It was widely assumed by those following the NHL labor negotiations that if Don Fehr was willing to negotiate off the 50-50 proposal Gary Bettman made to the players on Tuesday a full 2012-13 regular season could be salvaged.
But when Fehr created three of his own counter proposals and presented them to Bettman Thursday in Toronto, all hopes of a quick settlement went out the window.
So what were the three players’ union proposals that Bettman and four NHL owners, including Ted Leonsis, needed 15 minutes to dismiss?
Proposal No. 1: The NHL and players would start out with a fixed players’ share of revenue – presumably around 56 percent.
If the industry grows at 5 percent, the two sides would achieve a 50-50 split in Year 5. Estimated savings to owners: $796 million.
If the industry grows at 7.2 percent, the players’ share would fall to 50.6 percent share by Year 3. Estimated owners’ savings: $1.117 billion.
“[The owners] may think that’s nothing,” Fehr said. “Most people would think a billion dollars is a lot of money. I do. Players do. Apparently, they don’t.”
Proposal No. 2: At a growth rate of 5 percent, the players’ share would drop to a 52 percent share in Year 3, a 51 percent share in Year 4 and just over 50 percent in Year 5.
Estimated savings to owners: $854 million.
At a growth rate of 7.2 percent, the players’ share would be under 51 percent by Year 3 and the saving to owners: $1.59 billion
“So we said, ‘Here’s two avenues you can look at in which the players are prepared to get down, in a reasonable amount of time, to percentages that look like yours,’” Fehr said. “Not all at once and not with big salary concessions.
“So the suggestion the players are not moving in the owners’ direction strikes me as being fundamentally misplaced.”
Proposal No. 3: The players would move to an immediate 50-50 share of league revenue as long as NHL owners agreed to pay full value on all existing contracts.
“It’s pretty simple and it’s pretty direct,” Fehr said of the third proposal. “We’ll get you to 50-50, but you’ve got to agree to honor the contracts you just signed.”
In response to those three proposals, Fehr said Bettman deliberated about 15 minutes and returned to say the offer the NHL proposed on Tuesday is their best offer and that they might be able to “tweak it around the edges.”
Fehr refused to entertain the notion and the meeting ended.
Following Fehr’s address to the media, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly issued his own rebuttal on the union’s third proposal.
“The so called 50-50 deal, plus honoring current contracts proposed by the NHL Players’ Association earlier today is being misrepresented,” Daly said in a statement.
“It is not a 50-50 deal. It is, most likely, a 56- to 57-percent deal in Year One and never gets to 50 percent during the proposed five-year term of the agreement. “The proposal contemplates paying the players approximately $650 million outside of the players’ share. In effect, the union is proposing to change the accounting rules to be able to say ‘50-50,’ when in reality it is not. The union told us that they had not yet ‘run the numbers.’ We did.”
And so those 48 hours of “cautious optimism” that followed the NHL’s proposal on Tuesday has deteriorated into a war of words with no reasonable end to the lockout in sight.