NEW YORK -- They moved inches on a day when miles were needed to bridge a sizable gap.
Make no mistake, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association exchanged more proposals Wednesday, but what they were really saying to each other is that they’re ready to dig in deep and long in what undoubtedly will be the second lockout in eight years, commencing Saturday at 11:59 p.m. ET.
Oh, sure, on the surface, both sides moved a little Wednesday. The NHLPA’s new proposal added a fifth year after the union was willing to talk only about a four-year deal all summer. The union also introduced more flexibility in its complicated offer that ties the players’ piece of the pie to future revenue growth of the industry.
The league countered with a six-year offer that begins with a 49 percent share for the players of hockey-related revenue and ends with 47 percent, an improvement from the 43 percent it sought in July and 46 percent last month. But it's still miles away from anything the players would ever consider, given their current 57 percent share. For starters, any number the players will accept -- at least at this point -- needs to start with a 5, not a 4.
In the end, the same philosophical impasse remains: The owners want money off the top from the players, and the players in turn insist they won’t give up any current salary already on the books.
It’s a massive difference of opinion, in my mind even more critical than both sides actually agreeing to a percentage figure.
So what now?
I don’t see any way this thing is wrapped up anytime soon. You have to begin to think that at least half the season might be in jeopardy now with both sides so entrenched.
The timing of Wednesday’s dueling proposals should surprise no one. In conversations I’ve had with people on both sides of the divide, it’s clear there was a desire to bring a fresh offer on the eve of important and large gatherings for both parties. The NHLPA wants all 30 owners to get a look Thursday in the board of governors meeting at what the players are willing to do and let them decide for themselves how they feel about it. Similarly, with 250-plus players gathered in New York on Wednesday and Thursday for two days of meetings, the league hopes the players can take a look for themselves at the league’s last offer.
Not sure that’s going to sway either side much. The owners will give commissioner Gary Bettman near unanimous backing on Thursday to commence the lockout on Saturday night. The players will be quoted Thursday after their meetings saying they stand in solidarity and believe in what their leader, Donald Fehr, is telling them.
This logjam doesn’t break open until saner minds prevail and until pocketbooks on both sides are pinched in October and November.
If, somehow, an entire season is lost again, then shame on all of them. Because unlike eight years ago when the argument was nuclear, a battle over the entire system in itself, this time it’s only about a number: how to divide a $3.3 billion industry.
That shouldn’t take a year to figure out.
But it might take half of one. Brace yourselves, hockey fans. This is far from over.