The battle over the NHL's next Collective Bargaining Agreement is truly joined.
Now that the two sides have exchanged proposals, and each has pretty much dismissed them out of hand, observers around North America are waiting to see where and when either the owners or players are willing to make a move towards "the middle", whatever that truly means.
Travis Hughes sat in on a conference call as NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr updated the media, and responded to questions about whether the players would be willing to come down from their current 57% share of Hockey Related Revenues, down to 50%:
"Let me caution you when you start talking about 50/50 splits," Fehr said. "If you start talking about all revenue as opposed to hockey-related revenue, the way we calculate it the players are already at just about 50/50. Hockey-related revenue begins by subtracting some amounts of revenue. They don't count. What I'm saying is that if you add those things back in and then take what the players get, we calculate that to be about 51 percent."
Fehr said that the players are compromising directly off the start based on the fact that the league has a salary cap.
"Suppose the players came in -- as we have not done -- and we said, 'This is what we want. We'll have no salary cap, have a minimum salary and benefits, which will be a small fraction of the salary bill, and all the owners can pay whatever it is they want to pay. They can adjust their salaries up and down based on what they think is best for them. Whatever the free market produces, in a real free market, the players will take.'"
"The reason we have a salary cap is because the owners believe -- and they are correct -- that the salary cap we have now pays the players less than what the free market would pay them. That's the starting point from the players' analysis, but the players are willing to live with that if we can work out an agreement."
The argument from the owners' side of things when it comes to a 50/50 split of revenues is that the two sides are partners in building and growing the NHL as a business. But Fehr rejects that idea whole-heartedly.
"If we are partners, do we have joint control?" Fehr asked. "Do we get to have an equal say on how the marketing is done, how the promotion is done, where the money is invested, where the franchises are located? Do we have an equal say on when teams are sold, where the money goes? Do we get part of that? Do we have an equal say on how the television arrangements are done?
"Do we have an equal say on anything? That's what a partnership normally implies."
The bottom line is... they're not really partners at all in the sense that Fehr is referring to, and the players have zero chance of getting "joint control". This is, quite simply, a power play. The owners have a chance to significantly tilt the league's financial parameters in their direction, and the stakes involved make it important enough for them to consider extreme measures in order to achieve it.
Have a great weekend, everybody!