NHL Owners Still Aren’t Serious About Ending The Lockout

When National Hockey League owners presented a proposal two weeks ago that would have ended their lockout of players, the NHL Players Association spent two days crafting serious counter-offers and ultimately returned to the table with three proposals of their own. According to NHLPA head Don Fehr, it took the league all of 10 minutes to reject all three proposals.

According to Fehr, the players offered to split so-called “hockey-related revenue” evenly between the players and owners — exactly what owners asked for, even if the players sought to do it gradually over a few years instead of immediately as the owners wanted. The one sticking point for players, though, was that the reduction in their share of revenue (from 57 percent) not lead to salary rollbacks, or reductions in the pay they receive under already-negotiated contracts. As Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson made clear in a blog post yesterday, though, the owners aren’t having it:

The concept that the owners are trying to dismantle existing contracts that they in good faith offered, signed, and committed to is appalling, unprofessional, and disgraceful. I negotiated my own contract, without an agent, with the confidence and belief that the owner offering me that contract operated by the same convictions and principals as I do.

That players are willing to budge on every issue except for the preservation of existing contracts, which the owners obviously had a hand in negotiating and signing, seems a perfectly reasonable position. What isn’t reasonable is that owners weren’t willing to entertain such a proposal for longer than 10 minutes.

Throughout negotiations, players have given ground. They offered to begin the season without a collective bargaining agreement and negotiate a new one as the season wore on, preserving the games for the fans, salaries for themselves, and revenues for owners. They responded to owners’ offers with counter-proposals that included significant concessions.

The owners, meanwhile, offered a series of laughable deals they knew would be rejected last summer. They locked out the players this fall. And they finally presented their most serious, if flawed, offer two weeks ago in a take-it-or-leave-it fashion. They rejected the players’ counter-proposals out of hand, and they have since refused to meet to further negotiations.

The result is that the league has now canceled all games through November 30, and the Winter Classic, the NHL’s most prized regular season event, is now on the chopping block. With serious negotiations, some semblance of a hockey season can be saved. If the owners continue down this path, though, the second full-season cancellation since 2005 seems far more likely.