Credits: Reuters/QMI Agency photos
TORONTO - Hockey fans' SOS call -- Save Our Season -- has a better chance of being heeded now, perhaps rescuing all 82 regular season games.
In a surprising reversal of position after weeks of blather on both sides, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Tuesday delivered a new prosposal to the union, designed to preserve an 82-game schedule and full playoffs that would start Nov. 2. The key tenet is a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue, the thorniest issue in the month-long lockout.
"We very much want to preserve a full season and in that light we delivered an offer, our best shot," Bettman said after an hour meeting with his deputy Bill Daly and the P.A.'s top guns, Donald and Steve Fehr. "This offer is contingent upon an 82-game season ... it's 50-50 across the board.
"We have been extremely disappointed at being unable to get negotiations on essential elements (HRR)."
If a deal is reached by his Nov. 2 goal, the schedule would be compressed to add one game every five weeks to make up for the three or four weeks sacrificed so far. The Stanley Cup would wrap up around late June.
Donald Fehr, the union's executive director, admitted he was taken aback when Bettman handed him the proposal, which would be at least six years in length. But he had to temper the optimism that swept the lobby of the players' Toronto offices, by remimnding his team has yet to review the offer in its entirety.
"It's not short," Fehr joked. "There are still documents we have to wade through. We have to make sure we understand what it means. But our hope on the players' side is after we review this that there will be a feeling that this is a proposal where we can try and reach a conclusion. I'd like to believe this is an excellent starting point."
But the PA was also quick to point out that a 50% take still means the players are taking a 7% cut from the 57% they had under the old deal, which the owners once considered a victory. And Fehr has a right to wonder what matters such as escrow payments and free agency will work out to be. Bettman apparently did give the players one of the bigger bones they were looking for, no rollback on existing contracts.
The NHL had started a bitter negotiating feud in the summer with a demand the players go from 57% of HRR down to 43%. They edged back a bit, but enraged the players by dismissing their initial proposal, which encouraged wealthy clubs to help the bottom third of the league that is struggling financially.
Much work remains the next two weeks, but just a few days ago, the season looked dead.