NHL Lockout 2012: Buckle Up, This Is Going To Take A While

Bruce Bennett

Donald Fehr and the NHLPA took a risk Thursday, and now fans seeing NHL hockey in 2013 is on life support.

On Thursday morning we talked about how the NHLPA had two options for their afternoon session with the NHL. They could either negotiate off the NHL's offer, or ignore it and propose another offer off of their original offer. Fehr and the players selected the latter, and negotiations promptly ground to a halt.

It's a disappointing but not surprising move from the Union. Fehr and the players -- to this point -- have been the ones refusing to budge, and that stayed the same yesterday. Granted, the owners should have proposed Tuesday's offer back in the summer, but if the players truly think they're going to walk out of this lockout with a 54% share they're either deluding themselves or Fehr has them thinking it can happen.

Spoiler: That's not happening.

What Fehr should have done is proposed a new offer taking the 50-50 share but in return for the lowered percentage of HRR the players demanded max contracts to be removed, ELCs to stay at three years and UFA service to remain seven years or 27-years-old.

Or, give up ELCs and the extra year of service and tier the percentage to be 52-48, 51-48, 51-48 then 50-50 the final years. Would the NHL have taken that? Who knows, but at least we would have a negotiation. Instead -- according to reports -- the players proposals had shares around 54% as an average the first three years. James Mirtle even reported that the players still demanded 57% off the bat, something that was always going to be a non-start for the NHL.

Granted, the owner's offer was supposed to make us feel this way. Bettman is a master negotiator, and his strategy certainly won him the second round of the hard-fought but irrelevant PR war. But, according to Mirtle, the NHLPA wouldn't even negotiate the contract issues on Thursday.

Who is being unreasonable now?

Many fans see the 50-50 split as the fair deal. It's also clear the players realize that's where they're heading, since the two proposals laid out by Mirtle end there. But how long before that happens? There is still some optimism over the two sides getting closer, but as you can see from my title, I'm nit buying it. I thought there was real movement Tuesday, and there was movement Thursday, too, just in the wrong direction.

Again, the owners are to blame here too. Their first offer should have been better, and their deadline offer in September actually should have been the one they offered on Tuesday. But in an effort to save the season the owners made the next move, and the players didn't return the favor.

Is it gamesmanship? Is it hardball negotiating? Maybe. But the chances of the NHL proposing another offer -- even though it's their "turn" to negotiate -- is unlikely. The players used to be the ones who cried foul play at the owners, is the table turned now?

I don't know everything about those negotiations. What I do know is that I'm not optimistic about hockey this year. And with NHL games and the Winter Classic coming up on the chopping block, we'll see how optimistic fans should be.

There is optimism -- or at least a sliver of it -- that the two sides are moving closer, but I've seen to much to get sucked in. If it's a pleasant surprise then so be it. Right now I don't see it.

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