All hockey fans -- check that, all sports fans -- dread any sort of labor stoppage. It kills momentum, it kills league growth, and for the NHL those are two things that the league has right now. Many pundits and fans, when they read the NHL owners' proposal back at the end of July, believed that the owners of the teams didn't care - that they wanted their way or the highway, and would risk losing revenue to possibly increase the bottom line down the road. Cutting off the toes to save the foot, so to speak. The terms of the proposal were so harsh and the cuts to the players so deep, that there is no way that the NHLPA could pop back a quick counter-offer.
A month later, and the counter-offer has arrived. The players realize that coming out with equally outlandish demands will get them nowhere, and if they would like to be paid they need to play this season. That mindset explains why they're willing to take a cut in revenue percentage for players to help facilitate revenue sharing to the teams that don't pull in the cash. Players are willing to give up $465 million in revenue in this deal, which maintains the current salary cap structure.
The two sides have until September 15th to come to an agreement. The players have been vocal in stating that they're willing to start the season as long as a deal is close, while the owners have said that they will lock the players out until a deal is reached. The players would rather not lose their only source of income for the year, while the owners are willing to play chicken, as most of their main income does not come from the team that they own. Bettman hopes that a deal is done in a month, but fans would like the peace of mind knowing that it will be fixed sooner rather than later.
While I'm waiting to see a few more hard numbers, a-la the owners proposal, I'm cautiously optimistic having heard and digested the generalities of the players proposal. The next trick will be seeing how seriously the owners take what they received today. It seems obvious enough that they won't particularly like the idea of only a temporary reprieve in what the players get as part of hockey-related revenue, but, let's be honest: If the players and the small-and-mid-market owners can band together and get honest, working revenue sharing as part of this CBA, the players percentage doesn't need to go down all that much anyway.
Certainly, there are a bunch of other moving parts to this, but if (and that's a big if) they can get past the money, there shouldn't be any other serious deal-breakers, unless the league tries to get defensive about its current discipline policies. (And if they do, we as fans should razz them endlessly until they relent. That's the one point of the negotiations that I'm definitely, unequivocally on the players side, 100%.)
Looking at this a day later, with a few more numbers out there, here's what I'm thinking:
The money aspect hasn't changed. It's still going to be the hang-up, and I can't see the owners accepting a plan where the percentage of hockey-related revenue to the players eventually reverts to 57%. I expect they're really looking for 50% as an end game number, and might settle for 52% if they can get some of the other things on their wishlist.
I don't think it's outside of the realm of possibility for the players to end up shooting for the high end of that range, if they can get the improved revenue sharing and keep some of the more onerous contract/free agency stuff off the table in the new CBA. Whether they get that or not depends highly, I still believe, on whether or not the bottom 2/3rds of the league owners can band together and force the hands of the big market owners for the good of the financial health of the league as a whole.
And yes, I still think that the hidden sticking point in this after all the money talk is finally resolved will be updating the league's officiating and discipline policies. It's easier to look at big numbers and say, "The sides are this far apart." It's much more difficult to do that in regards to something like officiating and discipline that will never impact the owners in a meaningful way - at least, until and unless it becomes so bad that it turns off fans from the game.