Gary Bettman made something perfectly clear in his remarks to media members in Toronto on Thursday.
“The proposal that we made, so that we can be clear about it, at 50/50 and all the other things was the best that we can do,” the commissioner said of the NHL owners’ Tuesday offer. “We gave it our best shot. It is our best offer. We gave the players association what we had to give.”
When the NHL Players’ Association came back with three proposals Thursday, the owners rejected them in under 15 minutes. Taking a closer look at the numbers, it’s clear why.
None of them are anything close to what owners wanted. The NHL’s proposal included an immediate 50/50 split of hockey-related revenue, a limit of five years on contracts and more restrictive unrestricted free agency and salary arbitration.
The NHLPA’s first proposal, according to executive director Donald Fehr, included a reduction to 50 percent by the fifth year if a 5 percent revenue growth were assumed. At 7.2 percent growth, the players’ share would be 50.6 percent by Year 3.
According to a report by Josh Rimer, the players’ share is 55.4 percent in the first year.
“The suggestion that somehow players are not moving in the owners’ direction strikes me as being fundamentally misplaced,” Fehr said Thursday.
The second proposal, Fehr explained, takes the players’ share of HRR under 51 percent by Year 3, given 7.2 percent growth. If 5 percent growth, it’s 50/50 by the end of Year 5, he said.
“So we said here’s two avenues that you can look at in which the players are prepared to get down in a reasonable amount of time given what happened, to percentages which look like yours,” Fehr said. “Not all at once and not with big salary concessions. Not given what happened last time and not given the growth what we’ve had.”
The third proposal, which has been the most talked about, isn’t as “simple” as Fehr explained. The principle is simple: owners honor existing contracts. But that comes at a huge cost.
Moving immediately to 50 percent of HRR off the bat is a major concession for players, but to maintain existing contracts, roughly 13 percent would have to be set aside and taken out of the equation.
Look at how many long-term deals have been signed over recent years, and the payout on all those deals would cost owners more than perhaps they figured after this CBA negotiation.
“Most people would like to believe that when they sign a contract with somebody, that it will be paid attention to,” Fehr said. “We’ll get you to 50/50 but you’ve got to agree to honor the contracts that you just signed. We think it makes a lot of sense.
“We think it really is fair. It couldn’t be more balanced in that regard. What it doesn’t do is give the owners an agreement right now to have the players give them back billions of dollars.”
According to Rimer, assuming 5 percent growth, the third proposal begins with players’ share of HRR at 56.7 percent. The expired CBA had it at 57 percent.
Bettman said in proposing 50/50 Tuesday, “A number of franchises thought we actually went too far in what we offered to get the season going.”
If that is indeed the case and the numbers appear to indicate what Bettman said about the sides “not speaking the same language,” how close are sides to a legitimate deal to drop the puck?