get to this point, and to expect that an agreement will get hammered out in time for an October 11 Opening Night is, to put it bluntly, optimistic.
UPDATE: Video of NHLPA head Donald Fehr's address after today's session follows...
Players OK With Salary Cap
Interestingly, and running counter to expectations, Donald Fehr indicated after the session that the players' proposal does include a hard salary cap. In addition, their proposal has them accepting less of a share in Hockey Related Revenues over the next 3 seasons, recognizing that some teams need financial relief. Of course, the devil is in the details, and we have yet to see the specifics of the NHLPA proposal.
The major issue on the ownership side is the disparity between the Haves and Have-Nots of the league, which has many teams raking in tremendous profits while others struggle to keep up with the rising salary environment. The owners' initial proposal sought to carve enough cash out of the players to make everybody happy at the Board of Governors meetings, and the NHLPA is seemingly putting the onus back on the league, through "more aggressive and targeted revenue sharing."
Attention Shifts To The Owners
Watchful eyes will now turn to Gary Bettman and the owners' camp, to see how the NHL responds to this offer. Perhaps more important than the specifics of their next proposal will be the timing - will it take days or weeks to arrive?
Those owners, remember, are coming from a strong position. They already have 2012-2013 season ticket money in the bank, and are better suited to wait out a lockout than the players. More NHL players make less than $1 million per season than make more (369 are above that mark for 2012-2013 per NHLNumbers.com, out of an NHLPA membership of 863).
Many in that majority will start getting uncomfortable once paychecks are missed beginning in October. That's when the pressure will truly escalate, and only then do I expect we'll see a deal struck.
Teams are already talking about cancelling prospect tournaments that they usually conduct as a lead-in to training camp, and of course the European games that traditionally open the season were scrapped months ago.
According to the players' union, no Nashville Predators participated in today's session.