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Monday, December 13, 2004

Can a Deal Really be Done?


So what would it take to get a deal done? From the viewpoint of an outside observer such as myself, it may be nothing short of a minor miracle. What it may take is something that has yet to be tabled by either side. The NHLPA does not want "linkage", or "cost certainty", yet that's the only tune that Gary Bettman and the NHL owners have been trumpeting for the last 6 months. The problem is that the elusive gray area between the positions of the two sides may not exist simply because in order to get there, one side would have to completely do an about-face.

The players’ latest proposal is a genuine attempt at bargaining. However, in the eyes of many, and most importantly the NHL, it doesn't come close to addressing the issue that the owners are focused on - cost certainty. The league may be correct in that assumption, but that being the case, this proposal should have enough teeth in order to be used as the basis for on-going negotiations.

In my opinion, “cost certainty” should not necessarily equate to a hard salary cap. I fail to see the reasoning of the NHL’s dismissive attitude towards a stiff luxury tax. The proposal that is currently tabled by the NHLPA should be able to function as an effective tool given some intelligent tweaking but it appears that the NHL is dead set on responding with nothing less than a hard salary cap.

On the other hand, the Players’ Association is equally as steadfast about not accepting any form of a hard salary cap or the linkage of salaries to league revenues. I don’t really understand this hard-line stance either. As long as it can be established, by an independent body, and agreed upon by both sides as to what the hockey revenues actually are, what is so wrong with linking salaries to total revenues? I have yet to hear a satisfactory explanation from any member of the Players’ Association on this subject.

The main problem is that both sides are speaking different languages and neither side wants to break out the Berlitz. Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, it appears fatefully evident that neither side is willing to budge. In the end, that could mean that this already long and drawn out process extends much further.

The lines that have been drawn in the sand are getting much thicker. The NHL appears to be settling in comfortably for the long haul. The stance seems to be clear: right, wrong or indifferent and whether the players like it or not, this is the owners’ league, the owners’ industry. They are the ‘boss’ and they are going to achieve “cost certainty” no matter what. They have all of the money invested in this venture and it is clear what mandate they have set and intend to follow through on. Sure, it takes the players to make the whole thing work, but when all is said and done, the owners are just that – the owners. And as such, they are the ones holding all of the cards and it looks as if they are the ones who will ultimately get what they want.




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