The NHLPA’s long-awaited counter-proposal was tabled on Tuesday, one which could put the NHL CBA negotiations on the path toward a new deal without a work stoppage.

Nearly a month after the NHL made it’s initial CBA prosposal, the NHLPA finally tabled its counter-proposal on Tuesday.

The key points of the prosposal are:

-A three-year CBA, with the option for a fourth year which would see the league revert back to the current CBA,

-The players would be willing to accept a reduced share of hockey-related revenue (HRR) over the first three years of their proposed CBA,

– Uncoupling salaries from revenue over that three year period, opting instead for a two percent increase in the first year, four percent in the second, and six percent in the third,

-No changes to the current rules regarding contract lengths, free agency, and salaries,

-The proposal included an improved revenue share system to help financially struggling teams, up to perhaps $250 million per season, and

-The new CBA would still include the current “hard” salary cap, but could allow for a luxury tax.

What’s most significant about this proposal is the players’ willingness to accept another reduction in their share of HRR. While they didn’t specify how much of a percentage that could be, the fact they’re willing to consider that option is significant.

For months, hockey fans have been regaled by reports claiming the players, after giving back so much in the previous lockout, were unwilling to do so again. That belief stoked concerns of another lengthy lockout when the current CBA expired on September 15.

The league, of course, pushed for a significant reduction – from 57 percent down to 43 percent, once their proposed redefinition of HRR was factored in – in their initial proposal, which was widely panned by fans, bloggers and pundits alike.

You can bet the players aren’t willing to accept that much of a decrease, but their proposal suggests they might be willing to accept the “50-50” split many observers believe the league ultimately seeks.

Had the NHLPA maintained a hard line and refused to accept any reduction in the players share of HRR, a lockout was certain.

Contrary to recent speculation, the PA didn’t seek to abolish the current salary cap system. Had that been part of the proposal, it would’ve been an automatic deal-breaker for the league.

This is an acknowledgement by the players the salary cap system isn’t worth fighting against, and rightly so. As one pundit aptly put it, the players understand they can’t win a war of financial attrition with the team owners.

The players suggested uncoupling their salaries from revenue increases over the next three years in favor of slight percent increases is clearly aimed at the owners of clubs struggling to keep up with the ever-increasing salary cap maximum and minimum. It’s a smart play, designed to woo those owners and possibly drive a wedge between they and their big-market peers.

No one should be surprised the PA is seeking an enhanced revenue sharing system, likely via luxury tax, or their unwillingness for changes in the current rules governing salaries, contract lengths and free agency.

What’s interesting is the PA offered up a short-term CBA proposal. It suggests the idea is to convince the team owners to give it a try and see how enhanced revenue-sharing would work.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman spoke briefly with reporters following Tuesday’s meeting with the PA, saying only that it was clear the proposal wasn’t a slap-dash job, and the team owners would need time to evaluate it.

It’s expected the league will reject it, but will acknowledge points in the PA’s proposal (players’ reduced share of HRR, revenue-sharing) that would be worth continued negotiations.

CBA length, contract lengths and changes to free agency are all minor issues which aren’t show-stoppers. The main point remains the distribution of revenue.

The players willingness to accept a reduced share of HRR as well as push for enhanced revenue-sharing to aid struggling franchises is not only sensible, but demonstrates their willingness to negotiate in order to prevent another work stoppage.

They have no intention of going on strike, meaning if another work stoppage occurs, it’s by the league locking out out the players.

Their willingness to negotiate now puts the ball back in the league’s court, which it’ll have to address carefully.

If the league rejects it outright and sticks to its hardline stance, it’s not going to sit well with fans and pundits. It’ll cast the players in a sympathetic light, making the owners look like petty greed-heads.

By rejecting the PA proposal but singling out points worth negotiating over, the league can also appear willing to compromise, especially if it should follow-up with an offer that seeks a more reasonable split of HRR, enhanced revenue sharing, and perhaps backing off on some of its earlier hard-line demands regarding contracts, salaries and free agency.

It remains to be seen what the league does, but the PA’s proposal provides perhaps the first bit of optimism in these CBA negotiations in weeks, potentially signalling a real opportunity for both sides to get a deal done without losing any portion of the upcoming season.