The discussions, which were described as appropriate earlier this week, have taken a bit of a turn with the news of the owners' recent proposal. The initial offer from the owners would call for a dramatic restructuring of the distribution of hockey-related revenue, shorten the maximum length of a contract to five years and institute a slew of other changes, according to Renaud Lavoie of RDS.
For starters, the owners want to take back a chunk of hockey-related revenue from the players. How much exactly? Well, the players are currently in control of 57 percent of that revenue, and the owners want to slash that number to 46 percent, which would immediately cut into players' salaries.
Next on the docket for the owners are those lengthy contracts players have been receiving. Under the owners' proposal, contracts would be limited to five years. This would eliminate teams using lengthy contracts to bring down a player's cap hit. The players won't be thrilled about this part of the proposal, but at least the owners are, for now, letting the players keep their guaranteed contracts, something NFL players are not afforded. Those five-year contracts would come without a signing bonus and with the same salary in every season, according to Larry Brooks of the New York Post.
The owners weren't as friendly when it comes to free agency. Players are already forced to wait until they are 27 years old, or have seven years of professional experience (in North America) before they can hit unrestricted free agency, but the owners are trying to push that to 10 years, which would take a bite out of the free agent market. The proposal also calls for an end to salary arbitration and extending entry-level contracts from three years to five years.
The list of demands is long and ambitious, but it's just a launching point for the discussions. The players aren't just going to roll over and accept this one-sided deal. In fact, the proposal shows just how far apart the two sides are.
But before hockey fans start panicking, fearing another lockout, it's worth noting that the NHL's current collective bargaining agreement is not set to expire until Sept. 15. The two sides still have time to come to an agreement.
After the NFL's talks came down to the wire last summer and the NBA missed the first two months of the regular season, another messy negotiation is well under way in the NHL. The league and its fans have felt this frustration before, which will make the coming months even more nerve-racking. The locked-out season of 2004-05 was a huge blow to the popularity of the league, but the league is finally starting to bounce back. Another lockout would be devastating.
The initial offer is ambitious, Gary Bettman and the owners are notoriously stingy, and plenty of issues need to be fixed in the current bargaining agreement. But time is still on hockey's side. A lockout isn't a done deal just yet.