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NEW YORK—If you go to an NHL game during the 2012-13 season, assuming there is a 2012-13 season, there is no doubt that at some point, the folks in charge of ancillary entertainment at the arena will blast the ubiquitous summer hit "Call Me Maybe."
Carly Rae Jepsen’s song has played through the NHL all summer, too, with commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr alternating the lines "here’s my number" and "call me maybe." The executives' remix has been just as redundant and just as overplayed as the original, and now, with a lockout looming on Saturday night, hockey fans have to worry that the chorus will never end.
Fehr spoke for half an hour before Wednesday's meeting with nearly 300 of his constituents in a Manhattan hotel ballroom. Earlier in the day, he had met with Bettman again, and offers had been exchanged. Against no odds, the divide between the union and management remained, as owners would like to pay players less money, and players would like to be paid more money.
“It is accurate, in a sense, that the owners’ (latest) proposal does not take quite as much money from the players,” Fehr said. “They’ve moved from an extraordinarily large amount to a really very big amount.”
Fehr then detailed the NHLPA’s latest offer, under which the players would—surprise!—make more money, albeit less than they would under the CBA that’s about to expire.
At this point, it is a numbers game, and a race against the clock. The NHL's first proposal cut players’ share of hockey-related revenue to 43 percent. The previous one was for 46 percent, though the league presented it as a larger number because they would have redefined hockey-related revenue. The league’s new offer is 47 percent (after a pit stop at 49 percent), but with the same definition of hockey-related revenue.
Earlier in the day, Bettman said the offer had a shelf life.
"We made clear ... that this proposal was intended to make a deal before the weekend, before the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement, and that if in fact a deal was not achievable, what we proposed would be off the table," Bettman said.
What's on the table doesn't do much for Fehr.
“Moving from a fully-implemented 46 percent share to a fully-implemented 47 percent share is better by 1 percent,” Fehr said, although his math was fuzzy, given the “definitional issues” of hockey-related revenue that he had been discussing seconds earlier.
The players started at 57 percent in a “snap-back” after three years of predetermined salary drags, and now have proposed, essentially, an eventual 54 percent by the end of its five-year offer, though that accounts for projected growth. The union also wants to see increased revenue sharing among the owners, an idea that has not exactly been warmly received.
"Their proposal was really not much different, except around the edges, from the last proposal they made, which we had indicated was not acceptable," Bettman said.
While TSN’s Bob McKenzie tweeted afterward that the NHL and NHLPA are “not even in the same universe” with their proposals, it would appear that there is a deal to be done, if only the parties are willing to go to the middle ground. Somewhere around 51 percent or 52 percent, the players would be able to avoid salary rollbacks, keeping the cap about where it was for the 2011-12 season. An amnesty buyout, as after the last lockout, would allow teams that have spent big this summer under the current rules to get back below a cap that would be $8 million lower than under the previous CBA.
Basically, it would be the NHL’s latest proposal, nudged up a couple of percentage points. If owners don’t want to expand revenue sharing, well, that’s their prerogative, stupid as it may be. If this really is about helping the small-market teams, more revenue sharing is a necessity. Otherwise, the next CBA negotiation will be a repeat of this one, because the big-market teams’ revenues grow at a much faster pace than those of the small-market teams, and if all that’s happening is changing how the pie is sliced, rather than how it’s baked, it’s still the same pie with the same problems.
“If you can come up with things which spur local revenue growth—and we think revenue sharing does it—it gives clubs incentives that maybe they can grow their way out of some of these problems,” Fehr said. “The alternative is to say that we have a number of places which we just can’t do anything about. I don’t accept that as true, and I would hope that nobody would accept that as true. If the sport is really as great as everybody sitting at the table believes it is and says it is, we ought to be able to persuade people.”
The sport is really that great, despite all the self-inflicted pain of the last two decades, starting with a lockout in 1994, right after the New York Rangers had won the Stanley Cup and hockey was finally catching on in the United States. Then a canceled season 10 years later. Now this wrangling over percentage points. That’s all it is, with the leaders’ media sessions amounting to little more than chest-thumping and repetition of talking points.
Everyone on both sides proclaims their love of the game, but the tenacity that is so treasured on the ice is exactly what is in the process of tearing it apart at the bargaining table. There may be only one solution: round-the-clock negotiations, with “Call Me Maybe” on repeat in the room. They’ll work it out faster than a Zdeno Chara slap shot.