NHLPA Makes Sensible Counter-Proposal.

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.

10 Comments

  1. 1) I agree its a VERY reasonable proposal. One that the NHL/Bettman will have trouble demonizing. However I believe they will reject it. They will use the excuse that the NHLPA proosal “eliminates cost certainty” by uncoupling salaries to revenue.
    2) I also don’t think the NHL wants the players to tell them how to share their revenues. So while I think the public reaction by the NHL will try to be positive I think ultimately we will be right back where we started after this round of talks

  2. The PA offer is logical in design, and is a breath of fresh air compared to previous PS counter proposals. What I like about it is that it it provides the 20 or so small market owners the opportunity challenge the 10 or so big market owners to agree to an inversely proportional profit sharing system over the next three; in other words, more money for the poorer teams and less for the richer. I believe that this is one of the main reasons why the PA counter offer was structured the way it is. Good move by the PA!!!

  3. Is there a spot in the proposal where the PA saves the owners from themselves? Long contracts and overspending with no way out. The stupid owners(the few of them) do this to screw the rest. Agents use that against the good owners as leverage to elevate contracts,as is their job. In the end a few bad apples in each barrel screws the pooch for everyone else.

  4. Azhockeynut, I think you hit on a good point. Long contracts and overspending. It is a good call by the PA not to fight the salary cap for two reasons. The obvious one which is that it will certainly lead to a work stoppage but the other is that no one can argue that players ultimately benefited from having a salary cap over the life of the current CBA. Keep the salary cap and let owners do what they do best, find loopholes in the current or the new one that will allow them to overpay second tier talent therefore raising every players salary and also let them pay guys that don’t even play in the league anymore (Wade Redden, Cristobal Huet, Alexi Yashin, etc.) because they exploited loopholes. As a result of this proposal, they will get the fans on their side (I believe they already did anyway, but can always get more) as Lyle pointed out because they are giving owners cost certainty over the life of the deal unless revenue just explodes unexpectedly which is why the PA put that 10% clause in there, small market owners have to like this stuff. Small market owners also have to like selling cap space as much as the big market owners would love to buy it. History shows us that the big spenders will always be big spenders and want to continue to spend big money on free agents so why not let the smaller teams profit off their peers plus small market teams almost always end up winning on the ice in the end lol

  5. 1) No one shuld be shocked by todays results:Impasse! The players will find that the owners are NOT going to accept anythingother than a small modification of their original offer.
    2) They won’t come right out and say ‘take it or leave it’, but Bettmans’s response to the players proposal and bringing in other sports and their labour results said the same thing.
    3) Lockout #3 is on the way folks. Its Pollyanna to think the owners can be split into factions. Its reasonable based upon histroy to believe the players can and will be split in time. The only unknown is how long. My prediction is by ThanksGiving here in the US

  6. The design and content of the PA counter offer may be more powerful than some think. It is certainly a solid example of bargaining in good faith. The owners cannot simply say no to this proactive offer just because it doesn’t suit their business plan. They must definitely present a reasonable counter offer, for they are bound by the rules of the Labour Relations Code, which states that a lockout cannot occur unless the employer has engaged in good faith collective bargaining. Perceived failure of the owners to bargain in good faith prior to imposing a lockout could and should lead to independent intervention by the Labour Relations Board.

    • 1) Bettman has already laid out their response to avoid ‘not bargaining in good faith’ when he said the players proposal wasn’t comprehensive. In other words despite the NHLPA offer, he doesn’t consider a real counter proposal; “Go back and fix it and get back to me”
      2) Of course thats nuts, but when you have most of the leverage you can say what ya want. I’m sure the NHL has enough smart lawyers to make sure they won’t get into legal trouble here

  7. “The offer was not comprehensive enough” does not meet the criteria for a reasonable counter offer; it is nothing more than a positioning tactic. The owners must eventually present a reasonable counter offer(s) to the PA, or risk placing themselves in violation of Labour Relation Code rules. If the PA files a complaint with the labour board after a lockout is imposed; it is the Labour Board, not the owners or Mr.Bettman, that determines if they bargained in good faith.

  8. 1) @graham gordon I understand what you’re saying but I don’t believe it will be difficult for the owners to prove they are ‘bargaining in good faith’. I’m not a lawyer, but those I’ve asked say its a difficult thing to prove and might take a while to be adjudicated. Meanwhile the players are out of work
    2) Couldn’t the NHL simply say here is our response and it could be their original proposal with a tweak or two and say to the NHLPA, ‘now its your turn’?? I mean who is to say from afar who is not bargaining in good faith? I think the owners/Bettman are full of crap in their stance, but legally how are they in danger of breaking labour laws?

  9. Regardless of how difficult it may be to prove, the owners would absolutely be breaking established labour laws if they do not move away from the original offer. A counter offer by the owners is pending, and hopefully it will be reasonable. Considering this, Mr.Bettman may end up on a very short leash by the very owners he represents if the pending owner counter offer is, as was the original, judged by third parties to be unreasonable and not good faith bargaining.